Photo Courtesy: The Wire

Except religion, we find little similarity in their (Muslims) customs, traditions, language, dress, food, manners, etc.

Osman Sher

In the nineteenth century India, a segment of the population, about one-fourth in size, started calling themselves a separate nation. Later, it turned into a demand for a separate piece of land to be granted to them as their homeland. Those people were the Muslims of India, who had lived there for half of its historical period of 2500 years, and had lived there not as an ordinary people, rather, in general terms, as the rulers. During their rule, they had shown compassion, equality, and brotherhood with a sincere desire and spirit of assimilation with the local people and their traditions. They had embraced this land as their own, and had transformed themselves completely into a single nation. This is why the History does not record incidents of animosity between the Muslims and the Hindus and the resulting riots and revolts.

The Muslims enriched the local culture with their own and took a lot from it. Together they made a significant and positive history. Their combined efforts to synthesize the joint legacies gave rise to one of the greatest civilizations of the world, which was recognized as Indian. This civilization was a truly composite one in various facets of daily life, values and sensitivities, customs and rites, beliefs and superstitions, language and literature, arts and crafts, food and dress, manners and habits, etc. It was a separate civilization, completely different from that of the neighboring countries like China, Iran, Arabia, Afghanistan, Burma, and Thailand.

images (1)Has the Two-Nation Theory any substance? Were the Muslims of India so powerful as to strike such a victory?

Then, how did arise in that country the concept of two nations, Hindus and Muslims? The reason is that the British rulers, who had occupied the land in 1857, taught, trained, tuned, and tempered both of them in this philosophy that drove a wedge in their relationship. For this purpose, they used the tool of religion. The major steps they took to instill the feeling of a separate nationhood especially in the Muslims are:

  1. Immediately after the War of Independence of 1857, the British appointed a Commission of Inquiry to assess why that happened and what was to be done to preserve the British power in the future. Lord Elphinstone, the then governor of Bombay, sent a note to the Commission: “Divide et impera was the old Roman motto, and it should be ours.’’
  2. Acting on this policy, the Secretary of State, Sir Charles Wood, in a letter of March 3, 1862 to Viceroy Lord Elgin, instructed, “We have maintained our power by playing off one part against the other, and we must continue to do so…Do what you can, therefore, to prevent all having a common feeling”.
  3. Again on 10 May, Wood wrote to the Viceroy, “We cannot afford in India to neglect any means of strengthening our position. Depend upon it, the natural antagonism of races is no inconsiderable element of our strength. If all India was to unite against us, how long could we maintain ourselves?”
  4. To popularize this Two-Nation Theory among the Muslims, fortunately the person of Sir Syed came in handy. He was the acknowledged leader of the Muslims of the time. He started telling the Muslims on these lines that they are a separate nation and should have a separate “throne” (country): “Suppose that all the English…were to leave India…? Is it possible that under these circumstances two nations — the Mohammedans and the Hindus — could sit on the same throne and remain equal in power? Most certainly not”. Writing in 1888 under the topic, the ‘Present State of Indian Politics’ in the newspaper Pioneer, he said: ‘I have often said that India is like a bride whose two eyes are the Hindu and the Mohammedan. Her beauty consists in this – that the two eyes be of equal lustre’. So beautifully said, this statement was definitely a pointer towards the existence of two equal nations in India.
  5. At the second reading of the India Councils Bill in the House of Lords on February 23, 1909, the Secretary of State, Viscount Morley,  argued thus,  “Only let us not forget that the difference between Mahomedanism and Hinduism is not a mere difference of articles of religious faith. It is a difference in life, in tradition, in history, in all the social things as well as the articles of belief that constitute a community”.
  6. The India Councils Act was passed in 1909, which gave the Muslims the right of Separate Electorates whereby some of the seats were reserved for Muslim members to be elected only by Muslim voters. It was a blatant act of the British whereby they separated the Hindus and the Muslims in conducting the most important affair of a State. In other words, it was a declaration by them that two separate nations were living in one country.
  7. Consequently, in the March 1946 session of the All India Muslim League at Lahore, Muhammad Ali Jinnah repeated the arguments given by Viscount Morley, “The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, and literature[s]. They neither inter-marry nor inter-dine together and, indeed, they belong to two different civilizations, which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. Their concepts on life and of life are different…Mussulmans are a nation according to any definition of a nation, and they must have their homelands, their territory and their state.”

As a result, the British Parliament partitioned India in 1947 in two sovereign States: Pakistan and India. However, one should not forget that the vast majority of the Muslims living in the sub-continent are local converts. Only a small number of Muslims had come from outside in the shape of soldiers during the three invasions of Muhammad Bin Qasim, Shahabuddin Ghori, and Zahiruddin Babar. In those days, travel to far off lands was not easy and, as such, only a small number of Muslims could reach India in search of economic opportunities. In this way, according to a rough estimate hardly 10 percent of the Muslim population would have come from outside. It seems, therefore, ridiculous to say that just the single dose of religion had turned a group of people into a separate nation in their own country. It requires a host of factors to make a nation.

The question then arises: were the Muslims from Peshawar to Chittagong and Kashmir to Cape Kumari a nation? Excepting religion, we find little similarity in their customs, traditions, language, dress, food, manners, etc. On the other hand, the Hindus and the Muslims had their religious differences but they had coexisted with little friction. Setting aside the episodes of struggle for political power and even the ensuing brutalities in the battlefields, strife and agitation at ground level have been generally absent. Even during the periods of political animosity that had been created by the alien rulers, the two communities lived their times together in towns and in villages, on streets and in bazaars, in professions and in vocations, peacefully sharing each other’s sorrows and joys, values and sensitivities, festivities and celebrations.

Before the Partition, the struggle of the Muslims had centered round gaining more economic and political power

When viewed in totality, the fact would emerge that the Muslim population of India was not in such a desperate situation as to actually want to break up the country.  The majority community of Hindus had not yet been in power and they never had the occasion to brutalize the Muslims. Despite passing two Resolutions, Lahore, 1940 and Delhi 1946, for achieving a separate country of Pakistan, the acceptance by the Muslim League of a United India under the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 stands as a testimony to the non-seriousness of their demand. This situation may better be explained in the words of William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States, who stated in a conference of Federalism held in Canada in October 1999: “It seems to me that the suggestion that a people or tribal group or religious group can only have a meaningful political existence if they are an independent nation…is a questionable assertion in a global economy where cooperation pays greater benefits in every area of life than destructive competition.”. He further said: “our major threat is the most primitive human feeling –the fear of ‘the other’, and the sense that we can only breathe and function and matter if we are somehow free of the necessity to associate and deal with, and may be even under certain circumstances, subordinate our own opinions to, the feelings of ‘them’ ”

Photo Courtesy: Social Media

Having little concern with the interests of the masses, the Pakistani rulers lost their confidence. As a result, the military bureaucracy has now gotten an upper hand in running the affairs of the State  

Before the Partition, the struggle of the Muslims had centered round gaining more economic and political power. They were always negotiating for privileges, quotas, and parity. They complained neither of serious grievances nor presented any plans for a brighter future. Lacking in the sense of direction and keeping up with the past spirit the people in the new country have amply demonstrated that they are not a nation but only a horde that is after power and pelf with no concern for the uplift of its people and solidarity of the Motherland. As expected, we find them, as mentioned below, conducting themselves in the manner unbecoming of a normal and a democratic mindset.

  1. Due to the internecine fight for power among the provinces, Pakistan could not adopt a Constitution for 9 years.
  2. The lust for power compelled the military to abrogate the Constitution just after two years of its adoption.
  3. Up to the abrogation of the Constitution in 1958, ten (10) Prime Ministers had changed seats.
  4. Three Prime Minister were killed/hanged, and one President was blown up in the air.
  5. Pakistan’s ‘brawling lawmakers’ have killed one provincial Deputy Speaker and broken the arm of another provincial Speaker during the Assembly sessions.
  6. During its life of about 60 years, Pakistan had experienced 4 Martial laws, spanning a period of thirty years
  7. The “homeland” of the so-called Muslim nation broke itself after 25 years creating another Muslim nation of Bangladesh.
  8. In 75 years, Pakistan saw 23 prime ministers and 4 military dictators.
  9. No prime minister in the 75 years of its existence could complete the full term of five years. They were either dismissed for corruption or removed by no-confidence motion.
  10. Pakistan has maintained a system of dynastic rule. The feudal and tribal/sardari system of the country has rendered it to elect the same families, generation after generation, and to bring only them to power.
  11. For the last forty years, the two dynasties of Sharifs and Zardaris have indulged themselves in corruption of billions of dollars making the people deprived of the basic necessities of life like health and education. For this purpose, they have made all the institutions of the country their auxiliaries in corruption. Such a conduct has not only halted Pakistan’s economic and social progress but has also caused corrosion in its esteem, internationally.
  12. Having little concern with the interests of the masses, the rulers lost their confidence. As a result, the military bureaucracy has now gotten an upper hand in running the affairs of the State.

Has the Two-Nation Theory any substance? Were the Muslims of India so powerful as to strike such a victory? In 1947, the power structure of the country was like this: the Muslim population of India was less than 25 per cent, hence numerically very weak; the Hindus or the rest of the population constituted about 75 percent, hence numerically very strong; the British owned 100 per cent of the armed and administrative power, hence the owner of absolute authority. Surprisingly, the smallest ‘pistol’ had won the war despite the common belief that the real powers of India, the Hindus and the British, were against partitioning the country. Then, how the miracle happened?  In fact, the Partition came because of the wishes of all the three parties, combined together.  Had only one of them, the British, or the Hindus, or the Muslims, showed a determination not to divide the country, the Partition would never have happened. Nay, this vague concept of Partition was hanging by such a delicate balance that had even the Muslims of the minority provinces, who had nothing to get from the Partition but a self-inflicted wound, not backed this demand there would not have been any force in the demand for Pakistan. The whole idea of Pakistan as ‘the homeland for the Muslims of India’ would have fallen flat on the ground. It is, therefore, not fair to ascribe the division of the country to the demand of the Muslims alone. The Hindus, suffering from the same “fear of the other”, which the British rulers had instilled into them, wanted a rule that should not be interrupted with the presence of a number of Muslim majority provinces. After centuries of deprivation, they wanted to rule India as a Hindu dominion. The Partition of 1947 thus appears unique in the annals that a Motherland with centuries of a glorious past was broken up without its children’s ordeal of a bloodbath. As for the British, creating a separate homeland for the Muslims in 1947 would have set a precedent and relieve them from the guilt of facilitating the partition of Palestine on religious grounds just after a few months. It was also aimed at breaking-up the largest Muslim concentration, or Muslim Power, of the world.


Osman Sher is a renowned Indian writer – The article, undated, was shared by Syed Ehtisham, also from India, through email in a Google Group on August 14, 2023


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here