23rd March: A Romantic Narrative or an Ideological Conundrum?

23rd March: A Romantic Narrative or an Ideological Conundrum?

The 23rd of March marks the day when Pakistan as an ideology came into existence. It was the day when the political rhetoric of the first ideological Muslim state became the official axiom of the Muslim league.

Historically, Muslim League emerged as the sole Muslim representative party after the famous 1940 jalsa in Lahore, claiming to be the only chance of liberty and freedom for the Muslims of the subcontinent. Deriving its ideological framework from the two-nation theory, it believed that the Muslims of India had to fight for political, social, and economic parity once the inevitable retreat of the British from the subcontinent happens after which the Muslims would be at the mercy of the Hindus of the subcontinent.

Ironically, today some minorities living within the borders of the state which calls itself the Islamic Republic of Pakistan face similar reservations, where the threat from the perpetrators of violence against these minorities seems to be of greater worry. The state apparatus has allegedly failed to protect these minorities from the wrath of the extremist elements which harbour within its borders and thus the perpetrators walk around unscathed.

I would take this opportunity to  commend the efforts of the Sindh Ministry of Education to include Mr. Jinnah’s speech on the protection of minority rights, delivered on the 11th August 1940, in the syllabi taught till grade 10.

On the 23rdof March 1940, Jinnah, the undisputed leader of the Muslim League addressed a humungous crowd of almost half a million keen listeners and said, “…the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority as in the North-Western and Eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute ‘Independent States’ in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign.” The sheer ambiguity and complexity of the statement often perplexes many historians and analysts.

As one decodes the ideological understanding of our nation, they face a dilemma. First, was it just an autonomous political electorate in areas of Muslim majority within a the larger union that was asked for, or a separate country for Muslims consisting of the aforementioned areas? Secondly, if it was indeed a state which the Quaid demanded, do we really have a theological philosophy couched in a the modern concept of nation-state, and what are the repurcussions of adopting such an ideology?

If we take the two-nation theory as a premise to legitimise the argument, then one can say that maybe Mr. Jinnah had a variety of options which he was ready to play with — it was the course of events which unfolded in the aftermath of the second world war that the address of 1940 came to be moulded in a certain direction. It was clear that the Muslims needed political patronage if they were to maintain some say in the running of state affairs.

Yet, it is still unclear whether the demand was for a separate homeland for Muslims or an Islamic ideological state. The Lahore Resolution and the subsequent independence of Pakistan was notably opposed by many religious clerics such as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Maududi, and Mufti Mahmood. What then strikes the sane mind is if it were merely a tactic to appease the religious clergy, than it surely wasn’t one received well, in contrast to the masses who gathered under the banner of Islam especially in provinces such as UP and Bengal.

The pressing question here is whether it was a political sabotage sugar-coated with the narrative of Islamic brotherhood to illustriously utilize the widespread sentiment attached to this phenomenon? Certainly, there is heaps of evidence to support if one keeps their deep-rooted patriotic allignment aside. If one is to just pay attention to the list of representatives of the Muslim League present in the historic address, it is certainly not difficult to assess that it was indeed a bunch of Muslim elites adhering to, and advocating this ideology, namely Maulana Fazlul Haq from Bengal, Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, Choudhry Khaliquzzaman, Sardar Aurangzeb Khan, Sir Abdullah Haroon, Nawab Ismail Khan, Qazi Mohammad Isa and I.I Chundigar. It can also be argued that it is but an assemblage of the liberal aristocracy the liberal-theological de facto!

It is often considered almost blasphemous to undermine the purity of intentions of the leadership which successfully brought about the second largest migration in the history of mankind. Yet, I believe that if we were to buy into the formidable story of struggle, heroism, sacrifice, and glory, we cannot completely ignore the fact that the future of the millions of the nation was in the hands of a bunch of elites. Ironically, after 68 years, the political leadership of the country is still transferred as an heirloom to the future generations of the elite.

To say that Pakistan, fundamentally, by its literal definition, is the land of pure is a paradox in itself. Inhabited by a multiplicity of ethnicities, religiosities, races, castes, and sects the land is rather anything but pure.It is the variety of dimensions of the definition of purity and misinterpretation of certain dictums such as “Pakistan ka matlab kia, la ilaha illala” that today the Shia, Hindu, Christian minorities are forced to flee for safety.

To me, what 23rd March signifies is that today this piece of land inhabited by people of diverse origins, which is incidentally called Pakistan, is in an acute mess. It is a deep rooted identity crisis which we face, which again makes me question, as to who comprises of “we”, Pakistanis, Muslims, Sunnis, Barelvis, Deobandis, and the list carries on.

Delving deeper only causes further distress and disillusionment, but it is imperative to understand that most ideologies which prevail today as dominant regimes are as impervious and flawed as the rejected ideologies. Thus what Pakistan as a nation stands for, fights for, and dies for, might just be a romanticized tale of what most of us want to believe in.


A few months back, the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan issued a notice to all degree-awarding institutions to refrain from including any counter ideologies in their courses, thus evasively promoting a negative sentiment against the pervasive ideological state apparatus. This write-up is a tribute to that directive, since I believe that I breathe in Jinnah’s Pakistan where one is entitled to their opinions.

Long live Pakistan.



About The Author

Zahra Saleem – A Cynical Idealist. Or some such smart thing.


  • passerby

    ayesha jalal has critiqued the idea of “Jinnah’s” Pakistan. i think that even Jinnah didn’t know what kind of Pakistan he wanted. He was confused if he wanted to create an Islamic State or a state where Muslim minority can protect their political and economic interests. i think after almost 70 years, we should abandon interpreting what Jinnah wanted. because clearly its a puzzle that we have been unable to solve. We should look towards developing a progressive ethos, a cultural consensus which can set the basis for country’s development

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