Sixty-four years of grappling with a simple question
Did the Quaid-e-Azam envisage a secular Pakistan or a theocracy in the name of an Islamic system? It’s been sixty-four years since his passing away but this is a question that is still a subject of intense debate.
The other day a function was held under the auspices of the Aiwan-e-Iqbal in Lahore to commemorate the Quaid’s death anniversary. A similar debate raged there.Orya Maqbool Jan, a right-wing ideologue and an intellectual in his own right, predictably declared that Jinnah envisaged an Islamic system for the country. Orya, who is heading the Punjab Archival Department, claimed on the basis of his research that the founder of the nation wanted an Islamic system for Pakistan.
He had tasked a convert religious scholar Allama Mohd Assad to set up an organization for Islamic reforms. Orya also argued that the Quaid wanted to get rid of the western economic system for Pakistan.
Dr Mehdi Hasan, who is known for his liberal views, in his subsequent speech rebutted Orya’s claims. According to him, Jinnah was quite clear in his mind about what Pakistan was to be. But Islamists who had opposed the creation of Pakistan started clamoring for a theocracy after his demise.
Dr Mehdi Hasan - who heads the Mass Communications Department at the Beaconhouse National University - said that Jinnah, soon to be governor general of Pakistan, spelt out his vision of Pakistan in his address to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947.
He quoted from Jinnah’s speech which should have formed the bedrock of the future constitution of Pakistan: “You will find in the course of time, Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual but in the political sense as citizens of the state.”The professor of journalism rightly lamented the fact that this speech was censored by the Quaid’s successors after his demise. By the time the speech saw the light of day, it was already too late. The maulanas who had opposed Pakistan on the very basis that the future state will not be based on religious foundations slowly but surely started taking over the agenda as well as the narrative.
Of course, Pakistan created by the Muslims of the sub-continent was never to be a secular state. But neither was it envisaged as a theocracy where a bunch of religious scholars would have the veto power to steer the country according to their respective agendas.I, as chairman of the Aiwan-e-Iqbal, was presiding over this seminar. My submission was that whatever point of view one adhered to about the Quaid’s vision of Pakistan, it was obvious that the present day Pakistan is certainly not what the founding fathers had envisioned.
Perhaps, it would be easier to find out the system the Quaid had envisaged by enumerating what he did not want Pakistan to be. For sure, Jinnah certainly did not want a theocratic Pakistan.If it were so, the ulema including Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind would not have opposed its creation tooth and nail. Their argument was that since Islam cannot be confined to territorial boundaries, there was no rationale for Pakistan. They also doubted the credentials of the Muslim League leadership, headed by Jinnah, to lead the Muslims of the subcontinent.
Jinnah certainly conceived of a pluralistic democratic system for Pakistan, as he reiterated in many of his speeches including the one he made on 11 August 1947 to the Constituent Assembly. Of course, separate electorate was not in his scheme of things. However, the ideologue dictator General Zia-ul-Haq - with the support of pseudo-democratic elements and the clergy - introduced separate electorates in the already truncated 1973 constitution.
The persecution of the minorities certainly was not what the Quaid had fought for. On the contrary, he wanted the minorities to be equal citizens and to be free to practice their religion.The ethnic cleansing of the Shias, the persecution of the Ahmedis and the manner in which the Hindus and Christian minorities are being treated is a far cry from Quaid’s Pakistan. The weak-kneed reaction to such gross injustices by our political elite as well as a large swath of the media is indeed lamentable.
Most of the ills of the country are generally traced back to the shenanigans of the military and feudal elites that have mostly ruled Pakistan since its inception. Again, the Quaid had not even in the wildest of dreams imagined Pakistan to be a national security state where the military would rule rather than defend the frontiers.It is a supremely unfortunate that military despots have ruled Pakistan for almost half of the time since its inception. Even during the rest of the time, the military has been (and still is) a dominant force in our polity.
It would be unfair not to blame the politicians and a spineless judiciary for this state of affairs. The higher judiciary consistently kept on putting its stamp of approval on coupsters. Most politicians also, at one juncture or the other, had no compunctions in linking up with military strongmen in order to share the spoils of powers.Today, PML-N supremo Mian Nawaz Sharif laments the fact that Pakistan is reaching the status of a failed state. Having dominated the political agenda for more than a quarter of a century, can he absolve himself of some blame?
The Quaid was also for a corruption free and transparent polity; a far cry from the state of affairs today. In his remarkably prescient speech to the constituent assembly he said, “One of the biggest curse of which India is suffering - I do not say other countries are free from it, but, I think, our condition is much worse - is bribery and corruption.”He wanted to put down the twin menace menace of corruption and nepotism with an iron hand and hoped that the (constituent) assembly would take adequate measures in this regard. It is regrettable indeed that our parliament even today is grappling with passing a consensual accountability bill.
The late ZA Suleri, a veteran journalist, had the privilege of working under the Quaid. He penned a book “My Leader” which recorded his impressions of Jinnah.Although an apologist of General Zia-ul-Haq and a believer in his brand of “Islamic democracy”, he protested when the Quaid’s portrait in the National Assembly was being repainted to show him attired in an ‘achkan’ rather than a suit. Suleri penned an article in the Pakistan Times, of which he was an editor titled Paint the Quaid as he is.Although Mr Suleri did not follow his own guideline and became a follower of Jamaat-e-Islami in the twilight years of his life, his advice is worth following in today’s Pakistan in letter and spirit. Easier said than done!
The writer is Editor, Pakistan Today