What Jinnah envisioned for Pakistan as a state remains a distant dream. We continue to grope in darkness for a constitutional state based on equal rights and separation of religion from the state. But we have walked slowly and steadily in the opposite direction.
Let us clear some of the fog about Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan first. I believe Jinnah’s speech before the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947, is unambiguous about what kind of ideas of state and nation-building our great leader had in mind. In a nutshell, he wanted citizenship not religion as the founding principle of the new state. His frequently quoted parts of the speech, “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state” is neither understood in terms of the context nor for the selection of the expression.
Contextual interpretation is extremely important for any great speech or analysis, undertaken by historians and later-day commentators to explain the intent of great leaders. For the context, Pakistan was only three days away from achieving independence. Secondly, the forum was the Constituent Assembly of the new state, tasked with the responsibility of framing a new constitution.
Jinnah, like many other Muslim leaders of the subcontinent who strived for the creation of a new state comprising the Muslim majority areas, was a modernist. The three streams of philosophy that influenced movement for Pakistan, unfortunately, got pushed back with the second generation of Pakistani leaders — constitutional struggle for the protection of minority rights, modernism and a territorial state. Let us spell these ideas in some detail.
The cultural roots of minority Muslim nationalism go back many centuries. Over time, Muslims developed a deep sense of identity but within the Indian context. As the issues of representation in the elected assemblies and state institutions under colonial rule emerged important for all communities, the Muslim community began to raise demands for proportionate representation. The community thought it was their right to do so, which was, on occasion, granted through separate electorates. As the Muslims and other parts of the Indian nation struggled for independence, the constitutional protection of rights in the post-colonial, unified state emerged as the defining issue for the Muslims. They wanted it to be settled before the English left; it was the collective failure of the British, Congress and the Muslim League that galvanised the demand for Pakistan. What we have done with our own religious minorities after independence is another story — truly heartbreaking.
There is a social and political category all over the world called the modernists that we also find among the dreamers and founders of Pakistan. The modernists don’t reject the past, or the heritage in cultural and religious spheres. They essentially live in modern times and propose and implement solutions to the contemporary problems of the society on rational, pragmatic and practical grounds.
Pakistan, in my view, is a territorial state. Its acronym is drawn from the territorial domains it contains. It also means that all citizens of all faiths, sects and religious pursuits are equal citizens. These are the founding ideas of Pakistan, which the successive generations of Pakistanis have lost.
The counter-narratives about the creation of Pakistan and what kind of state and society we should have replaced our founding ideas. It was expedient for the ruling groups to play an emotional Islamic card in politics rather than build a modern, nation state based on equal citizenship. Doing so would have required democracy and constitutionalism that our ruling classes have accepted only as conveniences and not as ideology — the ideology of Jinnah.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2011.