The Pakistan Resolution, passed in the annual session of the All India Muslim League, held at Lahore on March 22-24, 1940, was a milestone in the Muslim struggle for protection and advancement of their religio-cultural and civilizational identity, rights and interests in British India.

The Resolution, moved on March 23 and approved on March 24, formally transformed the Muslim Community of this sub-continent into a nation, distinct from other communities and nations and they demanded a separate homeland for them. The Muslim League decided in 1941 to observe March 23 as the Pakistan Resolution Day.

The Resolution offered a political solution for the Muslim question in the context of British India rather than providing a framework for the constitution of the proposed state of Pakistan.

It discarded the federal model by declaring it to be “totally unsuited to, and unworkable in the peculiar conditions of this country." The Resolution was unambiguous in emphasizing that no new constitutional plan would be acceptable to the Muslims without their “consent and approval."

When the Muslim League presented the Pakistan Resolution on March 23, 1940, there were several proposals in circulation that envisaged more than one homeland for the Muslims of this sub-continent. Therefore, the March 23 Resolution was worded in a manner that it attracted as many Muslims as possible who knew about other proposals. However, as it began to attract more attention than other proposals, more precise ideas about the future state shaped up during 1940-47.

It was not until 1938 that the Muslim League began to talk of the alternatives to a federal model for the Muslims. Prior to this, the Muslim League favoured federalism with provincial autonomy. It formally floated the idea of a separate homeland in March 1940.

However, the Muslim political struggle did not end in 1940; it continued for the next seven year which witnessed the emergence of precision in the demand for a separate homeland. It was during these 7 years (1940-47) that the demand for a separate homeland of Pakistan moved from the elite level to the popular level; the Muslims living in different provinces came out openly and enthusiastically in favour of this demand.

We cannot fully comprehend the demand for an independent and sovereign Pakistan without taking into account the political developments during 1940-47. The idea of Pakistan developed and matured gradually as a consequence of the Muslim political experience in British India. The peculiar conditions of this sub-continent and the political experience of the Muslim elite played a key role in changing their political orientation and demands over time.

Homeland for a separate Nation:

The speeches and statements of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah were critical to evolving the idea that the Muslims of this sub-continent are a separate nation and that India comprised two major nations rather than one Indian nation as articulated by the Congress Party.

By 1938-39, he came to the conclusion that federalism and democracy cannot be imposed in India without taking into account its polarized political context marked by sharp and strong divide between the Muslims and other communities. This had, in Jinnah's view created a permanent majority of non-Muslims and a permanent minority of Muslims.

The pure and simple democracy could not work unless the sharp societal divide is defused through political and constitutional arrangements that give securities and guarantees to the identity, rights and interests of the more or less permanent minority, i.e. the Muslims in British India.

Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah wrote only one article that got published in a British magazine “Time and Tide" (March 9, 1940), two weeks before the launching of the Lahore session of the Muslim League.

He questioned federalism and pure and simple democracy as guarantees for protection and advancement of Muslim identity, rights and interests in British India. He argued in this article: “Democratic systems based on the concept of a homogeneous nation such as England are very definitely not applicable to heterogeneous countries such as India.

He also wrote in the same article: “While Muslim League stands for Free India, it is irrevocably opposed to any federal objective which must necessarily result in a majority community rule, under the guise of democracy and a parliamentary system of government." Jinnah concluded the article by demanding that new constitution must recognize that there are two nations in India.

Jinnah further articulated his views in his address to the Lahore session of the Muslim League two weeks after the publication of his article. He declared that “the problem in India is not of an inter-communal character, but manifestly of an international one, and it must be treated as such. So long as this basic and fundamental truth is not realized, any constitution that may be build will result in disaster and will prove destructive and harmful not only to the Mussalmans but to the British and Hindus also.

If the British Government are really in earnest and sincere to secure peace and happiness of the people of this sub-continent, the only course open to us all is to allow the major nations separate homelands by dividing India into autonomous national states."

He further stated in his address to the Lahore session of the Muslim League that “Muslim India cannot expect any constitution which must necessarily result in a Hindu majority government. Hindus and Muslims brought together under a democratic system forced upon the minorities can only mean Hindu Raj.

Democracy of this kind with which the Congress High Command is enamoured would mean the complete destruction of what is most precious in Islam. We have ample experience of the working of the provincial constitutions during the last two and a half years and any repetition of such a government must lead to civil war."

He was very categorical in demanding a separate homeland for the Muslims of British India? “Mussalmans are a nation according to any definition of a nation and they must have their homelands, their territory and their state. We wish to live in peace and harmony with our neighbours as a free and independent people.

We wish our people to develop to the fullest our spiritual, cultural, economic, social and political life in a way that we think best and in consonance with our own ideals and according to the genius of our people."

While presenting the demand for a separate homeland for the Muslims of British India, the Muslim League and the Quaid-i-Azam were not oblivious to the fact that there would be non-Muslims in the new state. The Pakistan Resolution made a categorical commitment for the protection of cultural identity and rights of religious minorities.

The Resolution promised that “adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards should be specifically provided in the constitution for minorities in these units and in the regions for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them."

The Resolution also sought similar guarantees for the Muslim minority in the areas where the Muslims constituted numerical minority. The Muslim League resolutions in the later years reiterated the commitment made to religious minorities in the March 1940 Resolution.

Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah promised to protect the identity and rights of non-Muslims and, in 1947-48, he talked of equal citizenship in Pakistan for all irrespective of religion, caste, ethnicity, language and region.

Important political developments in 1940-47 added precision and popular support to the Lahore Resolution:

— In April 1941, the Muslim League in its Madras session, adopted the Pakistan Resolution (March 1940) as one of the fundamental objectives of the party and decided to add the word “together" after the word “grouped" in the original resolution.

— As the Muslim League gained ground in Muslim majority provinces and its demand for a separate homeland became popular among the Muslims, it began to add precision to the demand. The Muslim League began to argue that its demand was for a single sovereign and independent state. By 1942, the word “state" became integral to the Muslim League's political discourse.

— M.K. Gandhi in his letter to Jinnah dated September 15, 1944, asked if “the constituents in the two zones constitute Independent States, an undefined number in each zone?" Jinnah's letter to Gandhi dated September 17, 1944, responded categorically that “No, they will form units of Pakistan."

— Jinnah's letter to Gandhi dated September 17, 1944, also articulated that the Muslims constituted a separate nation in India. Jinnah wrote to Gandhi: “We maintain and hold that Muslims and Hindus are two major nations by any definition or test of a nation.

We are a nation of a hundred million, and what is more, we are a nation with our own distinctive culture and civilization, language and literature, art and architecture, names and nomenclature, sense of value and proportion, legal laws and moral codes, customs and calendar, history and traditions, aptitudes and ambitions – in short, we have our own distinctive outlook on life and of life. By all cannons of international law, we are a nation."

— The Muslim League established its representative character by winning the largest number of Muslim seats in the provincial assembly elections in February 1946. It held the convention of its elected members in Delhi on April 10, 1946 which declared its opposition to imposition of a constitution for united India. Instead, the convention demanded that the Muslim majority areas should constitute an independent state of Pakistan. Two separate constituent assemblies should be set up to establish two separate constitutions for Pakistan and India.

Continuity and change:

The Pakistan Resolution and the establishment of Pakistan represented continuity and change in the Muslim struggle for protection and advancement of their religious-cultural identity, rights and interest. The continuity was represented by their commitment to the goal of protecting and advancing their identity, rights and interests as a distinct community in British India. This goal did not change. However, their strategies to achieve this goal changed in view of their political experience.

The Muslim leadership adopted the following strategies to achieve their goal:

1. Sir Syed Khan and his colleagues underlined the need of getting modern western education by Muslims in the second half of the 19th Century. They also advised them to avoid active involvement in politics.

2. The first major change of their political strategy came in 1906, when the Muslim elite demanded separate electorate for electing Muslim representatives to the assemblies. They got this right under the Government of India Act, 1909. In December 1906, the Muslim elite established the All India Muslim League in Dhaka as forum for presenting Muslim demands and concerns to the British Government.

3. In 1913, the Muslim League adopted self-government as one of its objectives. It was in this year that Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah formally joined the Muslim League.

4. The Muslim League entered into a political arrangement with the Congress Party in 1916 at Lucknow, called the Lucknow Pact, wherein the Congress agreed to provide constitutional and legal guarantees for Muslim representation in the assemblies and cabinets and government services. This marked active cooperation between the Muslim League and the Congress Party for seeking their political rights from the British Government.

5. In 1928, the Congress Party went back on its commitments made in Lucknow in 1916, and its report on constitutional reforms, called the Nehru Report, rejected all the major Muslim demand for protection of their identity, rights and interests in the future constitutional arrangements for British India.

Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah attempted to get the Nehru Report amended to accommodate Muslim concerns. He was unable to get any political concession from the Congress. In 1929, in his address to the Muslim League, he laid down fourteen points as the charter of Muslim political and constitutional demands.

6. The Muslim League favoured a federal model for one united India with autonomy for provinces. It also wanted constitutional guarantees and safeguards for their representation in the assemblies through the system of separate electorate, Muslim representation in the various cabinets, government jobs for them, and securities for their culture and heritage.

They moved away from federal model because they learnt from their experience that the Congress Party was neither willing to acknowledge a distinct Muslim cultural identity nor it provided guarantees and safeguards that the Muslim League advocated for the Muslims of British India. The Muslim experience under the Congress provincial ministries (1937-39) in 7 non-Muslim majority provinces was perturbing.

The Congress provincial governments refused to provide representation to the Muslim League in the provincial government unless its members abandoned the Muslim League and agreed to be loyal to the Congress Party.

The Muslim were alienated from the Congress because its governments imposed Hindu cultural norms on the society and revised the education system to highlight Hindu traditional values and norms. Similarly, the Muslims complained about discrimination in the recruitment to government jobs.

The experience of the Muslim elite and educated classes under these Congress ministries showed how the Congress was expected to treat them if they assumed power in united India. This bitter experience was instrumental to causing a major change in Muslim thinking. Instead of a federal system, the Muslim League demanded a separate state.

The initial demand for a separate homeland was presented keeping in view several other such proposals that talked of more than one homelands for the Muslims. However, with political experience they articulated this demand in more precise and categorical terms.

By early 1940, two competing nationalisms developed in British India: one nation versus two nations. The Congress stood for one-Indian nation secular nationalism. The Muslim League advocated that the Muslims were a distinct nation and as such they were entitled to a separate homeland.

Their argument was that India comprised two major nations – Hindus and Muslims, and that they learnt from their political interaction with the Congress party over the years that their socio-cultural identity, rights and interests could not be secure in one Indian federation. They must have a homeland of their own as an independent and sovereign entity.

The first concrete expression of this idea was the Pakistan Resolution of March 23, 1940, which continued to grow in the next seven years. It turned into a reality in August 1947, when Pakistan emerged as an independent and sovereign state.

(Hasan Askari Rizvi is an independent political analyst and received PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, USA.)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020