March Special

Pakistan: Raison D'être to Destination

Why was Pakistan created? This is a fair question. After all, compared to most countries, Pakistan is still somewhat young at just 71 years old. And its creation was a tumultuous event, taking place at a time when British colonialism was gradually crumbling and India’s Hindu majority and Muslim minority were at loggerheads. This has made studying the fissure which formed Pakistan and India as two separate countries a rather tempting and intriguing subject for historians. 
Nevertheless, even decades after Pakistan’s creation in August 1947, many historians, mostly Indian, and some from Pakistan, continued to question the creation of this country. Why so? Indeed, for many years the Indian state could not swallow the fact that a Muslim barrister and politician, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, actually managed to form a separate Muslim-majority country, when, just a decade or so before its creation, it was being rubbished as nothing more than a pipe dream. 


Populist Hindu nationalism in India rose from the late 1980s and then peaked across the last decade or so – instigating lynching mobs, massacres and anti-Muslim sentiments. It may seem to be a relatively new phenomenon, but it really isn’t. That’s why I have used the word ‘façade’ to describe Indian secularism. Because radical Hindu nationalism was always present in India. After all, it was a Hindu nationalist who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948.


It is thus understandable why India would be uncomfortable with an entity called Pakistan as a neighbor. It is also understandable that some historians within and outside Pakistan would continue to see the country as a misadventure by the departing British colonialists and Muslim politicians, especially those associated with Jinnah’s All India Muslim League (AIML). However, it is surprising that many such historians casually ignore the nature of the tensions between the Hindus and Muslims of India that preceded the Partition. 
These so-called ‘communal tensions’ had been building up ever since the 1920s and reached a crescendo in the 1940s. So it is equally understandable that many Muslims were not very comfortable with the idea of being ruled by a large Hindu majority once the British had left. Yes, the Congress Party was a self-claimed ‘secular’ outfit and also carried some prominent Muslim members, but the likes of Jinnah foresaw something which those opposed to partition would only come to see many years later. 
The rise of Hindu nationalism in India from the late 1980s and the ensuing communal riots that culminated in the destruction of a historical mosque in Ayodhya in 1992 was enough for many in Pakistan to understand exactly what Jinnah foresaw in an India ruled by a Hindu majority. The 1992 incident struck the first major blow to the façade of Indian secularism which was so painstakingly formulated by men such as Jawaharlal Nehru from the 1950s onwards and carried on by his Congress Party. 
Populist Hindu nationalism in India rose from the late 1980s and then peaked across the last decade or so – instigating lynching mobs, massacres and anti-Muslim sentiments. It may seem to be a relatively new phenomenon, but it really isn’t. That’s why I have used the word ‘façade’ to describe Indian secularism. Because radical Hindu nationalism was always present in India. After all, it was a Hindu nationalist who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. 


All that has taken place in India in the name of Hindu nationalism during Modi’s five years should be enough an answer to the question, why was Pakistan made? Indeed, there were many economic reasons too behind the country’s creation, but at the centre of Jinnah’s forward momentum to create Pakistan always lay a rather farsighted realization that the Hindus and Muslims of India were two separate nations and that India’s Hindu majority will always have the tendency to flex its muscle at the expense of its minorities. 


India’s first PM, Nehru used his considerable political clout and influence to co-opt various segments of Hindu nationalists into the country’s largest political party (the Congress) and was able to enact a fragile strand of secularism which worked as a thin wall or façade around Hindu nationalist sentiments. But the fact is, this façade had begun to crumble as early as 1967, three years after Nehru’s demise. 
During the 1967 General Election, the first mainstream Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) that had not won more than 6 percent of the total vote during the previous three General Elections, managed to bag 9.31 percent of the vote and 35 seats. 
In 1977 BJS allied itself with various anti-Congress parties in an electoral alliance which won that year’s election. Violence between Hindus and Muslims shot up during the Janata government, even though the BJS was a junior partner in the coalition regime. After the Janata government collapsed, the BJS members quit the alliance and formed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). 
Another two terms by the Congress Party were able to maintain Nehru’s secular façade but communal riots increased until the façade began to completely melt away. Interestingly, this was triggered by a cultural event. In 1987, India’s state-owned TV channel, Doordarshan, launched a serial based on ancient Hindu mythology. Called Ramayan, the series broke all TV viewing records in India. Shops would close and streets became empty as people would run back home to watch the latest episode. 


Naturally, it was felt by the AIML that the experience and feeling of being a besieged minority would make Muslim-majority Pakistan more empathetic towards minority groups such as Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and even lower-caste Hindus compared to them living in an overwhelming Hindu-majority country.


This stunned India’s secular intelligentsia. It had invested all its efforts in upholding a fragile secularism and in proving ‘the foolishness of Jinnah creating Pakistan’. But what it conveniently ignored or maybe even entirely missed was the gradual emergence of what the façade had been covering: radical Hindu nationalism. 
The mammoth success of the TV series also encouraged the BJP to intensify and expand its agenda, after being comforted by the way India’s Hindu majority had responded to the not-so-subtle Hindu nationalist sentiment of Ramayan. No wonder then, in 1990, former BJP leader, late L.K. Advani, led a religious rally (rath yatra) riding a golden chariot like the revered Hindu deity Rama! 
The communal commotion triggered by the Ayodhya incident in 1992 did not cause repulsion in ‘secular’ India. Instead, the incident actually became the springboard for the BJP to launch itself like never before and make huge strides as an electoral party. It came into power in 1999 by winning 182 seats. However, as happens with most populist parties anywhere, BJP too could not supplement its populist appeal with policies which actually benefit the peoples’ economic condition beyond nationalist rhetoric. 
This helped Congress and its allies to win the next two elections, but by then the polity’s secular pretenses had all but withered away and BJP was swept back to power in 2014. What’s more, BJP was being led by a highly controversial figure, Narendra Modi, who had been accused of instigating the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002 – so much so that his entry in the United States and some European countries had been banned! 
All that has taken place in India in the name of Hindu nationalism during Modi’s five years should be enough an answer to the question, why was Pakistan made? Indeed, there were many economic reasons too behind the country’s creation, but at the centre of Jinnah’s forward momentum to create Pakistan always lay a rather farsighted realization that the Hindus and Muslims of India were two separate nations and that India’s Hindu majority will always have the tendency to flex its muscle at the expense of its minorities. 
Was this realization so difficult or complex to perceive, especially when Hindu-Muslim tensions began to peak in the 1940s? No. But I believe Nehru’s India was more successful in projecting India as a bastion of secular democracy and Pakistan as a mistake, than Pakistan was to rationalize its creation. 


India eventually became what it had accused Pakistan of being. Now Pakistan has a tremendous opportunity to turn the tables. But we must first rescue the original raison d'etre and narrative of what Pakistan was supposed to be.


Let me explain. First of all, Jinnah passed away just a year after Pakistan’s creation, leaving behind a huge leadership void. He had already begun formulating a narrative that was to explain the whys and whats of Pakistan. It was to be a Muslim-majority country but a multi-cultural one. It was to be driven by the progressive and modernist impulses which Sir Syed, Iqbal and Jinnah explained were inherent in Islam.
The 1946 manifesto of the AIML had suggested that a country formed by a minority of India (in this case, Muslim) would be more tolerant and conducive to live in by India’s other minorities as well as opposed to them living in a hegemonic Hindu-majority state. This may seem to sound like a paradox, but it really isn’t. 
Consider. The Muslims of India were a minority that had not gotten on with their Hindu counterparts, especially during the last decades of British India. Violence between the two communities had intensified. Naturally, it was felt by the AIML that the experience and feeling of being a besieged minority would make Muslim-majority Pakistan more empathetic towards minority groups such as Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and even lower-caste Hindus compared to them living in an overwhelming Hindu-majority country. 
But this vital aspect of Pakistan’s creation was relegated after Jinnah’s demise. Our textbooks failed to explain a more accurate raison d'etre behind Pakistan’s creation. Instead, these books were engineered and then reengineered with a historical material and half-facts to suit the mindset of the rulers. What’s more, this also rationalized and even encouraged the religious fissures which began to develop in the country. These became the reasons why India was successful in demonizing Pakistan as an ‘intolerant state.’   
Nevertheless, India eventually became what it had accused Pakistan of being. Now Pakistan has a tremendous opportunity to turn the tables. But we must first rescue the original raison d'etre and narrative of what Pakistan was supposed to be. This narrative was fumbled and allowed to land in the hands of those who saw Pakistan as some theological experiment. Many of them were also once against the very creation of Pakistan, as many today would love to see the state of Pakistan collapse and be replaced by a theocracy. 
Thanks to what has happened in India, the question ‘why was Pakistan made?’ has, for once and for all, been answered. The question now is: what was Pakistan supposed to be, what it became and how it should become what it was meant to be?


The writer is a Pakistani journalist, cultural critic and satirist. He is the author of two books ‘End of the Past’ and ‘The Pakistan Anti-Hero.’ 
E-mail: [email protected]

 

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