The irrelevance of ‘Jinnah’s Pakistan’

If there is a South Asian version of Utopia, it surely is ‘Jinnah’s Pakistan’. That Sir Thomas More’s fictional realm was an oxymoronically christened, crescent-shaped island also fits the script. For, ‘Jinnah’s Pakistan’ is also a fictional island surrounded by paradoxical idealism and detached from any tangible relevance to Pakistan going into 2016.

Every time minorities are targeted in the country, some opinion-makers and public figures often contemplate aloud whether ‘Jinnah would’ve wanted this’. A similar audible conjecture is offered by others whenever Muslim supremacy is threatened, or friendly ties with India suggested. For, Jinnah’s Pakistan is simultaneously a secular democracy that champions human rights, and an Islamic state that upholds Muslim supremacism, depending on who’s talking about it.

Bellowing ‘this isn’t Jinnah’s Pakistan’ whenever something contradictory to one’s personal viewpoint happens, is as simplistic as the ‘this isn’t true Islam’ chant that one hears ever so often in the aftermath of Islamist terror attacks. Both assertions imply that Islam and ‘Jinnah’s Pakistan’ are clearly defined monoliths, with little room for disagreement. Even so, while deliberations over Islam are critical for the Muslim world’s future, the same can’t be said of the latter vis-à-vis Pakistan.

Why should what Muhammad Ali Jinnah might have wanted for Pakistan in the 1940s, be a factor in any policymaking going into 2010s and beyond? What should matter is deliberation over policies that will make Pakistan compatible with the modern world, and whether or not they align with former leaders’ visions is irrelevant. Commemorating leaders for their state-constructing efforts is important for nation-building, but to cling on to their ideals as a perpetual holy gospel is an ominous sign of regression – regardless of how one interprets said ideals.

While the conservatives’ and religionists' need for a preconceived rulebook as a guide is understandable, considering their academic adherence to millennia old religious scriptures, it is the progressive liberals’ fixation with passing on a dated yardstick to future generations that is slightly more perplexing. An average modern day student of social sciences has more insight than any world leader from the 1940s, with regards to shaping up the world in the coming future. This is not only because of the invaluable benefit of hindsight, but also because the 40s were possibly the murkiest time in human history, with multiple ideologies and government systems competing to shape the new world order.

Having said that, what makes unflinching adherence to ‘Jinnah’s Pakistan’ all the more extraneous to the country’s future are its two polar opposite meanings, with both giving contradictory answers to similar questions.

'Jinnah’s Pakistan' as an Islamic state traces its origins in Jinnah’s pre-Partition speeches. From saying that the Muslim League flag was “given to Muslims by their Prophet…” who should be proud of “introducing religion into politics” (Gaya Muslim League Conference, January 1938) to announcing Pakistan as an “Islamic state on the pattern of the Medina state…” (Muslim League session Allahabad, 1942) and endorsing Islamic laws (Frontier Muslim League Conference November 21, 1945) – the Jinnah-led Muslim league had shifted the party’s rallying cry from safeguarding Muslims to protecting Islam following the overwhelming defeat in 1937 elections. However, while the multitudinous references to Islam were crucial in beefing up Muslim League’s vote bank leading up to 1946, it is Jinnah’s assertion that Hindu-Muslim unity can “lead… to destruction” (March 22, 1940, Lahore) and his depiction of Muslim outlook as “radically antagonistic to the Hindus” (Interview with Beverly Nichols, 1943) which defines Muslim nationalism as incompatible with other religious communities, especially Hindus, in the ‘Islamic’ interpretation of Jinnah’s Pakistan.

'Jinnah’s Pakistan' as a secular liberal state traces its origin to the man’s personal outlook and also his assertions on what he did not want Pakistan to become. Jinnah had rebuffed the idea of theocratic state on many occasions, including in a USA broadcast interview in February 1948 where he said “…Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State — to be ruled by priests with a divine mission”. This interpretation of Jinnah’s Pakistan takes credence from Ayesha Jalal’s The Sole Spokesman, which argues Pakistan as a bargaining counter for greater Muslim autonomy and suggests that Jinnah actually envisioned religious consociationalism between Hindus and Muslims.

Even so, at the very heart of the ‘bargaining counter’ argument is the fact that Jinnah had deliberately kept his idea of Pakistan unclear so as to achieve most of the Muslim League’s demands. Not to mention the fact that post-1947 Jinnah wasn’t any less ambiguous, as exemplified by his assurance that “Constitution of Pakistan will… be based on Islamic Sharia” (Address to Karachi Bar Association, January 1948) which even Jalal concedes as a ‘departure’ from Jinnah’s earlier stance. And yet Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech to the Constituent Assembly, treated exclusively on its own, remains the embodiment of secular liberal ideals as relevant to the present as they were back then.

However, the national leader who was urging abandonment of religious differences and unity as one nation in Pakistan to the Assembly was a politician who made a career, and a new nation-state, out of highlighting the ‘unbridgeable’ differences between those very communities. His insistence of Hindu-Muslim differences was to such an extent that he, like many other Muslim leaders, endorsed B. R. Ambedkar’s Thoughts on Pakistan – most notably in a letter to Mahatma Gandhi dated September 17, 1944 – wherein Ambedkar juxtaposes the ‘Muslim threat’ with Nazism, comparing Congress’ ‘appeasement of Muslim League’ as the Allies appeasement of Hitler, leading up to World War II.

Furthermore, the fact that ‘Jinnah’s Pakistan’ even had Muslims best interests at heart is also debatable, considering that the Muslims of the Hindu majority provinces – a quarter of the then Indian Muslim population – were to be left at the mercy of ‘Hindu Raj’. The 'sole spokesman of all Indian Muslims' himself suggested he was willing to “perform the last ceremony of martyrdom if necessary” (Speech to Muslim Students Federation, Kanpur, 30 March 1941) by letting 20 million Muslims be sacrificed for the ‘liberation’ of 70 million coreligionists. These 70 million included Bengalis and Baloch who were colonised by Urdu and Pakistan Army respectively, as per Jinnah’s instructions, to create a bulwark against the impalpable ‘Hindu imperialism’.

None of this is to discredit Jinnah’s political prowess – if anything the success of the Pakistan movement in itself rubberstamps his political acumen. What needs to be understood by flagbearers of any version of ‘Jinnah’s Pakistan’ is the term's paradoxical meanings, which allow it to be endorsed by extremes as incompatible as Islamists and secularists. And hence, despite ‘Jinnah’s Pakistan’ being an intriguing debating point in deliberations over South Asian history, using it as a reference to actual Pakistan, can play right into the hands of one’s opposition – regardless of where one stands on the ideological spectrum.

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a former member of staffHe can be reached at Follow him on Twitter

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