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August 11, 2020

A one nation theory


August 11, 2020

It has now become fashionable to quote Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech every year on its anniversary to feel good that Pakistan was created on broad-based liberal principles, and also to give a sop to the minorities that there is hope – still. While there will always be several interpretations of Jinnah’s August 11 speech, let me support one interpretation and try to make some sense out of it.

One way to look at Jinnah’s speech is to note that he was positing a new theory of citizenship for Pakistan based on the concept of ‘one nation.’ While Jinnah argued that India was composed of two nations which were so different that they could not live together and so Pakistan was a necessity, he also realised that one cannot lead a country which is divided into several nations.

Jinnah was fearful of Hindu majoritarianism (and these days we know what he was talking about!), and once that fear was removed, he wanted his ‘nation’ – the Muslims – to found a country where there would be no ‘angularities of majority and minority communities’.

In Jinnah’s Pakistan then, one could argue, there would be no political Muslim nation or Hindu nation, but one political ‘Pakistani nation’. This would ensure a united country and nation, which could forge a new path. As Professor Faisal Devji argues, Jinnah wasn’t really interested in history, or things of the past; therefore, his new country was to be a modern one, which left the baggage of the past and looked towards the future.

There was also a practical element to Jinnah’s August 11 speech. When he was delivering it, 24.6 percent of western Pakistan and 30.1 percent of eastern Pakistan was non-Muslim. As the large-scale exodus of the non-Muslims from Pakistan had yet to commence, on August 11, it could be reasonably expected that a large number of them would stay behind. Thus, a governor-general designate could not, just on the eve of the creation of the country, disenfranchise and make second class over a quarter of his own citizens.

No wonder then that when on the same day the flag of Pakistan was unfurled, prime minister designate, Liaquat Ali Khan, emphatically stated that the white was 25 percent of the flag, denoting all the several non-Muslims in the country. Jinnah too resigned his presidentship of the Muslim League in December 1947, citing his leadership of the whole Pakistani nation, not just its Muslims.

After Jinnah the leader who truly understood the ‘One Nation Theory’ was Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, prime minister of Pakistan in 1956-7. A formidable personality, a sharp mind, and perhaps the best prime minister Pakistan ever had, Suhrawardy was also acutely aware that Pakistan could only survive on the propagation of a One Nation Theory.

Just like Jinnah, Suhrawardy held that the common citizenship of all Pakistanis, Muslims and non-Muslims, was the basis of the ‘one nation’ of Pakistan, and nothing else. He even said: ‘There is, thus, a radical difference between the conception of the Millat-e-Islam which transcends geographical boundaries, and the conception of a Pakistani nation or qaum which has boundaries and has a peculiar entity which differentiates it from other nations.’

Speaking again, the then prime minister of Pakistan emphasised: ‘In one state there cannot be two nations… If we continue to contend that Pakistan is also inhabited by two nations, Pakistan should logically be split into two.’ Thus, if Pakistan were to work, or even survive, it had to have one common and equal citizenship for all – regardless of the personal religious beliefs of the people.

In the seventy-three years since August 11 speech of Jinnah, and the sixty-four years since Suhrawardy’s extrapolation of the same, we are still stuck on the point. Time and again all non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan have expressed their desire to be part of the ‘one nation’ of Pakistan – only to be scoffed at.

When the Hindus wanted joint electorates to foster national unity in the 1950s, despite the reality that their numbers might decrease, they were opposed by the majority Muslims. When Christians wanted to play a part in the education of the country, they were rewarded by the nationalisation of their schools and colleges in 1972. When the Kalash wanted to live in peace and foster a multicultural view of Pakistan, mass conversion drives targeted them.

When Hindus just wanted to survive in Pakistan, their girls were abducted and forcibly converted. And when non-Muslims were still reeling from being denied equality with Muslims in law under the Qanun-e-Shahadat Ordinance, they were gifted the blasphemy law to ensure further subjugation and threats.

Seventy-three years ago on August 11, Bhim Sen Sachar, then a member of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, asked Liaquat Ali Khan that he hoped that the country would not create any more minorities, to which Liaquat replied: ‘I happen to be a majority in Pakistan and therefore it will not be my desire to create any more minorities.’ However, since then only newer minorities have been created. Some people claim that the Two Nation Theory sank in the Bay of Bengal in 1971, but if one understands Jinnah, it ended at the creation of Pakistan, when the ‘One Nation’ of Pakistan emerged without such angularities.

Unless we return to this fundamental principle of ‘One Nation’, Pakistan can never develop, nor prosper or be at peace with itself.

The writer is a historian at ITUniversity Lahore.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter @BangashYK