Eighty years of the Lahore Resolution

Without the effective realisation of its core values Pakistan will never become the great country its founders dreamt of

This Monday, March 23, 2020, we will observe 80 year of the Lahore Resolution, which laid the foundation of what later became the Pakistan Movement, later realised itself in the creation of Pakistan. While celebrations of the day have been curtailed due to the Coronavirus, it is important to remember and revisit this important resolution and its implications today.

The Lahore Resolution was presented at the Lahore Session of the All India Muslim League in March 1940. It was the first session of the League in fifteen months and had come after the Congress-led governments in nine provinces had resigned in protest because they had not been consulted by the viceroy Lord Linlithgow before the declaration of war against the Axis powers in 1939.

The resignation of the Congress ministries was a breath of fresh air for the Muslim League, which had been largely routed in the provincial elections of 1937. Out of the nearly five hundred Muslim seats, the Muslim League had won a dismal hundred, and in a number of Muslim majority provinces, it not only fared badly in front of other Muslim parties, but at places even the Congress polled more Muslim votes. Thus, the claim of the All India Muslim League to represent ‘all’ Muslims of India had been severely dented in the 1937 elections.

As a result of the election defeat the Muslim League had to reorganise and give itself a new vision so that it could galvanize grassroots Muslim support. The Lahore Resolution, quick on the heels of the departure of the Congress from provincial ministries, was therefore a major attempt in this direction to deliver a vision for the Muslims of India to rally together under the leadership of the League.

Since the Lahore Resolution, later dubbed the Pakistan Resolution, was the major blue print for the creation of Pakistan, its contours should have become the guiding force when the country came into being in August 1947. However, rather than taking its principles as the foundational doctrine of Pakistan, they were summarily ignored almost immediately. The ensuing confusion, chaos, and complications which have plagued Pakistan are, in part, a result of this side-lining of the Lahore Resolution. Allow me to refocus on a few of its principles at the eightieth anniversary of its passing.

Despite the controversy over the phrase ‘independent states,’ in the resolution itself, the major underlying principle was that the states (or state) would be ‘autonomous and sovereign.’ This was a key element of the resolution: autonomy and sovereignty of the units. This meant that the resultant state would be federal and based on popular sovereignty.

Despite the controversy over the phrase ‘independent states,’ in the resolution itself, the major underlying principle was that the states (or state) would be ‘autonomous and sovereign.’ This was a key element of the resolution: autonomy and sovereignty of the units. This meant that the resultant state would be federal and based on popular sovereignty.

Time and again Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah pointed out, both before and after the creation of Pakistan, that the constitution of Pakistan would be created by its ‘people,’—not by the clergy, or by some overlording state, or anyone else. Pakistan, both by its foundational document and its founder, would be a state where sovereignty and power would ultimately reside in the people. Often enough in current political and policy discussions this principle is ignored in Pakistan causing disenfranchisement of the people, a lack of involvement of the people in the electoral and legislative process, and a general malaise in the society. The acceptance and realisation of the fact that all power derives and is ultimately responsible to the people should become a central plank in the Pakistani polity. A resurrection of this cardinal principle is therefore central to the vision and future of Pakistan.

Coupled with the concept of popular sovereignty, was the focus in the Lahore Resolution on the concept of federation. Rejecting even the federal form envisaged in the Government of India Act 1935, the Muslim League wanted to go further and demanded a federation (or even a con-federation) more along the American or Canadian lines. This principle was certainly suited for a large and diverse country like India, where languages, cultures, and religions changed every few hundreds of miles, and which, until the consolidation of the country under the British, was long composed of several hundred different states.

With such diversity, the Muslim League argued, the Westminster system could not be wholesale imported to India and local adjustments had to be made. Even with noting the ‘Muslim nation’ as one nation, the regional and cultural diversity of the Muslim nation itself demanded a federal structure of government where the provinces would be the real centres of power.

Unfortunately, from the time of its inception the principle of federation has time and again been undermined in Pakistan. Almost immediately after independence, the federal government declared an emergency and forced the hands of the provincial governments on several matters. Then in April 1948, revenue generating powers—essential for the working of any federal unit, were taken away from the provinces by the centre.

Of course, the exigencies of the partition, the influx of refugees, and the general bad state of affairs, required some centralisation. However, rather than the 1935 Act being restored to its original form after the initial crisis had passed, Pakistan embarked on a road to extreme centralisation. Provinces were abolished and merged in 1954 in western Pakistan, and provincial government were removed ad hominum throughout the country. Thus, within a couple of years of independence, the word ‘federal’ was only used for cosmetic reasons: Pakistan had become a centralised country.

The dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971 shocked the Pakistani establishment, and they gave way to some semblance of a federal arrangement in Pakistan. But even the 1973 Constitution, or the 18thAmendment to it almost ten years ago in April 2010, did not even restore the federal provisions of the 1935 Act, let alone go beyond it. Hence, even though Pakistan is now more federal than it used to be, yet the dream of all its constituent units being ‘autonomous’ in the true sense, remains elusive.

Another integral principle elucidated in the Lahore Resolution was that ‘adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards should be especially provided in the constitution for minorities,’ so that they could protect their ‘religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests.’ This was to be done, critically, ‘in consultation with them.’ After having suffered the excesses of Congress-led governments in provinces where Muslims were a minority, the Muslim League was very cognizant of the rights of the minorities, and so wanted any constitutional framework to safeguard them to the utmost extent.

Being a minority themselves in a number of provinces, the leaders who led the League (who themselves were mostly from Muslim minority provinces) did not want majoritarianism to suffocate the minorities in India. Thus, they did not just want these safeguards to be enforced in places where Muslims were a minority, but pledged to uphold them in places where Muslims were a majority too. Thus, one of the foundational principles of Pakistan was protection against majoritarianism, especially that of one religious community over others.

Alas almost immediately after the creation of Pakistan, this central principle of protection of minority rights, and preventing majoritarianism, was quickly forgotten. Minorities in Pakistan, especially Hindus, but also Christians, Sikhs and others, were treated with disdain, even suspicion. The critical plank of ‘consultation’ with them was never given even lip service, and strong majoritarianism characterised law making, social policy and governance.

Even a cursory read of the debates of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan from 1947-56 clearly show how the pleas of the minorities (mainly Hindu, since no other minorities even had a seat in the Assembly), were consistently rejected and the views of the majority enforced upon them.

Thus, the constitution of 1956, which made Pakistan into a republic, was largely a majoritarian endeavour which soon failed. Later, minorities were often branded as traitors, and especiallyduring the 1965 war, anti-India posters usually portrayed ‘Indians’ as either Hindu or Christian. As a result, many Pakistani Hindus and Christians were often labelled as ‘Indian agents’ and harassed, even arrested. After the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971, this spate of majoritarianism increased further and special laws were made which largely targeted old and ‘new’ minorities. Hence, rather than ‘safeguarding’ the rights of the minorities, the majoritarian state began to effectively curtail minority rights.

In the eighty years since the passing of the Lahore Resolution, except for celebrating it every year as Pakistan Day (though from 1956 to 1958 it was also observed as ‘Republic Day’ since on this day in 1956 Pakistan’s constitution became effective and Pakistan became a republic), we have not given thought or consideration to its critical principles.

Pakistan was achieved on the basis of the Lahore Resolution and the principles it enunciated, and therefore it is essential that eighty years down the line we recommit ourselves to the principles of sovereignty of the people, federal autonomy, and safeguarding of the rights of the minorities in consultation with them. Without the effective realisation of these core values Pakistan will never become the great country its founders dreamt of. 

Eighty years of the Lahore Resolution