Two Nations Theory: Myths and Reality

Basis of the partition of the British India in 1947 and the justification for the creation of Pakistan, the Two Nations Theory was a time-specific, area-specific formula to find a solution for the peaceful dissolution of the vast but crumbling British Indian Empire in the 1940s. It suggested that the Hindus and Muslims of India were two separate nations based on their respective cultural markers particularly their religious beliefs and practices. Hence, as the argument went, needed their own separate geographical space where they are in majority, in which they could govern their lives according to their distinct sociocultural moorings and political bearings.

Indian Muslims in general and the leadership of the Indian Muslim League of the pre-partition Subcontinent in particular, have been blamed or eulogised, depending on which side of the fence you are, for crafting and popularising this Theory. Specifically, its opponents level the following allegations against the Two Nations Theory;

Let us discuss these allegations against Two Nations Theory one by one

  1. It was British Policy of Divide and Rule,resulted in deaths of millions.

Historians, Hindus and Muslims alike, who are opposed to the creation of Pakistan, have been criticising the Muslim League for adopting a communal philosophy which not only partitioned the Subcontinent and disrupted the centuries-old Hindu-Muslim unity in the region but also divided the Indian Muslims. They fail to understand that the Two Nations Theory was the theoretical construct of the objective conditions of the second half of the Indian socio-political scene. It was just describing the acute centuries-old communalisation of Indian society in which both the Hindu nationalists and Muslim revivalists could be blamed; blaming the British colonists for this division is putting cart before the horse. Pannikar, the pioneer of the famous Pannikar Doctrine-domination of Indian Ocean and its littoral states by India as inheritor of British Indian Empire, stated that introduction of Islam in India divided the Indian body politic and society vertically as its adherents failed to absorb themselves in the social milieu like the countless other creeds which preceded it; hence they are separate entity.

Regarding the allegation that the two nation theory was responsible for the death of a million people in 1947 is putting the cart before the horses. Founding fathers never envisaged the cross migration of the Hindus and the Muslims to new countries. Killing of refugees was law of unintended consequences

  • Muslim League /Muslim scholars propagated it

Nothing can be farther than the truth. It was Nabagopal Mitra, (1840–1894) an Indian playwright, poet and essayist and one of the founding fathers of the Hindu nationalism. who started advocating Hindu religion to be the fundamental criterion of nationalism. Maintaining that the Hindus of India as a nation were better than the Muslims and the Christians, spent all his wealth establishing schools, gymnasiums and theatres to train Hindus to emerge as a nation. Following his steps, several prominent intellectuals like Bhai Paramanand, one of the leading members of the Hindu reformist movement the Arya Samaj, Lajpat Rai, and Savarkar a described the Hindus and Muslims as being two separate nations. Similarly, Golwalker of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) described the Hindus as being India’s ‘national race’ and advised the minority communities of India to merge with the Hindu nation or perish like the German Jews who refused to adapt to the culture of the national race.

Of course Muslim intellectuals of India also believed and advocated the separate identity of  Indian Muslims, It was adopted much later by the leaders of the Indian Muslim League as a political philosophy. And they did it after the dominant Muslim elite of united India failed to extract sufficient constitutional guarantees from their counterparts namely dominant Hindu elite for an adequate share in the political decision making once the British left India. They rightly or wrongly, depending on which side of the political fence you are, feared that in the absence of these safeguards, the Muslim minority would gradually lose its cultural identity and would become a politically and economically marginalized underclass, another subservient caste, a second-class citizenry in a predominantly Hindu India. These perceptions had been reinforced by the step motherly treatment Muslim elite and the masses got during the brief Congress rule in the provincial governments which it formed after the 1937 elections-a foretaste of things to come.

With few exceptions, most of the modern nation-states are artificial entities, multi-ethnic in composition inheriting the borders drawn by the colonial masters. There was no set rule for their creation except historical events or mutual understanding among the colonising powers. Thus there is no one sacrosanct basis for the formation of a nation-state.  If language could be the basis, then why Canada is one and why all Arab countries which share everything, are not a single entity.  not one/what happened to Syria-Egypt Why Ache got independence? Why South Sudan separated? Why Cyprus is divided.

In order to succeed, every movement of this magnitude needs some sort of emotional underpinning to arouse the passions of the general public for ensuring their maximum participation. Religion, race and language have been common battle cries throughout history in this respect. In order to press for their demands, they used the term Two Nations Theory which provided them a moral narrative and political justification for the geographical division of India on the basis of the claims of the Muslims of India of being a separate nation, not a community, and hence entitled to have a separate state.

Pakistan Movement, though couched in religious terminology, was basically a movement by the downtrodden Muslim community of India to safeguard their socioeconomic interests and fulfil their dreams of improving the quality of life in a country where they could live according to their cherished dreams.

Jaswant Singh in his remarkable book on partition of the Subcontinent, has admitted that Pakistan Movement “was not an Islamic movement. It was simply for the political rights of a minority.” It was their last option, not the first choice as is evident from the acceptance of Cabinet Mission Plan by the Muslim League when a last effort was made by the British to leave a united India as their legacy.

  • It created the division of India

India was never a country in the modern sense. All along it was a Sub-Continent or at the most an empire with lots of regions and nationalities living in this area since millennia. Robert Kaplan believes that Pakistan is the inheritor of the Indus Valley Civilisation while India inherited Ganges Valley Civilisation. He also maintains that the present borders between these two countries are in fact co=terminus with the boundaries of these two ancient civilisations.

Thus Pakistan came into existence as a result of the dissolution of the British Indian Empire and not of any country by the name of India. Pakistan would have come into existence even if no theory; may be later, may be in different shape

In fact, creation of Pakistan as an independent nation-state saved India from its eventual balkanisation if the colonial rulers of the  erstwhile British Indian Empire had left it as it was. Just before partition, Jinnah had endorsed the idea of a united, independent and secular Bengal. The partition of Bengal along religious lines was forced by Nehru and Gandhi who would not countenance an independent Bengal without safeguards for Hindus. In other words, when Hindus were placed in a minority situation in a secular Bengal, Nehru and Gandhi had wanted exactly what Jinnah had asked for in India and what is more is that he was ready to concede the same. However, Nehru feared balkanisation if Bengal was allowed to go independent and preferred to have Bengal divided along religious lines. He may have been right. Had there been no partition of India along religious lines, there would be multiple partitions along ethnic, linguistic and caste lines. There would be more than 100 states in the subcontinent today. 

  • Creation of BD nullified Two Nations Theory?

Separation of former East Pakistan from its western wing and coming into existence as a separate independent country was the result of failure of post-indolence political leadership of Pakistan, not the failure of Two Nation Theory. Even the Lahore Resolution had envisaged more than one state, allowed for the possibility of an independent Bengal state. As stated above, this theory lost its relevance once its objective of creating a separate nation state for the Indian Muslims was achieved. That is why it was replaced by Pakistan Ideology. Secondly, even if Bangladesh had opted to join India as one of its province, which it did not, it could not be construed as the failure of the Two Nations Theory.  Our mismanagement can’t nullify the basis of our existence

  • Can it be applied in Pakistan now?

After the creation of Pakistan this battle cry lost its relevance as there were no two nations now in Pakistan as everyone, whether a Hindu or a Christian or a Muslim, was a Pakistani. However, there was a need for a political narrative for two reasons. Firstly, continuing with the two-nation theory as the cornerstone of Pakistan’s existence created problems at conceptual and practical levels. If the purpose of the Two Nations Theory was to achieve a separate homeland for the Indian Muslims, insistence on continuing with this Theory as the cornerstone of new country’s ideology meant that the creation of Pakistan had failed to achieve its objective. At the same time it would leave an open ended option for any minority within Pakistan to demand for separation, citing cultural, religious or ethnic persecution as justification.

Secondly, there was a need for a new political narrative to serve as a gelling bond for the millions of people living in a state geographically divided in two wings, both of which were separated by 1000 miles of hostile country. Accordingly, the First National Educational Conference held in November 1947 recommended the propagation of Pakistan Ideology. However, the religious lobby which had remained almost side-lined during the freedom struggle became very active to get political space and used this very neutral term Pakistan Ideology for this purpose by equating it with Two Nations Theory.  

First thing first- Minorities everywhere feel alienated whether it is a developed country or an underdeveloped one. And the causes are various-race, religion, caste, sect, colour. Sad and bad but true. Thus, any maltreatment of minorities in Pakistan has nothing to do with Two Nation Theory. Founding fathers had a very clear stand on this issue and all the constitutions made after the creation of Pakistan had emphasised equal treatment to its citizens. The 11th August speech of the Quiad was the most cogent and concise statement of his commitment to the minorities. And it was not his after-thought; Jinnah was , as Gokhale once described him, a man entirely free of bias against any community or people. Pakistan Ideology, which replaced Two Nations Theory after the creation of Pakistan incorporates his views.

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