Tucked away, last month, in the nether region of one of our leading daily press publications was a news item regarding a debate in the not-so-honourable national assembly on the subject of our non-existent law and order which had taken place on February 23, undoubtedly under-attended as the deputy speaker was presiding.
People’s representative Nadeem Afzal Gondal of the PPP, elected from Sargodha-I, stood up and stated the obvious: “Our leaders will have to give thought to separating religion from politics for the good of the country.” We are all surely unfamiliar with Gondal and his name, as we are with the vast majority of those propelled by the ballot box to sit in the 342-seats of the assembly. How many of these members think like Gondal? We have no idea. But we could hazard a guess, familiar as we are with the national mindset, and say that there could be but a mere handful.
What this honourable representative is advocating is a state of secularism. But then the word ‘secular’ in this country is regarded as a four-letter word — unmentionable (‘liberal’ has become another). Secular, as far as our learned divines and non-divines are concerned, denotes the negation of religion, whereas in actual fact it means quite the opposite. In secular states, all religions are accorded equal respect in the eye of the law and in the national mindset; no religion takes precedence over another and all are protected by law. But, secularism has to mean that there is no such thing as a majority or a minority based on religion.
The fatal mistake made by this state was the division made at its very birth, when its flag was so designed with green to represent the vast majority and a slip of white for the minorities. Once the differentiation is made and established, doom must follow. Then came Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s now famous address to his constituent assembly when he invoked the majority-minority factor. A division of India had to take place, he asserted, because one community was in the majority and the other in the minority. So, all was not well. Then why, did the new break-away country start off with majorities and minorities? Said Jinnah, “in this division it was impossible to avoid the question of minorities … ”.
He then urged his legislators to “change your past” so that every person regardless of caste, creed or colour is “first, second and last a citizen of this state with equal rights, privileges and obligation …”. He assured them that in the course of time the “angularities of the majority and minority communities… will vanish.” They did not, they multiplied to such an extent that they now prevail over all else in a highly deadly fashion.
Well, once you are dealing with a majority-minority situation, how on earth is equality to be assured? Equality does not recognise such a division — in equality there can be no majority or minority as there cannot be in a democracy. Equal means equal and nothing else. Jinnah did of course, also famously, state in that August 11, 1947 address that religion “is not the business of the state”, and MNA Gondal is merely standing by that statement when he told the miserably attended assembly that his leadership should do good for his country and follow the line of the country’s founder.
But the leadership will not without a revolution — a revolution of the national mindset which has to be turned completely upside down if this country is to ever be free of strife, of militant religiosity, of bigotry and intolerance. There cannot be minorities if it is to progress into the 21st century. The word ‘minority’ should be stricken from the Constitution, from the statute books, from the national mindset — and there should not be a stripe on the flag.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2011.