The Two Nation Theory

Posted on June 11, 2010 by


by Yasser Latif Hamdani
Daily Times, Monday, June 07, 2010

For Jinnah and the Muslim League, the Two Nation Theory was not an ideological position etched in stone. It was the restatement of the arguments needed to ensure national status for Muslims in a multinational independent India

One of our most persistent national myths — put forward by both the state and its detractors — is that Pakistan was created in the name of Islam.

It is said that Pakistan was created with the use of the slogans “Islam in danger” and “Pakistan ka matlab kya, La illaha ilallah”, both slogans which — ironically — were never used by Quaid-e-Azam himself. Indeed Jinnah ruled out “Pakistan ka matlab kiya, La illaha illallah” when he censured a Leaguer at the last session of the All India Muslim League after partition in these words: “Neither I nor the Muslim League Working Committee ever passed a resolution — Pakistan ka matlab kiya — you may have used it to catch a few votes.”

Nevertheless, the fact that Pakistan was created as a result of a group’s nationalism, which was based — in whatever watered down form — on common religious beliefs, has damned Pakistan to a perpetual identity crisis that continues to sap its vitality. That no one on top since September 11, 1948 has been able to talk sense in this country has only aggravated our predicament.

Fundamental to this identity crisis is the national confusion surrounding the Two Nation Theory, which is hailed as the ideological foundation of the state of Pakistan. It is one of the most misunderstood ideas in modern history, both in terms of what it claimed and how it has been applied by various currents in our history.

Both India and Pakistan do not disagree on what they consider the essentials of the theory, but while in India it is a symbol of exclusivism and communalism, in Pakistan it is part of the Islamic ideological narrative. This is the publicist’s view of history, but not necessarily one that is accepted without question by historians. Perhaps the time has come to turn such conventional common (non)sense about the Two Nation Theory on its head.

The Two Nation Theory, as adopted by Jinnah and the Muslim League in 1940, was a mere restatement of the minority problem in national terms and not a clarion call, to use Dr Ayesha Jalal’s vocabulary, for partition. What Jinnah was aiming for was what in recent years has been coined as ‘consociationalism’, a power sharing between disparate ethnic and communal groups in multinational and multiethnic states. Though the term was coined only a decade or so ago, consociationalism as a political system is quite old and is tried and tested in states like The Netherlands, Switzerland and Canada.

When the Quaid-e-Azam articulated the Two Nation Theory, he referred to language, culture, family laws and historical antecedents. He was, as an adroit lawyer, making the case for changing the status of a minority to that of a nation and not for separation of Islam from India as is alleged by his detractors.

The truth is that Jinnah’s idea of Pakistan was not predicated on the partition of India. His idea of Pakistan was a power sharing arrangement between the Muslims and Hindus. His Two Nation Theory did not, at least not until December 1946, suggest that the Hindus and Muslims must be separated. And yet, even in May 1947, Jinnah was pleading against the partition of Punjab and Bengal by arguing that a Punjabi is a Punjabi and a Bengali is a Bengali before he is a Hindu or a Muslim.

Much of this is confirmed by one of the most extraordinary pieces of prescience left behind by H V Hodson, who was the Reforms Commissioner in India in 1941. Hodson wrote in clear terms very soon after the Lahore Resolution that every Muslim Leaguer from Jinnah down to the last one interpreted the Pakistan idea as consistent with the idea of a confederation of India. Hodson believed that “Pakistan” was a “revolt against minority status” and a call for power sharing and not just defining rules of conduct how a majority (in this case Hindu) would govern India. He spoke of an acute realisation that the minority status with all the safeguards could only amount to a “Cinderella with trade union rights and radio in the kitchen but still below the stairs.” Jinnah’s comment was that Hodson had finally understood what the League was after, but that he could not publicly come out with these fundamental truths, as these were likely to be misunderstood at the time.

For Jinnah and the Muslim League, the Two Nation Theory was not an ideological position etched in stone. It was the restatement of the arguments needed to ensure national status for Muslims in a multinational independent India. It was also a vehicle to get parochial elements in Muslim majority provinces into line behind the Muslim League at the All India Centre. At the very least, Jinnah’s Pakistan did not necessarily envisage a partition, secession from or division of United India. This is why he jumped at the opportunity of the Cabinet Mission Plan, which did not even deliver 50 percent of what he had demanded. In the end, however, the idea of power sharing with the League and Muslims was too much for the Indian National Congress to gulp, even if Gandhi and Nehru could have been brought around to the idea. Maulana Azad’s grudging admissions in his book India Wins Freedom seal this argument.

It is important, however, to note that Jinnah’s August 11 speech and all his pronouncements thereafter made it absolutely clear that the Two Nation Theory would have no role to play in the principles of citizenship of the new state. Significantly, after partition, Jinnah went back to using the word ‘community’ for Hindus and Muslims instead of nations.

The concept of citizenship to Jinnah the liberal — a keen student of British history — could not be fettered by issues of identity. He wanted Pakistan to be an impartial inclusive democracy rather than an exclusivist theocracy, which regrettably Pakistan has become increasingly over the last 30 odd years.

Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer based in Islamabad. He can be reached at

Posted in: History