29 Jan On the Emergence of Pakistan
A reader’s comment has raised the issue of the dynamic of Pakistan’s creation. The question posed is about the role of Mr. Jinnah’s leadership: did Mr. Jinnah’s charisma make Pakistan possible or was the yearning of Muslims for self rule the primary driver?
There have a number of other explanations for the creation of Pakistan and one can attempt to evaluate them by seeking answers to a few simple questions: (1) In which geographical areas did the demand for Pakistan emerge first? (2) Why did the demand arise when it did and not earlier? (3) Which social groups articulated the demand and lent it support?
Some of the explanations appear weak when evaluated against these questions. One of them is the religious explanation that presents the creation of Pakistan as the fulfillment of a religious desire for a state in which Islam could be practiced without hindrance. Given that religious groups were nowhere in the vanguard of the demand for Pakistan, this explanation can be rejected out of hand.
Another is the ‘cultural-geographical’ explanation that the areas that comprise Pakistan were never really a part of India and the movement was an expression of the reassertion of this separate identity. The facts are that demand for Pakistan did not emerge first and most strongly in these areas but rather in areas that remain very much a part of India. Some of the areas now in Pakistan were quite divided till very late when faced with the choice of acceding to the new country.
Then there is the explanation that portrays the origins of Pakistan as a democratic mass movement of the oppressed Muslim community against the dominant Hindu majority. However, there is no credible evidence that either the Muslim peasantry or the urban working classes were in the forefront of the demand for Pakistan. In this context, many people are unaware of the fact that elections in British India were held on the basis of a limited franchise.
There are of course explanations that focus on the role of individuals. In particular, it is often asserted that Pakistan was created by the brilliance or obduracy (depending upon your perspective) of Mr. Jinnah. Mr. Jinnah was no doubt a very able advocate for the cause when he decided to lead it but that is not conclusive proof that he was instrumental in creating the movement itself.
The officially sanctioned explanation in Pakistan is the two-nation theory that Muslims were a separate and distinct nation in relation to other religious communities in India and were therefore entitled to the right of self-determination. This is fine as a normative statement if one subscribes to the right of self-determination of communities as a principle for statehood although it is problematic because newly created states are themselves not homogenous. In the case of Pakistan, the theory boomeranged when the demand arose for the rights of the Bengali ‘nation’.
Even so, as an explanation for the emergence of the demand for Pakistan, the ‘two-nation’ theory remains unconvincing. In particular, it does not adequately answer the three questions posed earlier. The demand for Pakistan arose in those areas of British India where Muslims constituted significant minorities (e.g., UP and Bengal). It did not emerge first in Muslim-majority areas (e.g., Punjab and NWFP) or where Muslims were small minorities (e.g., areas in Southern India). And when Pakistan was created the majority of Muslims in the areas that remained in India did not move to the new homeland. Even if they felt they were members of a separate nation they did not feel they needed to be in a separate homeland.
In UP and Bengal where the population distribution had remained unchanged over time, the demand for Pakistan emerged only when the possibility became real that a key element of the status quo, the British, would withdraw from the scene. The potential disequilibrium in geographical areas with the maximum uncertainty over the future scenario triggered the jostling for relative shares of the reconfigured pie. Not surprisingly, landlords, entrepreneurs, professionals and salaried groups were in the forefront of this emerging competition for the redistribution of scarce resources. All of a sudden these groups, lacking confidence in their ability to compete or apprehensive of the motives of the competitors, concluded that Muslims were a separate nation that could not co-exist with other nations alongside whom they had been living for hundreds of years.
The actual outcome of the movement that was triggered by this self-interest was never a foregone conclusion and along the way there were many twists and turns, gambles and missed opportunities, narrow political triumphs and broad human tragedies. Our interest here is not to recount the details of who did what to whom; rather we are interested in explaining what gave rise to the big forces that changed the face of the Indian subcontinent. An examination of these forces makes it hard to conclude that the interest of the masses, of any religion, figured prominently amongst them. The fact that the interest of the masses continues to be ignored in most countries of South Asia lends credence to this belief.
Religion, ethnicity, race and nationality remain very emotive and powerful forces in society and it is often to the advantage of self-interested groups to broaden the base of their support by appealing to these emotions. Most of the time such forces get out of control leading to outcomes that no one had actually anticipated. It is no surprise that the scale of the human tragedy that overshadowed their political successes or failures shocked all the participants in the drama of Partition.
Which explanation do you favor and why?