23 March is a significant date in the history of Pakistan. On this day in 1940, the historic convention of All India Muslim League convened to resolve the next day; demanding autonomy of the Muslim majority States within the Indian Union. The Hindu media contemptuously called Lahore Resolution as Pakistan Resolution. Seven years later, Pakistan became a reality. It was also on this day in 1956 that Pakistan adopted its first constitution that paved the disastrous course to disintegration and aberrations in what remains of Pakistan. Pakistanis need to be reminded that they stood disintegrated in 1971 and must resist the disintegration through soft power that has become its Achilles heels.
What exactly was the significance of Lahore Resolution is a question relentlessly probed by historians and distorted by revisionists. There are many questions that remain unsettled. But one fact r persists. The resolution has not lost its historical significance and remains the document for existence of Pakistan, Bangladesh and continued struggle for liberation of Kashmir.
In the first context, leaders of the League in 1940 affirmed allegiance to the Indian Union and wanted to remain within, as autonomous Muslim State (s). The mention of State (s) in the resolution and later omitted reflects three facts. First, the notion of autonomy subsequently morphed into an idea of separatism. Secondly, the final interpretation of the Resolution was left to a committee that ignored the question of ‘States’ within a Union to appease Punjab’s Sikandar Hayat for his support. Thirdly, Punjab’s centrism with a shadow of the UP lobby caused irreparable damage to the federation.
So where did the idea of separatism come from?
The idea of separatism (following the experience of separation of Bengal) came from Bengal. Bengali leaders had persisted with the idea of an independent Muslim Identity. For most part of the struggle, Bengali leaders were resigned to fight their own struggle reflected in the many twists and turns recorded in dissenting notes and speeches of A. K. FazlulHaq. Finally as historians agree, it was Bengali leaders A K Fazlul Huq seconded by Choudhury Khaliquzzaman who pushed through the resolution despite a reluctant Unionist Sikander Hayat.
Earlier, Allama Iqbal had espoused the idea during his frequent meetings with Bengali Muslim leaders. As President of Punjab Muslim League he reflected the concept in his famous Allahabad address of 1930 envisioning a North Western Muslim Province within the British Indian Union. Iqbal was restricting himself to North Western India and later insertions are revisionist.
Qaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had rejected Chaudary Rehmat Ali’s idea of ‘Pakistan: Our Fatherland’ but 1937 onwards he began changing his views. Thereon the movement was shifted to Muslim majority areas and regional politicians. But from the time of Allahabad address to the historic convention at Manto Park, North West India and Punjab were dominated by Unionists and Congress sympathizers, abhorring the idea of a separate homeland. Consequently, League’s real constituents, the Muslims in Hindu Majority areas in Bihar and UP were ignored in favour of Muslim majority areas.
Significantly, it was not Punjab but the Sindh Assembly under the leadership of G M Syed, an influential Sindhi activist, revolutionary and Sufi that passed the resolution in favour of Pakistan. On 15 April 1941 the Lahore Resolution was incorporated as a creed in the constitution of the All-India Muslim League.
Quaid E Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s speech to the Constituent Assembly on 11 August 1947 reflected the spirit of Lahore Resolution in many ways. It also reflected that there were dissenting elements within the league that needed to be checked. Jinnah said, “The Constituent Assembly has got two main functions to perform. The first is the very onerous and responsible task of framing the future constitution of Pakistan and the second of functioning as a full and complete sovereign body as the Federal Legislature of Pakistan”. Successive legislative bodies could neither frame a constitution nor allay the forces of exploitation in the society. He went on, “You will no doubt agree with me that the first duty of a government is to maintain law and order, so that the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected by the State”. He said, “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”.
On March 7, 1949 The Objective Resolution displaced the Creed of All India Muslim League and Jinnah’s speech to the Constituent Assembly. It also meant that the spirit of Lahore Resolution and Jinnah’s speech to the Constituent Assembly were superseded. Hence, two cardinal pieces of Muslim League’s legal and constitutional history was resigned to history. Significantly Jinnah’s social contract stood rejected.
With the Objective Resolution providing the framework, on 23 March 1956, Pakistan adopted its first constitution. Pakistan transformed from a Dominion under the British Empire to an Islamic Republic. It was a 234 Article compromise and stuttering still born document providing a federal system based on the principals of parity between East and West Pakistan. In contradiction to federalism, the constitution comprised a single chamber enabling centralisation and denying devolution. It also declared that no law could be passed against the spirit of the Holy Quran and Sunnah and alienated Pakistanis on the basis of religion. In commemoration, 23rd March was declared a national holiday called the Republic Day. Though the constitution barely lasted over two years, it opened enough fissures in Pakistan’s politic and federal body that ultimately caused the division of Pakistan in 1971.
The true historical context of the Lahore Resolution and constitutionalism in Pakistan is hidden from the people of Pakistan due to revisionist history. It also explains how insertion of turncoats into the politic body deforms vision and objectives. Deficient of political logic, successive attempts at centralisation and devoid of inclusivism, successive regimes paid lip service to religion as hedge to elitist interests. The question to define Lahore Resolution still warrants incisive analysis.
The writer is a political economist and a television anchor person.