Political controversies confuse rather than resolve historical disputes, especially those supported by well-orchestrated national myths. But in recasting history in the light of new political exigencies, they can also provide useful insights into some of the starker contradictions in the foundational ideologies of modern nation-states. The uproar in India provoked by Lal Krishna Advani’s comments about Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s secularism is a case in point. At a time when the two regional adversaries are looking to forge a more amicable relationship, it is not too difficult to fathom why the main Hindutva hardliner in India chose the occasion of a state visit to shower praise on the founder of Pakistan. However, discussions of the motivations and intentions of the BJP president’s seeming ideological volte face have generated emotive debate without shedding much light on history. The political drama surrounding the submission and withdrawal of his resignation should not detract from Advani’s putting his finger on the key historical fault line in the national imaginaries of India and Pakistan.
There is ample historical evidence that Jinnah envisaged Pakistan as a modern, progressive and democratic state. Embittered and often incoherent exchanges between so-called Islamic fundamentalists and secular modernists have contributed to an utterly sterile debate pitting Islam against secularism, defined incorrectly as la dini or anti-religion.
To pose the problem in such terms leaves little scope for a satisfactory resolution of the central question Pakistanis face at this critical juncture in their history: what sort of a Pakistan do they want? Do they want an inward looking, religiously orthodox state or a modern, moderate, enlightened and progressive one?
It was religion as a demarcator of difference rather than religion as faith - and certainly not the dream of an Islamic theocracy - that led to the All-India Muslim League demanding a Pakistan. Although caricatured as 'religious communalism' and the pejorative ‘Other’ of Congress’s ‘secular nationalism’, the Indian Muslim claim to nationhood was a revolt against minoritarianism.
It is true that after the League’s Lahore session of March 1940, there was no longer any question of compromising on a national status for India’s Muslims. However, the demand for a separate and sovereign state and its relationship with a Hindustan containing almost as many Muslims as in Pakistan remained open to negotiation until the late summer of 1946. The claim that Muslims constituted a 'nation' did not rule out a federal or confederal state structure covering the whole of India. With 'nations' straddling states, the boundaries between them had to be kept permeable and flexible, not impenetrable and absolute. This is why Jinnah and the League remained implacably opposed to a partition of the Punjab and Bengal along religious lines. In the event it was the Congress backed by the extreme right wing Hindu Mahasabha which plumped for a partition of the two main Muslim-majority provinces of India. The paradoxical result was a Pakistan which, both in its shape and form, had been rejected out of hand by its proclaimed architect, Jinnah - first at the time of Rajagopalachari’s offer in 1944 and then as a proposal of the Cabinet Mission of 1946.
The politics of numbers, not differences over matters of religious faith between ‘secularists’ and ‘communalists’, was the main stumbling block to evolving an India uniting religious communities at the all-India level as well as in key regions like the Punjab and Bengal.Despite a long history of creatively accommodating multiple levels of sovereignty, the renegotiation of the terms for sharing power in an independent India saw the privileging of a rigid and monolithic conception of territorial sovereignty based on a singular and homogenizing idea of the ‘nation’. It was the insistence on the unity of the ‘nation’ and the corresponding refusal to countenance internal differences that paved the way for a partition of the subcontinent along ostensibly religious lines.
Because of constraints of space, a slightly shorter version of this article appeared in the print magazine. Ayesha Jalal is Professor of History at the Tufts University, MA, USA. She is the author of, inter alia, the widely acclaimed book, The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT