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Venkat Dhulipala: Debating Pakistan in Late Colonial North India

23 August 2012

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Indian Economic Social History Review, July/September 2011 vol. 48 no. 3 377-405


The essay argues that two themes became central in the UP Muslims imagination of Pakistan and played a crucial role in attracting their support for its creation. First, Pakistan was envisioned as a sovereign state in the Muslim majority provinces of British India which would not only be the natural home of Indian Muslims to which they all had the right to migrate, but a potent international guarantor for protecting the rights and interests of Muslims staying behind in post-colonial Hindu India. This conception was bolstered by visions of Pakistan as a powerful nation-state blessed with adequate territory, rich human and natural resources, infrastructural assets, and strategic location abutting fellow Muslim states of West Asia, enabling it to project its influence not just beyond its immediate borders, but on the world stage. Second, this vision was crucially linked to Pakistan‟s anticipated role in redeeming Islam‟s historic destiny in the subcontinent and the world at large. In this regard, Pakistan was imagined as a new Medina, an Islamic utopia where an equal brotherhood of Islam would be established dissolving myriad particularistic identities of Indian Muslims to serve as a model for the whole Islamic world. As the new Medina, Pakistan was anticipated to emerge as the leader of the Islamic world in the 20th century, a laboratory where experiments in Islamic modernity would be successfully conducted en route to ushering a new Islamic renaissance in the 20th century. The UP Muslims were charged with special responsibility for bringing this new Medina into existence as will be discussed later.

These ideas of Islamic nationhood were transmitted and translated to the Muslim public both in the UP and British India at large by prominent Deobandi ulama aligned to the ML, especially during the elections of 1945-46 which became a referendum on Pakistan.

This vision of Pakistan in which secular conceptions of sovereign territory were fused with theological conceptions of utopian space was however not uncontested. It led to acrimonious controversies and contending assessments regarding Pakistan‟s viability in terms of its economy, security, social and political stability, its place in the international community of nations, its ramifications for Indian Muslims in general and for Muslims from "minority provinces‟ like the UP in particular. The "Islamic‟ vision of Pakistan too was passionately contested by other Deobandi ulama leading to a formal split within their ranks for the first time in their institutional history. Questions regarding the problems and prospects of the Partition thus exercised the minds of not only the English speaking political elites but also of a larger public inhabiting the vernacular sphere. In highlighting the extensive public debates which fed popular conceptions regarding Pakistan and the accompanying hopes, apprehensions and questions that confronted the „minority province‟ Muslims who indeed led the struggle for its creation, this essay contends that this nation-state was not always "insufficiently imagined‟ in the process of its creation as has been assumed thus far in Partition historiography.xv


A Nation Insufficiently Imagined? Debating Pakistan in Late Colonial North India
by Venkat Dhulipala
Indian Economic Social History Review July/September 2011 vol. 48 no. 3 377-405


The above paper from Indian Economic Social History Review is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use