PFS 7: Partition and the Two-Nation Theory

Chapter 7


When Indians and Pakistanis meet, one is struck by their similarity. Indians are fond of saying “Pakistanis are just like us” but one will find that Pakistanis do not tend to say “Indians are just like us”. Being different from Indians is a fundamental requirement that defines the Pakistani.

Before India was partitioned in 1947, some of the Muslim elite in India, who were later to go to Pakistan, considered themselves the descendants of the Mughals who had ruled vast tracts of India. When the British were set to leave India, it was realised by these real or perceived descendants of Mughals that in a democratic India, they would not automatically regain control of the lands they had lost to the British. The demand for a separate nation was a natural extension of this Mughal mindset. This group of individuals formed a migrant nation.

The Weekly Standard reported in October 2001 (69):

Created on August 15, 1947, from the northern, primarily Muslim provinces of British India, Pakistan isn’t really a nation-state. It is a geographic expression of an ageold Islamic ideal: Muslims should not, if at all possible, live under non-Muslim rule. Living under the all-mighty British was unpleasant for many.. Living under the far more numerous Hindus, whom the Muslim Mogul dynasty had dominated for centuries before the arrival of the English, was worse. For the English-educated Muslim elite, it was intolerable.. Gandhi’s Indian democracy was going to be Hindu, so a Muslim “Land of the Pure”—the literal meaning of Pakistan—was essential to protect and nurture the faithful.

MB Naqvi wrote in the Jang of Pakistan (70):

Historically the majority of Muslims, originally lowcaste Hindus, affected a superiority complex, especially in Northern India. They feared being falling down into the vast assimilative sea of Hindudom surrounding them wherein they will be at the bottom of social heap. May be they would be punished for former uppishness and for real or imagined wrongs. That explained their demonstrative adherence to Islam, which is what distinguished them from Hindus. Their religious exhibitionism and a superiority complex led to emphases on differences with Hindus and regarding themselves as rulers’ kith and kin deserving privileges and safeguards—the leitmotif of pre-independence Indian Muslim politics.

Others’ refusal to accept Muslims demands, calculated to preserve imagined privileges, angered them and an adversarial attitude vis-a-vis Hindus developed. Muslims thus demanded weightage - actually equality of treatment with Hindus - reservations and separate electorate. These came from, and strengthened, two traits: first, not to accept democracy’s implications, especially the equality with Hindus. The second was to depend on a ruling or hegemonic power to get them their due.

But Pakistan was not formed merely by people with this Mughal mindset. Another root of partition lay with the defeat of the Turkish Caliphate by the British in 1918. When that occurred, Muslims all over the world, and certainly in pre-independence India attempted to go back to their Islamic roots. One of the consequences was that they discouraged their children from attending secular schools, and encouraged education in Islamic schools, madrassas. The end of the Caliphate was a symbolic blow to Muslims who has grown up to look at the Islamic empire as extending from Arabia in the center to North Africa in the West, Southern Europe to the North and Central Asia, India and South East Asia to the East. The Caliph was the symbolic head of this empire, although he by no means controlled even a fraction of that empire. The word Caliph means deputy in Arabic, and the first Caliph had been appointed by the Prophet Mohammad, and the end of the Caliphate was the end of a long line of Caliphs that extended from antiquity.

A concept in Islam speaks of a dar ul Islam, a house of Islam - a house or a group of followers of Islam, and a dar ul harb or house of war, consisting of unbelievers - people who were not followers of Islam. Inherent in the concept of dar ul harb was that Islam, and Muslims would always be under threat in the dar ul harb. The concept probably dates back to the early years of Islam, when there was a central but rapidly expanding Islamic empire, around which were lands with non-Muslims who were at war with the followers of the new religion. For Muslims who could not have their way with separate representation in pre-independence India, staying in India would be tantamount to living under subjugation in the dar ul harb, a completely unacceptable situation, The demand for a separate state for Muslims only was a logical extension of this thought process.

The Friday Times had this to say (71):

In India, Muslim existence was deemed a kind of permanent emergency (dar-ul-harb) and migration was considered an option in the defiance of British raj.

Allama Iqbal, the poet who composed the popular Indian patriotic song Saare Jahaan se achcha, Hindustan hamara later paradoxically endorsed the need for a separate nation for Muslims (72):

Allama Iqbal asserted that there is only one nation opposed to the Muslim Umma, and that is the nation of non-Muslims! In other words, the world is divided into two camps, the Muslims and Non-Muslims.

Another key player in the call for Pakistan was Maulana Maududi, the ideological founder of Pakistan (73):

(The) Pakistan Movement was based on the theory that Muslims are entirely separate people from Hindus in every respect... This theory is popularly known as two-nation theory. Under the leadership of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the movement, in less than a decade gave birth to Pakistan The man who is most credited as an intellectual force behind the two-nation theory and a front against united Indian nationalism is Maulana Abul Ala Maududi.

A third factor that contributed to the formation of Pakistan was the political power aspiration of Mohammad Ali Jinnah who saw in the formation of the new nation of Pakistan a ready made constituency of Muslims, in addition to power and glory for himself and the new nation.

The result, as eloquently documented by Rajiv Malhotra, was (74):

Without any concrete ‘dispute’ between Hindus and Muslims, the logic that prevailed was that Muslims require segregation of political and social life in order to be in compliance with the demands of sharia. The Two-Nation Theory was a manifestation of the doctrine of darul-islam versus dar-ul-harb.

With Islam, and Islamic reasons being the basis for the formation of Pakistan, Pakistanis have, right from the beginning, been taught to regard themselves as Muslims first and foremost, and as opposed to being citizens of the nation, Pakistan. Pakistan was supposed to be a homeland for Muslims of India and its formation was pushed through by the groups who wanted it, over the wishes of other groups, including some such as the Jamaat-i-Islami who did not favor the formation of Pakistan.

Not much thought was put into whether a state based on religion alone would be able to survive. With Jinnah as leader the heady success of nation formation in 1947 was enough. Pakistan had come into existence. It was Islamic. It was not Indian. It was a victory of Islam over the British and the Hindus. The fact of being Pakistani brought with it a liberal dose of pride, satisfaction, honour and dignity. For the new Pakistanis India was a land of kafirs, unbelievers. It was a land of superstition, discrimination, hunger and poverty. A nation in decline. Pakistan would not be like India. Pakistan would be progressive, strong and Islamic. And Pakistan would claim to represent the Muslims who had stayed behind in India. Pakistan would represent Islam itself it would be a leading light of Islam in the world. It was the first Islamic state to be created in the modern era ab initio.

Although the purpose of this book is to present a study of Pakistan after partition, it would not be out of place to mention briefly the civilizational effect that partition had on India. When studied over centuries, civilizations can often be seen to behave like live beings. In civilizational terms, the splitting up of British India into modern India and Pakistan can be compared to an act of auto-amputation. This is a condition in which a live human body spontaneously discards and casts off a dead or diseased part, such as a toe or a fingertip so that the body itself can survive and not be affected by the disease that damaged the toe or finger. For India partition was akin to that - a civilizational auto-amputation.

In one convulsive act, the people of the Indian subcontinent agreed to place all the people who wanted to live and work in a united India in one place, and and all the people who did not wish to live and work in India were placed in Pakistan.

Strange as it may sound, this tumultuous self-mutilating act was a profoundly democratic one, in which those who wanted to opt out of India were allowed to opt out, and those who wanted to stay, stayed. The actual act of partition was accompanied by horrifying suffering and death, but after five decades the memories of the pain are beginning to fade; more than two-thirds of the population of India having been after 1947, after the painful events of partition. It is easier for these younger Indians to see that for India, partition was not so much an act of separation of all Hindus from all Muslims, but it merely segregated a sub-group of Indians who did not want to co-exist with other Indians. The vast majority of Indians rooted for India and worked for India.

Pakistanis did not see things that way. They saw themselves as Muslims, and Pakistani leaders assumed that the Muslims remaining in India would automatically rise up and revolt, and that India would fragment and break. They were wrong. The initial fragmentation and breaking that occurred at partition, continued in Pakistan, with the formation of Bangladesh. Pakistan had filled itself with people whose intent was less to live and work in harmony, and more to live away from some group or the other.

It was only after the formation of Pakistan that all the assumptions made about Islam as a unifying concept began to break down. There were contradictions at every turn. The 15 million mohajirs who migrated to Pakistan from India were not welcomed. But they were educated and held all the important bureaucratic posts. The mohajirs found that their survival in Pakistan would be made easier by creating and maintaining an India scare - a phobia against the scheming Hindu who was out to subjugate or kill all Muslims. The mohajirs, the Muslim elite of India who had migrated to Pakistan were in an ideal position to concoct any stories they wished about the bestial Hindus they had left behind.

Apart from the mohajirs was the other half of Pakistan, East Pakistan, with its people, the Bengalis. The fact that East Pakistani Bengalis were Muslim did not help to stop the West Pakistani disdain for the short, dark, fish and rice-eating Bengali, as opposed to the tall, fair, wheat eating Pakistani Punjabi. The possibility of democracy in Pakistan brought with it the threat of a short, dark, rice-eating Bengali becoming Prime Minister of Pakistan. That would have been totally unacceptable to the Pakistani Punjabi. Punjabis made up 90% of the Pakistani army, and the army had no intention of seeing its Punjabi dominance being subordinate to the inferior Bengali.

This complex web of factors kept Pakistanis from uniting with each other but the Islam argument was used for unity. Any threat, and any setback to Pakistan, even when caused by internal politics and mismanagement was blamed on India. India and Indians were continuously and bitterly accused of being anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim. It was drummed into ordinary Pakistanis that they must be good Muslims, and while Pakistanis struggled to meet the standards set for them, the ruling elite lived as they pleased.

In his book, Among the Believers (75), Nobel Prize winning author V.S. Naipaul describes travels through Pakistan, and records interviews with a diverse group of Pakistanis. A repeated observation that comes out is that the ordinary Pakistani citizen is under pressure to be a good Muslim. The Pakistani citizen is judged by whether he is a good Muslim or not. Every act or event in Pakistan has to be seen through the prism of whether it is Islamic or not. One of the problems that crops up from this is the definition of “Who is a good Muslim?”.

Naipaul says:

To be a devout Muslim was always to have distinctive things to do; it was to be guided constantly by rules; it was to live in a fever of the faith and always to be aware of the distinctiveness of the faith.

And Pakistanis believed that this was all that was needed. It was only necessary for everyone to be a good Muslim, and everything else would look after itself. After all Islam had given them a nation. It would now provide for that nation.

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