By: Dr Rajkumar Singh
In the pre-independence days, the Muslim League was so mush absorbed in the fight for Pakistan that it could never develop any social or economic programme. It was likely that the upper strata of the Muslim League did not want any social change because that would have affected their social position. In Pakistan, the leadership that had assumed control of the new state, though committed in broad terms of Islam, was largely Westernised and secular in outlook. It represented the emerging Muslim bourgeoisie and the feudal elite which had internalised the ideals and the idiom of Western secularism. They held religion to be a largely private matter between man and God. Along with the intelligentsia they believed that it was only a matter of time before the forces of modernity and secular liberalism would completely marginalise such elements in society. Leaders of the Muslim League, especially Jinnah due to his ultimate commitment to Islam, conceded its central theme while formulating the broad principles, ‘Islam is not only a set of rituals, traditions and spiritual doctrines, Islam is a code for every Muslim which regulates his life and his conduct in all aspects, social, political and economic.’
Basics of social formulation: The initial efforts of these secular-minded leaders did not yield any positive result because it was nipped in the bud by a nexus of feudal forces; religious fundamentalism, the bureaucracy and the Army as well. In undivided India the British had nurtured the tribes, jirgas and the feudal lords just to keep precarious peace and the colonial empire intact. In Pakistan, to make a feudal system viable, it was necessary that all civil liberties be denied to the people. To deny civil liberty we need an undemocratic system. And to justify and legitimise an undemocratic system we need religious fundamentalism and majoritarianism pretending to be nationalism. At least fundamentalism or theocracy has one thing in common with fascism; that both believe in the total disruption of the basic rights and civil liberties of citizens. Especially in the post-Partition phase the Muslim League leadership found itself with a nation-state on its hand and a people who sought to order their lives according to Islam in a broad sense, but with very little agreement on what Islam required of them.
Partition based on communal lines had forced the religious parties to reconsider their old goals and project a new agenda. The religious groups, particularly those who had supported the All India Muslim League, had expected that Pakistan would lead to the establishment of the sharia. The subsidiaries championed the ideal of an Islamic state. In it, all power belongs to Allah and the Quran and the Shariat are the ultimate source of authority. There is an absolute transcendental certainty as far as the Islamist view of the scriptures is concerned. Nothing is left to chance and nothing is attributed to the growing knowledge of the universe, and the changing perception of man, society and the institutions human ingenuity brings into being.
In the initial years there was no political party in Pakistan except the Muslim League. Since the Muslim League was the architect of Pakistan, any opposition to the Muslim League was tantamount to treason. But unfortunately from this position in the first heady days of Independence in August 1947, the League leadership allowed the debate on the kind of state Pakistan was going to be, to shift significantly. At this juncture the leaders of the Muslim League appeared in a great dilemma as to whether the future course of action should be based on secularism or on religious fundamentalism.
Efforts at assimilation: The West-influenced leaders of the Muslim League, including Liaquat Ali Khan and others, were of the view that the two contradictory elements could be one. Soon the ethnic composition of the military-bureaucratic oligarchy faction along with divines led by Maulana Usmani, the most important alim in the ruling hierarchy, began to put pressure to adopt an Islamic state as an ideal for Pakistan. Liaquat’s first reaction was to try to hoodwink the religious opposition, and concede to their demands in appearance but not in substance. The Prime Minister called the Objectives Resolution the embodiment of the Islamic principle, as it invested all authority in Allah and it was accepted by Usmani as a statement of good intent. The proposed Constitution attracted hostility from the ulema, who objected to the secular character of the state, and the regional elements who opposed the unitary features. Liaquat’s solution was to use Islam to widen the support base of the ruling group. He tried to do this by propounding that the Pakistan state would be built on Islamic principles. This was not in contradiction to Jinnah’s commitment to secularism and rejection of a state based on confessional faith. Liaquat agreed to the secular approach, but used the term Islam and Islamic socialism rhetorically to describe a society based on social justice and equality.
Pakistan after Jinnah and Liaquat: The death of Jinnah in September 1948 and assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan in October 1951 were major blows to the establishment of democracy, and affected adversely the future course of events. Jinnah was the person who could have guided the Muslim League through the political minefield and consolidated the leadership’s position, but was gone. Liaquat’s death marked a distinct change in the government’s attitude to the religious opposition. The greater the expansion of democracy world-wide, the better would be the chance of ensuring security and peace. The downfall of democracy in Pakistan started with the assassination of Liaquat in 1951. Thereafter, Pakistan was governed without any reference to the popular will. Democracies are less likely to fight one another, less likely to encourage terrorism and more likely to cooperate on issues of common concern. In 1941, there were only about a dozen democracies in the world. The last quarter of a century has seen democracies quadrupling worldwide.
The anti-democratic elements of Pakistan now began to challenge the leadership on the issue of the Islamic nature of the state. In less than six years after Pakistan’s inception, the Islamists were able to put up a remarkable show of strength and exposed the weakness of the government and the modernist liberals. In the post-Liaquat period, the more conservative Bengali group, who had sympathy for the ulama, was inducted in the cabinet and resulted in some gains for the divines. These included the provisions that only Muslims were qualified to be the Head of the State, and that an advisory body of the ulema would be established to consider whether the laws already approved were compatible with the Quran and Suuna. The divines, however, were not interested in cosmetic changes and wanted a specific five-man bench of clerics attached to the Supreme Court to vet laws. They aspired to become the sole arbitrator of Islamic matters, but such a position was not acceptable to the government, which saw its implications very clearly. The Muslim League leadership knew that if they gave a Constitution to the country at this stage it would mean their own elimination.
The writer is head of the political science department, B.N. Mandal Unversity, Madhepura, Bihar, India. He can be reached at: [email protected]