Two Nation Theory And Its Iterations

The framers of both the 1956 and 1962 Constitution very deliberately did not make Islam the state religion. All of this changed in the post 1971 scenario especially with the 1973 Constitution.

Two Nation Theory And Its Iterations

Ask any Pakistani about the creation of Pakistan and they will tell you that Pakistan was founded on the basis of “Do Qaumi Nazria” or the Two Nation Theory. Yet ask them what it means and inevitably they will parrot what they learnt in school, which does not go beyond a few lines on how Muslims and Hindus were two nations. This ignorance then badly exposes Pakistan’s foundational myth to criticism, which the modern Pakistani is woefully ill equipped to respond to.  Part of this has to do with the fact that the state’s own idea of Two Nation Theory itself has gone through iterations.  

There was a Two Nation Theory prior to 1971, which was by and large a secular idea that Muslims of the subcontinent were a nation because of temporal things like names, architecture, language etc. Theology or religious belief was just not the point. Muslim here meant a cultural Muslim rooted in the unique Islamicate Indo-Muslim civilization that developed over 800 years in the subcontinent. Such a Muslim could arguably be a Non-believer (as many were in the All India Muslim League during the Pakistan Movement), a nominal believer or from one of the so-called “heretic” sects, so long as he fulfilled the secular criteria by which the Muslim nation in the subcontinent was defined i.e. name, language, culture etc. 

It was on this basis that the right of self determination was sought and it was for this reason that some of the biggest supporters of the Two Nation Theory in the pre-Independence era were Communists. The Communist Party of India endorsed the Pakistan demand as a legitimate national demand.

The loss of East Pakistan was seen by some as a body blow to the idea of this secular Muslim nationalism and the state began to redefine the term Muslim in purely theological terms.  

This meant a theologically oriented Islamic constitution and finally the 2nd Amendment, which defined a Muslim and added specific oaths that were all about theology and religious belief. This was a significant departure. In the 1956 Constitution, under which the Prime Minister could be from any community, and the 1962 Constitution, the office of the President was reserved for Muslims (cultural Muslims) but there were no specific oaths. 

Pakistan’s first President and the only president under the 1956 Constitution, Iskander Mirza, was a cultural Muslim at best and same can be said about Ayub Khan who was Pakistan’s only president under the 1962 Constitution. It was enough if a person fulfilled the secular criteria of being a cultural Muslim to hold these offices. His personal religious beliefs were irrelevant to his identity as a Muslim. A word here on the oaths of office is important. 

In 1947 Mr. Jinnah had the oaths of office for the Governor General, Prime Minister and Ministers changed from “swear” to “affirm” and had the reference to God dropped. This is significant because to “affirm” is a secular way of taking an oath. In English courts, religious people of whatever denomination swear an oath but if a person indicates that he is an atheist or is irreligious, he affirms. The draft constitution of 1954 had both options. 

Eqbal Ahmad in his piece “Jinnah in a class of his own” published in Dawn on 11 June 1995 writes: “Significantly, by then the modernist view of the causes of Muslim decline and of the remedies it required, especially as articulated by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and his ideological successors, including Iqbal, had seeped into the consciousness of the Muslim intelligentsia. There was to this phenomenon also a pan-Islamic context: In the 1930s the Muslim world as a whole had entered what Albert Hourani has described as the Liberal Age when Muslim nationalism grew exponentially on the premises of modernism and reform. Mr Jinnah returned from England in 1935 to find himself swept to the crest of this wave.”  

The 1956 Constitution, which made Pakistan an Islamic Republic, was very much based on the secular conception of Muslim identity and not a theological one. Even the term “Islamic Republic” was interpreted publicly by Pakistan’s leaders as a demographic expression, i.e. it was a Muslim majority republic, and not a theocentric one, i.e. Pakistan is an exclusivist Islamic state. 

The framers of both the 1956 and 1962 Constitution (the original 1962 Constitution had renamed Pakistan merely the Republic of Pakistan) very deliberately did not make Islam the state religion. AK Brohi explains the reasons for this in his book Fundamental Law of Pakistan in which he argues that states don’t have religions. Very significantly the right to freedom of expression and speech under both these constitutions did not have the “glory of Islam” exception. 

All of this changed in the post 1971 scenario especially with the 1973 Constitution, which shifted the orientation of the “Islamic Republic” from merely a demographic expression to a theocentric one.  The 1973 Constitution did have a state religion and added glory of Islam exception to freedom of speech. Then came the 2nd Amendment, which further narrowed the scope of what it meant to be a Muslim. What was an imagined community based on an ontologically emptied idea of Islam as a civilization and not a religion, now became a constitutionally defined community along narrow theological lines.

What necessitated the postulation of the Two Nation Theory is a wider historical debate. It is a straw man that the Two Nation Theory ever suggested that Hindus and Muslims could not live together. 

On the contrary Two Nation Theory was about – to quote Mr. Jinnah’s famous article in January 1947- “the shared governance of a common motherland i.e. India”. 

Two Nation Theory envisaged the co-existence of Hindus and Muslims at every level in the subcontinent and wanted to set up a contractual arrangement between the two nations that could enable such coexistence. The change in nomenclature from minority to nation was a constitutional lawyer’s argument to evade the awkwardness of the disparity of numbers between the Hindus and Muslims. 

By claiming that Muslims were a nation, the argument was that Muslims should have an equal say in the framing of a post independence India. It was a call for a consociational democracy where consensus between elected representatives of each nation would be sine qua non for constitution making. Consociationalism has precedent elsewhere, most notably in Canada with its Quebecois question. This was a price that Gandhi and Nehru, as the leaders of India’s Hindu majority, were unwilling to pay and therefore they chose the alternative i.e. partition of British India into two sovereign states.  

What is often forgotten in this debate is that the idea that Muslims of India were a nation does not predate the idea that Hindus were a nation, which was already in currency since the mid 19th century. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan – the master signifier of Muslim nationalism- only spoke of Muslims as a nation subsequent to the Urdu-Hindi dispute. 

The idea of dividing India into Muslim and Hindu regions was mooted long before the Lahore Resolution or even Iqbal’s famous Allahabad address. KK Aziz in his book “A History of the Idea of Pakistan” shows amongst the Hindus, Bhai Parmanand, a close personal friend of Gandhi and an Indian nationalist, first mooted the idea of such a partition in 1909. Lala Lajpat Rai, who was a Congress leader and another Indian Nationalist, had written about the idea in 1924. This was long before such an idea appealed to anyone in the Muslim League let alone Jinnah who was at this stage committed to the idea of secular Indian nationalism. 

The very idea of Muslim nationalism thus was a response to the idea of a Hindu nation, which had been mooted not just by right wing Hindus but even some moderate ones.  

The very idea of a unitary India (which was a British construct) was based on Hindu exceptionalism. At one point Mahatma Gandhi exclaimed “I am a Hindu and therefore a true Indian” while also simultaneously noting that Mr. Jinnah was a “minority Mohammaden”. Contrast this to Mr. Jinnah’s pronouncement that he was “an Indian first second and last”. 

The idea of a secular and liberal Indian nationalism of the variety that Mr. Jinnah advocated in the 1910s and the 1920s had no takers even in Congress, primarily because Mr. Jinnah had a Muslim name, even if he was famously irreligious.  Even the mobilisation of the Hindu masses by Congress had a distinct religious tinge. Ram Rajya was Gandhi’s cry long before it was adopted as a goal by Hindu Mahasabha and later the RSS. 

Paradoxically Gandhi’s appeal to the Muslim masses was also religious, through the Khilafat movement. The Khilafatists, religious reactionaries and firebrand sectarian clerics, were amongst Congress’s most faithful Muslim allies. The target of this alliance were modernist Muslims who were seen as driving too hard a bargain for a piece of the political and economic pie.  

It is no wonder then that some of the most vituperative criticism of the Two Nation Theory came from the sectarian Majlis e Ahrar ul Islam, which attacked the proponents of the theory as Kafirs (including Jinnah who they called Kafir-e-Azam) and denounced the Muslim League for having Shias, Ahmadis and agnostics in its ranks. 

It is often argued that Mr. Jinnah himself renounced the idea of Two Nation Theory in his famous 11 August speech. It is true that Mr. Jinnah expressed hope that in an independent Pakistan, through a secular policy, i.e. state impartiality towards religion, the Muslim and Hindu identities would lose political significance in due course. This was not a reversal of what he had held throughout his career. He had both believed and hoped that political settlement between Hindus and Muslims could lead to a future where religious identity would become immaterial to politics. Two Nation Theory is a fact in so much as the Muslims of the subcontinent had imagined themselves a nation. This claim had led to the creation of an independent territory in 1947. National identity itself is subject to evolution. 

We need not remain wedded to a foundational idea for all times to come. Pakistan’s citizenship by law (The Citizenship Act of 1951) is not subject to any religious distinction. A Pakistani is very simply anyone who is born in Pakistan or is born to Pakistani parents, no matter what their religion. 

The question is of minorities of course and how they are defined. Here Pakistan has to hark back to the pre-1971 iteration of Two Nation Theory and see Muslim as a culturally defined and not a theologically determined category. This means undoing the 2nd Amendment and repealing Article 260(3)(a)(b) of the Constitution. Once that happens the constitutional distinction between a Muslim and a Non Muslim will become redundant. That would be the fulfillment of Mr. Jinnah’s fervent hope that “Muslims will cease to be Muslims and Hindus will cease to be Hindus, not in a religious sense for that is the personal faith of an individual but in a political sense.” 

Yasser Latif Hamdani is a barrister at law and the author of the book Jinnah; A Life.