India’s relation with Pakistan Part II (National Identity): Target IAS 2018 and Beyond

22 February 1941 was a fateful day in the history of British India and for the future shape of the sub-continent. On that day the force of Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s ‘two-nation theory’ took decisive shape with the Lahore Declaration, the formal call by the Muslim League for Partition: ‘the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in majority as in the North-Western and Eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign’.

In bald terms, this led to the creation of Pakistan, divided into two wings, West Pakistan and East Pakistan.


The rationale for this was the two-nation theory propounded vigorously by Jinnah, whose forceful personality and determination played a key part in getting this, and hence being called the Quaid-I Azam ‘Father of the Nation’. In this case, his sense of nation was religiously based, even if his personal life was not, namely Islam.


“It is a dream that the Hindus and Muslims can ever evolve a common nationality and this misconception of one Indian nation lies gone far beyond the limits and is the cause of most of your troubles and will lead India to destruction if we fail to revise our notions in time. The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, literatures. They neither inter-marry nor inter-dine together and, indeed, they belong to two different civilizations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions […] To yoke together two such nations under a single State, one as a numerical minority and the other as a majority, must lead to growing discontent and final destruction of any fabric that may be so built up for the government of such a state.” – Jinnah




Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilization thesis had indeed been predated in this analysis by Jinnah half a century earlier, a ‘fractured fraternity’ predating Huntington’s ‘fracture lines of conflict’.  In successfully pushing through this vision of religious-cum-political division, the question then arose as to what legacy such nation-formation has had on the two successor states, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and the (secular) Republic of India.


The irony is that Jinnah seemed to think that dividing India up on different nation grounds would not damage subsequent inter-nation relations between two such diametrically created states:


“The problem in India is not of an inter-communal character but manifestly of an international one, and it must be treated as such […] There is no reason why these states should be antagonistic to secure to each other […] It will lead more towards natural good will by international pacts between them, and they can live in complete harmony with their neighbours. This will lead further to a friendly settlement all the more easily with regard to Minorities by reciprocal arrangements and adjustments between Muslim India and Hindu India, which will far more adequately and affectively safeguard the rights and interests of Muslims and various other Minorities.” – Jinnah


However, this has most certainly not been the case. For over half a century these two neighbours emerging from British India have polarized the subcontinent and taken their arguments against each other inside and outside the region.


Part of the legacy has been the reverberating effects of the political polemics surrounding Partition, and the very tangible human suffering caused as Partition was implemented on the ground amidst population transfers and sectarian killings on a significant scale during that summer of 1947. In terms of national psyche, this historical memory is still strong.




In addition, there is a political legacy. The problem has been that the political foundations of the one challenge the very foundations and legitimacy of the other, through being based on diametrically opposite principles.

On the one hand stands Pakistan, the very case for political independence of which is based on a sense of nationalism based on religious allegiance. Without religion, Pakistan made no sense, especially in its split geographical position between East and West Pakistan.

Islam was the ideological glue used to justify its very national existence, based on the claim that Hindus and Muslims could not get along in a common national framework.

On the other hand the Republic of India rejected the very foundations of the two-nation theory, refusing to see itself a Hindu India, it proclaimed and rejoiced in religious pluralism underpinned by a secular political underpinning for the state and for a geographical sense of what India was.

India’s secular-political claims cut across and in a way continue to undermine Pakistan’s legitimacy, whilst Pakistan’s religious-political claims cut across and in a way continue to undermine India’s secular legitimacy.

In effect, ‘the underlying basis of the Indo-Pakistani conflict is really an argument about the fundamentals of state-construction’, an argument over ‘primordial conceptions of identity’ that continues to shape antagonistic inter-state relations vis- à-vis each other.


The reverberations of this have continued down the decades. Pakistan has a continuing sense, with some reason for some Indian quarters, of being seen as an aberration, as an inherently flawed national project that is doomed to failure, an unviable national ideology which will eventually give way to a reincorporation into the bigger Indian neighbour, thereby restoring the unity of the Indian sub-continent, but on New Delhi’s terms.

This is why we rejected the two-nation theory on the basis of which our Motherland was tragically partitioned in 1947’.  India has the sense of Pakistan wanting to undermine her secular stability, to vindicate the two-nation theory of Hindu-Muslim divide, and to incorporate Muslim majority areas that are presently under the control of India. This, of course, takes us on to the issue of Kashmir, where intangible concerns and claims over national formation have created ongoing territorial dispute and military conflicts on a regular basis.


Click Here to go to Part III article which covers ‘Kashmir’.



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