Letter and spirit of the Lahore Resolution

By Yasser Latif Hamdani (in Daily Times)

Very rarely do politics, history and sport overlap but when they do they can produce the most heart-warming of coincidences. As millions of Bangladeshi fans cheered them on, the trouble-prone Pakistan cricket team completed a clinical victory over the West Indies on March 23, the 71st anniversary of the Lahore Resolution. The most charming coincidence was the fact that the stadium we won in was named after Sher-e-Bangla, A K Fazlul Haq, one of the founding fathers of our republic and the gentleman who moved the Lahore Resolution all those years ago.

Every child in Pakistan is taught about the symbolic significance of the Lahore Resolution but hardly anyone in the country has ever bothered to read the words that are cited as nothing less than a founding document for the country. In many ways, the Lahore Resolution is Pakistan’s equivalent of the US’s Declaration of Independence, though perhaps less eloquent. Indeed, much like the American declaration of independence, there is an original draft with handwritten corrections by Pakistan’s founders, which lends us clues as to what it was that they were after on that momentous occasion.

Yet the Lahore Resolution is much more than that because it is a live document laying out not so much a blueprint but more an eternal guideline on how we were to shape the new state. Arguably, at the time it was presented it was intended to be little more than an alternative to the existing constitutional thesis forwarded by both the British and Congress. Increasingly dependent on Muslim support for the war effort in the wake of Congress’ refusal to be forthcoming, Lord Linlithgow had pressed Jinnah to come up with an alternative to the Government of India Act, 1935, and had also asked British India’s foremost constitutional expert, Sir Zafarullah Khan, to draft a memorandum on the idea of two dominion states. It was Zafarullah’s memorandum that was finally adopted by the League in its Lahore session as the ‘Lahore Resolution’.

The Lahore Resolution did not envisage a partition of India per se. It remained vague in so much as it used both “autonomous” and “sovereign” for constituent units with contiguous Muslim majorities. Thus the issue really was of sovereignty for Muslim majority areas, which itself went against the grain of the interests of the Muslim League’s core constituency, i.e. the Muslim salaried classes of UP and Bombay — indeed nothing less than a reversal of the famed Lucknow Pact that Jinnah had engineered 24 years prior. It was what the resolution implied that was most significant, i.e. an extended period of time where foreign affairs, defence and customs would remain the domain of a centre. This was the bargaining counter that Jinnah wanted the League to have.

Documents of fundamental national importance and constitutional nature however take on a life of their own, unconnected with the political realities that brought them about. The Lahore Resolution is therefore to be taken as more than a mere resolution of a political party or, in the League’s case, a big tent political grouping. There are certain undeniable fundamentals of the new state that have been laid down by it, most important being the idea that constituent units are sovereign entities delegating their sovereignty to a Pakistan centre. This means that the centralised state that has been in existence for over 63 years is ultra vires the letter and spirit of the Lahore Resolution. When stripped of the history and baggage of partition and honestly applied to our present condition, the Lahore Resolution envisages a “nation of nations”. The Two-Nation Theory itself was not so much a statement of exclusive nationalism but a connecting bridge between what the Communist Party of India described at the time as submerged Muslim nationalities. To this end even Gandhi very shrewdly pointed out to Jinnah in their discussions that the Lahore Resolution contained no reference to the Two-Nation Theory.

Given the debate on the role of religion in Pakistan, the Lahore Resolution lays down a clear rule on how this proposed nation of nations would deal with its religious minorities. Not only does the resolution contain no reference to Islam per se — a gaping hole for those who say Pakistan was created in the name of religion — but it goes on to say that “adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards shall be specifically provided in the constitution for minorities in the units and in the regions for the protection of religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights of the minorities, with their consultation.” Notice the word ‘consultation’, which has been defined to mean effective consultation in other cases in our jurisprudence. The minority view then would have to be the binding view unless there were good reasons to the contrary.

Now compare this situation to how the notorious Objectives Resolution was passed in 1949. The voting pattern shows that all Muslim members of the constituent assembly save one voted in favour and all non-Muslims voted without exception against it. There were several amendments proposed by the non-Muslim members, which were rejected by the majority. In essence, the spirit of the Lahore Resolution was thus betrayed at the very outset of the constitution making process. Pakistan thus voted in as its ‘grundnorm’ a document that went against the very spirit of the basic document on which the country claimed to be based.

Similarly, the main crux of the sovereignty thesis forwarded by the Lahore Resolution was negated when Pakistan chose to ignore Mujibur Rehman’s six points, which were, in essence, the elaboration of the Lahore Resolution. That led to the separation of Bangladesh.

The way Bangladeshi supporters cheered for Pakistan in the quarterfinal was a political statement in its own right. In 1971, they had rebelled not as much against the idea of Pakistan but the negation thereof. Hence there is no animus towards Pakistan and the Pakistani flag in that country even as they accuse West Pakistanis of having exploited and oppressed them.

Religious minorities in Pakistan cheered for their country as well, even as they question the oppression of an increasingly exclusivist theocratic state.

 




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