Make Pakistan a Secular Republic?

Quaid’s view of minorities

By I.A. Rehman

In his Aug 11 speech the Quaid-i-Azam took a radical step beyond unexplained safeguards and called for excluding religion from the affairs of the state and offered the non-Muslim citizens complete equality with their Muslim compatriots. – File Photo.

Quite a few groups and individuals wish to resurrect what they describe as Jinnah’s Pakistan. The argument in support of the effort is that decades of disregard for the Quaid-i-Azam’s vision of Pakistan has landed the country into one crisis after another and its future cannot be guaranteed without a return to its foundational premises.

Although the Quaid’s views on Pakistan’s ideal (he usually avoided the expression ‘ideology’) have not escaped controversy, there is substantial agreement among historians and analysts that he stood for a constitution framed by none else than the representatives of the people, a system of government that he described as people’s democracy, and full citizenship rights for the minorities.

These conclusions are mostly derived from the Quaid’s Aug 11, 1947 address to the Constituent Assembly after he had been elected its president. While conscious and democratically-minded citizens have always held that in this speech the Quaid defined the essential and unalterable features of Pakistan’s polity, a few elements have tried to minimise its importance.

They have argued that the Quaid’s Aug 11 speech was not in harmony with the ideas he had consistently advanced. The Quaid-i-Azam had himself pointed out that he could not make “any well-considered pronouncement at this stage” and had said “a few things as they occur to me”. Through these observations he defined the priority tasks for the government: maintenance of law and order, “so that the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected by the state”; elimination of the poison of bribery and corruption; eradication of black-marketing; and suppression of the evil of nepotism and jobbery.

These views had not been expressed by the Quaid for the first time. They had inspired his frequent attacks on the colonial administration in the course of his long and illustrious career as a parliamentarian. What followed his observations on governance was new because he was speaking about the state of Pakistan that was to come into being three days later. And what he said was this:

“Now if we want to make this great state of Pakistan happy and prosperous we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor … If you change your past and work together in a spirit that every one of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this state with equal rights, privileges and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make.”

These words and his reference to the Muslims’ ceasing to be Muslims and the Hindus’ ceasing to be Hindus in the same speech, constituted the Quaid’s solution to the issue of religious minorities that had undermined the struggle for the subcontinent’s freedom for many decades.

Although communal differences had been accentuated during the 1857 uprising, the minority question acquired a new shape when Muslim leaders, Sir Syed in particular, gave vent to their fears of rule by elected representatives. For several decades they sought safeguards to which they were entitled as a minority. The failure of these attempts led the Muslim League to abandon the status of a minority and claim the rank of nationhood.

However, the formulation of the demand for a new nation-state called Pakistan did not end the minority issue. The authors of the Lahore Resolution of 1940 had themselves realised this when, after asking for the creation of independent states in Muslim-majority areas, they said:

“That adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards should be specifically provided in the constitution for minorities in these units (provinces) and in the regions (i.e. the Muslim zones) for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them; and in other parts of India where the Musalmans are in a minority, adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards shall be specifically provided in the constitution for them and other minorities, for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them.”Soon after the Lahore Resolution was adopted questions about the fate of non-Muslims in the Muslim-majority provinces (zones) began to be raised. A group of Sikh representatives met the Quaid, and what did he tell them? Besides assuring the Sikhs of all the protection a religious minority was entitled to in a civilised state he offered them the status of an autonomous region within Punjab and told them that they would be better off in Pakistan than in India.

Those who argue that the Quaid’s defence of the non-Muslims’ right to equal status with Muslims in his Aug 11 speech was not a well-considered formulation may read the account of his press conference in Delhi a month earlier.
Asked to make a brief statement on the problem of minorities as Pakistan’s governor-general-designate, he said: “I shall not depart from what I have said repeatedly with regard to the minorities. Every time I spoke about the minorities, I meant what I said and what I said I meant. The minorities, to whichever community they may belong, will be safeguarded. Their religion or their faith or belief will be protected in every way possible. Their life and property will be secure.

“There will be no interference of any kind with their freedom of worship. They will have their protection with regard to their religion, faith, their life, their property and their culture. They will be in all respects treated as citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste, colour, religion or creed. They will have all their rights and privileges and also the obligations of citizenship. Therefore, the minorities have their responsibilities also and they will play their part in the affairs of the state. As long as the minorities are loyal to the state and owe true allegiance to it and as long as I have any power, they need have no apprehension of any kind.”

When pressed further on specific issues, such as separate electorates, he said: “I cannot go into these details. The actual provisions with regard to protection and safeguards can only be discussed in the two constituent assemblies in which the minorities are represented.”

The Quaid was asked to comment on the recent statements and the speeches by certain Congress leaders to the effect that if the Hindus in Pakistan are treated badly, they will treat Muslims in Hindustan worse. The answer was:

“I hope they will get over this madness and follow the line I am suggesting. It is no use picking up the statements of this man here or that man there. You must remember that in every society there are crooks, cranks and what I call mad people in every part of the world, and this is hardly the place where we can say, ‘what about this man’s statement and what about that man’s statement’.”

It was at this press conference that the Quaid-i-Azam was asked: “Will Pakistan be a secular or a theocratic state?” His reply was: “You are asking me a question that is absurd. I do not know what a theocratic state means.”

A correspondent suggested that a theocratic state meant a state where only people of a particular religion, for example Muslims, could be full citizens and non-Muslim would not be full citizens.

The Quaid said: “Then it seems to me that what I have already stated is like throwing water on a duck’s back. For goodness sake, get out of your head the nonsense that is being talked about. What this theocratic state means I do not understand.”

Another correspondent suggested that the questioner meant a state run by maulanas. The Quaid replied: “What about the government run by pandits in Hindustan?” When you talk of democracy I am afraid you have not studied Islam. We learnt democracy 13 centuries ago.”

It should not be difficult for any independent observer to conclude that even before Aug 11, 1947 the founder of Pakistan had a clear thesis on the rights of the minorities. The core elements of this thesis were:

— The Lahore Resolution called for mandatory safeguards drawn up in consultation with them.

— In July 1947 the Quaid made a pledge to the effect that the Constituent Assembly, in which the minorities are represented, will lay down safeguards in the constitution.

— Democracy is not incompatible with Islam, hence belief cannot be invoked to curtail the rights of the minorities.

In his Aug 11 speech the Quaid-i-Azam took a radical step beyond unexplained safeguards and called for excluding religion from the affairs of the state and offered the non-Muslim citizens complete equality with their Muslim compatriots. This may well have been the result of his reflection on what had happened between July 13 and Aug 11, 1947, especially the madness of communal slaughter and the exchange of population between the Indian and Pakistani Punjabs, a course he had ruled out in July.

The greatest irony about this address of historic importance is that it is generally believed to have addressed only the minorities’ rights. This is only partly true. The Quaid’s words were directed at all citizens of Pakistan; the progress of the entire population depended on burying the past (communal politics). What he clearly meant was that discrimination against the minorities would impede Pakistan’s progress. Thus, in Jinnah’s Pakistan the rights and interests of the minorities will be protected by the constitution and the law not only as something due to them but also as an insurance of the state’s integrity.


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