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Advani, Jinnah and the secularism debate

by Anil Nauriya, 27 May 2006

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The Hindu, June 11, 2005

To define the nation on the basis of religion and then to say that the state would be non-religious is an oxymoron.

The wreath L.K. Advani laid at M.A. Jinnah’s grave in Karachi would ordinarily have been a protocol formality. It did not remain so because he went on to attest to Jinnah’s "secularism," inviting an assessment that must involve also a review of his own record.

Jinnah made three important pronouncements on the subject of state and nation in Pakistan. First, he spoke in August 1947, some 72 hours before the formation of Pakistan, of equal rights for all. Second, in mid-December 1947 he addressed the Muslim League Council. Here he spoke of Pakistan as being a "Muslim state based on Islamic ideals" though not an "ecclesiastical state." [Pirzada, Syed Sharifuddin (ed.), Foundations of Pakistan: All India Muslim League Documents: 1906-1947, Vol 2, p.571]. Finally, Jinnah said on March 28, 1948, in Dhaka that "Pakistan is the embodiment of the unity of the Muslim nation and so it must remain." (Jinnah’s Speeches and Statements as Governor General 1947-48, pp 211-212).

If the three pronouncements are taken together these are close to the Savarkar/Advani positions. Both Savarkar and Mr. Advani have had, as a transitional position en route to Hindutva, the idea that while the state need not recognise religious distinctions, the nation is to be defined as Hindu. With this narrow understanding of nation, Mr. Advani had on January 4, 2003, speaking then as Deputy Prime Minister, expressed some resentment at the Ashoka Chakra, with its Buddhist association, being depicted on the nation’s flag.

Jinnah’s threefold position, if translated into Hindu terms in India, would yield not merely the transitional position but the complete Hindutva position as both state and nation would be defined in Hindu terms. It so happens that for some years, especially since the 1980s, Anglocentric scholarship has been seeking to project Jinnah’s position as secular. It would suit Mr. Advani to legitimise Hindutva objectives and pass them off as secular as well.

There is an impression in some circles that the early Jinnah was non-religious in his political attitude. Jinnah’s stand on the Khilafat issue, which arose in and after World War I, is sometimes cited in support of this view. However, Jinnah was not opposed to the Khilafat issue as such. On August 27, 1919, Jinnah and three others, sent to Lloyd George, the then British Prime Minister, a representation on behalf of the All-India Muslim League on the Khilafat question. The representation was concerned with the position of the Sultan of Turkey as the Khalifa. The penultimate paragraph of the representation is:

"We need not add that if Great Britain becomes a party in reducing H.I.M. the Sultan of Turkey and the Khalifa of the Muslim world to the status of a petty sovereign, the reaction in India will be colossal and abiding."

The representation was signed by M.A. Jinnah, Hasan Imam, Bhurgari and Yaqub Hasan. (See Pirzada, Syed Sharifuddin,(ed.) Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah’s Correspondence, Revised edition, Karachi, 1977, pp 71-73.)

In his presidential speech at the Calcutta session of the Muslim League in September 1920, Jinnah described the Khilafat issue as one "which we consider, from a purely Musalman point of view, a matter of life and death." (Pirzada, Syed Sharifuddin (ed.), Foundations of Pakistan: All India Muslim League Documents: 1906-1947, Vol 1, p.544). What Jinnah was opposed to was not the Khilafat cause but mass action. It is the statements expressing that reluctance that are generally cited by some scholars under the mistaken belief that he was opposed to the Khilafat demand itself.

It may be a mistake to take Jinnah’s support for Khilafat as evidence of lack of secularism. The Khilafat demands were fortified by promises made by the British Government in the course of the war and many of those who supported the demands did so because they saw that the Government was reneging on assurances given.

The two-nation idea came formally to be adopted by the League at Lahore in March 1940. This was after Savarkar had already started defining Hindus as a nation in his speeches to the Hindu Mahasabha. He had said as much in December 1939. Both Savarkar and Jinnah had been acting for sometime before this on a "community-for-itself" basis; that is, they had been judging issues on how these would affect the supposed interests of their respective communities. This comes across in Savarkar’s Hindutva thesis propounded in the mid-1920s. Jinnah’s letter of March 2, 1932 to Abdul Matin Chowdhury contains an early indication of the community-centred approach. Jinnah wrote that if the British want "our co-operation and support, it can only be on our safeguards plus responsibility at the Centre being agreed to. If Hindus want our co-operation and support it can only be on their agreeing to our safeguards and self-Govt. Within the British Commonwealth of Nations we cannot support one or the other except on these terms." (Pirzada (ed.), Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah’s Correspondence, pp 21-22).

This approach can be perhaps understood once its pre-suppositions are accepted. But it suffered from some serious defects. The approach plucked out the "community" from within the common society and secular economy in which it was embedded and sought to set such a "community" up for sale to the highest bidder; and it treated the bulk of India’s own people on a par with the alien, colonial rulers. The colonial rulers could always raise the stakes by outbidding what was on offer, particularly as the "terms" were not fixed but had a rolling character.

The "rolling character" has in the last few decades been a feature of Hindutva’s demands upon the minorities as well. The communal-sectarian appetite, once whetted, is seldom satisfied and stops at nothing.

Jinnah’s continual emphasis on religious community "homelands" also fits in with the Hindutva ideology. On January 10, 1941 Jinnah spoke of a "Monroe Doctrine" for the country, but after the Hindus and Moslems made up their differences and were settled in their `respective homelands.’ (Indian Annual Register, 1941, Vol 1, p. 28). It was characteristic of both Hindutva leaders and Jinnah to speak of exchange of population. On April 30, 1947, Jinnah spoke in Delhi saying that "sooner or later exchange of population will have to take place" and suggesting that this ought to be done "wherever it may be necessary and feasible." (Indian Annual Register, 1947, Vol 1, p. 246).

Virtual silence

Significantly, Jinnah maintained virtual silence in the face of murders of and physical attacks on nationalist Muslims opposed to the League. The murder in May 1943 of former Sind Premier Allah Baksh who had been strongly opposed to the two-nation theory, was followed by the murder of the Ahrari leader Sher Gul Khan. The influential Majlis-i-Ahrar passed a resolution in June 1944 condemning Jinnah’s silence on both murders. This was not merely a post-1940 phenomenon. The stabbing in October 1937 of Nasiruddin, a leading Congressman of Faizabad, met with a similar response. Nehru was distressed by the silence of the League leadership on Nasiruddin’s stabbing. (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Vol 8, pp 192-197).

These murders were part of a trend. Subhas Bose and many others including Ashrafuddin Chaudhury, Secretary of the Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee, were assaulted by League members in Chittagong division on June 15, 1938. Shafaat Ahmed Khan was stabbed in Shimla in 1946 as soon as his name was announced as a member of Nehru’s interim government. Around the same time, the eminent Krishak Praja Party leader Nowsher Ali was attacked and injured by Leaguers in Calcutta. Saifuddin Kitchlew, a hero of the ferment that had led to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919, was dragged in the streets of Multan in March 1947 by supporters of the Pakistan movement.

Mr. Advani’s record and that of his political supporters since the late 1980s fits neatly with this as he remained virtually silent on communal killings in the wake of his rath yatra and again on the Gujarat killings (2002).

Clearly, it is not possible to deny humanism and assert secular credentials. Humanism is the precondition on which a secular state can be constructed. This principle would apply to all political parties whoever they may be.

Ultimately, the community-for-itself approach extends to public order itself. Once the nation is defined on the basis of religious community, religion becomes a latent value in the state. So to define the nation on the basis of religion and then to say that the state would be non-religious is an oxymoron. At best this implies that the state though identified with a particular religion would not be ecclesiastical. This is in fact what Jinnah said in December 1947. It is a misnomer to call such a state secular except perhaps in relation to groups further extreme, such as the Taliban or its counterparts elsewhere.


The above article from The Hindu is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use