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“Pakistan is not rational, it is national”, said George Bernard Shaw when the problems of India piqued his interest near Partition. Being an Irishman, he knew full well what independence from British meant. He also knew what nationhood meant: a subjective locution, that may or may not seem rational to outsiders.

In subcontinent, the Two-Nation theory is the most important application of nationalism as it was the driving force behind the partition of the subcontinent into independent autonomous regions India and Pakistan. One of Pakistan’s finest historians Khursheed Khan Aziz expounded upon the Two-Nation Theory in his 1967 book, “The Making of Pakistan: A Study in Nationalism”. While a staple of CSS Examinations in the country, most people look at this work in isolation; separate from Aziz’s other works. What this book is actually about is that Two-Nation Theory was not an exclusively religious argument but an amalgamation of different factors. This is unlike the view espoused by orthodox religious leaders in Pakistan. Read alongside his other works, “Muslims Under Congress Rule”, “The Murder of History” and “History of the Partition of India”, one sees a unification of competing ideologies to give a comprehensive outlook to the Two-Nation Theory.

Aziz divides “Making of Pakistan” into seven chapters that breakdown the different factors that contributed to Muslim separatism in the Indian subcontinent. In the ‘Introduction’ he defines thirteen aspects of nationalism: group feeling; love for fellow nationals; hostility to other like groups; common territory possessed or coveted; consolidation of said territories; common moral, social or economic institutions or ideas; possession of common cultural characteristics such as language; common religion; common history and origin; common national character; common pride in national achievements; simple devotion to the nation and lastly, aspiring to the future greatness of the nation. These can then all be classified into groups that denote nationalism as ‘a sentiment, or a policy, or a myth, or a dogma, or a doctrine’.

Aziz then explains that it is not necessary that a nation encapsulates each and every group mentioned above. Rather, a certain nation may emphasize some groups above others. He warns against ignoring the myths of nationalism stating that ‘a real myth is a sword which few know how to sheath’.

His first two chapters are on the historical factors contributing to Muslim separatism. He charts how historical factors and the way Muslims responded to them, shaped their polity after Mutiny of 1857. The British had blamed them for the war and persecuted them acutely. They felt aggrieved with Hindus too and so took turns placating and antagonizing both parties. Then, in the third chapter, Aziz focuses on the political response of the Muslims to the changing realities of British India. He notices how Muslims were alienated from Congress by its overt Hindu outlook, how Congress intransigence drove away any possibility of Hindu-Muslim reconciliation. Aziz also debunks the myth that British ‘Divide and Rule’ was the sole factor behind Muslim separatism citing several examples such as Muslims themselves asking for separate electorates, and how they relied upon the British to protect themselves from the Hindu majority.

In the fourth chapter Aziz enunciates the religious factor behind Muslim separatism. He not only underlines the importance of religion to everyday life of inhabitants of subcontinent but also how their nationalism was chiefly based on religion. He details how the Hindu and Muslim nationalisms came together during the Khilafat Movement but drifted apart due to mutual incompatibility. Aziz also outlines how Muslim nationalism came to be dominated by religion, particularly after the Khilafat Movement. The next chapter has Aziz explaining the cultural factor. He candidly states that even the culture in India was based on religion and the latter had precedence over the former. Apologists of composite nationalism such as Rajendra Prasad (in his book ‘India Divided’) have gone to great lengths to show how India had evolved to have one culture in terms of language, art, education, history, literature and philosophy. Aziz takes all these arguments and provides counterexamples to show how hero of one culture was villain of another, how Muslim and Hindu art and architecture, down to the domains of their homes, was different and how their languages had clashed. This is where he makes the book’s most profound announcement: the Hindu-Muslim conflict was not merely religious; it was the clash of two civilizations, and a clash so tremendous that united Indian nationalism was doomed.

Then Aziz goes on to explain how this separatism and mutual antagonism was expressed. He states that while the average Hindu and Muslim was not in a perpetual state of hostility, they were also not in a perpetual state of amity. The word he uses is ‘indifference’. On a macro level, he mentions economic factors which forced the two communities to come to odds with each other, how Congress rule between 1937 and 1939 was viewed as a clash of two different expressions of national character and consciousness and how a man such as Jinnah, once hailed as Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity, came to give the Two-Nation theory.

It should be mentioned that Jinnah himself had expressed the Two-Nation Theory in a comprehensive manner including religious, cultural and economic factors. Aziz ends his book with explaining why ‘nationalist’ Muslims opposed to the League could not muster enough support for their cause, and a demonstration that even Congress had come to accept the Two-Nation Theory in practice as Partition neared.

The K.K.Aziz of ‘History of Partition of India’ (1988) and ‘The Murder of History’ (1993) was a different man. He had faced censorship and had even been hounded out of Pakistan. While he recanted on several of his previous views (a topic that warrants a separate article on its own) he remained convinced that the religious factor wasn’t the only driving force behind the Pakistan Movement. He asks why didn’t the Bengalis stay with Pakistan in 1971 if this was the case? Several authors cite this very example to debunk the Two-Nation Theory, however Aziz does not take that route. In reality of course Bengalis did not rejoin India and Jinnah and Liaquat till May 1947 were very welcoming of independent Bengal. This meant that it was never a requirement of Two-nation Theory for the Muslim nation in subcontinent to live in one country.

An appraisal of Aziz’s views is needed. His definition of nationhood as inherently subjective was perhaps influenced by French historian Ernest Renan’s famous view of the nation as a ‘spiritual principle’. His different aspects of nation are in agreement with prominent works such as Hayes’ “Essays on Nationalism” (1941), Joseph’s “Nationality: Its Nature & Problems” (1929), Deutsch’s “Nationalsim and Social Communication” (1953) etc. While Aziz played down the religious angle in his later works (without negating it) it can be demonstrated (https://tribune.com.pk/article/94243/was-pakistan-always-destined-to-become-an-islamic-republic-part-1) that Muslim League did actively seek out orthodox ulema and did base its promotion of Pakistan on largely religious terms to the neglect of others such as economic (contrary to what is suggested by Hamza Alavi). Gilmartin (1979) has for example shown how winning over the religious authority and mind in Punjab was crucial to League victory in the 1946 provincial elections there. Modi’s India has perhaps cemented Two-Nation Theory forever. The inclusion of different factors in the Theory paves the way for different aspects of society, both religious and secular, to come together, own the country and work for it. A glue to bind us together, knowing that our forefathers made this country for different reasons and yet were united in their cause. As the other eminent Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal states, this country will be the strongest if it is based on a negotiated unity between disparate parts.

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Meraj Hasan

Meraj Hasan is an independent researcher and educator. He is currently doing his Masters in Subcontinental History.