Does the creation of Bangladesh prove the two-nation theory wrong?

Published: October 14, 2016
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Those who claim that the two-nation theory has proven to be a failure cite the creation of Bangladesh as an example. PHOTO: PINTEREST.

This article is not a “defence” or repudiation of the two-nation theory (TNT). Rather it tries to critically evaluate the argument that the creation of Bangladesh in fact proved that the two-nation theory was not valid. Those who claim that the two-nation theory has proven to be a failure cite the creation of Bangladesh as an example. It is claimed that ethnic nationalism trumped religion and therefore the two-nation theory has proven to be a failure. I do not intend to prove that the two-nation theory is wrong or right but just evaluate it with reference to the creation of Bangladesh.

Frankly speaking, I am not a history expert and do not claim any command on minute details of partition and its various narratives. However, as a student of political thought and comparative politics, I have often been fascinated by the two-nation theory. Now for someone who calls himself a “Pakistani Indian”, it may appear that I will be a staunch opponent of the “two-nation” theory. The way, it is often interpreted is that Hindus and Muslims are two distinct nations who would have found it impossible to live together and therefore Muslims, who were the minority at that time, would need a separate politically autonomous state. I do oppose this version and I think that it is highly debatable. If being a Muslim is the criteria of a separate state then why stop at India? Why not also include all the Muslims of the world and merge them into one nation state?

We know such a thing is not possible and is in fact laughable. The two-nation theory would start making sense if only we understand the fleeting concept of identity. We are not just Muslims, but also have ethno linguistic identities which at times may be competing with each other and at times complimenting each other. Everything revolves around a complex phenomenon known as identity and in politics that is often the most important factor in mobilisation. Identity itself may be constructed or at times may simply be something you are born with. Moreover, identity may be dormant and can become active. It is when an identity becomes active that political expression follows.

How a particular identity becomes active often depends on the perceived benefits as well as drawbacks associated with it. It also becomes active, if there is a perception that you are being victimised on the basis of that particular identity. Once an identity is activated, it can form various political expressions which range from political mobilisation to asking for greater rights, to outright demands for a separate nation state. What determines the exact form of political expression depends on many things. For example, gender identity can form a political expression but it is not possible (at least, it has not happened) for women to demand a separate country! Demands for equal pay and improved civil rights are expressed largely through civil society and do not aim to change the geographical and administrative structure of a particular country.

On the other hand, ethnic identity can form various political expressions ranging from the formation of political parties on ethnic lines, to demands for a separate state. Ethnic nationalists can demand a separate state particularly when an ethnicity views that it is possible to secede and the secession will lead to a better standard of living and greater rights. The demand for a separate nation state is also hugely dependent on actual geographical dispersion of the population belonging to that ethnicity. If there are geographical concentrations then the demand for secession is more likely compared to a situation where the ethnicity is evenly dispersed all over the country.

Religion, like ethnicity, is an identity though compared to ethnic identity is less “rigid”. It is generally said that religion is merely set of beliefs, but at least in political literature, it has always been considered more than that. In fact, some have gone to the extent of calling religion of birth a form of ethnic identity. Yes, theoretically speaking, it could be changed, but religious identity is powerful, particularly in circumstances where discrimination or perceived discrimination is conducted on religious lines.

Put simply religion can also be an effective political identity, provided certain conditions are there. And like other identities, it can form a political expression of demanding a separate state.

The demand for Pakistan (whether we consider it as an actual demand or a bargaining ploy by Jinnah) was a consequence of an activated political identity. There were incidences which activated the Muslim identity and the Congress is equally responsible for that, as much as the Muslim elites are.

Like ethnicity, religion can be a politically potent factor leading to possible demands of a nation state. In Pakistan’s case Muslims were also concentrated in two geographical zones (present day Pakistan and Bangladesh). While a substantial number was also dispersed all over the country there is no denying of the fact that areas forming West Pakistan (Present day Pakistan) and East Pakistan (Bangladesh) were Muslim majority areas.

It is true that ethnic identity, on its own, is often a stronger motivating factor though at the time of independence there were no mass movements demanding independence on ethnic lines. In fact, if demand for a nation state is only justified on ethnic lines then India itself should have been divided into many parts as there are so many languages spoken there.

Moreover, the term “partition” is misleading because India has rarely been politically a single unit. Throughout its history, there was a loose geographical continuity which has always enabled this land to be called India. Within this geographical unit, there have been various political configurations. The right question is not whether there should have been a “partition” but rather whether the areas coming under present day Pakistan and Bangladesh should have joined Indian federation (as visualised by Congress) or not.

So there were in reality various identities emerging out of the Indian subcontinent. There was a broader Indian identity, religious identities, and ethnic linguistic identities. In other words there have always been nations within a nation. And then there is a concept of hybrid identity. It is not important for many to be just Muslims; relatively they want their religious freedom as well as their ethnic and cultural independence. So I may be Muslim but at the same time I would prefer that my Punjabi cultural freedom is also safeguarded.

When Bengali and Sindhi Muslims voted for Pakistan (after all let’s not forget that these two provinces clearly voted for Pakistan), the idea was not merely preservation of their religious freedom but a combination of both religious as well ethnic/cultural freedoms. Thus when Bengali Muslims (who were also geographically concentrated) voted for the creation of Pakistan, it was also for the preservation of their Bengali identity along with religious identity.

The choice was to join the Indian federation or join Pakistan. Those who voted for Pakistan joined Pakistan with the view that perhaps their ethnic and cultural freedom would be better safeguarded in Pakistan rather than India.

The reason why Bangladesh came into being is less to do with fallacy of the two-nation theory and more with how actually West Pakistan treated East Pakistanis. It is not the idea itself but the way Pakistan tried to over centralise and negate Bengali culture and their ethnic identity. Pakistan superimposed Urdu over Bengali and adopted a policy of sustained repression. Bengalis seceded mainly because of the way we treated them. The discrimination activated the Bengali nationalism and led to secession. But once again it was the hybrid identity of both Islam and Bengali ethnicity which dictated the choice of independence rather than merger with India. What had earlier prompted them to opt for Pakistan, once again led them to become an independent state.

The two-nation theory would have been discarded IF Bengalis had opted to join India in 1971 rather than opting for an independent state.

Personally, I think history is yet to give its verdict about the two-nation theory. We cannot just say that just because Bangladesh came into being therefore it is wrong.

raza.habib

Raza Habib Raja

The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (twitter.com/razaraja?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Vish

    70 years and still stuck on the same record. Get over it. Move on.Recommend

  • Bairooni Haath

    No the creation of Bangladesh does not mean that the two nation theory is wrong, it also means that Baluchistan should be separated from Pakistan as they are a different nation.Recommend

  • madhu

    it would be better to create a big confederation of all south asian states- 1.6 billion people- with pakistan, bangladesh and india ruling as a troika- the capital can shift between the three countries every year- or one new capital built in the center— this way all the people can travel all over the union- work anywhere- and have a suitable name united states of south asia – ussa- or something acceptable to all- the kashmir problem will disappear- because all the entities will have their own state – why are we fighting like cats and dogs- let us live in peace – in a confederation – there will be about 600 million muslims- enough to form a majority party and rule as a PM- think friends- no one will dominate any one- china , japan , usa all can be our friends- no defence budget- whom to fight???- all the money saved can be spent on social causes like education and employment generating schemes- we should have a referendum on this subject all over south asiaRecommend

  • goggi (Lahore)

    Lahori By Birth, Muslim By Chance, Pakistani By Nationality, Hindustani By Soul!Recommend

  • Arsha

    It’s shameful if we believe in such a divisive theory. Before being of any religion we are humans first. I cannot believe in anything which makes such a generalization about millions of people not being able to coexist. That’s undermining humanity and undermining the Creator. I would rather that we try to make this theory irrelevant.Recommend

  • Purna Tripathy

    This theory has more or less been discussed for a very long time in India. if religion in itself was such a strong force why are there so many Arab countries, where islam was borne.Recommend

  • Allah Hafiz

    Two Nation theory is still intact..thats why may be brave pakistani army raped 3 lakh bangladeshis and killed 30 million of them..Recommend

  • Parvez

    If you want to read something both interesting and educational on this subject suggest you read an article on this by Nadeem F. Paracha in DAWN dated 9th Oct. ’16.Recommend

  • shaan

    Does Pakistan belongs to Mars?Recommend

  • Fahim

    Partition of 1947 or 1971 indicates that the two identities (by religion, tribes or language) having different paths and interests can’t be bound by force for long unless one is fool. We have example of south India, Karachi, California and Saraiki belt as examplesRecommend

  • Borough

    Is Bangladesh not predominate muslim country? I don’t see the logic here.Recommend

  • Monkey God

    I forget do hindus not fight with anyone? You could have real point instead of hiding behind pseudo-intellectual and populist hinduvta approach. I guess Statues aren’t talking eh?Recommend

  • Monkey God

    I almost chocked when you thought your insult ridden post has more merits than PHD candidate. Ignorance, polemics and deniability. 3 qualities of Hindu troll.

    Ignore India, insert Pakistan criticism and when refuted play dumb and try again.Recommend

  • Monkey God

    I’m sure Christians would be happy, now RSS and VHP would have bigger free pass to attack churches. No mention of common law of beef ban being applicable to all religious, despite grunts of secularism. Let’s see if his response is subjective or objective?Recommend

  • Sane

    Why you use fake name. Also tell how much you are paid for each comment.Recommend

  • Raj UK

    Sorry, bhai. We in the UK, have moved on from backward idealogy.Recommend

  • Raj UK

    Haha, India is so much betterRecommend

  • Haresh

    So everyone has hate Pakistan to be Indian? Please, go comment elsewhere.Recommend

  • Monkey God

    Great argument, neither relevant on the topic nor does argue anything I said. Still waiting why you’re having muslim name and claiming to be hindu?Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Indians and Arabs are Human Beings. We can compare.Recommend

  • Bav

    Is there any point refuting someone with facts when he doesn’t have any himself neither can stay on topic.Recommend

  • Normo

    Nice save, where is the India comment?Recommend

  • Normo

    Is this your “facts” now? Recommend

  • Normo

    Thanks for proving, you don’t have a point.Recommend

  • Normo

    Is there censor system? It’s pointless debating. It’s nice way to distract topics like he’s done about India but it’s not much merit.Recommend

  • Fez

    Refute me where you said anything factual?Recommend

  • Fez

    India is stated where?Recommend

  • Fez

    I’d take him.Recommend

  • Fez

    So you would, and?Recommend

  • Fez

    Sure, why don’t we accuse people of something we don’t agree with?Recommend

  • Fez

    Why do you think anyone believes you?Recommend

  • Fez

    So eat beefRecommend

  • Raj UK

    No, culturally they are different. So, no.Recommend

  • Monkey God

    Babri Mosque and Orissa.Recommend

  • Zen

    Sorry, Hinduvta ideology includes Sikhs. I’m still waiting for Muslim or Christian PM, then talk about beacon of peace.Recommend

  • Priya Patel

    Pro-Science, who is writing opinionated drivel. Please I don’t appreciate the vulgar taunts.Recommend

  • Haresh

    Personal opinion, nothing factually except your admission. Please talk when you have point that’s more than “I think”Recommend

  • Raj UK

    That’s no secularism, meaning appeasing HIndu community? LOOL.Recommend

  • Raj UK

    Is Muslim and Hindu beliefs mutually exclusive together?Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    In a truly secular environment, that shouldn’t matter.Recommend

  • Sane

    These pages are full of PAID Indian commentators. They have one motive only irrespective to the subject express hatred against Muslims and Pakistan. Their comments are not independent views of individuals.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Culturally everyone Indian is different from the other. India has 23 officially recognized languages, dozens of dance forms, musical traditions, cuisines, customs, festivals based on region. Yet, we talk of India and Indians and compare each other, amongst ourselves.
    You and I speak different languages at home, practice different customs and traditions, yet we compare and contrast India and Pakistan.
    What a lousy argument.Recommend

  • Alucard

    And? How does it make Arab culture same as Indian?Recommend

  • Alucard

    “non-majority community to the highest office?”

    Please keep changing the topic.Recommend

  • Alucard

    Does mention her gender have some relevance to the topic? So why can’t you both be wrong then? Priya plagarise your argument and used your own logic against you. Now you’re crying.Recommend

  • Alucard

    Lying again. Where did anyone say anything about banning dog meat is secular? If anything you’ve proven liar, you don’t believe in secularism.Recommend

  • Skip

    Then answer his point first, do Hindus fight with anyone?Recommend

  • Skip

    So occupying a mosque is fine? How civilised. I think people can prove you pseudo-intellectual nonsense with your biased mindgames. One question what you’re trying to hide here? One of argument is “who cares”, gosh.Recommend

  • Skip

    Majority of Indians are Hindu, so what value is this? Muslims laws are implicit and the other is explicit. Saying “so what ” isn’t legitimate argument it’s an opinion. Raj didn’t say anything about secularism you did? You lied about secularist views.Recommend

  • Skip

    You said highest office, none of this position are higher than PM. You’ve lied more than once here, you’re using dishonest logic.Recommend

  • Skip

    Speak for yourself, being slightly different and entirely different are two thing. Another point of dishonesty.Recommend

  • Skip

    You should know, I guess. I want to see to proof too. You said for PHd, stop trying to run awayRecommend

  • Aza

    We should compare you to Masai tribe then. Recommend

  • Nickle

    “Please come up with cogent arguments than personal attacks without any basis.”
    “What a lousy argument.”
    LOLRecommend

  • Nickle

    “which has elected a person from non-majority community to the highest office?”
    “How conveniently you changed your stance.”

    LOOOLRecommend

  • Nickle

    “A majority of Indians oppose killing of the Cow, hence the ban.”

    LOLRecommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Hindus have always been fighting for their rights. Mahatma and his followers have led the way.
    A very inconsequential number of people have taken the violent means and done some pretty terrible things. But, Hindus have always protected its minorities. No where in the world can an Ahmadi call himself a Muslim without fear of repercussion. Same with Shias. Only because of Hindus can a Sikh become the PM of India.
    If you take 1.3 Billion Indians and 1.4 Billion Muslims, you have a handful of violent incidences in India against its minorities. But, plenty of them in the Muslim societies.
    Taken in that perspective, you can say Hindus are way tolerant than any other Religion in the world or cultural group in the past 70 years.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Yes, Christians were forced. As I said, India is 1/6th of Humanity. When you compare it to groups which are equal in size, India and Hindus can be considered very peaceful.
    A handful of Christians were converted in a country with a Billion Hindus. How many Yazidis were butchered recently in Syria? An entire population wiped out.
    1 Billion Hindus vs 1.4 Billion Muslims. You have, what, few Christians converted, on the other hand we have hundreds of Yazidis killed and raped. They community is on the verge of extinctions.
    Lets not forget the brutalities on the Ahmadis in Pakistan. You have a Passport I’m sure(my assumption is you are a Pakistani), which means you have actively discriminated against a minority group. Your hands have the blood of Ahmadis. I can proudly say as an Indian citizen, I’ve not discriminated against any of my peoples.
    In perspective, Hindus are way more tolerant and progressive. That is why nobody in the world fears us, including Muslims.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    What is your point? Please explain.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    I’ve already explained my position in detail. Please tell me how banning Beef is anti-any Religion. I have dared you guys to quote from the Koran or Bible supporting Beef consumption, which you guys have been unable to do. If its not harming any Religions, how is it not secular?
    You guys just want to pick a fight over trivial issues.
    There are 1.6 Billion Muslims says Wikipedia and PEW Forums. 1.3 Billion Indians. Comparable isn’t it.
    How are the wars responsible for the lack of rights of non-Muslims in ME? Shias and Sunnis have been killing each other for centuries!
    When you guys were supporting Khalistan, you said Sikhs were different and needed their own country. After Hindus appointed a Sikh to lead the country for a decade, you realize how uninformed your thought process was. Since, your ego doesn’t let you say anything positive about Hindus, you now are saying Sikhs are same as Hindus.
    Muslims and Christians enjoy full rights under the Indian constitution. Eating Beef is not a right, nor an obligation for a Muslim or a Christian. I’ve asked you lot to quote the Koran and Bible before. Please admit you were wrong and raking up issues which don’t exist. Recommend

  • Rapido

    No, they are different laws and legal stature. Again, the point was about rights.Recommend

  • Rapido

    I thought it meant your family.Recommend

  • Rapido

    Did you not read about Dog meat not being common? Recommend

  • Rapido

    If you need to bring countries who are war. Why not compare Africa with poverty, civil war and crime then? India is better there. Recommend

  • Rapido

    So Sonia Ghandi was the PM of India?Recommend

  • Rapido

    Now he’s lady is respectful, calling people by their gender isn’t sexism to him. What shameless liar, he decided what’s offensive to others? Recommend

  • J.

    No such thing as historical rights in secularismRecommend

  • J.

    Cholestrol isn’t deadly as dog meat, try again. Comparing a pet and farm animal is funny. You don’t have point, dog meat is weakest argument to justify beef ban.Recommend

  • J.

    Psudo-intellectualism, I see. You theory is unsubstantiated. Beside should we trust any facts from hardcore Hindu who lied about his secularist position.Recommend

  • J.

    I mean why bring her gender up. If I did this is at my office I would be sacked for sexual discrimination. Recommend

  • J.

    Democracy also means rights of minorities aren’t infringed which would require vote bank.Recommend

  • J.

    There’s plenty, try again.Recommend

  • J.

    Burqa isn’t standard costume, in Muslim countries. It proves you don’t know what you’re arguing on.Recommend

  • J.

    You don’t know the meaning of secular. No one said anything about religion but on rights. Odd, argument for someone who claims to be arguing on facts.

    If you lied on facts, how do you know the truth? Not really compared. ME is a region, not a country. Try again.

    Beef eating is right under freedom. No mentioned religion, only you did because you’re desperate.Recommend

  • Hort

    Haha, so there’s no secularism then? lol.Recommend

  • Hort

    Again doesn’t make sense, you comparing a countries to one.Recommend

  • Hort

    It’s a mosque, secularism doesn’t care about your delusional. Either your secular or your religious? Which would mean India isn’t peaceful.Recommend

  • Hort

    Eating beef is a right of an individual.Recommend

  • Hort

    Because India would look bad there.Recommend

  • Rapido

    Usual denialism.Recommend

  • Rapido

    Doesn’t say anything about wildly eaten in the entire world? Again lying.Recommend

  • Alucard

    It’s fantasy, India had the largest leather industry in the world.Recommend

  • Rapido

    Majority of India is hindus who wouldn’t consume meat for religious reason. Again, dog meat isn’t wildly consumed. Why do you keep using dishonest logic?Recommend

  • Rapido

    So do explain how Beef banning has nothing to do with Hinduism then? Waiting.Recommend

  • Al.

    What a liar. Dog meat isn’t wildly consumed aside from a few countries. Beef is eaten nearly, everywhere in the world. Why do you keep lying?Recommend

  • Rapido

    Beef isn’t poisonous, Dog meat can be. If health is first, then Mcdonald’s should be banned first. Please you’re argument is stupid and unbalanced. It’s not the samething.Recommend

  • Rapido

    Right to Freedom. Why do you keep lying?Recommend

  • Raj UK

    Thanks for proving, India rules are backwards. It would be human right for beef eating which overlooks India’s subpar regressive laws.Recommend

  • J.

    Cow isn’t a pet, where did you make this up? No one keeps them in their house, takes them to walk. How pathetic are you?Recommend

  • Rapido

    You don’t, since your argument are opinionated.Recommend

  • Monkey God

    How many times does have repeat this? To get through your head. Can you even read? Your so desperate, now you’re saying beef is healthy then you don’t bring any comparative arguments. Recommend

  • Rapido

    I’m not Pakistani, how desperate lie from someone says he doesn’t stoop to insults. PM has the most authority, not absolute. Indians school must lacking in details.Recommend

  • Rapido

    You have take an oath before you can be PM. My point still stands. try again, with something else desperate.Recommend

  • Rapido

    You first.Recommend

  • Rapido

    Why do you keep lying? Why is beef banned then? You already said it hurts Hindus. Stop lying.Recommend

  • Skip

    But there’s common theme, so comparing isn’t the same.Recommend

  • Skip

    Does everyone have to agree with Hindus then?Recommend

  • Skip

    Not understanding my point doesn’t make me ignorant. You comprehension retard. Says the guy who doesn’t understand secularism and beef banning. PM has full authority, please check. It’s equivalent to President in US.Recommend

  • Baristor

    Present, I didn’t even say president?Recommend

  • Zen

    Common sense says otherwise. Still waiting for explanation why you brought her gender up in this debate when it neither relevant or appropriate?Recommend