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TEXT: March 23 is a significant date in Pakistan’s history for two reasons. It was on March 23, 1940, that a resolution was moved in the annual session of the All-India Muslim League at Lahore that demanded the establishment of a separate homeland for the Muslims of British India to secure their civilizational and cultural identity, their rights, and interests. As a distinct nation they were entitled to a separate homeland, the Muslim League leadership argued in 1940 and later.

The second reason for the importance of March 23 is that Pakistan’s first constitution, approved by the second Constituent Assembly, was enforced on March 23, 1956. Pakistan moved from a British Dominion to a Republic with the parliamentary system, although it continued to be a member of the British Commonwealth. This day began to be described as the Republic Day along with the Pakistan Day. However, the 1956 Constitution was abolished in a military take-over on October 7, 1958. The new military government, led by General Mohammad Ayub Khan stopped calling it the Republic Day and called it the Pakistan Day or the Pakistan Resolution Day. At times, some parliamentary leaders used the term the Republic Day for March 23 during the years of civilian rule. However, March 23 is observed as the National Day with reference to the Muslim League resolution that called for the division of British India and establishment of a separate homeland for the Muslims.

The Muslim League held its annual session at Lahore on March 22-23-24, 1940, and the Muslim leaders from all over British India participated in it. Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah presided over the session as the President of the Muslim League. This resolution was presented in the Muslim League session on March 23, and it was thoroughly debated on March 23-24 and passed in the final session on March 24 with wholehearted support of the Muslim League leaders and delegates. Within a year of the passing of this resolution, the Muslim League decided to celebrate March 23 as the Pakistan Resolution Day.

The Muslim League annual session at Lahore and the Resolution of March 23, 1940, are described as the turning points in the history of British India and the political future of the Muslims of that land. Though the word “Pakistan” was not included in the resolution, and it used broadly structured phrases to put forward the idea of a separate homeland for the Muslims, it soon began to be described as the Pakistan Resolution. This resolution addressed the Muslim problem in the context of All-India and against the backdrop of different proposals for division of India that were being circulated in India during these years. It was structured in a manner as to make it credible for the supporters of different proposals of Muslim homelands. Therefore, the Resolution has to be appreciated in the context of the Muslim problems and issues in British India rather than describing it as a formula for internal constitutional and political organization of the proposed Muslim homeland of Pakistan. The Muslim League resolution acquired greater acceptability than other proposals for division of India that were proposed before and after the Lahore Resolution. This resolution also began to acquire precision in a year or so. By 1942, the Muslim League began to talk about one Muslim homeland. Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah was explicit about the singleness of Pakistani state in his communications with Mahatma M.K. Gandhi in 1944.

The Muslim League Resolution of March 23, 1940 was a major departure from the way the Muslim League leaders were articulating the demands of the Muslims in the past. The Muslim leadership in British India did not start with the demand for a separate homeland. When the Muslim League was established in December 1906, the underlying consideration was to create a forum to present Muslim demands to the British Indian government for securing Muslim civilizational and socio-cultural identity inspired by Islam and protecting their rights and interests in the modern state system the British were establishing in India. This goal of protection of Muslim identity, rights and interests in British India remained a permanent interest of the Muslim leadership. However, their strategies changed over time.

Initially, the Muslim leadership demanded separate electorate for electing Muslims representatives to elected councils. This demand was made for the first time in 1906, two months before the establishment of the Muslim League. The British government incorporated this demand in the state system in 1909. Later, the Muslims demanded constitutional and legal guarantees and safeguards as well as weightage in representation to religious minorities in the provinces. They also asked for reservation of seats for the Muslims in cabinets and government jobs and protections of their religious-cultural identity and heritage.

The Muslim elite also demanded the establishment of a federal system with autonomy for the provinces to make it possible for the Muslims in Muslim-majority provinces to govern them according to their societal and political ideals and aspirations.

These efforts did not succeed because the Congress Party was dismissive of their demands and declined to accommodate them as a separate socio-cultural and religious community with specific political and constitutional interests. The hostile attitude of the Congress Party manifested in the implementation of the provisions of the Lucknow Pact of 1916 between the Muslim League and the Congress Party and the refusal of the Congress Party to make changes in the Nehru Report to accommodate Muslim political concerns (1928-29). The Congress leaders adopted a negative posture on Muslim demands in the Roundtable Conferences, 1930-32.

What disappointed the Muslim League most was the Congress Party’s refusal to accommodate Muslims in the cabinets in Muslim minority provinces, especially in Uttar Pradesh (UP), after the 1937 provincial elections. The Congress asked the elected Muslim members of the provincial legislature to abandon the Muslim League and join the Congress. The Muslim leaders developed strong complaints about the policies of the Congress ministries (1937-39) in Muslim minority provinces. They complained repeatedly about discrimination against the Muslims for government jobs, projection of Hinduism in the education system in total disregard to the sensitivities of religious minorities, especially the Muslims.

The negative attitude of the Congress Party towards the Muslim demands and the policies of its provincial governments (1937-39) convinced the Muslim elite that their demands for constitutional and legal guarantees and safeguards would not protect Muslim identity, rights, and interests. The Congress disposition created the fear among the Muslim elite that the Muslims in British India would be overwhelmed by an unsympathetic majority in the name of democracy by virtue of its numerical strength. Such a permanent majority would reduce the Muslims to the status of a permanent minority. The Muslim elite began to review their support for a federal system in India. Their political experience convinced them that the federal system would not necessarily protect their civilizational and cultural identity, and their rights and interests. They opted for separate homeland for the Muslims of British India to secure their political future.

This was a transition of the Muslims from a community to a nation. Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah and his colleagues in the Muslim League defined the Muslims as a separate nation that had its “outlook on life and of life.” This nation had its exclusive worldview and how to organize their socio-political, cultural and economic life. Quaid-i-Azam’s article published in a British magazine “Time and Tide” in March 1940 and his address to the Muslim League annual session in Lahore in the same month made a forceful case of Muslim Nationhood and a separate homeland for them on the exit of the British.

The notion of a separate homeland was floated in March 1940. However, the Muslim political struggle did not end in 1940. It continued for another seven years. It was during these last seven years of the independence movement that the Muslim demand for a separate homeland was refined and fully articulated. Unless we consider the political developments in 1940-47, we cannot fully comprehend the establishment of Pakistan.

The Muslim League had expressed its willingness to accept the Cabinet Mission Plan (May 1946) that proposed a loose Indian federation, grouping of Muslim majority provinces into two regional units (These provinces later became Pakistan) and an option to review the provincial and unit relationship with the weak federation and the option of opting out of the federation after ten years. This proposal collapsed because the Congress Party refused to accept the provincial arrangements and the options given to the provinces and their units. The Congress leadership thought that a political order created under the Cabinet Mission Plan would strengthen the Muslim League demand for the establishment of an independent and sovereign Pakistan.

Though the concept of a separate homeland was articulated by the Muslim League top leaders and endorsed by the participants of the annual session of the Muslim League at Lahore. However, the demand became credible when the Muslim League elite mobilized popular support for setting up a separate state for the Muslims of British India.

The seven years from 1940 were used by Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah and other Muslim League leaders to convince the Congress Party and the British about the genuineness of the demand for a separate homeland. They also mobilized support among the Muslims, especially in the Muslim majority provinces. A section of the Muslims, influenced by the Congress Party, opposed this demand. There were some Islam-oriented parties that also opposed this demand. However, the rural clergy, including “Sajjadanasheen” and “Gaddinasheen” of the Shrines in the Muslim majority areas supported the demand. The ordinary Muslim were supportive of the demand based on the argument that the Muslims were a nation, and that Pakistan would ensure a secure future for their civilizational and cultural identity inspired by Islam and their rights and interests as a distinct nation and that the political system would be inspired by the noble ideals of Islam. The 1946 provincial elections showed that the Muslim League and its demand for Pakistan enjoyed the support of the overwhelming majority of the Muslims of the Sub-Continent.

Jinnah’s leadership played a vital role during 1934-47 in turning the Muslim League into a forceful Muslim political organization and he effectively pleaded for a separate homeland after the passing of the Pakistan resolution in March 1940. His legal mind, strong arguments for establishing Pakistan, selfless leadership and effective mobilization of the Muslims turned the Muslim League Resolution of March 23,1940 into a concrete reality in August 1947.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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