Home Opinion Indian liberals & Hindutva supporters, stop dragging Jinnah into Citizenship Bill debates

Indian liberals & Hindutva supporters, stop dragging Jinnah into Citizenship Bill debates

Jinnah repeatedly promised equal rights of citizenship to all in Pakistan. ‘We do not prescribe any school boy tests for loyalty,’ he said.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah
File photo | Muhammad Ali Jinnah | Commons

It’s time both Pakistanis and Indians in the 21st century see history for what it is. For Indian liberals and far-Right Hindu nationalists alike, it is axiomatic to abuse Muhammad Ali Jinnah and ascribe all sorts of myths to the man “who divided India”. Most recently Shashi Tharoor said that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019 is the victory of Jinnah’s thinking over Gandhi’s. I am sure that Tharoor himself knows that it is patently misleading not to mention that Pakistan does not have a confessional basis for citizenship even as it has moved away from Jinnah’s original secular vision for Pakistan.

There is a reason why Jinnah floated the demand for Pakistan, after spending most of his career fighting for a self-governing, united India — an effort that earned him the title of “best ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity”. Jinnah’s transformation from an “Indian first second and last” to a Muslim separatist is a fascinating story that needs to be read impartially. We must remember a few salient facts: The Lahore Resolution, which did not mention the name Pakistan, had left the door wide open for negotiation and settlement. The opportunity for that settlement arose with the Cabinet Mission Plan, which would have delivered a united India. Cabinet Mission Plan’s critics say that it contained a clause for renegotiation of terms 10 years later. However, while this opened the door for possible separation, it also left the door open for greater integration of the three-tiered federation.

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No confessional citizenship in Pakistan

While articulating the two-nation theory, Jinnah made it absolutely clear that citizenship would never be subject to any religious test. He said so in so many words to Gandhi and then repeatedly promised equal rights of citizenship to all communities in Pakistan. At the doorstep of independence when the interim government was formed, Jinnah nominated Jogindra Nath Mandal on a Muslim seat to the Council. Mandal later presided over the first session of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly and become Pakistan’s first law minister. Jinnah’s 11-August speech was very significant. He said:

“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.

The people of England in course of time had to face the realities of the situation and had to discharge the responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government of their country and they went through that fire step by step. Today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain and they are all members of the Nation. Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would 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.” (Emphasis mine.)

Jinnah was absolutely clear that citizenship in Pakistan will have no nexus with confessional identity. He explained this to Reuters correspondent Duncan Hooper in October 1947 when he said:

“Minorities DO NOT cease to be citizens. Minorities living in Pakistan or Hindustan do not cease to be citizens of their respective states by virtue of their belonging to particular faith, religion or race. I have repeatedly made it clear, especially in my opening speech to the Constituent Assembly, that the minorities in Pakistan would be treated as our citizens and will enjoy all the rights as any other community. Pakistan SHALL pursue this policy and do all it can to create a sense of security and confidence in the Non-Muslim minorities of Pakistan.

We do not prescribe any school boy tests for their loyalty. We shall not say to any Hindu citizen of Pakistan ‘if there was war would you shoot a Hindu?’

While Pakistan ignored his advice on a secular polity, Pakistan’s citizenship law has remained completely secular. Interestingly the proviso for Section 7 even opens the door for the return of those who left Pakistan in 1947 — the Hindus and Sikhs.

So, to suggest that the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is a victory of Jinnah’s ideas over Gandhi’s is absolutely wrong and dishonest. Jinnah was the antithesis of the communal confessional mindset that is being ascribed to him.

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Two-nation theory

It is important to consider a few facts about the partition of India as well. The Muslim League’s demand was based on Muslim majority provinces opting out. Its two-nation theory was a consociational argument to ensure that the constitution had the consensus of all communities. The Congress denounced the two-nation theory, but it paradoxically insisted on the very same idea to divide Punjab and Bengal. While Jinnah was trying to woo the Sikhs of Punjab to keep Punjab united, Congress was busy scaring them with the evils of Muslim rule. Similarly, there was a scheme for an independent, secular and united Bengal that Jinnah accepted. Congress again used the two-nation theory to destroy that idea.

It is important to remember that Jinnah had told Louis Mountbatten very clearly that a Punjabi or Bengali was a Punjabi or Bengali before he was a Muslim, Hindu or Sikh. Jinnah certainly did not make the two-nation theory an article of faith. And he did not make religion the basis of citizenship in Pakistan.

Also read: Stop blaming Jinnah, Pakistan for India’s wrongs today

No Jinnah vs Gandhi

There is no reason to make Jinnah versus Gandhi/Nehru a zero-sum game. Jinnah stood for a secular Pakistan and the tragedy is that Pakistan has rejected his idea and become a theocratic state. Meanwhile, Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru stood for majoritarian democracy but they did not expect it to be reduced to blatant majoritarian communalism, which India is seeing. My appeal to people like Shashi Tharoor and Barkha Dutt is to stop dragging in Jinnah and Pakistan into every debate or discussion. Make secular liberals of Pakistan your allies, instead of making it an egoistical match of whose country is superior.

The fact is that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill offends the very ideals Jinnah cherished all through out his life, whether from when he was in the Congress or when he championed the Pakistan demand. It is about time both Indians and Pakistanis realised that Jinnah and Gandhi being humans could make mistakes and did make mistakes, but they were moved by the noble values of humanity and egalitarianism. Jinnah’s heirs and Gandhi’s heirs should be allies in the fight against extremism, intolerance and religious bigotry.

The author is an advocate of the high courts of Pakistan and his biography of Jinnah will be published by Pan Macmillan India soon. Views are personal