In less than three months, Pakistani electorate goes to the polls. As the country prepares for a democratic transition, understanding the framework that defines the nation's identity is important
In 2008, more than 60 years after the 79-year old sant from Sabarmati attained martyrdom after uttering Hey Ram thrice, my renewed interest in Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi found expression in the form of exploration — of Gandhi-related literature and cinema. I stumbled upon the Oscar-winning film on him — one, which not so long ago, doordarshan used to screen on every possible day of national importance, with a religious fervour.
In an Ironic — and a wholly unexpected twist — I also came across, for the first time, another biopic, on someone who became a convert, from a fellow protagonist to an antithesis, in Gandhi’s quest to give country [ies] swaraj.
It was Jamil Dehlavi’s Jinnah (1998). Gandhi and Jinnah, on the same page, of the search results!
It had these lines are prelude:
“Few individuals significantly alter the course of history. Fewer still modify the map of the world. Hardly anyone can be credited with creating a nation-state. Mohammad Ali Jinnah did all three.” Stanley Wolpert, Jinnah of Pakistan (1984).
The Quaid and the Mahatma in a September 1944 photo. -- PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
Opening sequence of the film: It’s 1948. In ‘our’ universe, Jinnah is dead.
In a parallel universe, a modern day gatekeeper, a Chitragupt (here played by a still-charming Shashi Kapoor) needs to prepare a balance sheet, detailing Jinnah’s actions. Due to a computer error, Jinnah’s life history has been lost.
It is upto Jinnah to be faithful to his past and provide an account of his epoch-making life. He does it, warts and all.
Towards the end of the movie, we are taken to the 1990s, the post-Babri Masjid demolition period. Jinnah, Gandhi and others — occupying the ‘parallel’ universe — could be seen observing and pondering over the state affairs in India and in Pakistan in the post-Babri Masjid demolition period.
Fast forward. It’s 2013. Let’s assume that the Quaid-e-azam (Great Leader), from the same parallel universe, is observing Pakistan’s present — it’s civilian government completing full term. The country would face elections in three months. It’s political bosses are keeping their fingers crossed as it would be a historic moment -- the country's first democratic transition from one elected government to another.
What would the Quaid have to say to his 180 million citizens? Having once assured its citizens that they are “free to go to your [their] temples” and “free to go to your [their] mosques or to any other place of worship”, would he like to see the desecration of not just temples, but holy places of any subjective ‘other’?
He said that a Pakistani may “belong to any religion or caste or creed. That has nothing to do with the business of the State”. Would he like to see not only minorities like Ahmadis and Shias, but Sunnis (supposed to be a 'majority') themselves persecuted?
As Mohsin Hamid, in his article points out:
“What then is the status of the country’s majority? In Pakistan, there is no such thing. Punjab is the most populous province, but its roughly 100 million people are divided by language, religious sect, outlook and gender. Sunni Muslims represent Pakistan’s most populous faith, but it’s dangerous to be the wrong kind of Sunni. Sunnis are regularly killed for being open to the new ways of the West, or for adhering to the old traditions of the Indian subcontinent, for being liberal, for being mystical, for being in politics, the army or the police, or for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Would the Quaid have anticipated this? Would his heart bleed at this? Who would he consider blaming? His own failing health at the time of independence? Or the way in which some of his ideas have been ‘mutilated’ by the deep state in Pakistan? Or simply the force of Providence?
Framing a Constitution
Though Pakistan attained independence in 1947, its founders could give itself an indigenous constitution only in 1956, which was abrogated just two years later.. The nation had already lost its Quaid in September 1948.
Out of the 66 years of its existence, Pakistan has been ruled by military dictators for 32 years — a little less than half the time. The civilian leadership that emerged lacked a coherent vision, zeal, to think from a long-term perspective; to keep the interests of not only the present generation but also future generations in mind.
So what was the ‘vision’ of Pakistan or the ‘concept’ of Pakistan Jinnah had in mind?
In two scholarly articles, AG Noorani analyses this. In the first article, he raises this question:
“Terrorism and religious intolerance prompt Pakistanis to ask, ‘Is this the Pakistan which Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah aspired to establish?’”
-- PHOTO: FLICKR
The answer he gives is emphatic:
“It [the question] has, however, two facets – the concept and the vision.” He asserts that Jinnah “envisioned Pakistan as a modern democratic state”, one in which “minorities were not discriminated against”.
He is quick to add, “There is less clarity on his concept of Pakistan. Contrary to popular impression, Jinnah did not have a cut-and-dried blueprint. It was work in progress. Expositions followed with time and circumstance. They were none too consistent.”
The following paragraph sums up the essence of the article:
“A proposal for the partition of any country, especially one like India, had to be clear on seven points — territory of the proposed new state; the status of minorities in both states; links between the two states; exchange of population; a ‘corridor’ between the two wings of the new state; the nature of the proposed state; and the place of the princely Indian states in the proposed set-up. There was no codified scheme covering these points. Jinnah’s expositions flowed with changing times, from 1940 to 1947.”
Among the seven 'questions' raised, four — territory, status of minorities, links and nature of the state — still find themselves looking for answers. How does Pakistan want to treat its minorities? What kind of links — political, economic, people-to-people — would it like to maintain with India? And what about the territory, where there are competing claims both to its east and its west (Afghanistan never formally accepted the Durand Line)?
Sanguine about the future
The second article concludes with an argument and a hope.
“The harsh truth is that the concept of Pakistan was inherently flawed. It was evolved in response to queries as to what Jinnah had to offer as an alternative to a federation. Jinnah hoped to negotiate. The Congress was in no mood to negotiate and was prepared to concede Pakistan rather than share power.”
However, he ends on an optimistic note, one perhaps Pakistan’s electorate can consider analysing:
“Pakistan flourished despite the terrible flaws in the concept. This was thanks entirely to its people….Today, the young share Jinnah’s vision and are determined to make it real. The concept of Pakistan lies miles behind them, historically. The vision of its founder moves them today. And they are certain to succeed.”
Quaid's ideas not gaining currency could have to do with the enigma associated with his personality? -- PHOTO:FOTOPEDIA
Though the creation of Pakistan was a tragic mistake, it is an operational reality. It has endured all its existential crises. However, the country would perhaps flourish further if learns to confront its past — something its Military-Mullah Inc is loath to.
Would Jinnah’s spirit confront the statements made about his mortal self, like the one in this article by Ramachandra Guha?
“The legacy of Jinnah is more problematic. For, the man who fought long and hard for a homeland for Muslims made a late, isolated speech saying that religion had no business to be associated with the affairs of the State. The speech, like the man himself, remains a mystery, an enigma, a riddle.”
A riddle perhaps 180 million Pakistanis are confronting?
At the root of many issues of Pakistan is the way the country as a whole, its citizens, are ‘made’ to define themselves, in complete subversion of principles inherent in their Constitution.
In other words, there is a need to [for both India and Pakistan] redefine our identities — both absolute and relative. An ex-Indian diplomat is supposed to have stated: “[P]romoting peace between India and Pakistan is like trying to treat two patients whose only disease is an allergy to each other.”
Maybe it’s time to do some re-assessment so that the ‘allergy’ disappears. Or at least becomes irrelevant?
About four months after the then Punjab Governor Salman Taseer had been assassinated, his son Aatish Taseer, in an article for The Wall Street Jounal, wrote:
“...Pakistan defined itself by its opposition to India….The new country set itself the task of erasing its association with the subcontinent, an association that many came to view as a contamination”.
Also, “Pakistan, by asserting a new Arabised Islamic identity, rejected its own local and regional culture. In trying to turn its back on its shared past with India, Pakistan turned its back on itself”.
Shahbaz Bhatti, The then Minorities Affairs Minister who was assasinated in 2011 for standing against the country's blasphemy laws. --PHOTO: AP
To point the finger inward: How should an Indian define himself/herself in relation to the neighbour to its West?
These are questions that perhaps we need to explore, in the transition period and after Pakistan sees a transfer of power from one civilian government to the other. And these are questions the apparition of the Quaid cannot shy away from confronting.