Two-nation theory

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A map of the British Indian Empire, 1909, showing the prevailing majority religions of the population for different districts Brit IndianEmpireReligions3.jpg
A map of the British Indian Empire, 1909, showing the prevailing majority religions of the population for different districts

The two-nation theory is the basis of the creation of Pakistan. It states that Muslims and Hindus are two separate nations by every definition; therefore, Muslims should be able to have their own separate homeland in the Muslim majority areas of India, in which Islam can be practiced as the dominant religion. [1] The two-nation theory was a founding principle of the Pakistan Movement (i.e. the ideology of Pakistan as a Muslim nation-state in South Asia), and the partition of India in 1947. [2]

Pakistan Movement A religious political movement

The Pakistan Movement or Tehrik-e-Pakistan was a religious political movement in the 1940s that aimed for and succeeded in the creation of Dominion of Pakistan from the Muslim-majority areas of the British Indian Empire.

Partition of India partition of British India into the independent states of India and Pakistan in 1947

The Partition of India was the division of British India in 1947 which accompanied the creation of two independent dominions, India and Pakistan. The Dominion of India is today the Republic of India and Dominion of Pakistan, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the People's Republic of Bangladesh. The partition involved the division of two provinces, Bengal and the Punjab, based on district-wise Hindu or Muslim majorities. It also involved the division of the British Indian Army, the Royal Indian Navy, the Indian Civil Service, the railways, and the central treasury, between the two new dominions. The partition was set forth in the Indian Independence Act 1947 and resulted in the dissolution of the British Raj, or Crown rule in India. The two self-governing countries of India and Pakistan legally came into existence at midnight on 14–15 August 1947.


The ideology that religion is the determining factor in defining the nationality of Indian Muslims and Hindus was first propagated by people like sir Syed Ahmed Khan and later adopted by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who termed it as the awakening of Muslims for the creation of Pakistan. [3] It is also a source of inspiration to several Hindu nationalist organisations, with causes as varied as the establishment of a legally Hindu state in India, prohibition of conversions to Islam, and the promotion of conversions or reconversions of Indian Muslims to Hinduism. [4] [5] [6] [7]

Hindu nationalism has been collectively referred to as the expression of social and political thought, based on the native spiritual and cultural traditions of the Indian subcontinent. Defenders of Hindu nationalism have tried to avoid the label "nationalism" by arguing that the use of the term "Hindu nationalism" to refer to Hindū rāṣṭravāda is a simplistic translation and is better described by the term "Hindu polity".

Islam is an Abrahamic, monotheistic, universal religion teaching that there is only one God, and that Muhammad is the messenger of God. It is the world's second-largest religion with over 1.8 billion followers or 24% of the world's population, most commonly known as Muslims. Muslims make up a majority of the population in 50 countries. Islam teaches that God is merciful, all-powerful, and unique, and has guided humankind through prophets, revealed scriptures and natural signs. The primary scriptures of Islam are the Quran, viewed by Muslims as the verbatim word of God, and the teachings and normative examples of Muhammad.

Shuddhi is Sanskrit for purification. In Hinduism it is a part of worship. It also refers to converting to Hinduism.

There are varying interpretations of the two-nation theory, based on whether the two postulated nationalities can coexist in one territory or not, with radically different implications. One interpretation argued for sovereign autonomy, including the right to secede, for Muslim-majority areas of the Indian subcontinent, but without any transfer of populations (i.e. Hindus and Muslims would continue to live together). A different interpretation contends that Hindus and Muslims constitute "two distinct, and frequently antagonistic ways of life, and that therefore they cannot coexist in one nation." [8] In this version, a transfer of populations (i.e. the total removal of Hindus from Muslim-majority areas and the total removal of Muslims from Hindu-majority areas) is a desirable step towards a complete separation of two incompatible nations that "cannot coexist in a harmonious relationship". [9] [10]

Opposition to the theory has come from two sources. The first is the concept of a single Indian nation, of which Hindus and Muslims are two intertwined communities. [11] This is a founding principle of the modern, officially secular, Republic of India. Even after the formation of Pakistan, debates on whether Muslims and Hindus are distinct nationalities or not continued in that country. [12] The second source of opposition is the concept that while Indians are not one nation, neither are the Muslims or Hindus of the subcontinent, and it is instead the relatively homogeneous provincial units of the subcontinent which are true nations and deserving of sovereignty; this view has been presented by the Baloch, [13] Sindhi, [14] and Pashtun [15] sub-nationalities of Pakistan.

Greater India historical extent of the culture of India beyond the Indian subcontinent

The Indian cultural sphere or Indosphere are the countries and regions in South and Southeast Asia that were historically influenced by Indian culture. The term Greater India is used to encompass the historical and geographic extent of all political entities of the Indian subcontinent, and the regions which are culturally linked to India or received significant Indian cultural influence. These countries have varying degrees been transformed by the acceptance and induction of cultural and institutional elements of India. Since around 500 BCE, Asia's expanding land and maritime trade had resulted in prolonged socio-economic and cultural stimulation and diffusion of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs into the region's cosmology, in particular in Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka. In Central Asia, transmission of ideas were predominantly of a religious nature.


A map of the British Indian Empire, 1909, showing the percentage of Hindus in different districts Hindu percent 1909.jpg
A map of the British Indian Empire, 1909, showing the percentage of Hindus in different districts

Romila Thapar, wrote in The New York Times of May 17, 2019:

Romila Thapar Indian historian

Romila Thapar is an Indian historian as well as an emerita professor whose principal area of study is ancient India. She is the author of several books including the popular volume, A History of India, and is currently Professor Emerita at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi. She has twice been offered the Padma Bhushan award, but has declined both times.

<i>The New York Times</i> Daily broadsheet newspaper based in New York City

The New York Times is an American newspaper based in New York City with worldwide influence and readership. Founded in 1851, the paper has won 127 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other newspaper. The Times is ranked 17th in the world by circulation and 2nd in the U.S.

Both Muslim and Hindu nationalisms were rooted in Britain’s colonial understanding of India. Policymakers endorsed the two-nation theory proposed by James Mill, author of the influential “The History of British India,” published in 1817. He maintained that there have always been two separate nations in India — the Hindu and the Muslim — constantly in conflict. [16]

In general, the British-run government and British commentators made "it a point of speaking of Indians as the people of India and avoid speaking of an Indian nation." [17] This was cited as a key reason for British control of the country: since Indians were not a nation, they were not capable of national self-government. [18] While some Indian leaders insisted that Indians were one nation, others agreed that Indians were not yet a nation but there was "no reason why in the course of time they should not grow into a nation." [17]

Similar debates on national identity existed within India at the linguistic, provincial and religious levels. While some argued that Indian Muslims were one nation, others argued they were not. Some, such as Liaquat Ali Khan (later prime minister of Pakistan) argued that Indian Muslims were not yet a nation, but could be forged into one. [17]

According to the Pakistan's government official chronology, [19] Muhammad bin Qasim is often referred to as the first Pakistani. [20] While Prakash K. Singh attributes the arrival of Muhammad bin Qasim as the first step towards the creation of Pakistan. [21] Muhammad Ali Jinnah considered the Pakistan movement to have started when the first Muslim put a foot in the Gateway of Islam. [22] [23]

Start of Muslim self-awakening and identity movement (17th century–1940s)

It is generally believed in Pakistan that the movement for Muslim self-awakening and identity was started by Ahmad Sirhindi (1564–1624), who fought against emperor Akbar's religious syncretist Din-i Ilahi movement and is thus considered "for contemporary official Pakistani historians" to be the founder of the two-nation theory, [24] and was particularly intensified under the Muslim reformer Shah Waliullah (1703-1762) who, because he wanted to give back to Muslims their self-consciousness during the decline of the Mughal empire and the rise of the non-Muslim powers like the Marathas, Jats and Sikhs, launched a mass-movement of religious education which made "them conscious of their distinct nationhood which in turn culminated in the form of Two Nation Theory and ultimately the creation of Pakistan." [25]

Akbar Ahmed also considers Haji Shariatullah (1781–1840) and Syed Ahmad Barelvi (1786–1831) to be the forerunners of the Pakistan movement, because of their purist and militant reformist movements targeting the Muslim masses, saying that "reformers like Waliullah, Barelvi and Shariatullah were not demanding a Pakistan in the modern sense of nationhood. They were, however, instrumental in creating an awareness of the crisis looming for the Muslims and the need to create their own political organization. What Sir Sayyed did was to provide a modern idiom in which to express the quest for Islamic identity." [26]

Thus, many Pakistanis describe modernist and reformist scholar Syed Ahmad Khan (1817–1898) as the architect of the two-nation theory. For instance, Sir Syed, in a January 1883 speech in Patna, talked of two different nations, even if his own approach was conciliatory:

Friends, in India there live two prominent nations which are distinguished by the names of Hindus and Mussulmans. Just as a man has some principal organs, similarly these two nations are like the principal limbs of India. [27]

In 1888, in a critical assessment of the Indian National Congress founded few years earlier, he also considered Muslims to be a nationality among many others:

The aims and objects of the Indian National Congress are based upon an ignorance of history and present-day politics; they do not take into consideration that India is inhabited by different nationalities: they presuppose that the Muslims, the Marathas, the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Banias, the Sudras, the Sikhs, the Bengalis, the Madrasis, and the Peshawaris can all be treated alike and all of them belong to the same nation. The Congress thinks that they profess the same religion, that they speak the same language, that their way of life and customs are the same... I consider the experiment which the Indian National Congress wants to make fraught with dangers and suffering for all the nationalities of India, specially for the Muslims. [28]

In 1925, during the Aligarh session of the All-India Muslim League, which he chaired, Justice Abdur Rahim (1867–1952) was one of the very first to openly articulate on how Muslims and Hindu constitute two nations, and while it would become common rhetoric later on, historian S. M. Ikram says that it "created quite a sensation in the twenties":

The Hindus and Muslims are not two religious sects like the Protestants and Catholics of England, but form two distinct communities of peoples, and so they regard themselves. Their respective attitude towards life, distinctive culture, civilization and social habits, their traditions and history, no less than their religion, divide them so completely that the fact that they have lived in the same country for nearly 1,000 years has contributed hardly anything to their fusion into a nation... Any of us Indian Muslims travelling for instance in Afghanistan, Persia, and Central Asia, among Chinese Muslims, Arabs, and Turks, would at once be made at home and would not find anything to which we are not accustomed. On the contrary in India we find ourselves in all social matters total aliens when we cross the street and enter that part of the town where our Hindu fellow townsmen live. [29]

Sir John Cumming (1868-1958), a British administrator in the subcontinent, in his book Political India released in 1932, quotes the last part and gives the following commentary:

It is not only in the customs and usages which mark their external life that the two people differ; the sources of their moral and intellectual inspiration are different. The Muslim is inspired by the great literatures of Arabia and Persia, his conduct is influenced by the precepts of Sadi or of the great saints of Islam. The Hindu venerates myriads of gods, demigods, and demons of whose very name the Muslim is ignorant, and his daily life is governed by an elaborate code of rules the very reason of which is as unintelligible to the Muslim as to the Christian. Even their newspapers, their novels, and current literature are mutually unintelligible. The Muslim reads his script from right to left, the Hindu books and newspapers are printed from left to right. But it is useless to enumerate the grounds of difference between Hindu and Muslim; the only thing that matters is that they do in fact feel and think of themselves as separate peoples. In all disquisitions on nationality this is the only test which is found to cover all cases. If a certain body of persons think of themselves as one nation and are willing to endure tribulation and material losses in order to remain together, then they are one people; if they cannot pass this acid test, they are not. Judged by this standard the Muslims of India are a nation. Communal differences, as they are called, are really national jealousies. That is why Sir Muhammad Iqbal declared ‘the problem of India is international, not national’. [30]

Diana L. Eck quotes Sir John Strachey (1823-1907), another important British civil servant in the region, and says that this idea of India not being a nation "would be echoed by British administrators for many decades" and "was to become one of the undergirding themes of empire", in a 1883 conference precisely entitled “What is India?”, at the University of Cambridge, he said:

There is no such country, and this is the first and most essential fact about India that can be learned. India is a name, which we give to a great region including a multitude of different countries. There is no general Indian term that corresponds to it... Scotland is more like Spain than Bengal is like the Punjab.… There are no countries in civilized Europe in which people differ so much as the Bengali differs from the Sikh, and the language of Bengal is as unintelligible in Lahore as it would be in London.

And also:

This is the first and most essential thing to learn about India—that there is not, and never was an India, or even any country of India, possessing, according to European ideas, any sort of unity, physical, political, social and religious; no Indian nation, no ‘people of India,’ of which we hear so much.… We have never destroyed in India a national government, no national sentiment has been wounded, no national pride has been humiliated; and this not through any design or merit of our own, but because no Indian nationalities have existed. [31]

More substantially and influentially than Justice Rahim, or the historiography of British administrators, the poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal (1877–1938) provided the philosophical exposition and Barrister Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1871–1948) translated it into the political reality of a nation-state. [32] Allama Iqbal's presidential address to the Muslim League on 29 December 1930 is seen by some as the first exposition of the two-nation theory in support of what would ultimately become Pakistan. [32]

The scholar Al-Biruni (973–1048) had observed, at the beginning of the eleventh century, that Hindus and Muslims differed in all matters and habits. [32] On March 23, 1940, Jinnah made a speech in Lahore which was very similar to Al-Biruni's thesis in theme and tone. Jinnah stated that Hindus and Muslims belonged to two different religious philosophies, with different social customs and literature, with no intermarriage and based on conflicting ideas and concepts. Their outlook on life and of life was different and despite 1000 years of history, the relations between the Hindus and Muslims could not attain the level of cordiality. [32]

In 1948, Jinnah said:

Islam has taught us this and I think you will agree with me, for whatever you may be and wherever you are, you are a Muslim. You belong to a nation now. You have carved out a territory, a vast territory, it is all yours; it does not belong to a Punjabi or a Sindhi or a Pathan or a Bengali, it is yours.

The All-India Muslim League, in attempting to represent Indian Muslims, felt that the Muslims of the subcontinent were a distinct and separate nation from the Hindus. At first they demanded separate electorates, but when they came to the conclusion that Muslims would not be safe in a Hindu-dominated India, they began to demand a separate state. The League demanded self-determination for Muslim-majority areas in the form of a sovereign state promising minorities equal rights and safeguards in these Muslim majority areas. [32]

Ian Copland, in his book discussing the end of the British rule in the subcontinent, precises that it was not an élite-driven movement alone, who are said to have birthed separatism "as a defence against the threats posed to their social position by the introduction of representative government and competitive recruitment to the public service", but that the Muslim masses participated into it massively because of the religious polarization which had been created by Hindu revivalism towards the last quarter of the 19th century, especially with the openly anti-Islamic Arya Samaj and the whole cow protection movement, and "the fact that some of the loudest spokesmen for the Hindu cause and some of the biggest donors to the Arya Samaj and the cow protection movement came from the Hindu merchant and money lending communities, the principal agents of lower-class Muslim economic dependency, reinforced this sense of insecurity", and, because of Muslim resistance, "each year brought new riots" so that "by the end of the century, Hindu-Muslim relations had become so soured by this deadly roundabout of blood-letting, grief and revenge that it would have taken a mighty concerted effort by the leaders of the two communities to repair the breach." [33]

The changing Indian political scenario in the second half of the 18th century. India1765and1805b.jpg
The changing Indian political scenario in the second half of the 18th century.

Aspects of the theory

The theory asserted that India was not a nation. It also asserted that Hindus and Muslims of the Indian subcontinent were each a nation, despite great variations in language, culture and ethnicity within each of those groups. [34] To counter critics who said that a community of radically varying ethnicities and languages who were territorially intertwined with other communities could not be a nation, the theory said that the concept of nation in the East was different from that in the West. In the East, religion was "a complete social order which affects all the activities in life" and "where the allegiance of people is divided on the basis of religion, the idea of territorial nationalism has never succeeded." [35] [36]

It asserted that "a Muslim of one country has far more sympathies with a Muslim living in another country than with a non-Muslim living in the same country." [35] Therefore, "the conception of Indian Muslims as a nation may not be ethnically correct, but socially it is correct." [36]

Muhammad Iqbal had also championed the notion of pan-Islamic nationhood (see: Ummah) and strongly condemned the concept of a territory-based nation as anti-Islamic: "In tāzah xudā'ōⁿ mēⁿ, baṙā sab sē; waṭan hai: Jō pairahan is kā hai; woh mahab kā, kafan hai... (Of all these new [false] gods, the biggest; is the motherland (waṭan): Its garment; is [actually] the death-shroud, of religion...)" [37] He had stated the dissolution of ethnic nationalities into a unified Muslim society (or millat) as the ultimate goal: "Butān-e raⁿŋg ō-xūⁿ kō tōṙ kar millat mēⁿ gum hō jā; Nah Tūrānī rahē bāqī, nah Īrānī, nah Afġānī (Destroy the idols of color and blood ties, and merge into the Muslim society; Let no Turanians remain, neither Iranians, nor Afghans)". [38]

Pakistan, or The Partition of India (1945)

In his 1945 book Pakistan, or The Partition of India, Indian statesman and Buddhist Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar wrote a sub-chapter titled "If Muslims truly and deeply desire Pakistan, their choice ought to be accepted". He asserted that, if the Muslims were bent on the creation of Pakistan, the demand should be conceded in the interest of the safety of India. He asks whether Muslims in the army could be trusted to defend India in the event of Muslims invading India or in the case of a Muslim rebellion. "[W]hom would the Indian Muslims in the army side with?" he questioned. According to him, the assumption that Hindus and Muslims could live under one state if they were distinct nations was but "an empty sermon, a mad project, to which no sane man would agree". [39] In direct relation to the two-nation theory, he notably says in the book:

The real explanation of this failure of Hindu-Muslim unity lies in the failure to realize that what stands between the Hindus and Muslims is not a mere matter of difference, and that this antagonism is not to be attributed to material causes. It is formed by causes which take their origin in historical, religious, cultural and social antipathy, of which political antipathy is only a reflection. These form one deep river of discontent which, being regularly fed by these sources, keeps on mounting to a head and overflowing its ordinary channels. Any current of water flowing from another source, however pure, when it joins it, instead of altering the colour or diluting its strength becomes lost in the main stream. The silt of this antagonism which this current has deposited, has become permanent and deep. So long as this silt keeps on accumulating and so long as this antagonism lasts, it is unnatural to expect this antipathy between Hindus and Muslims to give place to unity. [40]

Justifications by Muslim leaders

Muhammad Iqbal Pic iqbal 23.jpg
Muhammad Iqbal

Muhammad Iqbal's statement explaining the attitude of Muslim delegates to the London round-table conference issued in December 1933 was a rejoinder to Jawaharlal Nehru's statement. Nehru had said that the attitude of the Muslim delegation was based on "reactionarism". Iqbal concluded his rejoinder with:

In conclusion, I must put a straight question to Pandit Jawaharlal, how is India's problem to be solved if the majority community will neither concede the minimum safeguards necessary for the protection of a minority of 80 million people, nor accept the award of a third party; but continue to talk of a kind of nationalism which works out only to its own benefit? This position can admit of only two alternatives. Either the Indian majority community will have to accept for itself the permanent position of an agent of British imperialism in the East, or the country will have to be redistributed on a basis of religious, historical and cultural affinities so as to do away with the question of electorates and the communal problem in its present form.


In Muhammad Ali Jinnah's All India Muslim League presidential address delivered in Lahore, on 22 March 1940, he explained:

It is extremely difficult to appreciate why our Hindu friends fail to understand the real nature of Islam and Hinduism. They are not religions in the strict sense of the word, but are, in fact, different and distinct social orders, and it is a dream that the Hindus and Muslims can ever evolve a common nationality, and this misconception of one Indian nation has troubles and will lead India to destruction if we fail to revise our notions in time. The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, litterateurs. They neither intermarry nor interdine together and, indeed, they belong to two different civilizations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. Their aspect on life and of life are different. It is quite clear that Hindus and Mussalmans derive their inspiration from different sources of history. They have different epics, different heroes, and different episodes. Very often the hero of one is a foe of the other and, likewise, their victories and defeats overlap. To yoke together two such nations under a single state, one as a numerical minority and the other as a majority, must lead to growing discontent and final destruction of any fabric that may be so built for the government of such a state.


In 1944, Jinnah said:

We maintain and hold that Muslims and Hindus are two major nations by any definition or test of a nation. We are a nation of hundred million and what is more, we are a nation with our own distinctive culture and civilization, language and literature, art and architecture, names and nomenclature, sense of values and proportions, legal laws and moral codes, customs and calendar, history and tradition, and aptitude and ambitions. In short, we have our own outlook on life and of life.

In an interview with the British journalist Beverley Nichols, he said in 1943:

Islam is not only a religious doctrine but also a realistic code of conduct in terms of every day and everything important in life: our history, our laws and our jurisprudence. In all these things, our outlook is not only fundamentally different but also opposed to Hindus. There is nothing in life that links us together. Our names, clothes, food, festivals, and rituals, all are different. Our economic life, our educational ideas, treatment of women, attitude towards animals, and humanitarian considerations, all are very different.

In May 1947, he had an entirely different line when he told Mountbatten, who was in charge of British India's transition to independence:

Your Excellency doesn't understand that the Punjab is a nation. Bengal is a nation. A man is a Punjabi or a Bengali first before he is a Hindu or a Muslim. If you give us those provinces you must, under no condition, partition them. You will destroy their viability and cause endless bloodshed and trouble.

Mountbatten replied:

Yes, of course. A man is not only a Punjabi or a Bengali before he is a Muslim or Hindu, but he is an Indian before all else. What you're saying is the perfect, absolute answer I've been looking for. You've presented me the arguments to keep India united.

Savarkar's ideas on "two nations"

Though Savarkar was proponent of two nation theory, he never expressed the idea of dividing the India. He was in proponent to create two different states for Muslims and Hindus [43] .

According to Ambedkar Savarkar's idea of "two nations" did not translate into two separate countries. B. R. Ambedkar summarised Savarkar's position thus:

Mr. Savarkar... insists that, although there are two nations in India, India shall not be divided into two parts, one for Muslims and the other for the Hindus; that the two nations shall dwell in one country and shall live under the mantle of one single constitution;... In the struggle for political power between the two nations the rule of the game which Mr. Savarkar prescribes is to be one man one vote, be the man Hindu or Muslim. In his scheme a Muslim is to have no advantage which a Hindu does not have. Minority is to be no justification for privilege and majority is to be no ground for penalty. The State will guarantee the Muslims any defined measure of political power in the form of Muslim religion and Muslim culture. But the State will not guarantee secured seats in the Legislature or in the Administration and, if such guarantee is insisted upon by the Muslims, such guaranteed quota is not to exceed their proportion to the general population. [39]

But Ambedkar also expressed his surprise at the agreement between Savarkar and Jinnah regarding two nation for Hindus and Muslims, however noticed both were different in implementation

“Strange as it may appear, Mr. Savarkar and Mr. Jinnah, instead of being opposed to each other on the one nation versus two nations issue, are in complete agreement about it. Both agree, not only agree but insist, that there are two nations in India—one the Muslim nation and the other the Hindu nation. They differ only as regards the terms and conditions on which the two nations should live. Mr. Jinnah says India should be cut up into two, Pakistan and Hindustan, the Muslim nation to occupy Pakistan and the Hindu nation to occupy Hindustan. Mr. Savarkar on the other hand insists that, although there are two nations in India, India shall not be divided into two parts, one for Muslims and the other for the Hindus; that the two nations shall dwell in one country and shall live under the mantle of one single constitution; that the constitution shall be such that the Hindu nation will be enabled to occupy a predominant position that is due to it and the Muslim nation made to live in the position of subordinate co-operation with the Hindu nation.” [44]

On 1943 Savarkar himself expressed his strong support for Jinnah's demand for separate nation for Muslims before partition.On August 15 1943 in Nagpur, he unequivocally said :

"I have no quarrel with Mr Jinnah's two-nation theory. We, Hindus, are a nation by ourselves and it is a historical fact that Hindus and Muslims are two nations." [45]

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan's opposition to the partition of India

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as "Frontier Gandhi" or "Sarhadi Gandhi", was not convinced by the two-nation theory and wanted a single united India as home for both Hindus and Muslims. He was from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, in present-day Pakistan. He believed that the partition would be harmful to the Muslims of the subcontinent. After partition, following a majority of the NWFP voters going for Pakistan in a popular referendum, Ghaffar Khan "resigned himself to their choice and took an oath of allegiance to the new country on 23 February 1948 during the first session of the Consitituent Assembly", and his second son, Wali Khan, "played by the rules of the political system" as well. [46]

Gandhi's view

Gandhi was against the division of India on the basis of religion. He once wrote:

I find no parallel in history for a body of converts and their descendants claiming to be a nation apart from the parent stock. [47] [48] [49] [50] [51]

To this, Jinnah replied:

...we are a nation with our own distinctive culture and civilization, language and literature, art and architecture, names and nomenclature, sense of value and proportion, legal laws and moral codes, customs and calendars, history and traditions, outlook, aptitudes and ambitions ; in short we have our own distinctive outlook on life and of life. [52]

View of the Ulama

The two nation theory was opposed by the Deobandi scholars, a departure from the position of their predecessors Shah Waliullah, Syed Ahmed and Muhammad Ismail. The principal of Darul Ulum Deoband, Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madni, not only opposed the two nation theory but sought to redefine Indian Muslim nationhood. He advocated Indian nationalism, believing that nations in modern times were formed on the basis of land, culture, and history. [53] He and other leading Deobandi ulama endorsed territorial nationalism, arguing that Islam permitted it. [54] Despite opposition from most Deobandi scholars, Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi and Mufti Muhammad Shafi instead opted to justify the two nation theory and concept of Pakistan. [55] [56] Likewise, the Barelwi ulama supporting the Muslim League and its Pakistan demand, argued that befriending 'unbelievers' was forbidden in Islam. [54]

Post-partition debate

Since the partition, the theory has been subjected to animated debates and different interpretations on several grounds. In his memoirs entitled Pathway to Pakistan (1961), Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman, the first president of the Pakistan Muslim League, has written: "The two-nation theory, which we had used in the fight for Pakistan, had created not only bad blood against the Muslims of the minority provinces, but also an ideological wedge, between them and the Hindus of India.". [57] He further wrote: "He (Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy) doubted the utility of the two-nation theory, which to my mind also had never paid any dividends to us, but after the partition, it proved positively injurious to the Muslims of India, and on a long-view basis for Muslims everywhere." [58]

According to Khaliquzzaman, on 1 August 1947, Jinnah invited the Muslim League members of India's constituent assembly to a farewell meeting at his Delhi house.

Mr. Rizwanullah put some awkward questions concerning the position of Muslims, who would be left over in India, their status and their future. I had never before found Mr. Jinnah so disconcerted as on that occasion, probably because he was realizing then quite vividly what was immediately in store for the Muslims. Finding the situation awkward, I asked my friends and colleagues to the end the discussion. I believe as a result of our farewell meeting, Mr. Jinnah took the earliest opportunity to bid goodbye to his two-nation theory in his speech on 11 August 1947 as the governor general-designate and President of the constituent assembly of Pakistan.


In his 11 August 1947 speech, Jinnah had spoken of composite Pakistani nationalism, effectively negating the faith-based nationalism that he had advocated in his speech of 22 March 1940. In his 11 August speech, he said that non-Muslims would be equal citizens of Pakistan and that there would be no discrimination against them. "You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state." On the other hand, far from being an ideological point (transition from faith-based to composite nationalism), it was mainly tactical : Dilip Hiro says that "extracts of this speech were widely disseminated" in order to abort the communal violence in Punjab and the NWFP, where Muslims and Sikhs-Hindus were butchering each other and which greatly disturbed Jinnah on a personal level, but "the tactic had little, if any, impact on the horrendous barbarity that was being perpetuated on the plains of Punjab." [60] Another Indian scholar, Venkat Dhulipala, who in his book Creating a New Medina precisely shows that Pakistan was meant to be a new Medina, an Islamic state, and not only a State for Muslims, so it was meant to be ideological from the beginning with no space for composite nationalism, in an interview also says that the speech "was made primarily keeping in mind the tremendous violence that was going on", that it was "directed at protecting Muslims from even greater violence in areas where they were vulnerable", "it was pragmatism", and to vindicate this, the historian goes on to say that "after all, a few months later, when asked to open the doors of the Muslim League to all Pakistanis irrespective of their religion or creed, the same Jinnah refused saying that Pakistan was not ready for it." [61]

The theory has faced scepticism because Muslims did not entirely separate from Hindus and about one-third of all Muslims continued to live in post-partition India as Indian citizens alongside a much larger Hindu majority. [62] [63] The subsequent partition of Pakistan itself into the present-day nations of Pakistan and Bangladesh was cited as proof both that Muslims did not constitute one nation and that religion alone was not a defining factor for nationhood. [62] [63] [64] [65] [66]

Impact of the creation of Bangladesh in 1971

Some historians have claimed that the theory was a creation of a few Muslim intellectuals. [67] Prominent Pakistani politician Altaf Hussain of Muttahida Qaumi Movement believes history has proved the two-nation theory wrong. [68] He contended, "The idea of Pakistan was dead at its inception, when the majority of Muslims (in Muslim-minority areas of India) chose to stay back after partition, a truism reiterated in the creation of Bangladesh in 1971". [69] Canadian writer Tarek Fatah termed the two-nation theory as "absurd". [70]

Prominent political commentator Irfan Husain, in his column in Dawn, observed that it has now become an "impossible and exceedingly boring task of defending a defunct theory". [71] However some Pakistanis, including a retired Pakistani brigadier, Shaukat Qadir, believe that the theory could only be disproved with the reunification of independent Bangladesh, and Republic of India. [72]

According to Sharif al Mujahid, arguably the preeminent authority on Jinnah in Pakistan, the two-nation theory was relevant only in the pre-1947 subcontinental context. [73] [ full citation needed ] He is of the opinion that the creation of Pakistan rendered it obsolete because the two nations had transformed themselves into Indian and Pakistani nations. [74] [ full citation needed ] The columnist Muqtida Mansoor has quoted Farooq Sattar, a prominent leader of the MQM, as saying that his party did not accept the two-nation theory. "Even if there was such a theory, it has sunk in the Bay of Bengal." [75] [ full citation needed ]

On the other hand, Salman Sayyid says that 1971 is not so much the failure of the two-nation theory and the advent of an united Islamic polity despite ethnic and cultural difference, but more so the defeat of "a Westphalian-style nation-state with its insistence on linguistic, cultural and ethnic homogeneity as necessary for high ‘sociopolitical cohesion’. The break-up of united Pakistan should be seen as another failure of this Westphalian-inspired Kemalist model of nation building, rather than an illustration of the inability of Muslim political identity to sustain a unified state structure." [76]

Some Bangladesh academics have rejected the notion that 1971 erased the legitimacy of the two-nation theory as well, like Akhand Akhtar Hossain, who thus notes that, after independence, "Bengali ethnicity soon lost influence as a marker of identity for the country’s majority population, their Muslim identity regaining prominence and differentiating them from the Hindus of West Bengal", [77] or Taj ul-Islam Hashmi, who says that Islam came back to Bangladeshi politics in August 1975, as the death of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman "brought Islam-oriented state ideology by shunning secularism and socialism", while he quotes an Indian Bengali journalist, Basant Chatterjee, who also rebukes the idea of the failure of two-nation theory, saying that, had it happened, Muslim-majority Bangladesh would have joined Hindu-majority West Bengal in India. [78]

Late veteran Indian diplomat J. N. Dixit thought the same, stating that Bangladeshis "wanted to emerge not only as an independent Bengali country, but as an independent Bengali Muslim country. In this they proved the British Viceroy Lord George Curzon (1899-1905) correct. His partition of Bengal in 1905 creating two provinces, one with a Muslim majority and the other with a Hindu majority, seems to have been confirmed by Bangladesh's emergence as a Muslim state. So one should not be carried away by the claim of the two-nation theory having been disproved." [79] Dixit also brings an anecdote, during Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's to Dhaka, Bangladesh, in July 1974, after Sheikh Mujibur Rahman went to Pakistan for Islamic summit in Lahore few months earlier, in February 1974 : "As the motorcade moved out, Mujib's car was decorated with garlands of chappals and anti-Awami League slogans were shouted together with slogans such as: "Bhutto Zindabad", and "Bangladesh-Pakistan Friendship Zindabad"." He opines that Bhutto's aim was "to revive the Islamic consciousness in Bangladesh" and "India might have created Bangladesh, but he would see that India would have to deal with not one, but two Pakistans, one in the west and another in the east." [80]

Ethnic and provincial groups in Pakistan

Several ethnic and provincial leaders in Pakistan also began to use the term "nation" to describe their provinces and argued that their very existence was threatened by the concept of amalgamation into a Pakistani nation on the basis that Muslims were one nation. [81] [82] It has also been alleged that the idea that Islam is the basis of nationhood embroils Pakistan too deeply in the affairs of other predominantly Muslim states and regions, prevents the emergence of a unique sense of Pakistani nationhood that is independent of reference to India, and encourages the growth of a fundamentalist culture in the country. [83] [84] [85]

Also, because partition divided Indian Muslims into three groups (of roughly 150 million people each in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) instead of forming a single community inside a united India that would have numbered about 450 million people in 2010 and potentially exercised great influence over the entire subcontinent, the two-nation theory is sometimes alleged to have ultimately weakened the position of Muslims on the subcontinent and resulted in large-scale territorial shrinkage or skewing for cultural aspects that became associated with Muslims (e.g., the decline of Urdu language in India). [86] [87]

This criticism has received a mixed response in Pakistan. A poll conducted by Gallup Pakistan in 2011 shows that an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis held the view that separation from India was justified in 1947. [88] Pakistani commentators have contended that two nations did not necessarily imply two states, and the fact that Bangladesh did not merge into India after separating from Pakistan supports the two nation theory. [89] [72]

Others have stated that the theory is still valid despite the still-extant Muslim minority in India, and asserted variously that Indian Muslims have been "Hinduized" (i.e., lost much of their Muslim identity due to assimilation into Hindu culture), or that they are treated as an excluded or alien group by an allegedly Hindu-dominated India. [90] Factors such as lower literacy and education levels among Indian Muslims as compared to Indian Hindus, longstanding cultural differences, and outbreaks of religious violence such as those occurring during the 2002 Gujarat riots in India are cited. [2]

Pan-Islamic identity

The emergence of a sense of identity that is pan-Islamic rather than Pakistani has been defended as consistent with the founding ideology of Pakistan and the concept that "Islam itself is a nationality," despite the commonly held notion of "nationality, to Muslims, is like idol worship." [91] [92] While some have emphasised that promoting the primacy of a pan-Islamic identity (over all other identities) is essential to maintaining a distinctiveness from India and preventing national "collapse", others have argued that the Two Nation Theory has served its purpose in "midwifing" Pakistan into existence and should now be discarded to allow Pakistan to emerge as a normal nation-state. [84] [93]

Post-partition perspectives in India

In post-independence India, the two-nation theory has helped advance the cause of groups seeking to identify a "Hindu national culture" as the core identification of an Indian.[ citation needed ] This allows the acknowledgement of the common ethnicity of Hindus and Muslims while requiring that all adopt a Hindu identity to be truly Indian. From the Hindu nationalist perspective, this concedes the ethnic reality that Indian Muslims are "flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood" but still presses for an officially recognized equation of national and religious identity, i.e., that "an Indian is a Hindu." [94]

The theory and the very existence of Pakistan has caused Indian far-right extremist groups to allege that Indian Muslims "cannot be loyal citizens of India" or any other non-Muslim nation, and are "always capable and ready to perform traitorous acts". [95] [96] Constitutionally, India rejects the two-nation theory and regards Indian Muslims as equal citizens. [97] From the official Indian perspective, the partition is regarded as a tactical necessity to rid the subcontinent of British rule rather than denoting acceptance of the theory. [97] [98]

See also

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