Thursday, February 12, 2009

Excerpt Of The Day

This is from Yasmin Khan's The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan, which I am getting through at the rate of about a chapter every fortnight (not because it's densely written - quite the contrary - but because I do not have time nowadays to read for fun). In this excerpt, she describes the nebulous nature of the demand for Pakistan.
Crucially, though, anti-Congress feeling and heartfelt support for Jinnah and the League did not necessarily translate into support for Pakistan as we know it today with its current borders and boundaries. The Lahore Resolution, passed at the annual Muslim League meeting on 23 March 1940 and identified by Pakistanis as the foundation stone for their state, is not much of a guide. It pinpointed the Muslim desire for a more loosely federated state structure, calling for a collection of independent states with autonomy and sovereignty. There was a lack of knowledge or concern about Pakistan's actual territorial limits. Jinnah himself seems to have prevaricated in his understanding of Pakistan as a separate, sovereign nation state distinct from India. It seems more likely, in the early days of the constitutional negotiations, at least, that he was rallying his supporters to extract the best possible deal from the British for the League, and would have settled for a federal solution if it guaranteed a firm element of deceantralised power in the hands of Muslims.

This, of course, is the Ayesha Jalal hypothesis made in the The Sole Spokesman (indeed, Khan footnotes Jalal on this point): that Jinnah would have been quite happy without an independent Pakistan, and that the "demand" for Pakistan was a mere bargaining tool. By the way, a quick side note on Jalal: anyone who can piss off both Indian and Pakistani nationalists to the extent that she did with her work automatically earns my favor. Anyway, Khan goes on in the next paragraph:
This ambuigity [i.e. that of Pakistan's actual political and territorial status once the British left] was convenient. Jinnah was facing the problem of welding together diverse constituents, many of whom read into the Pakistan demands their own local interpretations or seized upon the League as a vehicle for their own regional campaigns. The issue of territory was repeatedly fudged...Pakistan was an imaginary, nationalistic dream as well as a cold territorial reality.

Liars! That's not what I learned in Pak Studies for O-Levels!

Anyway, as I've said before, the problem of "welding together diverse constituents" each with diverse interests resulted in Urdu and Islam being used as binding ropes to tie the nation state together. You can judge the efficacy and sageness of such efforts for yourself.


Rabia said...

I've never read Ayesha Jalal's stuff, but the interesting thing about her theory is that I've noticed it being used by a lot of second and third gen. Pakistani nationalists as a way to reconstruct the idea of Pakistan without the TNT. (like the folks over at would be a good example).

Apparently there's recently been a whole debate b/w various Urdu columnists about Jalal's work.

Ahsan said...


You should definitely read her work. Start with "Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia". Brilliant book.

Anonymous said...

I have read both the books of Ayesha Jalal and Yasmin Khan’s book, ‘The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan'. Yashmin Khan’s book brought back memories of my grandparents narrating their experiences during partition, the total confusion during that period, the widespread obliviousness to what Partition would entail in practice, how it would affect the population, how British were in a hurry to run, while the politicians were in an equal hurry to assume power, how disorderly the whole transfer of power was, how ambiguous the meaning of partition was to common people, how uncertain people were about their future, and how unhappy partition turned ugly and messy.

My grandfather, often reminisced about his Muslim friends who went to Pakistan. He firmly believed that Muslims and Hindus alike wanted independence from Britain, but not separate ethnic nationhood. Muslims only wanted more rights within India. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Yasmin khan also reiterated same thing. I fully agree with Yasmin khan that partition needs to be restudied.

My grandfather, who had the opportunity to work with Jinnah for sometime in Bombay always believed that Jinnah never wanted the partition.He always wanted one united India.He only used the threat of 'separate nation' as a political bargaining from Congress. Events forced him to stick with the Pakistan demand. Ayesha Jalal's‘The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah’ just reaffirmed his belief.

Ayesha Jalal's "Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia has demonstrated how military nationalism has undermined democracy in India, and indeed, many Indians are now concerned that the Hindu political parties such as Bharatiya Janata party and Shiv Sena represents a threat to traditional democratic rights. Recent example is Sri Ram Sena's attack on women in pubs and its retaliation in form of popular pink chaddi campaign.

I commend both the historians for giving a new perspective to the south Asian history and partition.Back home, our historians are not interested in history.They are only interested in projecting their ideologies and repeating traditional narratives.

Regarding your comment on how Urdu and Islam has become binding force in Pakistan, I want to say that in some parts of India such as Lucknow, Urdu language (born and nurtured in Lucknow) still plays the role of a significant binding force between both the communities. It has become a symbol of composite culture.

Ahsan said...


The interesting thing is that Urdu is meant to serve as a symbol of composite culture in Pakistan too. The question is: at what cost? Regional languages have been cast aside to serve the interests of Urdu - a language which 7% of Pakistanis spoke as a first language at independence. The '71 civil war also has its roots in the privileging of Urdu over Bengali.

And I agree totally with your castigation of historians in India and Pakistan. They are not interested in scholarship. Those who are must follow their academic dreams outside the country.

Anonymous said...

In India also, non Hindi speakers started anti Hindi agitation especially in south against imposition of Hindi language as national language in India and that’s why we have both English and Hindi as our official languages. In South India, people still prefer to converse with visiting North Indians in English rather than Hindi, which is, ironically, more like a colonial language to speakers of Tamil, Kannada or Malayalam than does English, which has become lingua franca in the South. Recently, we saw the same protest movement in Mumbai against Hindi speakers.

Urdu was spoken only in some parts of north India – Lucknow (city of Nawabs), Aligarh, and Delhi and in Hyderabad (Nizam city) and therefore one can easily understand the resentment. After reading Chapter six – ‘Untangling Two Nations’ of Yasmin Khan's The Great Partition , I learnt that why these significant decisions were taken in haste. It was shocking to discover that Radcliffe, the man who drew the border line had never been to India and how our bewildered leaders were forced to accept this arbitrary border line.

AKS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AKS said...

@ Ahsan

Why are you so fascinated with India anyway? Don't you know we're all descended from Muhammad Bin Qasim? Its really sad when young people disown their heritage. Shame, shame.

@ Anon 1202

"Hindi, which is, ironically, more like a colonial language"

I'm going to steal that thought. It perfectly explains the role of Urdu here in Pakistan.

As for people in South India not speaking Urdu, I can relate to that. In Pakistan my family is classified as 'Urdu speaking,' yet for my grandparents Urdu was a foreign language, one which they could not read or write - to this day my eldest Uncle and Aunts still can't read / write Urdu.

Hades said...

Firstly, a number of people speak of Hindi and Urdu as two separate languages, which is incorrect.

If the speakers of two 'different' languages can understand each other then they are not speaking two different languages. Simple.

Secondly, many here are understating the influence of Hindi (I chose to call it Hindi; you can call it Urdu or even Hindusthani). Hindi is an umbrella language, somewhat of a macrolangauge even. Many of its dialects can be classified as languages in there own right--case in point, Bhojpuri. The Khari Boli dialect is given the seal of the official language in both India and Pakistan.

However, for a quite some time now, Hindusthan (here Hindusthan not equal to India...roughly corresponds to North India, Central India, parts of Eastern India and most of Pak) has accepted Hindi as its lingua franca.

This is a natural development and is not forced. Thus, nobody in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, United Punjab etc will object to the promotion of Khari Boli. The 8% figure that is often quoted for Pakistan is misguiding. Urdu might not be there mother tongue but I doubt anybody would object to it and almost everyone can speak and understand it.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that these chaps don’t like their own dialects/languages—it’s just that they’ve got attuned to being bi-lingual where Hindi is concerned along with their native tongues.

The problem arises when people use force to spread the language beyond its natural frontiers to places where Hindi/Urdu is actually an alien language. Pakistan did it for East Bengal and Lal Bahadur Shastri did it for South India. Widespread rioting forced New Delhi to roll-back this incredibly stupid move. Pakistan did not and, well….

Hades said...


As for people in South India not speaking Urdu, I can relate to that. In Pakistan my family is classified as 'Urdu speaking,' yet for my grandparents Urdu was a foreign language, one which they could not read or write - to this day my eldest Uncle and Aunts still can't read / write Urdu

Yes, knowledge of the script isn't necessarily required for a lingua franca. The issue of not knowing how to read/write a language is quite common on the sub-continent where most people can hardly read/write their mother-tongues let alone a lingua franca.

However, if I'm not wrong, for most Pakis, Hindi would be a language that their Grandpa’s could surely speak in, even if they weren’t regular Ghalibs.

Most South Indians wouldn’t know how to say ‘My name is XXX’ in Hindi even today. Not that there's anything wrong with it but just goes to show that we can't equate Pakistan and S. India on this issue.


Anonymous said...

Hades: I totally agree with you. One of my best friends is a Mallu (Malyali), and when he tries to speak even a single word in hindi such as ' accha' with malyali accent,it is very hard for me to keep a straight face. The funny part is that guy is crazy about Bollywood movies, even though he can't understand a single dialogue.

Aks: I can relate to that. My Nana was always regarded as a refugee in India even though he taught Urdu in one of the premier universities of India.He always remained outsider.

Desi Italiana said...

Another Partition book I recommend is "The Other Side of Silence" by Urvashi Butalia. It is not entirely an academic work, but more of a collection of oral histories.

I remember that when I read Khan's book and this particular line

"Jinnah was facing the problem of welding together diverse constituents,"

I thought how the Indian parties too had to deal with attempting to create a pan Indian identity. That project, I think is still in the works in India-- defining who is Indian, what is Indian, and so on.

In light of India and Pakistan's current problems of territoriality, groups seeking representation through the state, the state repressing certain groups (Balochis in Pakistan, Kashmiris in India, and many others) I wonder if we can learn lessons (both positive and negative) from previous partitions (interestingly, no one really thinks of Nepal in terms of partitions--they too are made up of myriad ethnic and linguistic groups; most of the cohesion was kept together through the monarchy. But there is also a small Madhesi separatist movement in the Tarai. The hope is that with the implementation of a federal democracy in April will give space to everyone and thus blunt partition-like demands).

Anonymous said...

Deshi Italiana, thanks for recommending this book. Someone else has recommended this book and 'Train to Pakistan' by Khushwant Singh.I will check it out. Good luck for the Pink Chaddi campaign (Just peeked into your blog).

AKS said...

Since everyone's recommending a book, I thought I'd join the bandwagon. Moreover, the book has little to do with partition, but whatever.

The book is Shuja Nawaz's Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army and the Wars Within. The book explains the Pakistani Army like no other book I've read on the subject (to be fair there aren't that many books on the subject to begin with).

Desi Italiana said...

"The book explains the Pakistani Army like no other book I've read on the subject (to be fair there aren't that many books on the subject to begin with)."

I've heard that about Military Inc, but I haven't read it.

Another thing that occurred to me while reading this line

"the problem of "welding together diverse constituents" each with diverse interests resulted in Urdu and Islam being used as binding ropes to tie the nation state together"

was how often we forget that this happens in almost every area of the globe, including the so-called "West". In Italy, there are multitudes of diverse people with their own dialects, socio-cultural observations, etc, and yet there was immense resistance especially during WWII w/r/t to the imposition of "standard" Italian, and a general suspicion of a standardized Italy because of the strong feelings of regionalism. Close by, you have the contention of the Basques in Spain. Even here in America, we're constantly cooking up of ways to create a "nation" feeling based on specific political-economic ideologies (capitalism, namely), the English language, and a Euro-centric set of cultural references.

Maybe Pakistan is seen as one of the most obvious examples to us here in the US and those critiques of the "West", but I think this "welding" is indicative of modern nation-states.