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In the context of History

Contextualising the Pakistan Day

In the  context  of History

Pakistan Day is very central to the project of Pakistani nationalism. Therefore it is celebrated at the state level with all the zeal and enthusiasm. During the course of these celebrations, a few stereotypes are reinforced in the name of giving historical context to the Lahore Resolution. ‘Hindu mentality which is inherently antithetical to Muslims’ or ‘Hindu British collaboration working incessantly to the detriment of the Muslims’ are the bywords of speeches and statements made by important people.

The figures of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Allama Iqbal are eulogised beyond measure. Curiously enough, in our national narrative, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was once equally important as Jinnah and Iqbal but he seems to have been elbowed out to relative insignificance. With the puritanical version of Islam having reached the centrestage of Pakistani nationalism since 1979, the thoughts and notions propounded by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan could hardly reconcile with it.

Iqbal was appropriated by the ultra rightwing forces that interpreted his poetry to suit their own ideas and modes of thinking. Umpteen commentaries of his poetry, which have come out over decades, emphasise religion as the sole marker of identity. More importantly, the over-arching themes that he is engaged with or the symbols he deploys mark the Arabist shift and the gradual but steady withdrawal from the Turko-Persian cultural underpinnings which signified more plurality and accommodation during the medieval era of Muslim rule.

Likewise, Muhammad Ali Jinnah was re-invented in a manner that he eventually has turned into a mythological figure and, as a consequence, personifies everything ‘good’. Despite the fact that he lived in a human society, he was impermeable to contemporary social influences. Instead, as the constructed figure of the founder of nation suggests, he was the one casting all influences on the society.

Thus, the relationship between the society and the imagined, de-historicised figure of Jinnah stands inverted with the latter dictating his terms to the former. Contrarily, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan imperceptibly receded to the back burner since he, with all his unequivocal support for the British rule and espousal for Western modernity, does not fit into the current configuration of Pakistani national narrative. More so, he focused strictly on the problems of Indian Muslims, steering clear of the Pan-Islamist concerns which acquired extraordinary salience during the 20th century Muslim thought.

That prioritising by Sir Syed of the predicament of Indian Muslims over the declining state of Turkish or Arabian Muslims has not done any good turn to him. More importantly, he adhered to the Turk-Persian ethos which, it seems, has been displaced to a considerable extent, not only from our culture but from our epistemology.

Historicising the Resolution passed on March 23, 1940 at Lahore calls for a critical analysis of the time when Hindu-Muslim antagonism commenced. Although Pakistani national narrative emphasises the primordial divide between the two communities, the Urdu-Hindi controversy in Banaras is referred to as an incident that triggered the friction and the inter-communal chasm that has kept widening ever since. It will be pertinent here to revisit that particular issue in a bid to crack the stereotyped view advanced in the textbooks or Urdu print media.

A general conception is that in the state of United Provinces (UP), Urdu was substituted by Hindi as court language. But that issue had become contentious because of the script i.e. Dev Nagri versus Persian. Another point which should be underscored here is that Hindi with particular reference to UP was brought at par with Urdu as the court language which did not sit very well with the Muslim elite of UP. Urdu in UP was elitist as it was flourishing in the Muslim Princely States and Talukas (fiefdoms). Hindi was spoken by the rural Hindus hailing mostly from lower strata of the society. Since Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was the representative of Muslim elite, he protested in vociferous terms and eventually the split between Hindus and Muslims got formalised, the basis of which was more of a class differentiation than religious differences.

The manifestation of these differences came about through culture peculiarity and not because of any religious ideology. These fissures kept crystallising with the passage of time and in 1906 got institutionalised by the formation of All India Muslim League (AIML). However, AIML went through several phases till the time it reached the stage where the option of a separate state appeared as the preferred choice to its leadership.

From its very inception to 1911-12, AIML with Sir Agha Khan as its President showed and professed unflinching loyalty to the British rulers. Turn of events like annulment of the Partition of Bengal and some of the high-handed policies of the British like Masjid Kanpur incident etc. persuaded AIML to review its stance and it started getting close to the Indian National Congress. One reason for the rapprochement between the two parties was the dynamic role of Muhammad Ali Jinnah who was the chief architect of Lucknow Pact (1916).

Thus the collaborative relations between Congress and League persisted till early 1920s. Khilafat Movement almost conflated with Gandhi-led Non-Cooperation Movement that came to be the pinnacle of Hindu-Muslim mutuality. One must not lose sight of the fact the AIML was not part of any such movement. Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Iqbal both demonstrated derisory indifference towards Khilafat movement. AIML, in general, kept working for the constitutional guarantees from the British and the Congress both.

That era of expectations came to a sordid end in 1939 when Congress rule was established in majority of the provinces. Perhaps, Muslim League expected a much better deal from those ministries which obviously did not come through and the foundation stone for a separate state for the Muslims was laid down very firmly. On March 23, 1940 the separatist course for Muslims became an incontrovertible fact of history.

Tahir Kamran

tahir kamran
The writer is Professor in the faculty of Liberal Arts at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore

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