THE policies of the British colonists, from the late 18th century onwards, contributed to widen the Hindu-Muslim rift engrained in religion. After the 1857 rebellion, the British started looking upon the Muslims as a distinct religious community, hostile to their rule, because of their lead role in the War of Independence. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, a pragmatic Muslim reformer, undertook to change the British perception about Muslims’ disloyalty. He motivated the Muslim community to acquire education to equip themselves with the requisite knowledge to compete with other communities. He also advised them not to join Indian National Congress, which he thought was dominated by Hindus. The political thoughts of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, paved the way for the emergence of Two Nation Theory.
The decade of 1920’s witnessed the start of unending Hindus-Muslims hostilities due to the rise of radical Hindu nationalist movements. Dr Hedgewar founded Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1925 with an aim to organise Hindu community to liberate India from the foreign (including Muslims) domination. RSS upholds the ideology of Hindutva (Hinduness), to strengthen the majority Hindu community. “Hindutva” practically implies; “Hindustan for Hindus, only”. The rise of radical Hindu nationalism compelled the All India Muslim League (AIML) to revisit its assessment about peaceful co-existence of Hindus and Muslims after the decolonisation of India. Due to unrelenting attitude of the leadership of All India Congress to address the genuine apprehensions of Muslims, AIML was constrained to subscribe to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s Two Nation Theory. A separate homeland was conceived to be the only viable solution to address religious, political and economic issues of the majority of Indian Muslims after the independence of India.
The creation of Pakistan is viewed from different perspectives by the historians. In Pakistan it is ascribed to the “Two Nation Theory”, which maintains that due to their religious and cultural differences, Hindus and Muslims are two different nations. The Nationalists in India hold the Imperial policy of “divide and rule” responsible for the partition of India. No doubt, Pakistan came into existence on the basis of Muslim Nationhood (Two Nation Theory); it was not conceived to be a theocratic or a religious state, exclusively for Muslims. The enlighten Muslim leaders, like Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who was once known as the “Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity”, were compelled to demand a separate homeland for Muslims because they did not want their coreligionists to be discriminated on religious basis by the Hindu nationalists. Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling party of India, adopted Hindutva as its official ideology in 1989. The support of radical Hindu groups played a vital role to help Narendra Modi, a lifetime member of the RSS, win the 2014 elections. The plight of religious minorities in India, after the election of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister, besides exposing India’s claims of being a secular democracy, vindicates the farsightedness of Muslim leaders right from Sir Syed Ahmed Khan to Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
Without using the word secular (due to the misconception about secularism an anti-religion political system), Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah guaranteed that the followers of different faiths would be equal citizens of Pakistan. After the creation of Pakistan he assured the nation; “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle: that we are all citizens, and equal citizens, of one State”. Misled by the fundamentalists, who opposed the creation of Pakistan, even the educated people think Pakistan was created in the name of religion. Rise of puritanism, religious intolerance and sectarian violence are the outcomes of widely misunderstood rationale for the creation of Pakistan. Pakistan as an outcome of Muslims’ struggle for their religious, political and economic rights would reinforce the justification for its creation as well as continued existence, even after the separation of the erstwhile East Pakistan. If the democratic system can be the “raison deter” (reason for being) of the Muslim majority state of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh (that came into existence as a part of Pakistan) how Pakistan’s creation and existence on the same basis can be questioned.
By late 1970s, Islamic Republic of Pakistan was practically more secular than the secular India. The following of religious parties has never been more than 10 percent in numerous elections held in Pakistan since its creation in August 1947. Exploitation of religion, with the support of the US and the West, by the planners of Afghan War in 1980s, in addition to affecting the image of Islam as a religion of peace, and of Pakistan as a moderate Muslim state, had very fateful effects for the Pakistani society.
The victory of moderate political parties in the 2018 general elections in Pakistan has been viewed as an encouraging development. In his response to the election results, Mani Shankar Aiyar, the suspended member of All India Congress (who considers the emergence of Two Nation Theory the Muslims’ reaction to RSS ideology of Hindutva), noted with satisfaction; “More significant than who won is who lost”. Urging India to resume talks with Pakistan he said; “The self-styled ‘Islam-pasand’ parties — the Jamaat-i-Islami, the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Islam, etc. all — banded together in a new political alliance called the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal… lost almost all the seats they contested, not just in Punjab but even on their home ground”. He added; “The mainstream of Pakistan’s public opinion is remarkably like India’s: deeply religious but very wary of basing politics on religion, and wedded to the ballot rather than the bullet”.
— The writer a retired Brig, is professional educationist based in Islamabad.