By Yasser Latif Hamdani
Part III of Ishtiaq Ahmed’s article, reproduced on PTH website, has considerably clarified his position on many issues.
While he is on the money on the issue of exclusive nationalism, especially when such an idea is adopted by a state to the disadvantage of those who are not from that group, he fails to see that nationalism, inclusive or exclusive, is ultimately the ideology of the other. For example the difference all but disappears between the inclusive and exclusive variety when both nationalisms try to over-ride diversity and differences.
One may even consider each and every nationalism to be exclusive at one level and inclusive at some other level.
Consider: The Congress believed that Indians were a nation to the exclusion of all others and that deep seated differences of religion, caste etc did not matter but most importantly and this needs to be underscored did not qualify for any special treatment or affirmative action. Such inclusion is automatically designed to favor the cultural group was most predominant in such nationalist equation. The Indian National Congress’ tried – at all negotiations with the British- to present itself as the sole representative body of all Indians and pooh poohed the rest as being lackeys of the British. Muslim League – learning from Congress- deployed the same strategy arguing that Muslims, whatever their theological, cultural and ideological divisions, were one nation and Muslim League was its sole representative. There was thus just one Muslim nation and the distinction of Shia, Sunni, Ahmadi and others did not exist nor were these emphasized. When Jinnah on 11th August reverted to his old self and spoke of a new inclusive discourse for Pakistan, he spoke these words which have for some reason not found as much focus as other parts of his speech:
“We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community, because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalis, Madrasis and so on, will vanish. Indeed if you ask me, this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain the freedom and independence and but for this we would have been free people long long ago. No power can hold another nation, and specially a nation of 400 million souls in subjection; nobody could have conquered you, and even if it had happened, nobody could have continued its hold on you for any length of time, but for this.”
How extraordinary! After having pleaded that Muslims were a nation, he was now arguing that Muslims were a community not a nation anymore divided into several other communities – both theologically and ethnically- and India was “a nation of 400 million souls”. This decisive un-making of the two nation theory by someone who allegedly was its biggest champion did not indicate a change of heart but rather a change of circumstances.
The truth is that what Jinnah had championed in India was a group nationalism of a minority, which was bargaining for a share of resources by asserting its nationhood and thereby making numbers irrelevant. Religious, ethnic, racial, linguistic and even sexual minorities do this all the time. One may consider the case of gay and lesbian groups in the United States of America. They may not have called themselves a “nation” but overwhelmingly the demand is for recognition of one’s sexuality as intrinsic to one’s politics.
In Muslim majority Pakistan, Jinnah logically, as a liberal, saw majoritarian group nationalism as not just fascist but divisive, not just in terms of social justice for minorities -of whose fate Jinnah said Pakistan could not be unmindful having been created as the result a minority’s struggle- but for the majority itself. What Jinnah now asked – and he did not imagine it would happen over time but rather “in course of time” was to build a Pakistani identity which was inclusive and secular. However a few months later though Jinnah himself was in East Pakistan emphasizing the Muslim bond to ride over the provincial differences. The former was his vision for the state he had founded, the latter was an ill-advised tactical blunder, which would cost Pakistan dearly in the long run. The tactical blunder of emphasizing over-arching Muslim identity at the cost of Bengali identity to a people who had been at the vanguard of the Pakistan Movement mirrored the same blind Congress’ politics against which Jinnah and the Muslim League had rebelled in United India. Atleast Jinnah should have known better.
In the final analysis Congress and League both had it wrong. Their failure lay in being caught up in the 19th century and 19th century ideas of nation-state and nationalism. South Asian polity required a different kind of imagining. The people of South Asia lived in concentric circles and over-lapping sets and sub-sets of identity. There was no one Indian nation. Instead there were multitudes of people(s) who defined themselves religiously and ethnically and linguistically. Thus you had a Muslim Bengali and a Hindu Bengali who would come together as Bengalis, but could also come together with say their co-religionists from Punjab or NWFP as Muslims or Hindus. However a Bengali Hindu would have nothing in common with a Punjabi Muslim, except a common link in a Bengali Muslim. Ultimately everyone was linked to each other without having an over-arching Indian identity. Hindu-Muslim Unity was key to a united secular Indian state, not denial or neglect of Hindu and Muslim identities by one nationalism. Indeed Pan-Indian Hindu and Muslim bonds – existing in relative tension and the “other” to each other – is what ultimately kept India one country instead of allowing it to disintegrate along ethnic lines ala Europe. Not many Indians would accept it but Hindu-Muslim antagonism is what keeps other more parochial and regional centrifugal forces in check even today.
The need in the pre-partition era was to find a durable compact between Hindu and Muslim identities to build a united Indian nation on it. India’s leaders chose to emphasize a solitary Indian identity that alienated the Muslims and especially the Muslim bourgeoisie whose economic interests were directly threatened by the prospect of a Hindu-dominated Indian state. By comparison Jinnah, despite his reputation of being an Englishman, was closer to the ground reality of South Asia than his former comrades in the Congress. His famous 14 points contain an explicit recognition of this underlying current in Indian polity. Ironically Congress Party in post independence India all but adopted Jinnah’s thesis without giving him credit for it and began to champion Muslims and minorities.
Pakistan’s creation as a separate and sovereign state from India ended the Hindu-Muslim conflict in the areas that formed Pakistan and especially West Pakistan, but it was replaced by ethnic and sectarian conflict instead. Bereft of Hindu-Muslim antagonism, it was only natural that the ethnicity would become the central feature. It is now that Pakistan must learn to appreciate its own cultural diversity and linkages. Clearly the Muslim bond, without the “other”, is not enough to keep us together. The more the lie that Pakistan was created as an Islamic utopia is hyped up, the more it will be shown up as a falsehood of immense proportions. The reasons for the creation of Pakistan were economic and political, driven by the interests of the rising Muslim bourgeoisie. To imagine another – perhaps nobler- purpose would be to shoot one’s self in the foot.
First and foremost, Pakistan should – like India- be a religiously neutral state. The importance of a secular constitution has been discussed many times on this forum and many others. The state should go a step further and explicitly recognize and celebrate its diversity, religious, sectarian and ethnic. The politics of accomodation and multiple identities is already at work. Erstwhile champions of independent Pakhtoonistan will never want to secede from Pakistan because today the Pushtun “nation” has a large presence in Karachi and Lahore. In Karachi, ANP plays an important role in the politics. Instead of imposing its idea of nationalism, Pakistani state needs to recognize the various groups and make them stake holders in the economic prosperity of one Pakistani state.
Pakistan must be ready to reinvent itself as a common homeland of many nations, ethnicities, faiths, sects and cultures which have come together as one state and one polity under common constitution for a common march towards progress. This it can do by making the idea of citizen and citizen’s rights paramount above all other ideas. Only then will all aspirations find equal expression.