Two-Nation Theory Re-examined–and a Few Reflections on India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Bill


Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

PDF file: India’s 2019 Citizenship Amendment Bill

30 Dec 2019 – Recently, Asaduddin Owaisi, a member of the Indian Parliament, argued that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB) would revive the two-nation theory. The two-nation theory (TNT) implied Hindus and Muslims are two different nations, hence they cannot stay together. They need two different territories to have their nation-states. The architects of this theory were Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Muhammad Iqbal, and on the basis of this theory British India was partitioned into India and Pakistan.

Pakistan’s founder, Jinnah and its ideological brain, Iqbal were not advocates of TNT in the beginning. Iqbal wrote Sare Jahan Se Accha Hindu Sita Hamara. But, later as he traveled to the Middle East, his ideas and writings were colored in religious terms. The philosopher who once sang ‘Sare Jahan Se Accha’ later propounded the idea of a religious state, Pakistan. Jinnah who was once called an ambassador of religious harmony too bought this ideology. He articulated: “it is a dream that the Hindus and Muslims can ever evolve a common nationality, and this misconception of one Indian nation has troubles and will lead (undivided) India to destruction if we fail to revise our notions in time.

The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, and literatures…To yoke together two such nations under a single state, one as a numerical minority and the other as a majority, must lead to growing discontent and final destruction of any fabric that may be so built for the government of such a state.” Such an approach completely undermined centuries of coexistence between Hindus and Muslims, and also led to the partition of India and killed millions of people in the Indian subcontinent.

TNT or the idea of a religious state is foreign to the Indian spirit. Many religions – almost all non-Abrahamic religions – emerged in India. Persecuted religious minorities from all over the world found a place in India. The argument that the recent law will revive TNT and turn India into a religious state is an argument from Jinnah and Iqbal book. It is true that India is a Hindu majority state, and about 80 percent of Indians are Hindus. It is also undeniable that it is because the majority of the people of India are Hindus, the culture of pluralism – which Nehru famously termed unity in diversity – thrives. This culture of pluralism is much older than any political party or ideology, it thrives since millennia.

None of the great Indian scholars or leaders, including Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Mahatma Gandhi and Lokmanya Tilak, envisioned a religious state in India. Had India been a majority Muslim state, it could have been a religious state for long. And Owaisi would perhaps not disagree with me on this. In fact, this happened to Bangladesh. Bangladesh which emerged as a counterpoise to the very idea of TNT as it separated from Pakistan showed signs of pluralism in the beginning. But it gradually got radicalized and particularly after the 8th amendment to its constitution, which declared Islam as the state religion, the radicalization of the country happened rapidly.

I have argued how untenable the ideas of religious states are: As the distances between individuals, states and societies decrease, and all are more connected, it appears anachronistic to think in terms of religious states.

Hence, the political leaders and intellectuals who argue that the current policies would turn India into a Hindu state are buying a very fallacious idea. They are ignorant of India’s rich heritage and culture. India’s gene does not have a religious state in it. Some religious-fanatic rulers in the past wanted to impose their religion on Indian people but failed. Second, the politicians are developing their stories and do not mind to play majority-minority politics so that they can have electoral gains.

It is true that religious minorities are persecuted in India’s neighborhood. Jinnah’s progressive outlook as he seemed to display during the foundation of Pakistan vanished quickly. He had promised the religious minorities of Pakistan that they will be free to practice their religion. He said, “in course of time (in free Pakistan) 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.”

But we know the reality. One article in the Guardian in April 2008 estimated that the percentage of Hindus in Pakistan has dwindled to 2 percent, which was 15 percent at the time of partition. The article further notes that the prejudice against the minorities in Pakistan persists both at cultural and legal levels. This, the article argues, is “a travesty for a state that was created with the intended purpose of protecting minorities”.

The case of Asia Bibi is well known. Asia, a Christian woman, was charged with blasphemy and spent eight years on death row.  The blasphemy law was passed in the 1980s under dictator Zia to radicalize Pakistan. A New York Times article of May 30, 2019 quoted a lawmaker from Sindh, “episodes of intolerance toward the Hindu community had been increasing in Sindh, including abductions, forced conversions to Islam, and coerced marriages of Hindu girls”. Pakistan’s noted newspaper, Dawn, wrote on December 25, 2018, “the truth is that minorities in Pakistan do not feel safe …and the state has done little to rein in those who spew venom on adherents of a faith not their own. It has simply stood by as various minority communities have for years been relentlessly targeted by hardline groups.”

The case of Bangladesh is no different. A Human Rights Watch Report of 2003 wrote, “attacks against Hindus in Bangladesh escalated dramatically following the October 2001 general election that brought the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) to power in coalition with hard-line Islamic parties.  Christians, Buddhists, and dissenting Muslims were targeted as well…Hindu homes were looted, vandalized, and burned and Hindu temples and sacred sites were destroyed.  Scores of Hindu women and girls were raped.  In some cases, they were gang raped in front of their male relatives.

Hindus were also assaulted on the streets, in their homes, and at their workplaces.  Systematic attacks resulted in a mass migration of Hindus to India…  The government did little to prosecute or investigate the violence.” The same year the noted magazine The Economist published a report titled, “Bangladesh’s religious minorities: Safe only in the departure lounge.” The Islamization of Bangladesh is well established and a search of the internet would amply demonstrate how radical organizations have deep inroads into its social fabric.

I won’t comment on legal niceties of CAB as I am not a legal expert. But if this bill has the provision to provide asylum or citizenship to persecuted religious minorities in the neighboring countries, it should be welcome. When the partition happened no one imagined the poison of TNT would run so deep and protracted. While the minorities in India flourished and multiplied, the minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh dwindled.

It is but common sense that in a religious state – whether Pakistan or Bangladesh or for that matter any religious state – individuals professing the majoritarian religion would not be persecuted on the basis of their faith. It is a different debate whether religion should be the only criterion to consider whether an individual is persecuted or not, and whether India should include other criteria to provide asylum to foreign nationals. But it is undeniable that religious minorities are persecuted in India’s neighborhood.

To argue that the current law would goad India towards a religious state is a myth or even a political project. Jinnah and Iqbal must be smiling in their graves as their TNT idea gets new adherents, and Gandhi must be turning in pain.


Dr. Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Central Florida. He is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, director of the Mahatma Gandhi Center for Non-Violence, Human Rights and World Peace at Hindu University of America in Florida, and a fellow at the Center for Peace, Democracy and Development, University of Massachusetts Boston. He is an Indian commentator and his areas of interest include conflict transformation and peacebuilding in South and Central Asia. His edited book, Conflict and Peace in Eurasia, was published by Routledge in 2013; Conflict Management in Kashmir: State-People Relations and Peace, was published by the Cambridge University Press in 2018. His forthcoming coedited book is Gandhi and the World.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 13 Jan 2020.

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