14 April | 2024

Lahore, Pakistan

A history that boggles minds of advocates of secularism, fanaticism

'Growing extremism and intolerance now deeply rooted in our subconscious, social and institutional structure. Some self-styled 'guardians of the faith' spreading hate and violence on narrow interpretation of their own choice’

All democratic states are run by the governments following principles based upon the set ideals. So fundamentally ideals are the defining character of any state. The aims and objectives that are to be achieved through collective efforts can be named as the ideals. In Pakistan, the current socio-economic crisis owes much to the confusion that we had in our minds while setting our ideals or goals. It is irrational for one to aim for flying but learning swimming. Let us randomly trace the history of confusion that boggles the minds of the advocates of secularism and fanatics. An ‘objective resolution’ was passed on the March 12, 1949 while the historic Pakistan resolution was passed in front of a mammoth gathering on March 23, 1940 at Lahore. One resolution altered the geography of the Indian subcontinent while the other had Pakistan’s future political course in its lines. A serious introspection is needed to see where we stand after sacrificing a lot.

The growing religious extremism and intolerance is neither vague nor an hour long story. It is now deeply rooted in our subconscious, social and institutional structure. The self-styled ‘guardians of the faith’ spreading hate and violence on the basis of narrow interpretation of their own choice. On many occasions, writ of the state is challenged by the people willing to impose their version of the faith. Sometimes, our state watches the challengers with a blood flushed face, unable to retort because it was the wish of some of ‘founding fathers’ that religion should govern the state. The experiment to drive the state on the ‘exclusive’ principles has introduced a one-sided version of the faith worldwide and blotted the image of the religion of peace, harmony and unity beyond words. During the debate in the Constituent Assembly, the words of Bhupendra Kumar Datta, a leader of the Pakistan National Congress from East Pakistan, have hit right, “mixing one with other would spoil both.”

‘One resolution altered geography of Indian subcontinent while other had Pakistan’s future political course in its lines’

The way out is possible only if we know the events that have guided us here. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, doubtlessly a great learned mind, laid emphasis over the education of Muslims. He established the educational institutions and warned the Muslims against joining the politics, in other words All India Congress. Basically, the two nation theory was originally a ‘brain child’ of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. After his death, the result of the services and awareness he imparted to the Muslims was the establishment of the All India Muslim League. So essentially, the Muslim League had a communal outlook, reflecting Sir Syed’s vision. In 1906, the Muslim League was founded to address grievances of the Muslims. Though the party was not a representative of the Muslim interests in numerical sense yet it stringently supported the partition of Bengal and separate electorates in 1905 and 1909 respectively. That was the first partition within the Indian subcontinent on the communal basis. However, British rulers did it on the pretense of ‘administrative’ reasons.

Later on, Muhammad Ali Jinnah emerged as an ambassador of Muslim-Hindu unity after the Lucknow Pact – an agreement reached between the Muslim League and the Congress at a joint session of both the parties in December 1916. The demand of the separate electorates was accepted by the Congress in 1916. This demand aimed mainly at the inclusion of Muslims in the national political spectrum. Muhammad Ali Jinnah rightly earned his space among ranks of the Muslim League and assumed the role of a guide as the events unfolded. It was actually the Khilafat Movement, which Jinnah vociferously resisted, that brought forth the clergy into the political limelight. Nonetheless, Jinnah had warned Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi at the outset against ‘communalizing’ the politics. Deed had been done and there was no way back now. Following the Khilafat Movement, a gulf between the Muslim League and the Congress widened.

Under the 1935 India Act, the elections in the year 1937 proved Congress to be the only major ‘political’ power in India. This was indeed a setback to the Muslim League. Congress swept six provinces and emerged victorious in nine out of the 11 provinces as a whole. While the Muslim League could bag four percent of the total Muslim votes. One can reckon from the results that the Muslim League was not a popular representative party till then. The ignominious defeat at the hands of Congress led Jinnah to reorganize the Muslim majority party. Subsequently, the resignation of Congress from the government and imprisonment of the Congress leadership during the war period paved the way for the Muslim League to kick start a mass movement on religious lines. The Congress-led government for the two years failed to mainstream the communal sentiments which were then politely patted by the Muslim League.

‘The only possible reverse is through economic independence of impoverished masses who have nothing to eat but an ‘ideological’ food’

Propagating the Congress government’s brutalities, Jinnah welcomed Muslims under the banner of the Muslim League. This is evident from the fact that in early 1940s, the membership of the Muslim League rose to millions. Jinnah’s strong capability to hit right at the time had now elevated the status of the Muslim League. But the whole edifice of the league was erected on the communal lines. The only agenda was the political uplifting of the Muslims and their recognition as a separate entity. The first six years of the 1940s were capitalized by the Muslim League with a marvelous campaign against the preconceived fears of the majority rule. Hence, the Muslim League fared much better in the elections of 1946, thanks to Jinnah’s knack at bargain and campaign. The Muslim League had achieved its goal for a separate homeland but there laid an obscure path ahead, what to do now with this?

Jinnah, though a secular and liberal politician, could not recoil from the fanatic rhetoric at once. He left for the final abode before defining and demarcation of the ideological lines. But the ones who struggled along with him had perceived it to be a theocracy. They were not wrong because the rhetoric that made Pakistan possible was essentially based on communal slogans. Dr Sadaf Aziz, a book author, had put it right in the following words, “before partition the movement of the Muslim League aimed at material uplift of the Muslims in India by seeking representation while after partition it shifted to the moral uplift.” The debate of the first Constituent Assembly over the objectives resolution is an instructive one in this regard. After lapse of two years post partition, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan referred to Pakistan as a ‘laboratory of Islam.’ This stirred a controversy in the assembly, and lawmakers in good numbers objected to the religious character of the ideals set out in the objectives resolution.

‘A true version of history needs to be infused into minds of new generations’

Moreover, the fundamental rights were drafted and approved by the Constituent Assembly before the resolution, then for what the ideals set in objectives were needed for? The answer to this is that it is impossible to suddenly shift the political course and choose a completely different path from the one you promised, because people hold you accountable for the deviation. The deceptions are dangerous. As we know that the ideals define character of a state. Our three constitutions of 1956, 1962 and 1973 had had all objective resolution as their preamble. Later on, military ruler General Zia ul Haq had made the preamble as a substantive part of the constitution through eighth amendment, now the Article 2A, in furtherance of his ‘exclusive’ drive. The question as to why Pakistan cannot become a secular state is because of the long history of the communal politics that led to the birth of Pakistan. The Muslim League was religiously inclined due to which the goals and aims couldn’t deviate from that well tread path.

All the constitutions of the world are drafted and implemented upon the basis of objectives of the respective state. We had set our theocratic objectives without any ambiguity then how can we deviate from these? The extremism is a consequence of ‘faith-centric’ constitutional fabric that institutionalizes the religion. The only possible reverse is through the economic independence of the impoverished masses who have nothing to eat but this ideological food. People with empty bellies seek redemption in serving God without even knowing that they are being exploited in the name of religion by the interested elite. Social justice, harmony, tolerance, acceptance and dignity may be achieved by redefining the ideals. Catering needs of every age and period, the constitution should be people centric. Adding ‘religious’ flavor to these ideas won’t help anyone. A true version of history needs to be infused into the minds of the generations to come. The task to redefine our political and constitutional discourse maybe burdensome but not impossible altogether.