By souring relations with India, Pakistan turned its back on Indian Muslims
There is no doubt that the infamous two-nation theory of the pre-partition Muslim League and post-partition Pakistani state has been a flawed one. The independence of a part of Pakistan as a Bengali nation-state in 1971 vindicates it best alongside many other kinds of examples.
Although, it seems that the sub-continent was divided based on this two-nation theory of Mr Jinnah, in reality, it wasn’t so entirely. The then Indian National Congress, which adopted a secular all-inclusive Indian nationalism, in their view, accepted partition as a contingency measure to save the sub-continent from potential governance paralysis had it remained one under Muslim League’s terms.
Jinnah and Muslim League considered Congress an essentially Hindu political party, and feared that in a united India, Muslims, who are minority in overall count, would be under perpetual domination of the Hindu majority. Hence, the idea of Pakistan evolved around Muslim majority northwest of the sub-continent and the eastern part of Bengal.
The Muslim League, the Muslim socio-political elites, and the emerging middle class of Pakistan at those times obviously considered carving out a Pakistan as a validation and accomplishment of the two-nation theory. The independence of Bangladesh and other later political developments in the remaining part of Pakistan in the west, could not eradicate this core ideal of Pakistani state; although incremental Islamization has given it a theocratic mix -- certainly for worse.
In some sense, Jinnah’s two-nation theory was close to a secular one. Jinnah theorized the Muslim nationhood in the sub-continent in terms of social and cultural values and lifestyle, and collective Muslim view of the sub-continental history and the solidarity emanating thereof.
He hardly put emphasis on the theocratic aspect of a Muslim society. The theory postulates that Muslims of the sub-continent are one nation and that doesn’t change even after the partition.
But the weirdest functional aspect of the Pakistani national ideal -- the sub-continental Muslim nation ideal -- is the lack of responsibilities of a sub-continental Muslim nation state like Pakistan towards the Muslim minorities in India and non-Muslim minorities of Pakistan.
Ironically, the partition, expounded as the ultimate political achievement for the sub-continental Muslims, effectively cut the so-called Muslim nation into three equal yet substantial parts -- one in the west wing of Pakistan, one in the east, and the other in India.
For India, it had to leave a way smaller percentage of Hindu population in Pakistan. In the West, the partition time migration, although very painful, almost solved the Hindu and Sikh minority issue for India.
In the East, a big part of the Hindu population of East Pakistan gradually moved to India phase by phase in the 50s, 60s, and early 70s because of both push and pull factors.
It was considered by many politicians of both the camps in 1947 that the Hindu and Sikh minorities in Pakistan would work as safeguards for Muslim minorities in India and vice versa. But with hardly any Hindu or Sikh left in West Pakistan, and violent independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan as a secular state, this equation changed significantly.
However, theoretically the responsibility of the Pakistanis towards the well-being of Indian Muslims remains, especially in light of their much touted concept of sub-continental Muslim nationhood. In reality, did the Pakistanis behave responsibly when it came to helping the well-being of the sizeable Indian Muslim population, now at 180 million, the second-largest national Muslim community in the world?
The best course for Pakistan to ensure well-being of Indian Muslims would have been a real good relation with India, including extensive connectivity and free movements and good treatment of minorities in Pakistan itself. But Pakistan went the opposite way.
Illegitimate usurpers of power in the Pakistani state made anti-India propaganda an almost constant agenda. Fabrication, exaggeration, and deliberate spread of minority-related bad news from India became commonplace. It resulted in worse mistreatment and persecution of Hindu minority in Pakistan. Waging the 1965 war against India by Pakistan brought the relationship to a massive low at that time.
In India, although Muslims weren’t persecuted the way minorities were in Pakistan, the socio-economic condition of the Muslims weren’t good either. A few factors coalesced in keeping the Indian Muslims conservative and backward.
The prime of which were and, still are, the absence of affirmative actions towards them by the Indian state, unlike other backward groups ie scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST), and their self-imposed confinement in religio-cultural orthodoxy.
Indian Muslims have gradually broken away, over the past several decades, from the hangover of Pakistan movement of the 1940s after India’s independence and with the multifarious social and political developments in India and rest of South Asia.
They are now increasingly aspiring to get into India’s mainstream like the SC and ST. It’s about time for India to undertake a nation rebuilding scheme.
Many progressive Indians argue that India can protect its minority and ensure equality for them with the strength of its own liberal constitutional values and democratic, rather than majoritarian, political culture. The claim is true -- but only to a certain extent.
It’s also important to underscore the irresponsibility and hypocrisy of the Pakistanis towards Indian Muslims from the stand point of their sub-continental Muslim nation ideal. Perhaps many Pakistanis have also started realizing in their minds the falsehood of the idea of sub-continental Muslim nationalism or even the Ummah as the primary source of bonding.
The coming together of Muslims in 1940s in one platform was more for socio-economic ambitions through political means rather than Muslim nationalism.
Many Pakistanis may not admit it openly, but they also came to comprehend it in their hearts. It’s true that partially overlapping, with citizenship bonding, trans- national or regional community solidarity also exist ie global catholic community, global Muslims, global Hindus, South Asian Muslims, Southeast Asian Buddhists etc.
But that ideally comes second or in later order to citizenship solidarity within a liberal progressive state. Even from this angle, Pakistani behaviour towards India, and in turn, responsibilities towards Indian Muslims were way below a moral standard. In this sense, Bangladesh also has responsibilities towards Indian Muslims in terms of how it treats its own minorities, and how liberal and progressive the nature of Bangladeshi state and society are.
Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury is an opinion contributor to Dhaka Tribune.