August Special

Two-Nation Theory’s Continual Relevance

Even after 74 years of independence of the subcontinent and the creation of Pakistan, the debate continues whether the Two-Nation Theory was based on real and unbridgeable cultural divisions between the Muslim and Hindu communities, or it was a superficial narrative skillfully used by the Indian Muslim League to be counted politically as the sun of the British Empire was soon to set after the Second World War. Those who contend in support of the latter now also refer to the separation of East Pakistan. The primary argument goes that no religion can ever be a binding force to build a nation-state. 



During my stint in New Delhi as Pakistan’s High Commissioner (2014-2017), I had met several Hindus who would stridently argue that, while religious differences existed between Hindus and Muslims, they had been by and large living in harmony for centuries. Hence, creating a separate homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent made no sense. In fact, the Two-Nation Theory was a British conspiracy and part of the “divide-and-rule” machination. It was unfortunate that both Muslim and Hindu leaders fell prey to the British intrigues. Resultantly, they are still fighting even with separate states and durable peace seems to have become more of a wild goose chase. Moreover, Pakistan-India hostility is also the biggest impediment to regional cooperation and integration. 
These arguments, however politically driven, cannot be dismissed especially when Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah himself strongly believed in Hindu-Muslim unity and was willing to be flexible and forego the divide had Congress agreed to the 1946 Cabinet Mission plan. It can thus be argued that it was the intransigent Hindu leadership of the Congress that was mainly responsible for pushing the Indian Muslims to the wall. By spurning every proposal that sought to protect the legitimate interests of minority Muslims in a united India, Congress made the creation of Pakistan inevitable. 
So far so good. The fact of the matter is that much before Congress and Muslim League could evolve their respective positions on the issue, Hindu Mahasabha (founded in 1915) – under the leadership of V. D. Savarkar – was already sowing seeds for the breakup of the subcontinent. It was his worldview of Hinduism that gave birth to Hindutva, which in essence, was hubristic, myopic and divisive at the same time. 
In his well-known pamphlet Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?, published in 1923, Savarkar writes, “Hinduness is shaped by the indigenous history, geography, politics and culture of India. Hinduism is a political and cultural idea which would shape a Hindu Rashtra. Only those religions born in India, such as, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, could be part of Hindutva; and the followers of alien faiths such as Islam and Christianity needed to be converted to any of the indigenous Indian religions to qualify being called Indian; or to retain their converted faiths in Akhand Bharat they needed to acknowledge their Hindu roots.” 
His political interpretation of Hinduism was deeply inspired by the right-wing political movements of fascism and Nazism, then prevailing and thriving in Europe. He also managed to build a solid support of Hindutva votaries in India, which also led to the establishment of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar in 1925, who also became its first “Sarsanghchalak”. In 1940, M. S. Golwalkar became its longest serving chief till his death in 1973. In his book, Bunch of Thoughts, he goes a step further from Savarkar and writes as follows: “The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion; must entertain no ideas but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, that is, of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges far less any preferential treatment—not even citizen’s rights.”


Jinnah was a man of vision. While he did make efforts towards keeping India united, he was beyond nurturing illusions. In his address at Lahore in 1940, he said: “Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs and literary traditions. They neither intermarry nor inter-dine, and indeed they belong to two different civilizations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions.” 


Not surprisingly, after independence, RSS rejected the Indian Constitution for being secular as well as the tricolor Indian flag, insisting that saffron color represented the Hindu Rashtra. No wonder, Gandhi was assassinated by an RSS extremist within months (January 30, 1948) after independence. 
Although Congress would uncompromisingly project itself as a secular party, it ended up only maintaining optics. They never agreed to take the genuine grievances of Indian minorities on board especially Muslims, and jettisoned many a proposal aimed at safeguarding the rights of minorities. They always looked askance at separate electorates, considering them against democracy. Whereas Muslims always took separate electorates in the spirit of an affirmative action rather than a demand for a separate homeland. 
It was only in March 1940 that Muslims demanded a separate homeland as provided for in the Lahore Resolution (now called Pakistan Resolution). Even thereafter, Jinnah was open to suggestions for keeping India united but Congress, far removed from ground realities, would continue riding roughshod over legitimate concerns of the Indian Muslim League.
Finally, the subcontinent was divided into two countries and Pakistan emerged on the world map on August 14, 1947 with two parts, East and West, with no geographical propinquity. A new nation-state was thus born on the basis of religion. However, millions of Muslims still decided to stay back in India. Some Islamic parties even opposed the idea of Pakistan for a raft of reasons. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the most prominent Muslim Congress leader, even predicted that Pakistan would fall apart within 25 years. East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971. 
Jinnah was a man of vision. While he did make efforts towards keeping India united, he was beyond nurturing illusions. In his address at Lahore in 1940, he said: “Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs and literary traditions. They neither intermarry nor inter-dine, and indeed they belong to two different civilizations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions.” 
Whatever has been happening in India since independence clearly testifies to Jinnah’s foresightedness. Indian Muslims, even Christians, are seemingly living in a perpetual state of Hindu tyranny. Even during the successive Congress governments from Nehru to Manmohan Singh, the world has witnessed several communal riots leading to further denigration of Indian Muslims. Under Modi Sarkar, Indian Muslims have been further pushed against the wall. Not only have they been rendered politically irrelevant, they are also facing an enormous pressure to transform themselves culturally and accept being called “Hindu Muslims”.


In a country where Muslims are not even allowed to perform their basic religious duties, how can that country be called secular? Needless to emphasize that India has, for all practical purposes, become a Hindu state. Minorities will continue to have an increasingly difficult time. They have been made politically irrelevant and with little space or opportunities to thrive economically. 


Prime Minister Modi, being an RSS trained politician with strong roots in Hindutva, has been brought to power by the RSS to fulfil its long-standing agenda of making India a Hindu state. Corporate India has also been very tactfully co-opted in this project. The RSS, thrice banned in India for its terrorist and violent activities, is now going all out with enormous resources to keep minorities – especially Muslims – under pressure. Informal projects to wit, Love Jihad (to prevent inter-faith marriages) and Ghar Wapsi (to reconvert Muslims and Christians to Hinduism and stop further conversions) are examples of how the life of minorities in India is moving from bad to worse. 
Hindu cow vigilantes are also openly showing their religious intolerance. During the last seven years, several Muslims have been mob-lynched by Hindu zealots for eating beef. This is despite the fact that states like West Bengal, Kerala, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Assam, Nagaland and Tripura have not yet totally prohibited cow slaughter. Nevertheless, it is anyone’s guess how long these states would be able to resist the onslaught of Hindutva. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is making fast political inroads, even into the North-Eastern states, which is indeed a bad augury for those Indians who genuinely believe in secularism. They fear that as secularism weakens in India, the country will find it increasingly difficult to keep itself together. 


Despite initial setbacks, Urdu has almost become the lingua franca, providing another strong bond of unity and nationhood; it is a healthy sign that major ethnic groups also jealously guard their respective vernaculars. Similarly, from food and clothes to music, Pakistan is fast becoming its own unique brand. All these add to make Pakistan a truly vibrant nation-state.


And then what the BJP government did to the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019, stripping it of its special status, was nothing but integral to realizing the long-standing RSS agenda of Akhand Bharat. For the first time, Kashmiri Muslims were denied the right to even perform the religious ritual of sacrificing animals on the occasion of Eid-ul-Azha this year. The restriction was not only on cow slaughter but on other animals as well including sheep, goat and camel. 
In a country where Muslims are not even allowed to perform their basic religious duties, how can that country be called secular? Needless to emphasize that India has, for all practical purposes, become a Hindu state. Minorities will continue to have an increasingly difficult time. They have been made politically irrelevant and with little space or opportunities to thrive economically. 
Now let us revert to Pakistan. The separation of East Pakistan was definitely a blow to the notion that religion can be the sole reason for a nation-state. However, a logical counter-argument can be made that East Pakistan, in its reincarnation as Bangladesh, did not accede to India. It retained its separate Muslim identity, knowing fully well that joining India and reunifying with West Bengal would be unpalatable. In 1974, Bangladesh also became a member of the OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference, now Cooperation).
Like India, Pakistan is not without its centrifugal forces. However, after all said and done, Islam continues to be the fundamental binding force among the people of Pakistan. The people of the four provinces take great pride in their respective rich cultures. Ethnically they are different but share the same religious beliefs and values; Pakistanis collectively aspire to build a strong Islamic welfare state. Pakistan is not a melting-pot. It is a bouquet of flowers where all ethnicities retain their individual identities but also slowly but surely are being woven into an evolving Pakistani mosaic. 
Despite initial setbacks, Urdu has almost become the lingua franca, providing another strong bond of unity and nationhood; it is a healthy sign that major ethnic groups also jealously guard their respective vernaculars. Similarly, from food and clothes to music, Pakistan is fast becoming its own unique brand. All these add to make Pakistan a truly vibrant nation-state.
In fine, it may be underlined that all nation-states, no matter how they come into being, do need a balanced and equitable politico-socio-economic system. Pakistan is no exception. No single overarching commonality can build a nation-state. When chips are down, even strong nations like Germany and France can be consumed by fissures fanned by unforeseen internal or external considerations. 
Pakistan is a young country. We have learnt from our past mistakes; ethnic diversities are not adversities, they are our strength. It is important to ensure that no province or ethnic community is left behind in our march towards socio-economic progress. 
Pakistanis are fortunate to have a separate homeland. This is our country where no one is a second-class citizen. It behooves us to keep expressing our deepest gratitude to our founding fathers for their political vision and struggle. 
Let there be no doubt that Islam is the raison d'être of Pakistan. We must be watchful and counter all those skewed and deceptive narratives that aim to wean us away from the fundamentals of Pakistan’s creation. It is time to recommit ourselves ever more forcefully to making Pakistan an Islamic welfare state.


The writer is the President of Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, Islamabad and has served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Germany, and High Commissioner for India. He has also served as FO Spokesperson from 2009-2012.
E-mail: [email protected]

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