Between Myth and History
By Ayesha Jalal

Pakistan’s impeccable record in commemorating the landmarks in its national struggle has not always been matched by an ability to coherently explain their historical significance.
Sixty-five years since its adoption by the All-India Muslim League, the Lahore Resolution remains mired in contentious debates among historians of South Asia as well as the protagonists of provincial versus central rights in Pakistan.
Not surprisingly, most Pakistanis are no nearer understanding how the would-be Magna Carta of their territorial statehood relates to their citizenship rights, far less squares the circle of the multiple conceptions of nationhood articulated by Muslims in the pre-independence period.
The Resolution’s claim that Indian Muslims were not a minority but a nation was raised on behalf of all the Muslims of the subcontinent. Yet the territorial contours of the newly created homeland for India’s Muslims in 1947 left almost as many Muslim non-citizens outside as there were Muslim citizens within.
Even after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 administered a rude shock to the official narratives of national identity, the contradiction between claims of nationhood and the achievement of statehood was never addressed, far less resolved.
The silence has been a major stumbling block in Pakistan’s quest for an identity which is consistent with the appeal of Islamic universalism as well as the requirements of territorial nationalism.
Instead of treating the Lahore Resolution as an issue of meta historical significance, an analytically nuanced history of the circumstances surrounding its passage can make for a stronger and more coherent sense of national identity.
Discussions about the historical significance of the Resolution have concentrated more on the political implications of the transformation of the Muslim minority community in India into a ‘nation’ rather than on the ambiguities surrounding the demand for Muslim ‘statehood’.
A close analysis of the historical context and actual content of the Resolution, however, suggests that there was no neat progression from an assertion of Muslim nationhood to the winning of separate statehood.
My book The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan (Cambridge, 1985) delineated the uneasy fit between the claim of Muslim ‘nationhood’ and the uncertainties and indeterminacies of politics in the late colonial era that led to the attainment of sovereign ‘statehood’.
Instead of grasping the salience of the argument, some historians and publicists on both sides of the 1947 divide have interpreted this as implying that the demand for a Pakistan was a mere ‘bargaining counter’.
In so far as politics is the art of the possible, bargaining is an intrinsic part of that art. To suggest, as some have glibly done, that Mohammed Ali Jinnah used Pakistan as a mere ruse against the Congress is a gross distortion of not only my argument but of the actual history.
My argument in The Sole Spokesman, and one that I confirmed in Self and Sovereignty: Individual and Community in South Asian Islam since 1850s (Routledge and Sang-i-Meel, 2000-1), was that while the insistence on national status for Indian Muslims became a non-negotiable issue after 1940, the demand for a wholly separate and sovereign state of ‘Pakistan’ remained open to negotiation as late as the summer of 1946.
A refusal to acknowledge this is a result of the failure to draw an analytical distinction between ‘nation’ and ‘state’. More problematic has been a flawed historical methodology that takes the fact of partition as the point of departure for interpreting the historical evolution of the demand for a ‘Pakistan’.
The historical backdrop of the Lahore Resolution makes plain why a claim to nationhood did not necessarily mean a complete severance of ties with the rest of India. Beginning with Mohammad Iqbal’s presidential address to the All-India Muslim League at Allahabad in December 1930, a succession of Muslims put forward imaginative schemes in the 1930s about how power might be shared between religiously enumerated ‘majorities’ and ‘minorities’ in an independent India.
In staking a claim for a share of power for Muslims on grounds of cultural difference, these schemes in their different ways challenged Congress’s right to indivisible sovereignty without rejecting any sort of identification with India.
Describing India as “the greatest Muslim country in the world”, Iqbal called for the establishment of a Muslim state in north-western India which would remain part of the sub-continental whole.
If even Iqbal was thinking in terms of an all-India whole, outright secession was simply not an option for Muslims hailing from provinces where they were in a minority.
Virtually all the schemes put forward by Muslims living in minority provinces considered themselves as ‘a nation in minority’ that was part of ‘a larger nation inhabiting Pakistan and Bengal’.
If Muslims in Hindustan were seen as belonging to a larger nation in north-western India, religious minorities in ‘Pakistan’ and Bengal were expected to derive security from sharing a common nationality with co-religionists dominating the non-Muslim state.
For the notion of reciprocal safeguards to work, Muslims and non-Muslims had to remain part of a larger Indian whole, albeit one that was to be dramatically reconceptualized in form and substance by practically independent self-governing parts.
Even schemes with secessionist overtones, most notably that of Chaudhary Rahmat Ali, wanted to carve out half a dozen Muslim states in India and consolidate them into a “Pakistan Commonwealth of Nations.’
What all these schemes led to was the claim that Muslims constituted a nation which could not be subjugated to a Hindu majority represented by the Congress. Taking this as its point of departure and avoiding mention of ‘partition’ or ‘Pakistan’, the League’s draft resolution called for the grouping of the Muslim-majority provinces in north-western and north-eastern India into ‘Independent States’ in which the constituent units would be ‘autonomous and sovereign’.
There was no reference to a center even though the fourth paragraph spoke of ‘the constitution’ to safeguard the interests of both sets of minorities, Muslim and non-Muslim. The claim that Muslims constituted a ‘nation’ was perfectly compatible with a federal or confederal state structure covering the whole of India.
With ‘nations’ straddling states, the boundaries between states had to be permeable and flexible. This is why years after the adoption of the resolution, Jinnah and the League remained implacably opposed to the division of the Punjab and Bengal along religious lines.
Historians and publicists in India have seized on the contradiction in the demand for a Pakistan based on the Muslim right of self-determination and the apparent unwillingness to grant the same right to non-Muslims living in Punjab and Bengal.
Much like their counterparts in Pakistan, they have conveniently glossed over the difference between a purely secessionist demand and one aimed at providing the building block for an equitable power sharing arrangement at the sub-continental level between two essentially sovereign states - ‘Pakistan’ based on the Muslim-majority provinces and Hindustan based on the Hindu-majority provinces.
With their singular focus on a monolithic and indivisible concept of sovereignty borrowed from the erstwhile colonial rulers, scholars and students of history on both sides of the 1947 divide have been unable to envisage a political arrangement based on a measure of shared sovereignty which might have satisfied the demands of ‘majorities’ as well as safeguarded the interests of religious minorities in predominantly Muslim and Hindu areas.
In 1944 and then again at the time of the Cabinet Mission Plan, the All-India Muslim League at the behest of Mohammad Ali Jinnah refused to accept a ‘Pakistan’ based on the division of the Punjab and Bengal.
It was Congress’s unwillingness to countenance an equitable power sharing arrangement with the Muslim League which resulted in the creation of a sovereign Pakistan based on the partition of Punjab and Bengal along ostensibly religious lines.
Cast against its will in the role of a state seceding from a hostile Indian union, Pakistan has tried securing its independent existence by espousing an ideology of Muslim ‘nationhood’ which has entailed riding roughshod over the provincial rights promised in the Lahore Resolution and dispensing with democracy for the better part of its history. It is no wonder that the claims of Muslim nationhood have been so poorly served by the achievement of territorial statehood.
Such historical insights may not appeal to the authors of the contending narratives of a Pakistani or an Indian identity. But even national myths require some resemblance to history.
Charting a linear course to the winning of Muslim statehood cannot even begin to grasp the vexed nature of the problems which faced a geographically dispersed and heterogeneous community in its bid to be considered a ‘nation’.
Nor can it explain why there are more sub-continental Muslims living outside Pakistan, the much vaunted Muslim homeland, in India and Bangladesh. Instead of being weighed under by opposing national reconstructions informed by the teleology of 1947, Pakistanis and Indians could craft a more accommodative future for the subcontinent by acknowledging the domain of political contingency, containing possibilities for different outcomes that lay between the adoption of the Lahore Resolution and partition seven years later.
(The writer is Professor of History, Tufts University, Massachusetts, US. - Courtesy Dawn)

Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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