Friday, 16 August 2013

Two-Muslim Theory: Part 2

... continued from previous posting ...

Changing the Narrative

Nawabzada Liaqat Ali Khan was was born in 1895 to a Muslim aristocrat family whose jagir started at the eastern edge of Punjab (now Haryana) and stretched into Uttar Pradesh. His family had cordial relations with the British. His grandfather extended support to the British during the hard times of 1857 and his father earned many titles and honours.

Liaqat Ali went to Aligarh and then to Oxford. On his return from London in 1923, he joined Muslim League. He contested his first elections in 1926 on a seat reserved for Muslims in the UP Assembly (Muzaffarnagar constituency) and comfortably won. He grew into an eloquent parliamentarian, pleading mostly for the causes of Muslim landlords who were a minority in that province.

He became one of the most important members of the Muslim League's vanguard. Nawabzada is, in fact, credited to have convinced a dejected and disappointed Muhammad Ali Jinnah to end his 'self-imposed exile' in London and lead the movement for a separate homeland for Muslims. Liaqat Ali Khan was made the General Secretary of the Muslim League in 1936.

The party's parliamentary committee did not award him the ticket for the 1936 elections for his home constituency which he valued highly. Despite holding a high office in the Muslim League, he contested as an independent from his home constituency and faced criticism of fellow party men.

He contested the 1946 elections for the Central Legislative Assembly on the Muslim seat of Meerut in Uttar Pradesh. Following this victory, Liaqat Ali won a place in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan and at independence was made the first Prime Minister with the additional charge of Foreign Affairs and Commonwealth Relations and Defense. He remained the longest serving prime minister until Yousuf Raza Gilani exceeded him by a few weeks recently.

Prime Minister Liaqat Ali is accredited with a number of ground breaking contributions. He decided to ally with the US in the Cold War divide; quashed a coup attempt by communists; promoted General Ayub to the highest rank and fought a war with India over Kashmir to name just a select few. His government ruled on ad hoc basis under temporary laws as it could not formulate and build a consensus on a constitution for the country.

Reasons were simple. They could not dig out a monarchy to rule the country nor could they install a Caliph. The constitution had to be based on democracy. But the problem was that Meerut was now in India. The most powerful Prime Minister serving for one of the longest periods in the history of Pakistan had no constituency in the country to contest elections from. A committed democrat and an active parliamentarian, he  knew well that he and his political class had no, or at best a very shaky, future under a democracy. In contrast, Bacha Khan's was a completely secure political position. It was impossible to democratically uproot him from his constituency. He had voters, volunteers and diehard loyalists.

The ad hoc powers were thus used to change the rules of the game. Six months after the death of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan moved the Objective Resolution in the Constituent Assembly that introduced Islam as the raison d'être of the new country. Religion was pitched against linguistic and cultural identity and faith was made to rival political interests. Those loving their culture, defending their language and demanding their democratic and political rights on these grounds became heretics conspiring against the last citadel of Islam in the Subcontinent. Ideological boundaries of the country became more important than the limits of electoral constituencies and principles of democracy were contrasted to injunctions of Islam as defined by a selected ulema.

Bacha Khan who enjoyed a hard earned and unflinching popular support in a vast constituency went down in official gazettes as an anti-Pakistan traitor. Red Shirts were hounded and hunted. Politicians were jailed and elections were rigged.

By declaring the entire country as one constituency and setting ones perceived Islamic credentials as the only qualification, Liaqat Ali Khan tried to create a constituency for his class – the politically insecure Muslim elite that had migrated from the Muslim minority provinces of India. But ironically, they could not sustain their hold on this constituency for long. Within a decade they were outdone by the Army in the game they had pioneered. They were declared incapable of defending the citadel of Islam. The army took over the 'responsibility' of keeping the country united in the name of Islam and secure from the conspirators who had strong democratic constituencies in the country.

The army did not feel the need to redraft the national narrative that was scripted in those initial years. It was found to be in perfect harmony with the Army's own scheme to block or cripple democracy and sustain its direct or indirect rule for decades to come. The narrative persists with all its detail and corollaries and insists on its refusal to recognise Bacha Khan as a great national hero.

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