Was the Two Nation Theory flawed?
Pakistan, the product of the two-nation theory, is struggling to be a nation, 65 years after conception.
Even the usually taciturn army chief has lamented,
“Disillusionment, desperation, religious bigotry, political disharmony and discord seem to permeate our lives.”
Much of this is the unintended consequence of the theory.
Jinnah had realised that the theory had the potential for unleashing fissiparous tendencies that would cripple national development.
Just three days prior to independence, he called on Pakistanis not to interject religion into their public lives. The important role of minorities was enshrined in the national flag with a white bar.
Jinnah’s call was a tall order that would test the mettle of his countrymen. Soon after his death, they succumbed to the centrifugal forces of religious intolerance unleashed by the notion that Muslims were so different from Hindus that they constituted a nation of their own.
They were unable to comply with the centripetal forces of “unity, faith, and discipline” that Jinnah espoused in every other speech during his short tenure as governor general.
The theory failed to build a nation because it was mired in contradictions.
If Muslims and Hindus were two separate nations, then how were the Hindus in Pakistan going to lead normal lives?
Their lives would be just as circumscribed as the lives of the Muslims left behind in India. How realistic were Jinnah’s calls for relegating religion to the private sphere, coming within days after religion had been used to create their nation?
This U-turn was as incomprehensible to the common man as it was to the political scientist.
The theory’s central premise was shattered when East Pakistan, home to a majority of Pakistanis, broke away in 1971. It proved that the Muslims living in the western and eastern provinces were two nations and not one.
Going a few centuries back in time, when the Timurid prince Babur invaded northern India in 1526, was it not the case that he had attacked a Muslim ruler, Sultan Ibrahim Lodhi, and not a Hindu ruler?
If Muslims were indeed a single nation, then why would Babur mount the attack? Being Muslim did not represent political unity.
Indeed, wasn’t Muslim history full of battles and fights between Muslims in which the most atrocious war crimes had been carried out?
If they shared a common religion, history, social mores and cultural values, why were Muslims unable to live in peace and harmony with each other? Was religion unable to bridge differences in ethnicity, language, culture, history and geography?
If it could not bridge these ‘secular’ differences, then how was it supposed to bring peace and harmony among the ethnically eclectic and geographically diverse groups that were to comprise Pakistan?
Even if Hindus and Muslims were truly two separate nations, was it not still possible for them to live amicably in a single country, like they had done for the most part under British rule for a century and under Mughal rule for two prior centuries.
How was it that Hindus, who were in majority, had allowed themselves to be ruled by a minority during the Mughal period but that Muslims, facing the prospect of independence from the British, were unwilling to allow themselves to be ruled by the majority?
Furthermore, why should the theory only be true in pre-partition India?
If it were true, then Muslims everywhere should be living in a single country, not in 56 countries (just in the Arab world there are 23.) If religion is not sufficient to bind all Muslims into a single country, then how could it bind the Muslims of India into a single country?
What is there to prevent the theory from being invoked in all other countries where Muslims are in a minority?
What is there to prevent the proliferation of ‘little Pakistan’ in the US, Europe or Latin America?
The fact that none of this has happened invalidates the theory’s central postulate.
In science, a theory is only accepted if it stands up to evidence; the two-nation theory does not and should be rejected.
Not so, say its adherents. They have converted the theory into a dogma which leads them to assert that Pakistan’s serial failures are due to bad leadership and not faults in the design.
As Pakistanis ponder their future, they should reflect on why Jinnah, who used religion to create Pakistan, also urged them to confine it to their private lives.
Time has exposed the contradictions of the two nation theory. As a basis for nationhood, religion is divisive.
If it is to survive the current crisis, one of many that has visited it in the past decade, each worse than its predecessor, another basis will have to be found for Pakistan’s nationhood.
What might that be?
Read more by Dr Ahmad here or follow him on Twitter @AhmadFaruqui