The Hazara and South Punjab provinces are the newest political jackpots. For rival parties, the promise of these provinces is synonymous with electoral gain. For the Hazara and Seraiki ethnicities, these provinces will afford a split from a national identity, which alienates and intimidates them. As the clamour of provincial slogans pierces right through the fabric of tolerance and national wholeness, one can’t help but reminisce of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.
Though his controversial autobiography remained banned for years and his references carefully weeded out of history textbooks, Azad’s legacy remains timeless. A devout Muslim leader, who served as president of the Indian National Congress during the turbulent times of World War II, Azad predicted the failure of the Pakistani state narrative to serve as a binding force and the consequent rise of disparate identities, just when the zeal of independence was running wild in the veins of the All India Muslim League. Fearful of the Partition’s aftermath, he knew that the diverse people of northwest India were much more than just ‘Muslim’, whose sub-nationalities could not be fused under a whole new, artificially-constructed national identity — specially an identity whose foundations rested on nothing but a common faith. Dreading the chaos, bloodshed and suppression that he foresaw as Pakistan’s future, Azad opposed the partition of India.
In 1940, a belligerent segment of population decided to detach from India and carve out a whole new identity to define itself. The story of Tehrik-e-Pakistan (Pakistan Movement), told as the glorifying beginnings of freedom, was perhaps the portent of lifelong turmoil for millions of Indian Muslims. Quite unsurprisingly, the movement failed to produce a durable identity for Indian Muslims to unite under. Its religious slogan failed to overpower people’s cultural distinctiveness.
It can’t be denied that several Muslims nursed political grievances against the Congress and the British, however, a territorial separation was perhaps unnatural, unneeded and also unjust. Furthermore, quite unlike what history textbooks tell, such a separation won qualified support. In his autobiography titled India Wins Freedom, Azad writes, “I have said that the Muslim League enjoyed the support of many Indian Muslims but there was a large section in the community which had always opposed the League.”
While Hindus dreaded losing a part of India, many Muslims dreaded the daunting task of chalking up a national identity from scratch. For Azad, the solution to communal hostilities was simple: Hindu-Muslim unity within a stringently secular India. He believed that the decision of a territorial divide was in itself un-Islamic, which challenged the Islamic merits of Pakistan’s nationhood most glaringly. Furthermore, military rule, an incompetent democracy and the rise of ethnic groups were some of the vices he said would plague the new country.
Is Azad’s legacy any relevant to the current demand for new provinces? Yes, it is. It must be understood that the demand for Hazara and South Punjab provinces is being made by two distinct ethnic groups. Though the purely ‘administrative’ purpose of these future provinces has been regularly underscored, one must question their very ethnic nature. As intolerance runs amok and alienation of minorities reaches whole new heights every day, appropriation of authoritative powers from the centre becomes necessary for a people to salvage security, public utilities and basic rights. History stands embarrassed as the demand for new provinces proves that, today, sub-nationalities take precedence over Pakistani nationhood. As Azad predicted, the many ethnic identities of northwest India have not fused into Pakistan’s wavering and dubitable nationhood.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 12th, 2012.
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