The passing of Pakistan Resolution on March 23, 1940, at the Minto Park Lahore, for its impact and importance, remains a watershed in the struggle of Muslims in the subcontinent for a separate homeland. In terms of timings, it was most fortuitous - not a day too early.

By 1934, the All India Muslim League, having remained in the background for much of the twenties, was coming into its own as a dynamic platform for Muslims’ political struggle under the leadership of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. But the contours of the struggle were still evolving.

Till 1937, the League had continued to throw its weight behind the concept of “separate electorates” and was hard at work to find constitutional common grounds with the Indian National Congress to secure the constitutional rights of Muslims within a unified India. But thanks to the intransigence of Congress’ Hindu leadership, the dream of the Hindu-Muslim unity was withering fast.

It was in the March of 1940, a mere seven years before the dawn of independence, that the Quaid, for the first time from a podium in Lahore, demanded a separate homeland for the Indian Muslims; staking his claim on the basis of a separate nationhood.

The Pakistan Resolution was moved by the Bengal Chief Minister, A.K. Fazlul Haq, and seconded by Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman and others. Outlining the concept of Muslim nationhood  in India, it stated: “No constitutional plan would be workable in this country or acceptable to Muslims, unless it is designed on the following basic principle, namely that geographically contiguous units are demarcated into regions that should be so constituted, with such territorial adjustments as may be necessary, that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in majority, as in the north-western and eastern zones of India, should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign.”

Jinnah’s address on the occasion crystallised the raison d'être of the yet to be born state: “The Hindus and Muslims belong....…to two different civilisations which are based on conflicting ideas and conceptions…....To yoke such nations under a single state, one as a numerical minority and the other as a majority, must lead to growing discontent and final destruction of any fabric that may be so built up for the government of such a state.” A long and difficult struggle lay ahead for the realisation of the dream, but the goal was now defined and the clarion call for creating a homeland for the Muslims in India finally sounded.

While the majority of Muslims rejoiced at the concept of a separate homeland constituting the Muslim majority areas, Hindu leaders firmly rejected the idea. Calling it “vivisection of Mother India”, Gandhi equated the partition of the subcontinent to a “moral wrong” and a “sin” to which he would never be a party. The Quaid, when challenged by Gandhi on articulation of the Two Nation Theory, clearly outlined his concept of Pakistan by defining the inequalities of Hindu-Muslim equation. He said: “We are a nation with our own distinctive culture and civilisation, language and literature, names and nomenclature, sense of values and proportion, legal laws and moral codes, customs and calendars, history and traditions, aptitudes and ambitions: in short, we have our own distinctive outlook on life and of life. By all canons of international law, we are a nation.”

It is instructive to note here that the goal set by the Founding Fathers was a fair and just society striving to conform to the highest Islamic principles, yet there were no underpinnings for a theocratic state. Pakistan was to be a homeland of Muslims of India, in areas where they were in numerical preponderance to enable them to preserve their distinctive culture and ethos from the inevitable Hindu resurgence that had already begun to take shape.

The Muslims of India had voluntary come together as a state. They were the proud holders of the Muslim ethos and didn’t need to be indoctrinated by the state or religious institutions to make them into what they already were. The Quaid was aware of the pitfall of the tussle that lay ahead in defining the rules for the interplay between religion and state.

He forcefully drove home this point during the inaugural address to the Constituent Assembly. “We are starting with the fundamental principle that we are all citizens of one state. We should keep that in front of us as our ideal. And you shall find that that in the course of time Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims shall cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense because that is the personal faith of the individual, but in the political sense as the citizens of one nation,” he declared. 

The impact of the passage of Lahore Resolution on the struggle for Pakistan was stunning in its far-reaching ramifications. Only two months before the adoption of the Resolution, Jinnah had spoken of a constitution for India that recognised that there were “in India two nations.......both must ‘share’ the governance of their common motherland.”

March 23, 1940, changed all that. The Quaid now made it obvious that the concept of separate representation was not enough; that the 1935 federal provisions would have to be scrapped; that the notion of the Congress of a Constituent Assembly, where “brother Gandhi has three votes and I [Jinnah] have only one”, was unacceptable; and that all further arrangements now had to be reconsidered de novo, on the basis that Muslims were a nation, repudiating once and for all their minority status.

He also used the platform at Lahore to demolish the Congress pretensions that it represented the whole of India, including some 95 million Muslims in the subcontinent. He now stood tall as the sole spokesman for the Muslim community of India; much to the chagrin of the Nehru-Gandhi duo, who had entrenched reluctance in accepting legitimacy of the Muslim League as an equal political entity. Nehru could no longer claim with impunity that there were only two parties; the British and the Congress, who could settle the question of independence of the subcontinent.

The conclave of March 23 unequivocally established Muslim League, under the Quaid’s leadership, as a force to reckon with in the affairs of undivided India. A bitter struggle lay ahead for him as well as the Muslim community, but Jinnah on this fateful day had resolutely set the course for the destination: Pakistan. A grateful nation cannot thank God enough for the gift of Quaid and Pakistan.

   The writer is a freelance columnist.