A recent article by a right wing commentator who (bizarrely) is also a civil servant, has had me musing on how extremely polarised Pakistan’s society has become. In his article, the erudite Orya Maqbool Jan wrote that M.A. Jinnah’s August 11 speech in Pakistan’s first constituent assembly was just a fiction created by evil secularists…
According to him it never ever happened, because the Quaid-i-Azam, the founder of Pakistan, wanted the new nation to be an Islamic state, and so he could never have uttered the words: "You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed -- that has nothing to do with the business of the State".
These words are poison to the ears of those who insist that Pakistan was meant to be an ideological state, governed by Shariah. All right wing religious ideologues have tried their best to make this speech ‘disappear’, and they have been helped in this by the fact that no audio recording of it seems to have survived.
But in response to Orya Maqbool Jan’s piece, Yasser Latif Hamdani posted the complete text of the speech and pointed out that this is to be found in the Jinnah Papers (Volume IV Appendix IX, Item 4: President’s address). He also cited newspaper coverage of it in The Hindu newspaper from August 12, 1947.
It is rather unfortunate that this address has become so controversial because in this extremely interesting speech Jinnah pinpoints a number of tendencies which needed to be controlled or they would ruin the new nation. I was surprised when I read the speech because it is so extraordinarily perceptive and sensible: the first observation is, "You will no doubt agree with me that the first duty of a government is to maintain law and order, so that the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected by the State." This is followed by a warning against "bribery and corruption" described as "one of the biggest curses from which India is suffering". This is followed by condemnation of "black marketeers" and those indulging in "nepotism and jobbery".
Then there is an acknowledgement that the geographical boundaries of Partition were not ideal but one would have to live with it. A spirit of co-operation and co-existence is recommended "If you will work in co-operation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed. If you change your past and work together in a spirit that every one of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste, or creed, is first, second, and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make."
This is followed by the (disputed) words about freedom of worship and religion having nothing to do with the business of the State, and then "Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal, and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus, and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State."
According to Orya Maqbool Jan, this speech is all fabrication; part of a sinister secular conspiracy. But it is terribly well-written and astonishingly perceptive -- because Jinnah (or that unknown evil secularist who fabricated it) had actually, in 1947, identified the evils that have brought Pakistan to its present state of violence and injustice i.e. bribery and corruption, nepotism, profiteering and religious intolerance.
The August 11 speech is a good illustration of the ongoing and increasingly bitter dispute over Pakistan’s ‘real’ identity and the facts of History. The debate over this represents not just intellectual polarisation but also a degree of intellectual dishonesty that is managing to go largely unchallenged. As facts are obfuscated and witnesses to this History pass away, few are left to dispute revisionist narratives or corroborate inconvenient truths.
And so it goes on…