Was the Two Nation Theory flawed?

If Pakistan was created on the basis of religion, Muslims everywhere should be living in a single country.

Ahmad Faruqui January 29, 2013
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
Ahmad Faruqui An economist and a political commentator based in San Francisco. Author of "Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan" and "Musharraf's Pakistan, Bush's America and the Middle East.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Burjor | 11 years ago | Reply Yes the two nation theory is completely flawed. One can keep arguing and arguing. I think India is more or less on the right track, Pakistan is simply not. People in India have a future to look foreward to, People in Pakistan do not. People from Pakistan wish to move to India, people from India do not wish to move to Pakistan. Pakistan's very name is associated with all the wrong things in life, i.e. terrorism, taliban, violence, non-state actors, intolerance, bigotry, etc. Even Bangladesh keeps a safe distance from Pakistan, a major part of Pakistan before their independence. Pakistan has got a lot of proving to do, for all the sacrifices that were made for its creation.
Anoop | 11 years ago | Reply @Inam: "Gandhi was loved, and Jinnah was respected. Gandhi could resort to extra-constitutional mean" You wanted Gandhi to respect the Constitution of the British? People who stood on the streets, in a non-violent way were beaten up and hauled off to jails, because the British had created a system which allowed this. This system is not something to be proud of or tolerated. If it is your country and somebody else has written that Constitution and devised the system, and you are looted beyond belief, you can be excused of protesting and resorting to extra constitutional means. http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/2012/06/16/the-britishers-came-here-too-loot-so-did-everyone-else/ A nation which had the 2nd largest economy in the 18th century, was reduced to having only 1% of the global trade in the world, in just 2 centuries. Jinnah was a Constitutionalist, yes. But, was he one all his life? Didn't he dismiss the elected Govt in NWFP as soon as he came to power? Didn't he appoint himself Governor General, while Nehru gave that position to Mountbatten? Didn't Jinnah send in tribal warriors after not accepting the accession agreement India got from the Raja? Was that Constitutional? Jinnah lacked ideas. He allows Feudals into his party, after they were scared of Nehru's Land Reforms and ran to the Muslim League. Liaquat Ali Khan was himself a Feudal lord! Nehru said there will be no official language in India. But, Jinnah didn't hesitate a moment in naming Urdu, an alien language, as Pakistan's language. Nehru and Gandhi understood India much more than Jinnah ever did. People outside the sub continent study about Gandhi, not Jinnah, for a reason. The world wept when Gandhi died, to this day streets are named after the great man. I bet most school students in the West know about Gandhi but not Jinnah. Nehru and Gandhi had much better ideas than Jinnah. To this day there is debate going on in Pakistan if Jinnah was a secular guy or a guy who wanted Islam and Sharia. That was because he spoke for both sides. There is no confusion what Gandhi and Nehru stood for. Because they, especially Nehru, were very clear in what they wanted and, more importantly, how they wanted it.
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