How Mahatma Gandhi’s Warnings on the Birthing of Two Nations Came Full Circle

76 years of experimentation into Independence using different inputs has incubated different outputs across the LOC.

5 min read
Hindi Female

(This story was first published on 15 August 2023. It has been reposted from The Quint's archives to mark Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary.)

Mahatma Gandhi admittedly fell into 'deep despair’ on the eve of India’s independence as he rued the 'Vivisection of the Mother’. Two nations of starkly dissimilar impulses, instincts, and foundations were born out of the same womb – one exclusivist, 'land of the pure’ ie, Pakistan, and the other contrastingly inclusivist seeking its own tryst with destiny to “ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman” ie, Bharat Ganarajya or simply India.

Essentially relegated as the 'old boy’ who had outlived his utility by the hyper-ambitious Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the anglophile Jawaharlal Nehru, the prophetic Mahatma (great soul) saw some concerns in the road ahead.

Gandhiji was joined in questioning the alien 'Idea of Pakistan’ by the likes of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Khudai Khidmatgar), Sayyid Husain Ahmad Madani (in his book Muttahida Qaumiyat Aur Islam), Allama Mashriqi (Khaksar Movement), etc, but the drumrolls and jubilation of Independence drowned the questioning spirit of many wise.

Birth of The Two Nations

Soon thereafter, both nations initiated their own projects of defining themselves (even their geographies) and their appropriated history, and the consequent experiments in democracy followed. The fate of formative words spoken at the cusp of freedom was an early peek into the different trajectories.

While Jawaharlal Nehru’s political imagery may have become a matter of uncharitable remembrance and allusion by the current powers that be, the underlying intellectualism and stirring exhortation of his oratorial flourish at the midnight of independence has institutionalised a galvanising and progressive spirit. India had as he said, “step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance."

Beyond partisanship affecting Nehru’s legacy, his timeless speech defined the forward-looking character of a land which was immensely proud of its civilisational past, but not shackled or bound by it, and looked forward to changing what should be changed. India embraced liberality, secularity, and the reformist spirit of the progressive, irrespective of the dispensation in 'Delhi’.

Across the vivisected lands, the Quaid-e-Azam or Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s parallel speech of vision-setting importance to its Constituent Assembly of Pakistan contradicted many of Jinnah’s own positions as he embarrassingly juggled with religious freedom, equality for all, etc, after having insisted on the flawed ‘two-nation theory’.

He had established the world’s first and last nation created based on religion.

Tellingly, there still is no complete audio recording of that address of Jinnah with much disputed about its exact content with only selected extracts making their way occasionally, to sew a convenient narrative, whenever required.


Religion As Basis for Nationhood

Unlike the celebrated fate of Nehru’s lofty words, Pakistan remained queasy about Jinnah’s inconsistent and belated suggestions and went to the extent of withdrawing them from state-owned media and the schoolbook curriculum. It disappeared completely after General Zia seized power and the dark project of Shariaziation of Pakistan ensued with gusto, as was inevitable given the flawed foundational structuring. Perhaps, Pakistan didn’t just lose the recording of the speech or the implicit message….more importantly, it started to lose its way.

The un-naturality and amorality of religion as a basis of nationhood that had concerned Gandhiji’s last days was to be proved right in 1971, when Bangladesh became a reality, and those lingering faultlines would start eating into the vitals of either of the two ‘States’, whichever and whenever they started pandering to bigotry, religiosity, or smallness-of-spirit on either side of the 'vivisected’ Line-of-Control (LOC).

76 years into the experimentation of Independence and Democracy using very different inputs has also incubated very different outputs, across the LOC.

People on both sides forget that the respective maps of India and Pakistan (breakaway of Bangladesh, notwithstanding) did not look like it does now – it was a journey of slow integration (both, willful and otherwise).

The ultimate verdict on the efficacy of the two rival approaches to nationhood as practiced across the LOC can be judged by the current date fate of those areas which had seemed reluctant to join either India or Pakistan but ultimately did.

The ‘States’ of Travancore, Bhopal, Jodhpur, Junagadh, Manipur, and J&K had remained particularly unexcited to join the Dominion of India, initially.

If a strong sense of identity hindered the integrative process in Travancore and Manipur, it was the border contiguity, people issues and belief of subsistence in Jodhpur and J&K, and finally a matter of simple religiosity of the rulers in Junagadh, Bhopal, and Hyderabad.


What Comprises the Idea of India and Pakistan

Today, barring the lingering sentiment in J&K dutifully fanned and supported from across the LOC (also owing to undeniable missteps by ‘Delhi’ over the last seventy six years), there are no secessionist concerns in Travancore, Bhopal, Jodhpur, Junagadh or even in the much-in-news, Manipur.

There are certainly societal tensions (Manipur has internal strife within its diversities) or natural dissatisfactions that have topically and regrettably propped up from time to time, but the generous and accommodative contours of the Indian Constitution that formalised the ’Idea of India’, have won over its disaffected and disengaged populace. Sometimes after a painfully (even avoidably) long time, but eventually so.

Whereas the Pakistan of 1947 could be broadly divided into five regions of which three had remained suspicious and wary of the 'Idea of Pakistan’ ie, Bengali speaking area of 'West Pakistan’, vast swathes of Baluch lands held by its warring Sardars (eg, State of Kalat), and the third was the self-governed tribal Pashtun areas bordering Afghanistan.

The two areas that warmed up relatively easily towards the ‘Idea of Pakistan’ and dominated its governance hereinafter, were Punjab and Sindh.

While Bangladesh destroyed the ‘two-nation’ sophistry in 1971, the imploding and bloody fate of Baluchistan and the Teheerk-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) infected Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region is a daily reminder of the inevitable consequences that follow regressive, orthodox, and narrow-minded thinking.


Every day, the slippery slope of ‘purity’ unleashes untellable violence on itself, after having attempted to export its toxicity across the LOC and even, across the Durand Line.

Seventy-six years after its independence, the secessionist sentiment has exploded unprecedentedly in two out of its five areas, while one has completely broken away. Period.

It is, as the aptly called ‘Frontier Gandhi’ or Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan had presciently noted then, “Today’s world is traveling in some strange direction. You see that the world is going toward destruction and violence. And the specialty of violence is to create hatred among people and to create fear”. Because Pakistan invested more in ‘creating hatred among people and to create fear’, it reaps the terrible outcomes, accordingly.

(The author is a Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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