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What were they thinking?
March 1940: What were the Founding Fathers of Pakistan thinking about the minoritiesTomorrow we will go through the motions of celebrating Pakistan Day. With song, slogan and sincere banality we will commemorate the single most important founding document of our republic.
A document that too many of us have never read. A document that too many others believe they know so well that they do not need to read. A document whose eventual impact its drafters could not have imagined. A document whose intent seems lost on those whose lives it transformed.
Today, let us (re-)read that document.
March 22, is not a bad day to do so. The 27th Annual Session of the All-India Muslim League actually began in Lahore on March 22, 1940, at what was then called Minto Park and has since been renamed Iqbal Park.
Although we celebrate Pakistan Day on March 23, formal discussion on what was originally called the Qarardad-e-Lahore (Lahore Resolution) began on March 22, it was formally proposed by Sher-e-Bengal (Lion of Bengal) Fazlul Haq on March 23, and was not officially adopted until March 24. Newspapers of the time dubbed it the “Pakistan Resolution” (Qarardad-e-Pakistan), and from then onwards that is what it became.
The resolution itself is not very long: a little more than 400 words, five paragraphs. Ambiguous as it was designed to be, it is remarkably well-crafted.
The first paragraph sets the context by “approving and endorsing” decisions already taken by the Muslim League’s Council and Working Committee. Importantly, it “emphatically reiterates that the scheme of federation embodied in the Government of India Act 1935, is totally unsuited to, and unworkable in the peculiar conditions of this country and is altogether unacceptable to Muslim India.”
The second paragraph is also about context. It very strategically reminds the viceroy that he has already agreed to reconsider the 1935 Act and goes on to very clearly assert that “Muslim India will not be satisfied unless the whole constitutional plan is reconsidered de novo and that no revised plan would be acceptable to Muslims unless it is framed with their approval and consent.”
It is the third paragraph that lays out the substance of what today’s Pakistan has come to see as the gist of the resolution. It deserves to be quoted in full:
“Resolved that it is the considered view of this Session of the All-India Muslim League that no constitutional plan would be workable in this country or acceptable to the Muslims unless it is designed on the following basic principles, viz., that geographically contiguous units are demarcated into regions which should be so constituted, with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary, that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority as in the North Western and Eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units should be autonomous and sovereign.”
Much, of course, has been written about this part. Stanley Wolpert (Jinnah of Pakistan, 1984) points out that “Pakistan was not explicitly mentioned; nor was it clear from the language of the resolution whether a single Muslim state of both “zones” had been envisioned or two separate “autonomous” independent states.” Also ambiguous was the role of the ‘centre’ and whether these states were to be part of a larger federation or not.
But all of that was to come much later as history overtook events as well as intent. We were still, then, in 1940; 1947 had not yet been imagined; and 2014 was unimaginable.
To me, however, the fourth paragraph is equally insightful about what was on the minds of our founding fathers on that spring day in Lahore as they debated the resolution amidst a crowd of over 100,000. This paragraph – which remains poignant in terms of today’s Pakistan – also deserves to be quoted in full:
“That adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards should be specifically provided in the constitution for minorities in these units in the regions for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultations with them and in other parts of India where the Mussalmans are in a majority adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards shall be specifically provided in constitution for them and other minorities for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them.”
The final paragraph – in carefully crafted language – gave authority of the League’s working committee to settle the details of whatever was to happen within the “basic principles” of the resolution.
It seems to me that there were only two ‘basic principles’ in this founding document (as contained in the third and fourth paragraphs).
First, independence – whether of a single or multiple states; whether within or outside of a federation – of the Muslim nation. Indeed, this principle of ‘nationhood’ – and a total rejection of wanting to be seen as a religious or communal minority – was the centrepiece of Jinnah’s long and powerful presidential address on March 22, 1940; exactly 74 years ago, today.
Stanley Wolpert has described the speech as “truly a stellar performance, worthy of the lead role he alone could command” and the Times of India reported that “such was the dominance of his personality that, despite the improbability of more than a fraction of his audience understanding English, he held his hearers and played with palpable effects on their emotions.”
However, it is not his style but the substance of what he said that is of import today: the rejection of a communal minority status and the demand for nationhood: “The Musalmans are not a minority. The Musalmans are a nation by any definition. The problem in India is not of an inter-communal but manifestly international character, and it must be treated as such… the only course open to us all is to allow the major nations separate homelands.”
The second principle – an emphasis on minority rights – may surprise the modern Pakistani reader of the resolution but flowed directly from the first even though it was more difficult to reconcile. Historian Ayesha Jalal explains these “contradictions between Muslim interests in majority and minority provinces” at length in her very elegant analysis (The Sole Spokesman, 1985). Indeed, the resolution did not fully reconcile this contradiction and history went on to play its hand as it did.
But let us return now to 2014. Reading the text today, one finds an implied promise our founding fathers had made on our behalf: that the rights of minorities would be safeguarded. They were concerned, quite clearly, about the rights of Muslims in what would eventually become India, but in reaction to that concern they had explicitly made a promise in this founding document about the rights of non-Muslims in what is now Pakistan. It is a promise that remains unfulfilled.
So, what was it that our founding fathers were thinking of as they met in Lahore 74 years ago? A desire for independence so that our sense of nationhood could flourish. And an attention of the rights of minorities as only those who have been minorities themselves can appreciate.
Divided, torn, scarred, untrusting, angered and gnawing at each other as we are today, maybe we should be thinking of the very same things again.
The writer has taught international relations and public policy at Boston University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and was the vice chancellor of LUMS.
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