The Two Nations Theory

The Two Nations Theory

Events in the late 1920s and 1930s led Muslims to begin to think that their destiny might be in a separate state, a concept that developed into the demand for partition. Motilal Nehru convened an "all-party" conference in 1929 to suggest changes that would lead to independence when the British took up the report of the Simon Commission. The majority of the delegates demanded the end of the system of separate electorates. Jinnah, in turn, put forward fifteen points that would satisfy Muslim interests--in particular, the retention of separate electorates or the creation of "safeguards" to prevent a Hindu-controlled legislature. Jinnah's proposals were rejected, and from then on cooperation between Hindus and Muslims in the independence movement was rare.

In his presidential address to the Muslim League session at Allahabad in 1930, the leading modern Muslim philosopher in South Asia, Sir Muhammad Iqbal (1876-1938), described India as Asia in miniature, in which a unitary form of government was inconceivable and religious community rather than territory was the basis for identification. To him, communalism in its highest sense was the key to the formation of a harmonious whole in India. Therefore, he demanded the establishment of a confederated India to include a Muslim state consisting of Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sindh, and Balochistan. In subsequent speeches and writings, Iqbal reiterated the claims of Muslims to be considered a nation "based on unity of language, race, history, religion, and identity of economic interests."

Iqbal gave no name to his projected state. That was done by a group of students at Cambridge in Britain who issued a pamphlet in 1933 entitled Now or Never. They opposed the idea of federation, denied that India was a single country, and demanded partition into regions, the northwest receiving national status as a "Pakistan." They explained the term as follows: "Pakistan . . . is . . . composed of letters taken from the names of our homelands: that is, Punjab, Afghania [North-West Frontier Province], Kashmir, Iran, Sindh, Tukharistan, Afghanistan, and Balochistan. It means the land of the Paks, the spiritually pure and clean."

In 1934 Jinnah returned to the leadership of the Muslim League after a period of residence in London, but found it divided and without a sense of mission. He set about restoring a sense of purpose to Muslims, and he emphasized the Two Nations Theory.

The 1937-40 period was critical in the growth of the Two Nations Theory. Under the 1935 Government of India Act, elections to the provincial legislative assemblies were held in 1937. Congress gained majorities in seven of the eleven provinces. Congress took a strictly legalistic stand on the formation of provincial ministries and refused to form coalition governments with the Muslim League, even in the United Provinces (Uttar Pradesh in contemporary India), which had a substantial Muslim minority, and vigorously denied the Muslim League's claim to be the only true representative of Indian Muslims. This claim, however, was not substantiated because the Muslim League had done poorly in the elections, especially in the Muslim-majority provinces such as Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province. The conduct of Congress governments in the Muslim-minority provinces permanently alienated the Muslim League.

By the late 1930s, Jinnah was convinced of the need for a unifying issue among Muslims, and Pakistan was the obvious answer. At its annual session in Lahore on March 23, 1940, the Muslim League resolved that the areas of Muslim majority in northwestern and eastern India should be grouped together to constitute independent states--autonomous and sovereign--and that any independence plan without this provision was unacceptable to Muslims. Federation was rejected. The Lahore Resolution was often referred to as the "Pakistan Resolution"; however, the word Pakistan did not appear in it.

An interesting aspect of the Pakistan movement was that it received its greatest support from areas in which Muslims were a minority. In those areas, the main issue was finding an alternative to replacing British rule with Congress, that is, Hindu, rule.

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