Two-nation theory

Published on Saturday, December 27, 2008

Two-nation theory

Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury

NIZAMI'S statement eulogising the "two-nation theory" shows that the party remains loyal to its dark past. He tries to justify the hypothesis on which Pakistan was created. He argued that if Pakistan had not been created, Bangladesh would never have been born.

Coming on Victory Day, such statements are an insult to our national ethos. It is apparent that Nizami has poor understanding of history and is engaged in hoodwinking the people. It was also clear that renaming of "Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh" to "Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami" was nothing more that a cosmetic "cut and paste" job, signifying no change in the ideological position of the party.

That people like Nizami can get away with dishing out defunct theories with virtual impunity shows how easily the history of the emergence of Bangladesh can be distorted.

What is the "two-nation theory?" It is based on the assumption that the Hindus and Muslims of the subcontinent needed separate states. The idea, initially postulated by Allama Iqbal in 1937, was taken up by the All India Muslim League led by M.A. Jinnah.

Muslim League adopted a resolution in 1940 calling for the establishment of "Pakistan," a separate homeland for the Muslims. Jinnah expanded the hypothesis in 1944 when he argued that Muslims of India constituted a separate nation based on "distinctive culture and civilisation, language and literature, art and architecture, names and nomenclature, sense of values and proportion, legal laws and moral code, customs and calendar, history and traditions ---- ."

The theory lumped together the people of South Asia into Hindus and Muslims, ignoring the vast cultural, ethnic and linguistic differences that existed within each religious community, and the fact that religion was only one of the many factors that contributed towards making a nation.

Pakistan and Israel are the only two countries that were created on the basis of religion. The fallacy of the two-nation theory is brought out eloquently by Irfan Husain, a Pakistani columnist, when he writes: "This theory sought to bind a Muslim in Dhaka with one in Dharampura, and a Hindu in Sukkur with one in Simla. The reality was very different. A Muslim Bengali had far more in common with a Hindu from Calcutta than a Punjabi Muslim, while a Pushtun from Durra is much closer culturally and ethnically to his cousin in Jalalabad in Afghanistan than he is to a Muslim in Chittagong. These very real differences were glossed over by the over-simplifications on which the two-nation theory is based." No wonder, Pakistan could not find an anchor for more than half a century, and is still in search of a national identity.

Many Pakistani politicians and academics think that the bloody birth of Bangladesh in 1971 signified the collapse of the two-nation theory. But people like Altaf Hussain of Muhajir Quomi Movement (MQM) believe that the two-nation theory died as early as in 1949, when Pakistan closed its boundaries for the Muslims left behind in India.

Karamatullah K. Ghori, a former Pakistani diplomat writes: "The core of this ideology was its emphasis on 'all the Indian Muslims' being one nation, without any distinction of provincial or state (the princely states of India) affiliation. However, the independent state of Pakistan itself scuttled this core principle when, early in 1949, it imposed restrictions on the immigration of Muslims from India, thus shutting its doors on those who were late in making up their mind about Pakistan."

Although a few million Muslims migrated to Pakistan, many decided to stay on in India; today India has almost as many Muslims as Pakistan. Even Jinnah saw the contradiction inherent in the theory. Thus, he stated: "You will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State."

Today, Pakistan is torn by many separatist movements. The Muhajirs (Refugees) from India are demanding the rights to be treated as a separate sub-nationality, thus the birth of MQM. There is an armed nationalist separatist movement in Baluchistan and an ongoing insurgency in FATA. Even within Punjab, there is a growing demand for the recognition of "Saraiki" as a separate language and cultural identity. Most menacingly, the Shia-Sunni conflict is splitting the Pakistani society asunder.

As Islam is portrayed as the sole source of national identity in Pakistan, the clerics become more powerful. While they remain unpopular with the masses, their partner-in-arms happens to be the military, another unpopular institution in Pakistan. The mullah-military nexus, aided by landed aristocracy and a manipulative bureaucracy, is a serious challenge to democracy and social progress in Pakistan.

It is interesting to note that Maulana Maududi, the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami, had opposed the creation of Pakistan and termed Jinnah a half-Muslim. Upon his migration to Pakistan, he started the campaign to establish a state based on Islamic Sharia. Jamaat-e-Islami, that opposed the creation of Pakistan, posed to be the defender of its ideology soon after its creation.

We can see a similarity with the scenario in Bangladesh today. Jamaat-e-Islami, that opposed the Bangladesh Liberation War on the plea of defending an Islamic state, is today posing to be the defender of Bangladesh's ideology. Such are the twists of manipulative politics.

The two-nation theory stands rejected by the Muslims of India, Bangladesh, and even many in Pakistan, but people of Nizami's hue appear to be more Pakistani than many Pakistanis.

That playing politics with religion ultimately brings ruination is proven by the sad spectacle in Pakistan -- a nation that had the highest number of suicide attacks in the world in 2008. We need to learn from others' mistakes for we may not live long to make those ourselves.

The article has been published in Daily Star. The author is a freelance contributor to The Daily Star and member of Mukto-Mona. He sent the article for publication in Mukto-Mona.
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