M Ali Siddiqi looks back at a relevant issue
In a quarter of a century Revisiting the idea of Pakistan will celebrate a century of its existence. The country traversed these long years with a mixture of success and difficulties and still struggles to achieve compatibility between the ideas that necessitated its birth and the visions harboured by different segments inhabiting its lands. There is hardly any doubt that Pakistan implies different meanings to different echelons of its population comprising different ethnicities, regions and social classes. It continues to be a society contested between two sets of sentiments and ideals comprising national-democratic versus puritanical Islamic. Each of the two themes accommodates a wide range of interpretations, models and goals making Pakistan a country of divergent visions and commitments about its national identity and goals. This divergence requires a fresh look at the different perceptions harboured by the Muslims of the subcontinent compelling them to seek a separate homeland.
The dominance of British colonialism laid the grounds for compelling the Muslims of the subcontinent that suffered the ignominy of getting reduced to a hapless minority. This situation pinched hard as the Muslims were the dominant political community in India since 1206 to 1857 when the last rites of the Mughal Empire were performed by the British. The Muslims faced hopelessness along with a foreboding for the future as it was quite obvious that the British rule could not go on forever and the ultimate result would have been the dominance of the Hindu community with whom the Muslims existed for nearly a millennium without seeing eye to eye. The advent of the British deprived the Muslims of the status and power that came with belonging to the rulers’ community with the result that defeatism and nostalgia for past glories became a dominant theme for them. Resultantly, the Muslims retreated from public space and stood aloof from the political and social developments coming in the wake of the British rule, thereby remaining stuck on the lower rungs of colonial economy and polity.
When the reality of British colonialism set in, the Muslims began striving to redefine their separate identity and carve out a separate niche for themselves. That they did through reformists who advocated accommodation with the British rule realising that it was requirement of the hour. They also embarked upon making efforts aimed at restructuring social institutions in contemporary idioms while retaining Islamic identity and moral order as the basis of community life. The revival process comprised of all segments of Muslim population yet the dominant groups espoused religious as well as modernist tendencies in this respect. In this context both the dominant influences were carried forward through the Aligarh Movement, Anjuman Himayat Islam, Lahore, Islamia College, Peshawar, National Muhammadan Association, Calcutta, Dar-ul-Uloom Deoband, Nadwat-ul-Ulema and Farangi Mahal.
These movements spawned ideas about a Muslim community as a socially and culturally distinct group and this theme was taken up by the modernist camp whereas the religious orientated groups aimed at reforming religious practices and beliefs and thereby creating an Islamic Millat and fostering Islamic social institutions. Rather awkwardly, the puritanical wing of Islamic movements sought to resist modern ways and recreate the imagined life patterns of the era of Islamic society. They went to the extent of propagating even migration from British India to Afghanistan, Turkey or Iran advocating this option by some on the plea that Muslims could not live in the house of infidels. That Pakistan was envisioned as a social order is undeniable but there were many models or interpretations of the purpose and structure of Pakistan as a society and nation were envisioned side by side. These divergent ideas competed for people’s commitments and ideologies making the inception and existence of Pakistan quite unlike the experiences of other modern nations and societies.
It must be kept in view that both sociological and religious interpretations were inherent in the idea for a separate country for Muslims in India. It should, therefore, also be borne in mind that the history and sociology of Pakistan suggest that Islam itself invokes different models of social order for Muslims of different persuasions and, subsequently, there is more than one vision of the promised Islamic order. In this respect it would be appropriate to revisit the circumstances that radically altered the historical and sociological state of the Muslim community of India after a third community or stakeholder consolidated its rule over the subcontinent. Yet within each of these thematic categories, there were a great many discourses, which straddled accommodation and resistance strategies toward the modernist thrusts of colonial rule.
Just as the Muslims of the subcontinent were trying to restore their moorings, the British began the process of representing Indians in the colonial government, starting in 1892 with the Indian Councils Act establishing advisory councils both at the centre and the provinces. With this development it dawned on Muslims that as a legal and political entity the representative government in India would relegate them to the status of a perpetual powerless minority. The Muslims were acutely aware that though it constituted just a quarter of the population of the subcontinent yet they were numerically too large a group that also had the advantage of forming majorities in territorially large regions and therefore it was illogical to accept the British electoral governance system with resignation. Besides they were also conscious of their economic deprivation that loomed large in their lives as a permanent deprivation in the future.
These apprehensions goaded the Muslims to struggle for political and cultural rights that gradually assumed the shape of the movement for freedom and representative government spawned communal politics and adversarial relations between Hindus and Muslims. Though Muslims ventured to mutually arrive at a consensual solution of this difficulty with the Hindu community but the two-year Congress-led rule in 1937 dashed all their expectations in this respect leaving permanent doubts about getting their due rights in the electoral theory of representation. It was in this backdrop that the Muslim League’s slogan of community before individual caught the attention of Muslims and they endorsed its claim of representing them gradually evolved into the demand for representational parity between Hindus and Muslims. It was quite obvious that from now on the idea of Muslims as a separate nation and the demand for parity in negotiations for independence were just logical steps.
Muslims’ ideas about their place in Indian society evolved from viewing themselves as a community of identity and common interests to the consciousness of a nation of distinct culture and territoriality. Religious identity became the ethos of Muslims’ cultural nationalism though it is important at this juncture to dispel the notion that Muslims were all of one mind and it may be hastily added there was a wide divergence of opinions and feelings within the nation and ethnicity of Muslim community. In this context it is worthwhile to point out that a sizable segment of the Muslim public was opposed to the Muslim League’s agenda and subscribed to the nationalist stance taken by Congress Party. However, the idea of Pakistan contained the notion of Muslim nationhood and it was founded on viewing Hindus as the significant other. It is very clear that this typical differentiation was actually in-built in the idea of Pakistan and its potency has not withered 75 years after Pakistan came into being.TW