From The GlassHouse: India's Citizenship Law And Pakistan's Reaction

Pakistani rulers have no right, whatsoever, to criticize the Indian polity on the basis of medieval-revivalists concepts on the basis of which they have now come to define citizenship in their polity, writes Umer Farooq.

The religious revivalist movements—both Hindu and Islamic—in Indian sub-continent started after local populations’ and elites of two respective communities encounter with western modernity. The elites of two religious communities saw the demarcation of their respective communities as the first step towards revival of their past religious and historical glories.

They started to define the membership of their respective communities in strictly medieval terms under religious terminology and principles. As there is no concept of religious orthodoxy in Hinduism the Hindu revivalists found it easy to campaign for the inclusion of lower caste Hindus into numerical strength of Hindu community in India. Muslim revivalists on the other hand were bogged down in the complexities of excluding heterodox sects from the domain of Islam.

After independence, many attempts were made to make Pakistan state embrace the revivalists’ definition of the narrowly defined concepts related to the full membership of political community in the newly independent state.

Non-Muslims were out rightly excluded from the full membership of the political community that was formed in the wake of independence. It took revivalists another 26 years to enforce their agenda on the state when in 1974, Pakistani parliament excluded a heterodox sect, Ahmadi community from full membership of the political community. Since then revivalists and their different offshoots have been campaigning for the exclusion of other heterodox sects within Islam from full membership of political community in Pakistan.

By full membership of political community, I mean that only that person or group could be considered full members of the political community who or whose members are fully allowed to participate in the decision-making processes or to elect or get elected to the highest decision-making authority of the state or government. There should be no bar on the individual or group from participating in the decision-making processes to participate in the process of electing or getting elected to the highest decision making office in the government.

For instance, members of an Ahmadi community cannot be elected as Prime Minister, President or any other senior members of the government in Pakistan. Other heterodox sects are not legally barred from becoming Prime Minister or President of the country, but nevertheless, the dominating presence of revivalists and fundamentalists in the public life could pose a problem if anyone from other heterodox sects could become Prime Minister or President.

So at present, Pakistani state has at least partially embraced the agenda of 19th century Islamic revivalist in British India as their official demarcation line for the full membership of political community in Pakistan. Revivalists in British India were under the influence of Western modernity but they were not borrowing the concepts from British liberalism as they were. But they were only borrowing the concepts of demarcation of national boundaries as applied in modern world of Nation-states and applying them on religious communities in British India, with harrowing consequences.

Indian nationalism under Prime Minister Nehru was completely clean from the influence of Hindu revivalists. Indian constitution defined Indian nation as a modern concept with no patchwork of revivalist thoughts inserted into it. Unfortunately, the Hindu revivalists got into power with full force 70 years after independence and inserted the medieval-revivalist concepts of religion as a defining feature of Indian citizenship.

It is not that Quaid-e-Azam believed in concepts and ideas about citizenship any different from Nehru’s. His speeches and assertions clearly indicate that he had a non-religious definition of citizenship. How Pakistan changed course and brought religion or demarcation under religion as the defining feature of citizenship in Pakistani polity is harrowing story, which made Pakistan into a fractured society—fractured along religious and sectarian lines.

Two conclusions could be drawn from this brief history: first, Pakistan’s present rulers could not describe them as ideological successor to Quaid-e-Azam, who clearly saw citizenship as a product of secular, modern and liberal ideology. Secondly, Pakistani rulers have no right, whatsoever, to criticize the Indian polity on the basis of medieval-revivalists concepts on the basis of which they have now come to define citizenship in their polity. 

We have been doing this since 1974 and even before that when we denied full political membership to non-Muslims citizens of Pakistan. Pakistani laws are as medieval as Indian laws when it comes to giving full membership to every citizen of the country or to deny citizenship to member of opposing religion.

Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.