India and Pakistan do not disagree on what they consider the essentials of the theory, but while in India it is a symbol of exclusivism and communalism, in Pakistan it is part of the Islamic ideological narrative. Narrowminded and nearsighted bigots like Moin Ansari, supporters of General Zia and fascists of Mussolini’s calibre have ensured that Pakistan remains wedded to a historical untruth. Contrary to their misinterpretation of the Pakistan movement, the Two Nation Theory, as adopted by Jinnah and the Muslim League in 1940, was a mere restatement of the minority problem in national terms and not a clarion call, to use Dr Ayesha Jalal’s vocabulary, for partition. What Jinnah was aiming for was what in recent years has been coined as ‘consociationalism’, a power sharing between disparate ethnic and communal groups in multinational and multiethnic states. Though the term was coined only a decade or so ago, consociationalism as a political system is quite old and is tried and tested in states like The Netherlands, Switzerland and Canada.
When the Quaid-e-Azam articulated the Two Nation Theory, he referred to language, culture, family laws and historical antecedents. He was, as an adroit lawyer, making the case for changing the status of a minority to that of a nation and not for separation of Islam from India as is alleged by his detractors. On the Muslim side the first articulation of the two nation theory came from the famous Muslim modernist, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, who decided after the experience of Urdu-Hindi controversy of 1867 that Muslims and Hindus were two separate nations, and were like two eyes of India, who should have sovereign parity. When Congress was founded by A O Hume (1885), Sir Syed Ahmed Khan persuaded most of the Muslims not to join the Congress Party because he felt the Muslims were not ready educationally socially, and politically to face the Hindu community in the mainstream of politics yet. He was supported in these views by other Muslim modernists of the time like Syed Ameer Ali. The two nation theory finally reached a culmination in the form of the separate electorates which were demanded by a delegation of the Muslim elite, and intelligentsia in their meeting with Viceroy Minto. Lord Curzon’s partition of Bengal was also on the same lines. Partition of Bengal was annulled due to Swadeshi movement.
By 1928 there were two factions of the Muslim League… Pro-British faction lead by Sir Muhammad Shafi and the Pro-Congress faction led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah. After Jinnah’s brief exit from all India politics in 1931, the League virtually ceased to exist. By 1935 the beleaguered leaguers were clamouring for Jinnah to come back. In 1935 Jinnah emerged out of his self-imposed exile to reorganize the league. With the exit of Shafi, Jinnah had a free hand, and from 1935-1937 Jinnah and the League were the staunchest supporters of the efforts of the Congress Party inside and outside the central legislative body.
By 1933 Rahmat Ali, a student at Cambridge University, came out with an eccentric scheme which he called ’Pakistan : Our Fatherland’. Later that year he tried to enlist Mohammed Ali Jinnah, then in England, for this cause. Jinnah dismissed this idea as a mere dream, earning forever the wrath of Ch. Rahmat Ali.
Muslim League on the other hand did well on the Muslim seats in the Hindu Majority provinces winning 29 out of 35 seats in the UP. The league however couldn’t do well against the regional parties in Muslim Majority areas. The Congress refused to come to an arrangement with the Muslim League, choosing instead Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind for partnership through Azad. This was a death blow to the League and its leadership who were at this point decidedly pro-Congress. On 22nd December 1939, League and its allies, the Scheduled Caste Federation and Justice Party of the Tamil Nadu, celebrated the day of deliverance from Congress rule.
Nehru-Jinnah Correspondence is especially vital in this regard. Nehru had mocked the League as an elitist organization and asked Jinnah to ’depend on the league’s inherent strength’. Jinnah had responded in kind informing Nehru that from now on he would only depend on his inherent strength. As a Historian rightly observed:
“More than Iqbal, it was Nehru who charted a new mass strategy for the League, prodding and challenging Jinnah to leave the drawing rooms of politics to reach down to the hundred million muslims… There was ofcourse only one possible way for the league to stir that mass, to awaken it and lure it to march behind Muslim leadership”
The name Pakistan was imposed on the League by the Congress press, and the League leadership after initial protestations accepted it. Elections of 1945-1946 saw Muslim League sweep the Muslim vote. The turn around was miracle in the Muslim Majority areas. In Sindh and Bengal the league had enough seats to form ministries of their own. In NWFP and Punjab it still turned out to be the largest single party, but was upstaged in the assembly by coalition ministries of Congress/Khudai khidmatgars in NWFP, and the Unionist Party in Punjab.
In view of the election results of 1946 the British Government dispatched a high level Cabinet Mission to look into a workable plan which was acceptable to the two major parties of India i.e. Congress and the League. After its deliberations with the League and the Congress it presented a series of proposals which included the ’grouping scheme’. The grouping scheme allowed for a three tiered federation between Hindu and Muslim provinces, with the center only keeping issues of Defence/Foreign, Currency and communication with itself.
This plan was accepted by the Muslim League at Jinnah’s insistence, and provisionally accepted by the Congress Party. However in July of 1946 Nehru dropped a bombshell when he declared that the Congress was not bound by any agreements and that it would decide the fate of India in the constituent assembly itself. This forced Jinnah to back out of his ealier agreement on the basis of the Cabinet Mission plan. Wavell’s letter to Pethick Lawrence is revealing:
“The strong reaction by Gandhi to my suggestion that Congress should make their assurance about the grouping categorical shows how well justified Jinnah was to doubt their previous assurances on the subject. It is to my mind convincing evidence that Congress always meant to use their position in the interim Government to break up the Muslim League and in the constituent assembly to destroy the grouping scheme which was the one effective safeguard for the muslims’
(Wavell to Pethick Lawrence, Mansergh, Transfer of power Page 323)
Pakistan did not fulfill Muslim League’s agenda. Its real constituents were the Indian Muslims, whose problems Pakistan didn’t solve. Hence Muslim League’s strategy failed, and Jinnah was handed a Pakistan he never wanted. The truth is that Jinnah’s idea of Pakistan was not predicated on the partition of India. His idea of Pakistan was a power sharing arrangement between the Muslims and Hindus. His Two Nation Theory did not, at least not until December 1946, suggest that the Hindus and Muslims must be separated. And yet, even in May 1947, Jinnah was pleading against the partition of Punjab and Bengal by arguing that a Punjabi is a Punjabi and a Bengali is a Bengali before he is a Hindu or a Muslim.
Much of what Jinnah actually wanted is confirmed by one of the most extraordinary pieces of prescience left behind by H V Hodson, who was the Reforms Commissioner in India in 1941. Hodson wrote in clear terms very soon after the Lahore Resolution that every Muslim Leaguer from Jinnah down to the last one interpreted the Pakistan idea as consistent with the idea of a confederation of India. Hodson believed that “Pakistan” was a “revolt against minority status” and a call for power sharing and not just defining rules of conduct how a majority (in this case Hindu) would govern India. He spoke of an acute realisation that the minority status with all the safeguards could only amount to a “Cinderella with trade union rights and radio in the kitchen but still below the stairs.” Jinnah’s comment was that Hodson had finally understood what the League was after, but that he could not publicly come out with these fundamental truths, as these were likely to be misunderstood at the time.
For Jinnah and the Muslim League, the Two Nation Theory was not an ideological position etched in stone. It was the restatement of the arguments needed to ensure national status for Muslims in a multinational independent India. It was also a vehicle to get parochial elements in Muslim majority provinces into line behind the Muslim League at the All India Centre. At the very least, Jinnah’s Pakistan did not necessarily envisage a partition, secession from or division of United India. This is why he jumped at the opportunity of the Cabinet Mission Plan, which did not even deliver 50 percent of what he had demanded. In the end, however, the idea of power sharing with the League and Muslims was too much for the Indian National Congress to gulp, even if Gandhi and Nehru could have been brought around to the idea. Maulana Azad’s grudging admissions in his book India Wins Freedom seal this argument.
The Communist Party not only supported the Muslim League, but also gave its own people like Sajjad Zaheer, Abdullah Malik and Daniyal Latifi to the League. Daniyal Latifi, who was trained in law by Jinnah himself, authored the Punjab Muslim League’s manifesto for the 1945-1946 elections, which was one of the most progressive manifestos in the history of this region. But the point is that the League’s entire election campaign in the 1945-1946 elections was stage managed in Punjab by the Communist Party of India. They would not have done so if they had thought the League was operating on a narrow communal or theocratic agenda.