Lahore Resolution revisited

Draft Lahore Resolution- with proposed changes by Jinnah and Barkat Ali
Draft Lahore Resolution- with proposed changes by Jinnah and Barkat Ali

 

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

 

 

For us 23rd March commemorates two events 1. passing of the Lahore Resolution in 1940  2. the declaration of a republic in Pakistan in 1956.   The Lahore Resolution is perhaps the most venerated and yet the most unimplemented document in the state that lays claim to it.  Here I reproduce the document in full.

The Lahore Resolution

March 23, 1940 – Lahore  

While approving and endorsing the action taken by the Council and the Working Committee of the All India Muslim League, as indicated in their resolutions dated the 27th of August, 17th & 18th of September and 22nd of October, 1939, and the 3rd of February, 1940 on the constitutional issue, this session of the All India Muslim League emphatically reiterates that the scheme of federation embodied in the Government of India Act 1935 is totally unsuited to, and unworkable in the peculiar conditions of this country and is altogether unacceptable to Muslim India.  

It further records its emphatic view that while the declaration dated the 18th of October, 1939 made by the Viceroy on behalf of His Majesty’s Government is reassuring in so far as it declares that the policy and plan on which the Government of India Act, 1935, is based will be reconsidered in consultation with various parties, interests and communities in India, Muslims in India will not be satisfied unless the whole constitutional plan is reconsidered de novo and that no revised plan would be acceptable to Muslims unless it is framed with their approval and consent.  

Resolved that it is the considered view of this Session of the All India Muslim League that no constitutional plan would be workable in this country or acceptable to the Muslims unless it is designed on the following basic principles, viz., that geographically contiguous units are demarcated into regions which should be constituted, with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority as in the North Western and Eastern Zones of (British) India should be grouped to constitute ‘independent states’ in which the constituent units should be autonomous and sovereign.  

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 and in other parts of India where the Muslims are in a minority adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards shall be specifically provided in the constitution for them and other minorities for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them.  

The Session further authorizes the Working Committee to frame a scheme of constitution in accordance with these basic principles, providing for the assumption finally by the respective regions of all powers such as defense, external affairs, communications, customs, and such other matters as may be necessary.”  

Many historians have written about the various implications of this document but my interest in it is not that of a historian but as a citizen of Pakistan and a resident of this subcontinent.   Perhaps the best articulation of the problems that arise from not studying what ought to have been Pakistan’s constitutional magna carta appeared in an article by Dr. Ayesha Jalal a few years ago:

Historians and publicists in India have seized on the contradiction in the demand for a Pakistan based on the Muslim right of self-determination and the apparent unwillingness to grant the same right to non-Muslims living in Punjab and Bengal.

Much like their counterparts in Pakistan, they have conveniently glossed over the difference between a purely secessionist demand and one aimed at providing the building block for an equitable power sharing arrangement at the sub continental level between two essentially sovereign states – ‘Pakistan’ based on the Muslim-majority provinces and Hindustan based on the Hindu-majority provinces.

With their singular focus on a monolithic and indivisible concept of sovereignty borrowed from the erstwhile colonial rulers, scholars and students of history on both sides of the 1947 divide have been unable to envisage a political arrangement based on a measure of shared sovereignty which might have satisfied the demands of ‘majorities’ as well as safeguarded the interests of religious minorities in predominantly Muslim and Hindu areas

In 1944 and then again at the time of the Cabinet Mission Plan, the All-India Muslim League at the behest of Mohammad Ali Jinnah refused to accept a ‘Pakistan’ based on the division of the Punjab and Bengal.

It was Congress’s unwillingness to countenance an equitable power sharing arrangement with the Muslim League which resulted in the creation of a sovereign Pakistan based on the partition of Punjab and Bengal along ostensibly religious lines.

Cast against its will in the role of a state seceding from a hostile Indian union, Pakistan has tried securing its independent existence by espousing an ideology of Muslim ‘nationhood’ which has entailed riding roughshod over the provincial rights promised in the Lahore Resolution and dispensing with democracy for the better part of its history.

The Lahore Resolution, the crowning glory of the Muslim League’s existence and the basis for the independent and sovereign state of Pakistan, deliberately left the door open on a United India.   The constitutional scheme given by it was one of the schemes and there was clearly room for negotiation, as evidenced from the very last line.  Jinnah in a revealing moment admitted that H V Hodson’s assessment that Muslim League’s “Pakistan” was consistent with a United India was the correct one.  However that is not the subject of the discussion here but where we go from here.

The version which included a center that was later dropped
The version which included a center that was later dropped

On March 16th,  Pakistan experienced what may be termed as a turning point for chequered political history. It is now for the Pakistani legislators to all raise some fundamental questions and reconsider the constitutional scheme that exists in Pakistan denovo along the lines of Pakistan’s founding document.  Many of Pakistan’s constitutional crises have emerged as a direct result of our inability to implement the fundamental features of Lahore Resolution in our constitution.    Some have argued that this started with the Delhi Muslim League Legislators convention in 1946 where “one state” was substituted for for two.  However,  research also shows that the League, especially Jinnah, was ready to accept an independent United Bengal as late as May 1947.     In 1970,  Mujeeb ran on a platform called “6 points” .  The 6 points were nothing but a reiteration of some of the finer points of the Lahore Resolution. Had those in power been more discerning, they would have seen Mujeeb’s demands as a strengthening of the basic principle on which Pakistan was achieved.

So let us consider here some of the fundamental implications of the Lahore Resolution and how they might affect our constitutional scheme:

1.  Provincial autonomy:   Time perhaps has come for Pakistan to some of the fundamental features of the relationship between the center and the provinces.  In the context of the 1973 constitution this would mean:

a.  Abolition of the concurrent list and this would entail revising federal and provincial legislative lists.   The federal government should deal with external affairs, defence, currency, communications, customs and fundamental rights.

b.  Abolition of the Zia-introduced Federal Shariat Court as it might impinge on the legislative powers of the provinces.     Supreme Court of Pakistan alone should exist as a final court of appeal for all provincial high courts with Suo Motu powers to impose fundamental rights.

c.  The appointment of provincial government should remain the prerogative of the federal government but it should be made subject to an approval by a senate committee instead of president or prime minister.

2.  Minorities’ Rights

The resolution speaks of “adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards”  to “be specifically provided in the constitution for minorities”  for the “protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them”.

The adequacy of these safeguards have been made subject to “consultation” with minorities.  Therefore, the Lahore Resolution is calling for the same consociationalist model for Pakistan’s minorities that Muslim League had asked for Muslims in  India.   These safeguards were to be “specifically provided”, which meant that these would not be subject to Islamization but would constitute the immutable part of that constitution which would be adopted by Pakistan. And these safeguards would not be merely “religious” but also inter alia “cultural”, “economic”, “political” and “administrative” rights.

This should’ve been enough as the “Objectives’ Resolution” but Pakistan Constituent Assembly went onto pass an Objectives Resolution in 1949 which narrowed the scope of the safeguards to be provided to minorities and broadened the mission statement of Pakistan to include “enabling” the Muslims to lead lives according to their faith.   It was further narrowed when General Zia amended the Objectives Resolution to exclude the word “freely” for practice of religion for minorities before inserting it as part of the constitution of Pakistan.  It is not hard to see that every thing since then has been a departure from the letter and spirit of the Lahore Resolution.




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