For an effective safeguard against misuse of religion

Our law-makers have still to prove that Zia-ul-Haq had no right to distort the vision of the Quaid-e-Azam, who wanted minorities to pursue their beliefs and cultures "freely" because they are equal citizens as far as the business of the State is concerned

It was the experience of being a minority in India that compelled the Muslims to demand a separate homeland for themselves. If one accepts this logic, then a corollary assumption is unavoidable: Pakistani Muslims, after attaining the status of a majority in their own homeland, will not reproduce the social, economic and cultural conditions which generally compel minorities to be discontented within the polity. This was the essence of the ideas of the Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah on the status of minorities in Pakistan. He tried to convey this to the nascent nation in his address to the Constituent Assembly on the 11th of August, 1947:

"I cannot emphasise it too much. We should begin to work in that spirit and, in the course of time, all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community, because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalis, Madrasis and so on, will vanish. Indeed if you ask me, this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain the freedom and independence and but for this we would have been free people long long ago. No power can hold another nation, and specially a nation of 400 million souls in subjection; nobody could have conquered you, and even if it had happened, nobody could have continued its hold on you for any length of time, but for this. Therefore, we must learn a lesson from this. You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State. As you know, history shows that in England, conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some States in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State."

This speech of the Quaid opened the proverbial Pandora's box. The minorities embraced it and the religious right tried to suppress it. The speech was considered too liberal or secular by the religious right, especially the Jamaat-e-Islami, which initially was against the creation of Pakistan because, at that time, they considered nationalist aspirations for the Muslims of India against the idea of Khilafat and the unified Ummah. Indeed, nationalist aspirations of a religious minority constitute a very complex political ambition. First, a minority has to justify its nationalist ambitions in exclusive terms. Then, after achieving its goal, it has to try to accommodate the minorities within. An erstwhile minority, after attaining majority within a new nation, has to be careful to not produce what Edward Said has called "the victims of the victims and the refugees of the refugees."

The minorities of Pakistan were wary of the ways in which the laws of the nation-state were being developed, especially after the death of the Quaid. In 1949, when the Objectives Resolution was passed, the representatives of the minorities tabled a list of amendments. The suggested amendments were rejected in a vote within the Assembly because only ten members favoured the proposed amendments whereas twenty one members voted to reject them. That is another political problem posed by religiously inspired nationalisms. How can minorities have their concerns registered when numbers are not on their side?

Before the Objectives Resolution was adopted, Bhupendra Kumar Datta, one of the minority members of the Constituent Assembly, debated its majoritarian nature on March 9, 1949.

According to Datta, politics belonged to the domain of reason and religion to the domain of emotions. By mixing the business of the state with the emotions of the majority, argued Datta, the law-makers were paving the way for absolutism because it was difficult to argue against an emotional majority. He suggested that the law-makers should assign sovereignty to the people of Pakistan as citizens of the state and not as religious beings. To support his stance, he referred to the political views of the Quaid: "Were this Resolution to come before this house within the lifetime of the great creator of Pakistan, the Quaid-e-Azam, it would not have come in its present shape."

It is one of the ironies of our political history that those voices which wanted the nation to embrace reason were consistently suppressed.

After the Objectives Resolution was adopted, the nationalist project of the Muslims of India, essentially a secular project, was vulnerable to populist manipulations and tactics by any ruler. Religion was not safe from the interference of politics and the political sphere was not safe from the incursion of religious emotions. According to K. K. Aziz, only a secular constitution can be an effective safeguard against the misuse of religion by politicians.

The later developments in the political history of Pakistan support this thesis. If the Objectives Resolution had envisaged a secular state, populist demagogues would not have encouraged different religious and sectarian agitation movements. This was what the minorities feared in 1949 when they objected to certain specific phrases that only had a populist appeal and did not provide any concrete guidance regarding the business of the state. It was due to this milestone document in our history that one sect fights against the other or one community tries to declare the other non-Muslim.

In 2007, M. P. Bhandara tried to undo the damage done by the Objectives Resolution by moving a private bill in the National Assembly to include the Quaid's speech of August 11, 1947, as part of the Constitution of Pakistan. The bill was admitted because the National Assembly could not ignore the Quaid-e-Azam.

A similar strategy is needed to combat the American-funded extremism of the era of proxy jihad. Our law-makers have still to prove that Zia-ul-Haq had no right to distort the vision of the Quaid-e-Azam, who wanted minorities to pursue their beliefs and cultures "freely" because they are equal citizens as far as the business of the State is concerned.

Published in The News on Sunday

dated September 21, 2008