We have failed the Lahore Resolution

Published: March 22, 2011
The writer is an independent researcher on social development 

The writer is an independent researcher on social development rubina.saigol@tribune.com.pk

On March 23, 1940, the chief minister of Bengal, Maulvi Fazlul Haq presented the Lahore Resolution, later termed the Pakistan Resolution, at the 27th annual meeting of the All-India Muslim League held at Minto Park. The pivotal paragraphs of the resolution read as follows:

“It is the considered view of this session of the All India Muslim League that no Constitutional Plan would be workable in this country or acceptable to the Muslims, unless it is designed on the following basic principle, namely that geographically contiguous units are demarcated into regions which should be so constituted, with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary, that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in majority as in the North Western and Eastern Zones of India would be grouped to constitute ‘Independent States’ in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign.”

The Resolution further stated “that adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards shall be specifically provided in the constitution for minorities in the units and in the regions for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights of the minorities, with their consultation. Arrangements thus should be made for the security of Muslims where they were in a minority”. The session further “authorises the Working Committee to frame a scheme of constitution in accordance with these basic principles, providing for the assumption finally by the respective regions of all powers such as defence, external affairs, communications, customs, and such other matters as may be necessary.”

The Lahore Resolution was passed the next day, on March 24, 1940, and is widely believed to be the basis of the subsequent struggle for the establishment of Pakistan. However, a close reading of the text suggests that what was envisioned in 1940 differed in significant ways from the kind of state that emerged seven years later.

Firstly, while there is reference to “areas in which Muslims are numerically in majority”, there is no reference to a state based on religion. Subsequently, effective and adequate safeguards are sought not only for Muslims, where they constitute a minority, but also for minorities in Muslim majority areas. It is promised that the religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights of non-Muslims citizens would be protected with their consultation. In a sense, it can be argued that a theoretical equality was envisaged between Muslims and non-Muslims depending on which group constituted a minority.

The most telling lines of the Resolution are contained in the third paragraph which reads: “North Western and Eastern Zones of India would be grouped to constitute ‘Independent States’ in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign”. It seems that instead of one state, a group of states were envisaged, with each one being autonomous and sovereign. Instead of a monolithic state, a confederation appears to be imagined, since the idea of sovereignty is tied strongly to national states and not provinces.

The fifth paragraph, in fact, elaborates a little on the meaning of ‘sovereignty’ as the session tasks the Working Committee to frame a scheme of constitution that provides for the assumption by “respective regions of all powers such as defence, external affairs, communications, customs, and such other matters as may be necessary”. Here, there is reference to ‘respective regions’ and earlier to ‘independent states’ that would be sovereign and autonomous. Significantly, the resolution bestows the powers of defence, foreign affairs, communications and administrative matters, such as collection of customs duties, to the regions or states, rather than to a centralised entity.

The Resolution of 1940 thus does not merely envision maximum provincial autonomy; rather it goes much further and suggests a confederation of states or a loose federation with most of the powers vested in the states. The state that eventually emerged in 1947 acquired two characteristics that in fact nullified the principles contained within the Lahore Resolution. One, religious minorities were not given the appropriate safeguards with their consultation and the state moved steadily toward the imposition of one version of one religion on the country, with laws relegating the minorities to a secondary position. Secondly, Pakistan moved progressively toward centralised and authoritarian rule, thus negating the sovereign status of the regions which became merely constituent units of the state. With the passage of the 18th constitutional amendment, some powers have, at least theoretically, been devolved to the provinces, but we are still light years away from the promise of the Lahore Resolution.

Ironically and tragically, March 25 comes just one day after March 24, the day the resolution was passed. On the night of March 25, 1971, the army action began in former East Pakistan and soon turned into genocide, with millions of Bengalis mercilessly butchered and thousands raped by the defenders of the country. ‘Operation Searchlight’ was a complete negation of the independence and sovereignty embedded in the Lahore Resolution. The West Pakistani rulers, both military and civilian, refused to hand over power to the duly elected Awami League, which resulted in a resistance movement that culminated with the liberation of Bangladesh in December 1971. The unit of the federation in which the Muslim League was established in 1906 seceded from the federation!

Ironically, Mujibur Rehman’s ‘six points’ were in accordance with the levels of autonomy and sovereignty implicit and explicit in the Lahore Resolution. In fact the six points represented a federal, parliamentary form of government, and were in agreement that defence and foreign affairs should remain with the federal government. However, fiscal policies and the right to maintain a separate militia were to remain with the federating units. The West Pakistani rulers, who had used the resources generated by East Pakistani exports to invest in West Pakistan’s development, termed Mujibur Rehman a traitor for demanding the just rights of his people.

Today, as we once again remember the Lahore Resolution of March 1940, it may be instructive to reflect upon our actions in East Bengal and apply the lessons learned to another alienated people — that of Balochistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 23rd, 2011.

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Reader Comments (19)

  • Andrea
    Mar 22, 2011 - 11:06PM

    I think that Bengal was destined to be its own state from the beginning. They have more in common with the people of India but geographically they were so far away to the East of India.Recommend

  • John
    Mar 22, 2011 - 11:57PM

    At the adoption of Lahore resolution, it was party was floating on the idea that there will be separate Muslim constituent federated state within the greater British India, and Lahore resolution was never intended for separate nation of Pakistan.

    Nevertheless, the issues of federated state was not unique to Pakistan. within the subcontinent of Later Indian Union, each state fought for their rights, and a strong central government emerged with sovereign rights of monetary policy, defense, and foreign policy and all other residual powers were delegated to the states, including Language.

    The US also faced the same problems centuries earlier.

    In any federation, state rights are paramount and unless the federal/central government recognizes that there is always going to be a problem, especially in the Pakistan where multi ethnic and multi linguistic populace exists. The same issue surface in recently in Iraq during formation of new constitution. For better understanding of these issues, one can read the arguments of Thomas Jefferson (State rights champion) Vs J. Monroe and the Federalist Papers (Federal Rights) during US constitution formation. At the time of these arguments, the US was mono cultural populace, predominantly white, and by default the religion was only Christianity. Yet, the issues of State Vs Federal rights came about.

    In multiethnic, multi linguistic Pakistan, delegation of all residual powers except Currency, National defense, and Foreign policy will amalgamate the federation, as is being done recently. There are certain sticky issues such as Inter state commerce, state militia, local and federal taxes, including variation of local state laws, interstate extradition, and most importantly interstate resources such as water and mineral resources. These sticky issues are not unique to Pakistan and a good working model exists with US federation and in India.

    On Language the Pakistan should adopt India system, where in all languages are considered as national languages recognized by constitution, with predominant Urdu being federal language of choice but not sovereign. State education should incorporate both state language and Urdu beside English. A similarly tried and working system in India.

    The instance Jinnah said Urdu as the national language in Bengal, he alienated half of his country. Among other reasons, the failure of USSR was imposition of Russian language in Federation where the populace were multi ethnic and multi linguistic. Majority of the problems of certain African states can be traced to linguistic issue (tribal identity).

    In hind sight, the six point resolution was a very workable solution with minor modifications but for certain reasons unique to Pakistan of that time broke the federation. (pls ignore type errors)Recommend

  • T R Khan
    Mar 23, 2011 - 12:32AM

    On April 12, 1940, Lord Linlithgow. the Viceroy of India wrote to the Secretary of State for India:

    “Upon my instruction Zafarullah wrote a memorandum on the subject. Two Dominion States. I have already sent it to your attention. I have also asked him for further clarification, which, he says, is forthcoming. He is anxious, however, that no one should find out that he has prepared this plan. He has, however, given me the right to do with it what I like, including sending a copy to you. Copies have been passed on to Jinnah, and, I think, to Sir Akbar Hydari. While he, Zafarullah, cannot admit its authorship, his document has been prepared for adoption by the Muslim League with a view to giving it the fullest publicity.”

    Twelve days after it had been proposed, the Muslim League adopted the proposal at the Lahore Conference, calling it the Pakistan Resolution.Recommend

  • John
    Mar 23, 2011 - 12:56AM

    Interesting point. But then again, the idea of separate home land was the brain child of Bengali intellectuals at that time.

    In my view it is not the distance, in the case of Bengal. In the US Hawaii is far away and it joined the federation, while some US territories still not quiet sure. Yet the territories enjoy nearly all the privileges accorded to the states -state rights.

    In Bengal, Language was a hot button issue. Bengali language has a rich history of literature, predating Urdu. When Jinnah said Urdu as a single language in 1948 he distanced the populace and all other issues of state autonomy compounded the problem and 1971 was the end. Recommend

  • Mar 23, 2011 - 1:33AM

    Another 23rd March, pointless nationalism of pepsi sponsored “milli naghmai” and flag waving. How about people do their civic and patriotic duty and follow the law and pay their taxes? Any takers? Recommend

  • blackzero
    Mar 23, 2011 - 1:59AM

    Do you think these verbose and rhetoric articles can change the mindset of establishment which considers the natural resources of all the provinces as their patrimony. Just have a look on Karachi,75% of the precious land and territories have been grabbed by establishment in the name of Cantonment Boards along with posh residential areas of DHA and Clifton.They have their own rules and regulations within the confinements and city govt has no right to intervene in any matter whatsoever.I fully agree with Ayesha Siddiqa that we have an state within a state in the form of military establishment which can even go up to the point of slaughtering its own people for the sake of its economical,social and political sovereignty as is happening in Baluchistan and as it happened in Bengal.Recommend

  • faraz
    Mar 23, 2011 - 2:18AM

    Dhaka fall is the most shameful event of our history which people just write off as conspiracy. Its directly related with the issues of autonomy which were promised under Lahore Resolution. Such was our short sighted leadership that it expected Bengalis to speak a language they never knew. Was the Muslim League going to organize Urdu language classes for 80 million Bengalis? No wonder, Muslim league was wiped out in 1954 provincial elections. Recommend

  • bs
    Mar 23, 2011 - 4:47AM

    In reply to @John, In India, Hindi is not compulsory in the non-Hindi states. It was to be made the sole official language and compulsory for all states, but in 1965, after serious anti-Hindi agitations in may southern Indian states, Hindi was no longer the sole official language and compulsory; a constitutional change was enacted to this effect. Today, Hindi is a federal official language along with English. All the regional languages are recognized as national languages.Recommend

  • Majeed
    Mar 23, 2011 - 6:19AM

    India has the architecture of the a federal state (Eg. US) and that of a cultural bloc (Eg. Europe). In that sense, EU is actually the European version of India / US whereas India is a subcontinental model based on US+EU.

    This model should be replicable across all of South Asia. No Balochi, Punjabi, Bengali, Pakhtoon, Tajik, Sindhi, Sinhali, Nepali, Kashmiri could have a problem with this. As all would get to keep their identity and still belong to a common economic and socio-cultural sphere.

    After nearly seven decades of groping in the dark, the only way to go is reconciliation and a shared platform. Just the way, the sub-continent has been, when it has been most productive. Which, sigh … seems such a long time ago. Recommend

  • John
    Mar 23, 2011 - 9:58AM

    Yep, I never said contrary to what you have said. I did not elaborate on the language issues on India and how they overcame it since I felt the people of the sub continent can easily follow my thoughts. Recommend

  • Yasser Latif Hamdani
    Mar 23, 2011 - 10:26PM

    There are a few points that need to be made. The paragraph speaking of an assumption by these regions did not mean confederal arrangements in the proposed state of Pakistan but rather adoption by an independent Pakistan and Bengal assuming these powers over a period during which India would remain a confederation.
    There is no question that we have failed the Lahore Resolution by persecuting the minorities and then centralising the state. The time has come to make the Lahore resolution a substantive part of the constitution along with Jinnah’s 11th August speech.Recommend

  • Suresh
    Mar 23, 2011 - 10:39PM

    @Majeed: “India is a subcontinental model based on US+EU”

    You got it right!Recommend

  • Aicha
    Mar 23, 2011 - 11:53PM

    Great researched piece … though there are a lot of conflicting statements and individual point-of-views, what we need to understand is that what Pakistan was back then and what Pakistan is now – there is a history gone and in process, our further actions should be well thought and prepared. Recommend

  • John
    Mar 24, 2011 - 1:37AM

    Except when Indian Union was formed, there was no EU.

    Nehru, Patel, Azad, Rajagopalachari, etc gave good arguments in the constitution assembly, and US constitution was an important foundation and adapted to India in framing Indian Constitution. The still surviving Mr. Karunanidhi, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu State in India and late. Mr. Annadurai are important figures in post independent India history for championing State Rights.

    Mr. W. Churchill said that India Union will fail, and boasted that Mongols and British tried for centuries. The success of India, in modern context of comparative history is her acknowledging and delegating states rights, even when Nehru wanted a strong central government.

    The issue of Kalistan that India faced in 1980’s was on States Rights. States rights will always be an issue in a Federal system.

    Even in US, states of Georgia and Tennessee still squabble over water rights on their bordering river. Go figure!Recommend

  • John
    Mar 24, 2011 - 5:26AM

    @T R Khan:
    Can you please provide reference for further reading. Interesting letter. Recommend

  • observer
    Mar 24, 2011 - 10:54AM

    @TR Khan

    On April 12, 1940, Lord Linlithgow. the Viceroy of India wrote to the Secretary of State for India:
    “Upon my instruction Zafarullah wrote a memorandum on the subject. Two Dominion States……..Copies have been passed on to Jinnah, and, I think, to Sir Akbar Hydari……”
    Twelve days after it had been proposed, the Muslim League adopted the proposal at the Lahore Conference, calling it the Pakistan Resolution.

    Are you saying that Pakistan is actually a creation of Lord Linlithgow and Sir Muhhammad Zafarullah Khan?
    Imagine, we in the sub-continent have been blaming the ‘Wily Gandhi’, ‘Communal Jinnah’, ‘Imperious Nehru’ and what not. It was the British and their divide and rule all the time. Also explains why the British were averse to jailing some ‘freedom fighters’.
    One thing though,if he could see 35 yers ahead in time, would Sir Zafarullah still have written the ‘memorandum’?Recommend

  • Mar 24, 2011 - 2:16PM

    Shouldn’t see back,that has become part of the history of subcontinent
    see forward and settle your account with all decided to remove it from the
    world map.

    Why are wasting the time by repeating the time that has gone and never come back,
    works works and work,whole world people see you and admire you as a Muslim nation.Recommend

  • T R Khan
    Mar 24, 2011 - 11:01PM

    Google it or see Wali Khan’s book ‘Facts are Facts’.Recommend

  • sanjithmenon
    Mar 25, 2011 - 7:15PM

    From the Lahore resolution.
    “No constitutional plan would be workable or acceptable to the Muslims unless geographical contiguous units are demarcated into regions which should be so constituted with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary. That the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in majority as in the North-Western and Eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute **independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign”

    Jinnah later told Abdul Hashim a senior member of Muslim league from Bangladesh that the word Sate(s) was a Typo!

    Source: K. K. Aziz. The Murder of History: A Critique of History Textbooks Used in Pakistan. Lahore: Vanguard, 2000, p. 62.

    We in India can only keep quiet!Recommend

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