Pakistan Day, 23rd March: Unreserved Triumph or Unfinished Business?

23 March 1940: Manto Park Lahore is overflowing with people. Anticipation and exhilaration are in the air. The whole might of the Muslim political leadership of India under the flag of ‘All India Muslim League’ is assembled at the stage. There is the undisputed national leader, Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam. Then, there are the provincial chiefs: the fiery Sher-e-Bengal – Fazl-ul-Huq, the sedate Premier of Punjab – Sir Sikander Hayat, and the wily leader from the United Provinces – Chaudhry Khaliq-uz-Zaman. Looming larger than life in the background is the ghost of the poet-philosopher, Dr. Mohammad Iqbal, who had campaigned ceaselessly to bring about this assembly at Lahore but didn’t live to attend it in person. The atmosphere is electric. Fazl-ul-Huq of Bengal presents the “Pakistan” Resolution (actually the Lahore Resolution) which unequivocally demands the establishment of sovereign Muslim states in the Indian subcontinent.

The crowd becomes wild with jubilation and lauds the resolution with full-throated cheers. The resolution is unanimously approved by the All India Muslim League. The course is now set, the path has been laid down, and the final destination has been marked. Fast forward to seven years later, and Pakistan has transformed from a demand into a reality. The crescent and the star fly over Lahore, Karachi, and Peshawar (and Dhaka). So, the resolution turned out to be the harbinger of an unreserved triumph, didn’t it? But first let us ask ourselves: How do we decide that an endeavor has ended in triumph? Well, if the aims of the endeavor are achieved then it can be rightfully declared to have ended in triumph. What was the aim of the “Pakistan Resolution”? It was the establishment of Pakistan.

What was the aim of Pakistan? It is this question that will lead us to determine whether 23rd March 1940 was an unreserved triumph or something else.

The Vision of the Founding Fathers

Preventive Aim

In order to trace the aim of Pakistan, help will be sought from the theoretical and practical founders of Pakistan. It can be said without inviting any controversy or serious disagreement that the former was Dr. Mohammad Iqbal while the latter was Mr. M. A. Jinnah. So, how did these two define the aim of Pakistan? There are numerous statements, here only one by each is being quoted.

In his well-known Presidential address, at the Muslim League session held at Allahabad in 1930, Iqbal said,

“I would never advise the Muslims of India to agree to a system, whether of British or of Indian origin, which virtually negatives the principle of true federation, or fails to recognize them as a distinct political entity.”

Ten years later, in his presidential address at the Muslim League session in Lahore, Jinnah said,

“Hindus and Muslims brought together under a democratic system forced upon the minorities can only mean Hindu Raj. Democracy of the kind with which the Congress High Command is enamored would mean the complete destruction of what is most precious in Islam.”

Both of these statements reveal an aim behind the demand for Pakistan. The aim being a “preventive aim”, that is, Pakistan was necessary in order to prevent Hindu domination over the Muslims of India.

Both Iqbal and Jinnah clearly and unapologetically declared that any constitutional scheme that didn’t ensure the prevention of Hindu domination over Muslims would never be acceptable to the Muslims of India.

But this preventive aim wasn’t the only aim behind Pakistan’s demand and creation.

Creative Aim 

There was another, more important aim: the “creative aim.”

In a letter written to Mr. Jinnah (dated 28 May 1937), Iqbal declared, “The enforcement and development of the Shariat of Islam is impossible in this country without a free Muslim state or states.” For his part, Jinnah also declared in 1946, “We do not demand Pakistan simply to have a piece of land but we want a laboratory where we could experiment on Islamic principles.”

As elucidated by both Iqbal and Jinnah, Pakistan was to be a project for the creation of an Islamic state which would unite and develop its people on the basis of Islamic concepts of social justice, liberty, democracy, equality, and fraternity.

Just as Lenin envisaged to show the world the superiority of the teachings of Marx by creating a state which would be organized completely according to the principles of socialism, Iqbal and Jinnah envisaged showing the world the superiority of the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) by creating a state which would be organized completely according to the principles of Islam. Just as the socialists in the Soviet Union created their own unique institutions and traditions, Pakistan was supposed to create its own unique institutions and traditions. Just as the socialists destroyed the institutions and traditions of the bourgeoisie, Pakistan was supposed to destroy the institutions and traditions of colonial masters. As Iqbal announced in his book, Bang-e-Dara (the clarion call):


Phoonk Dale Ye Zameen-O-Asman-E-Mastaar
AurKhakstar Se ApApna Jahan PaidaKare

(Let it set fire to this earth and this sky, which are borrowed,
And from the embers, let it give birth itself to its own world.)

What Could Go Wrong?

Now, we have to examine the relative importance of both the preventive and creative aims of Pakistan to establish which one of these was more important, and why?

Let’s examine the preventive aim first. What was so fearful and frightening about the “Hindu domination”? Were Hindus going to physically eliminate all Indian Muslims? That doesn’t appear to be the case, and neither Iqbal nor Jinnah ever expressed that fear. Were Hindus going to forcibly stop Muslims from obligations like communal prayer, etc? This fear was expressed by some but if we take an objective view, the Congress ministries of 1937 didn’t bar Muslims from mosques at all. Even in Modi’s India today, the Azan resounds five times a day from thousands of mosques all over Hindutva-crazed cities and towns. Then what was the unthinkable that had to be prevented in the opinion of a sage-like Iqbal?

It was the dilution of Islamic nationhood (clearly evident in Modi’s India) that Iqbal feared. It was the fact that Muslims in a Hindu-dominated India would never be able to order their public lives according to Islamic principles that was feared. It was the bitter eventuality that the Islamic concepts of social justice, liberty, democracy, equality, and fraternity would never be able to bloom under Hindu domination or Ram Raj that Jinnah feared.

Iqbal had known that Muslims were deprived of all this under British colonial domination, but he also knew that sooner or later the British would have to leave. But, he also knew that if British domination gave way to Hindu domination, the native Indian sons of Manu and Shivaji might not be dislodged for a millennium. More precisely, it was the fear that the Muslims might never be able to achieve the creative aim that gave rise to the preventive aim. The preventive aim of thwarting Hindu domination was merely the means to an end, the end being the creation of an epochal Islamic state.

Second-Tier Muslim Leadership and the Creative Aim

The above discussion makes it quite clear that the creative aim was the primary aim, or perhaps, the strategic aim, whereas the preventive aim was merely a tactical aim. The former represented the war that was to be won on behalf of Islam, whereas the latter represented just a single battle (among many) during the course of that war. This was abundantly clear to the likes of Iqbal and Jinnah, but sadly it was never clear to the second-tier of the Muslim League. This second-tier was the spatial link between the celestial heights occupied by Iqbal/Jinnah and the sea of humanity that was the general Muslim population of India. On 23rd March 1940, Sikander Hayat, Fazl-ul-Huq and Khaliq-uz-Zaman were representing this second tier. Sadly, this second-tier was almost entirely composed of feudal landlords and to a lesser extent, populistic politicians.

Political ambitions and material gains were the primary moving forces behind this tier. No wonder Iqbal received almost zero attention after his seminal Allahabad address from this class. No wonder Jinnah was only able to receive 4.6% of the Muslim vote for the Muslim League in the 1937 elections (and that too from the minority provinces where “Hindu domination” threatened the politico-economic ambitions of the Muslim elite). These “leaders” had a very different concept of Pakistan. They only envisaged a piece of land where they could rule the roost without being inconvenienced by the Hindus. Since the preventive aim of Pakistan had been necessary for that, those leaders joined the Muslim League after the 1937 elections and paid allegiance to the Quaid-e-Azam.

They, however, never had any interest, or even understanding, of the creative aim behind the Pakistan scheme. If we need any proof, we can study the political somersaults of Fazl-ul-Huq, the desperate attempts of Khaliq-uz-Zaman to lobby Congress in order to get himself a cabinet position in the United Provinces, the attempts to hi-jack Muslim League in favor of the Unionist feudals by Sikander Hayat, and his successor Khizar Hayat. These “leaders” also never bothered to educate, motivate, and organize the Muslim masses based on the creative aim of Pakistan. As a result, a yawning gap opened between Iqbal’s vision and the Muslim masses. Consequently, after the attainment of Pakistan, and the death of Jinnah a year later, the creative aim of Pakistan was forgotten and practically abandoned.

Way Forward: Reengaging With the Creative Aim

The story doesn’t end here. With the surfacing of a vacuum created by undermining the creative aim, an existential problem presented itself. An identity crisis was born. Iqbal had presciently declared in 1930, “At the present moment the national idea is racialising the outlook of Muslims, and thus materially counteracting the humanizing work of Islam. And the growth of racial consciousness may mean the growth of standards different [from] and even opposed to the standards of Islam.” This was exactly what happened. Racial and ethnic nationhoods sprouted in opposition to the Islamic one. A bloody civil war erupted in the Eastern part of Pakistan (which contained 54% of the Pakistani population), and the Pakistan of 1947 was violently cut in half. The Islamic dream of Iqbal took a hit, but the “leaders” were fine.

Whether in Pakistan or Bangladesh, they were still free to go to their palaces, they were free to go to their Swiss banks, they were free to visit their “places” of “entertainment”, they were free to pillage and plunder, they were free to rule and rob, they were free of “Hindu domination.”

There is an apocryphal saying attributed to the master Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy are the noise before defeat.” When we abandoned the struggle after achieving a single tactical aim, we sowed the seeds of our own strategic defeat. When we forsook the creative aim behind Pakistan, we also condemned Pakistan to failure. We took away the basis of unity, the foundation of faith, and the impulse of discipline from the nation. Thus, a morally and ideologically truncated Pakistan came into being: a far cry from the vision of Iqbal, Jinnah, and the spirit of the 23rd of March.

Today, when Pakistan is facing tumults from within and without, when our polity is fractured, our economy is tattered, and our unity is shattered, there is only one way out for us. We have to muster up the energy, courage, motivation, dedication, and organization required to rejuvenate our spirit in the service of the creative aim of Pakistan. Only then will we be able to survive and thrive. Only then will we be able to banish the ghosts of extremist terrorism, Hindutva aggression, and foreign domination. Only then will we be able to reclaim our identity, our liberty, and our destiny

Iqbal and Jinnah won the battle and created a homeland for us, but the war goes on. If we lose, we will waste all their good work. If we win, we will create an Islamic state worthy of the name, capable to change the course of world history. Only then we will be worthy of celebrating the 23rd of March in true spirit.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the South Asia Times.

Dr. Syed Hassaan Bokhari

Dr. Hassan Bokhari, a professional with expertise in medicine, history, and research, offers a unique perspective shaped by his passion for history and contemporary affairs. He can be reached on X @SHBokhari13.

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