Jinnah`s citizens – 21 Jan 2023

HISTORIANS have aptly noted that Jinnah kept his notion of Pakistan ambiguous -more promised homeland and less concrete reality, a tactical manoeuvre that ensured its clarion call would appeal to the broadest segment of the Muslim polity. In speeches, he made liberal use of Islamic imagery and motif, describing his fledgling country as a `State`, a `Muslim State`, and at least once, even as the `premier Islamic State`.

And yet, he had long maintained that `religion is strictly a matter between God and man`, not to mention his emphatic declaration that `Pakistan is not to be a theocratic state to be ruled by priests with a divine mission`. But then, with his sudden and untimely demise, the very ambiguity that had sustained the movement for the country`s independence, became the cause of a crisis of identity that continues to this day.

Thankfully though, Jinnah left us something very crucial before his passing a candid peek into his vision of what a `citizen` was to mean.

Addressing the Constituent Assembly on Aug 11, 1947, he reminded its members that they were now `a sovereign legislative body`, and that before them lay an onerous task drafting the future constitution. With this in mind, he then stated, in no uncertain terms, that moving forward, the religion of any individual would have `nothing to do with the business of the State`, that they were starting with the fundamental principle that they were `all citizens and equal citizens of one State`, so that one day, the `angularities of the majority and the minority` would, in a political sense, `vanish` This was to be Jinnah`s citizen equal in status, and therefore, equal in rights and privileges.

In February 1948, he would reiterate this exact sentiment in a radio broadcast, plainly declaring that `we have many non-Muslims Hindus, Christians and Parsis but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens`. However, a year later, when the same Constituent Assembly passed the Objectives Resolution, it relinquished its sovereignty to divine authority and stated that while the principle of `equality` would be fully observed, it would be applied only `as enunciatedby Islam`. This qualifier is monumental, for it implies that the concept of `equality` prescribed in Islam is in some manner dif ferent from the everyday meaning of the term.

Context is needed to understand this seismic shift in orientation. Jinnah`s repeated insistence on equality of citizens had created considerable furore among sections of the ulema, led chiefly by Maulana Maududi of Jamaat-i-Islami and Ataullah Shah Bukhari of Majlis-i-Ahrar.

Although they had previously decried the very movement for Pakistan, once the country had been established, they decided not only to migrate to it but to also take an active role in its political affairs, launching vigorous campaigns for a constitutional framework based on a conformist version of Sharia.

For Jinnah (and his modernist compatriots), equality of status appears to have been a natural and rational corollary of citizenship in a democratic state especially one that embodied, in his own words, the `essential principles of Islam` For Maududi and Shah Bukhari, this had always been a heretical position, since it came into sharp conflict with the traditional interpretations they favoured, which treated non-Muslims, not as equal citizens, but as a separate class altogether: the ahl-i-zimma or zimmis, who, while being eligible for protection upon payment of jizya (or military participation in lieu thereof), remained subject to numerous structural restrictions, including a strict bar on holding key (most say any) positions of authority.

The real bone of contention thus, was whether the ahl-i-zimma could be reconceptualised in light of a social contract based on democratic participation. Jinnah obviously thought they could, but simply did not get his way. This explains why Sris Chandra Chattopadhya, the East Bengal-based leader of the then-opposition, would remark that what he heard in the Objectives Resolution was `not the voice of the great creator of Pakistan`, but that `of the ulemas of the land`. He chastised the majority for backstabbing Jinnah `so soon after his demise` by `virtually [declaring] a State religion`, and argued that `sovereignty must rest with people and not with anyone else`, for in acountry `where different religions live`, the state must `respect all religions: no smiling face for one and askance look for another`.

Fearing that the Resolution would condemn non-Muslims to a `perpetual state of inferiority`, Chattopadhya pleaded for an alternative that was identical to the one offered by Jinnah: `Let us form ourselves as members of one nation. Let us eliminate the complexes of majority and minority. Let us treat citizens of Pakistan as members of one family and frame such a constitution as may not break this tie, so that all communities may stand shoulder to shoulder on equal footing in time of need and danger.` By introducing the `religious question`, he warned, `the differences between the majority and the minority are being perpetuated, for how long, nobody knows`.

Time vindicated Chattopadhya, and in quick succession. By 1950, a disillusioned Jogendra Nath Mandal, reportedly the only non-Muslim to vote in favour of the Resolution resigned from the law ministry and migrated back to India, where he died a political outcast. By 1953, anti-Ahmadi protests erupted in Punjab, triggering our very first martial law, and paving the way for their excommunication in 1974. Today, we have three distinct classes of citizens: the first-class Muslim, the second-class non-Muslim, and the third-class Ahmadi (one is forced to say third-class for they face additional legal strictures compared to second-class non-Muslims).

Equality of status (and the non-discrimination it guarantees) stands at the core of contemporary understandings of international human rights which is why our country very rightly and very eagerly (although a bit selectively) champions it on international forums. For these moral protestations to have any force, however, must those very ideas not first be applied at home? Jinnah`s citizens need not be a dream of morrows past. As inheritors of their Constitution, the people of Pakistan are wholly empowered to resuscitate his ideals, or, in the spirit of true constitutionalism, formulate their own. • The writer is a barrister.

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