By Zuhair Siddiqi
“MR. JINNAH is direct and blunt”, wrote R. G. Casey, the war-time Governor of Bengal, “and no one has any doubt what he means when he speaks”.This is a tribute which even the severest critic of the Quaid-i-Azam would not question; but in the State that he founded, and among his professed devotees, there has never been a dearth of people who would not hesitate to distort even the clearest of his pronouncements to suit their own ends and purposes. Take, for instance, his historic presidential address to the Constituent Assembly on the eve of the birth of Pakistan, which Mr. Bhutto rightly described some time ago as “one of the texts of our nationhood”. That speech, which includes the most emphatic enunciation conceivable of the ideal of a secular, single-nation State, has been a headache for obscurantists all these years. They have tried to explain away, distort, and even press, its sharpest and most significant parts.
This casuistry has now become too familiar to attract notice or provoke serious discussion; but it still tends to put one’s back up when it comes from a person as responsible as the Attorney-General of Pakistan. The brief Press reports of
Mr. Yahya Bakhtiar’s speech at a recent Quaid-i-Azam seminar in Lahore do not specifically mention that oft-distorted, address of the leader; but there is no doubt that he was referring to it when he accused “some intellectuals of trying to create the impression that the Quaid was not very clear on the colour of the State of Pakistan”. For his part, Mr. Bakhtiar has no doubt that the Quaid-i-Azam “never wanted Pakistan to be a secular State”. He has also talked of “a possible misunderstanding based on the Quaid’s very patronising attitude towards the minorities”.
One does not know who are the “intellectuals trying to create the impression that the Quaid was not very clear on the colour of the State of Pakistan”; but there are a lot of intellectuals and other honest students of political history who assert, on the basis of a series of the leader’s pronouncements, that he visualised a State secular for all practical purposes. His pronouncement in the Constituent. Assembly, in which he clearly set forth that ideal, was not an oratorical effusion, it was read from a text which he had taken several hours to write. What is more, when read in perspective, the statement emerges as the logical culmination of his utterances on the subject during the years of the struggle for Pakistan. As early as 1941, he denounced a statement by the notorious communalist, K. M. Munshi, that Pakistan would be a religious State: “Is it not an incitement to the Sikhs and Hindus?” the Quaid observed in a speech at the Muslim University Union, “telling them that it would be a religious State excluding them from all power is entirely untrue”.
And then, as the goal of Pakistan drew nearer, the leader felt called upon to outline the fundamentals of the contemplated State more and more clearly. “This government”, he told a Daily Worker correspondent in 1945, “—will function with the will and sanction of the entire body of people in Pakistan, irrespective of caste, colour or creed”. About a year later, after the Muslim League’s decisive victory at the polls had ensured the emergence of Pakistan, the Quaid-i-Azam said at a Press conference in Delhi that the plan of Pakistan “called for a popular representative government in which every child, no matter what his caste, colour or creed, will have equal rights”.
The pronouncement in the Constituent Assembly is only an emphatic and authoritative reaffirmation of the ideal outlined in the statements quoted above. The words are clear and precise beyond even a shadow of ambiguity: “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the State…… Today you might say with justice that (in Britain) Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen, of Great Britain, and they are all members of the nation.
“Now, I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal, and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense……but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”
If this is not secularism, what is?
Nor can these words be explained away in terms of what Mr. Bakhtiar is reported to have described as the Quaid’s “very patronising attitude towards the minorities”. In the first instance, Mr. Jinnah’s attitude towards the minorities was very far from being patronising. He devoutly believed that, in any civilised State, the minorities should, as a matter of right, enjoy perfect equality with the majority as citizens of the State; the idea of any minority being relegated to the status of second-class citizens and living on the sufferance of the majority was alien to his thinking. It was this conviction that brought him into conflict with the narrow ‘nationalism’ of the majority community in undivided India, and ultimately forced him to demand a partition of the country. But even as he did so, he made it clear that, in the State that he was demanding, the minorities would enjoy not only security of life and honour but certain fundamental rights: the Pakistan resolution promised them “adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards ” for the protection of “their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them”.
During the years of the struggle for Pakistan, the Quaid-i-Azam continued to refer to the position of the minorities in similar terms, without any trace of a feeling of superiority, or an attitude of patronage. And what he eventually said in the Constituent Assembly represented the quintessence of his views on the subject. He was exceedingly careful in the choice of words, and if he had merely wished to say that the Muslims of Pakistan should have the goodness to treat the Hindu minority humanely, he would surely know how to say it in appropriate words, without setting forth the ideal of a single nation with equal rights for all citizens.
Mr. Bakhtiar’s reported references to, the two-nation theory are not very clear, and one would like to ask him the short and straight question whether he does or does not regard the people of Pakistan, irrespective of their religious beliefs, as a single nation. For, if it is held that the Muslims of Pakistan constitute a nation separate from the non-Muslims, we shall have on our hands not two but about half a dozen nations—Hindus, Christians, Parsis, etc., besides the majority community. One could hardly think of a better way of dividing the nation against itself, of promoting disruption and inviting disloyalty.
Bogey worn thin
While trying to establish that the Quaid-i-Azam did not stand for a secular State in Pakistan, Mr. Yahya Bakhtiar has conjured up the familiar bogey—which has worn thin from thirty years of constant use—that the “confusion” on the issue is the handiwork of “a microscopic minority of intellectuals not reconciled to the creation of Pakistan”. One would like to know whether Mr. Bakhtiar would also include among them the two distinguished jurists who have, in the course of a judicial report, interpreted the Quaid-i-Azam’s address to the Constituent Assembly as follows:
“The future subject of the State is to be a citizen with equal rights and privileges and obligations, irrespective of colour, caste, creed or community. The word ‘nation’ is used more than once, and religion is stated to have nothing to do with the business of the State and to be merely a matter of personal faith of the individual.
“We asked the ulema whether this conception of a State was acceptable to them, and every one of them replied in an unhesitating negative. None of the ulema can tolerate a State which is based on nationalism and all that it implies. With them millat and all that it cannotes can alone be the determining factor in state activity.”
This is the opinion that Chief Justice Mohammad Munir and Justice M. R. Kayani, of the Lahore High Court, pronounced some 23 years ago in their report on the Punjab disturbances of 1953.
No tub-thumping, please
Mr. Bakhtiar is, of course, entitled to his own interpretation; but then he must argue on the basis of recognised rules of interpretation and establish that the founder of the State had in mind something exactly contrary to the plain and natural meaning of his words. The well-worn gibe about certain intellectuals or politicians not being reconciled to the creation of Pakistan seems to come from the repertory of a political tub-thumper; it should have no place in an intellectual discourse or discussion.
Source: Viewpoint, Jan 21, 1977 (?)