Two-nation theory

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A map of the British Indian Empire, 1909, showing the prevailing majority religions of the population for different districts

The two-nation theory is the basis of the creation of Pakistan. It states that Muslims and Hindus are two separate nations by every definition; therefore, Muslims should be able to have their own separate homeland in the Muslim majority areas of India, in which Islam can be practiced as the dominant religion.[1] The two-nation theory was a founding principle of the Pakistan Movement (i.e. the ideology of Pakistan as a Muslim nation-state in South Asia), and the partition of India in 1947.[2]

The ideology that religion is the determining factor in defining the nationality of Indian Muslims and Hindus was first propagated by people like Bhai Parmanand (1876–1947)[3], Rajnarayan Basu (1826–1899)[4] , Nabagopal Mitra (1840-94)[5][6][7] and Savarkar[8][9][10][11] and later adopted by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who termed it as the awakening of Muslims for the creation of Pakistan.[12] It is also a source of inspiration to several Hindu nationalist organisations, with causes as varied as the redefinition of Indian Muslims as non-Indian foreigners and second-class citizens in India, the expulsion of all Muslims from India, establishment of a legally Hindu state in India, prohibition of conversions to Islam, and the promotion of conversions or reconversions of Indian Muslims to Hinduism.[13][14][15][16]

There are varying interpretations of the two-nation theory, based on whether the two postulated nationalities can coexist in one territory or not, with radically different implications. One interpretation argued for sovereign autonomy, including the right to secede, for Muslim-majority areas of the Indian subcontinent, but without any transfer of populations (i.e. Hindus and Muslims would continue to live together). A different interpretation contends that Hindus and Muslims constitute "two distinct, and frequently antagonistic ways of life, and that therefore they cannot coexist in one nation."[17] In this version, a transfer of populations (i.e. the total removal of Hindus from Muslim-majority areas and the total removal of Muslims from Hindu-majority areas) is a desirable step towards a complete separation of two incompatible nations that "cannot coexist in a harmonious relationship".[18][19]

Opposition to the theory has come from two sources. The first is the concept of a single Indian nation, of which Hindus and Muslims are two intertwined communities.[20] This is a founding principle of the modern, officially secular, Republic of India. Even after the formation of Pakistan, debates on whether Muslims and Hindus are distinct nationalities or not continued in that country.[21] The second source of opposition is the concept that while Indians are not one nation, neither are the Muslims or Hindus of the subcontinent, and it is instead the relatively homogeneous provincial units of the subcontinent which are true nations and deserving of sovereignty; this view has been presented by the Baloch,[22] Sindhi,[23] and Pashtun[24] sub-nationalities of Pakistan.


A map of the British Indian Empire, 1909, showing the percentage of Hindus in different districts

In general, the British-run government and British commentators made "it a point of speaking of Indians as the people of India and avoid speaking of an Indian nation."[25] This was cited as a key reason for British control of the country: since Indians were not a nation, they were not capable of national self-government.[26] While some Indian leaders insisted that Indians were one nation, others agreed that Indians were not yet a nation but there was "no reason why in the course of time they should not grow into a nation."[25]

Similar debates on national identity existed within India at the linguistic, provincial and religious levels. While some argued that Indian Muslims were one nation, others argued they were not. Some, such as Liaquat Ali Khan (later prime minister of Pakistan) argued that Indian Muslims were not yet a nation, but could be forged into one.[25]

According to the Pakistan studies curriculum[which?], Muhammad bin Qasim is often referred to as the first Pakistani.[27] While Prakash K. Singh attributes the arrival of Muhammad bin Qasim as the first step towards the creation of Pakistan.[28] Muhammad Ali Jinnah considered the Pakistan movement to have started when the first Muslim put a foot in the Gateway of Islam.[29][unreliable source?]

Start of Muslim self-awakening and identity movement (19th century–1940s)[edit]

The movement for Muslim self-awakening and identity was started by the Muslim modernist and reformer Syed Ahmad Khan (1817–1898). Many Pakistanis describe him as the architect of the two-nation theory.

The poet philosopher Muhammad Iqbal (1877–1938) provided the philosophical exposition and Barrister Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1871–1948) translated it into the political reality of a nation-state.[30][page needed] Allama Iqbal's presidential address to the Muslim League on 29 December 1930 is seen by some as the first exposition of the two-nation theory in support of what would ultimately become Pakistan.[30][page needed]

The scholar Al-Biruni (973–1048) had observed, at the beginning of the eleventh century, that Hindus and Muslims differed in all matters and habits.[30][page needed] On 23 March 1940, Jinnah made a speech in Lahore which was very similar to Al-Biruni's thesis in theme and tone. Jinnah stated that Hindus and Muslims belonged to two different religious philosophies, with different social customs and literature, with no intermarriage and based on conflicting ideas and concepts. Their outlook on life and of life was different and despite 1000 years of history, the relations between the Hindus and Muslims could not attain the level of cordiality.[30][page needed]

In 1948, Jinnah said:

Islam has taught us this and I think you will agree with me, for whatever you may be and wherever you are, you are a Muslim. You belong to a nation now. You have carved out a territory, a vast territory, it is all yours; it does not belong to a Punjabi or a Sindhi or a Pathan or a Bengali, it is yours.

The All-India Muslim League, in attempting to represent Indian Muslims, felt that the Muslims of the subcontinent were a distinct and separate nation from the Hindus. At first they demanded separate electorates, but when they came to the conclusion that Muslims would not be safe in a Hindu-dominated India, they began to demand a separate state. The League demanded self-determination for Muslim-majority areas in the form of a sovereign state promising minorities equal rights and safeguards in these Muslim majority areas.[30][page needed]

The changing Indian political scenario in the second half of the 18th century.

Aspects of the theory[edit]

The theory asserted that India was not a nation. It also asserted that Hindus and Muslims of the Indian subcontinent were each a nation, despite great variations in language, culture and ethnicity within each of those groups.[31] To counter critics who said that a community of radically varying ethnicities and languages who were territorially intertwined with other communities could not be a nation, the theory said that the concept of nation in the East was different from that in the West. In the East, religion was "a complete social order which affects all the activities in life" and "where the allegiance of people is divided on the basis of religion, the idea of territorial nationalism has never succeeded."[32][33]

It asserted that "a Muslim of one country has far more sympathies with a Muslim living in another country than with a non-Muslim living in the same country."[32] Therefore, "the conception of Indian Muslims as a nation may not be ethnically correct, but socially it is correct."[33]

Muhammad Iqbal had also championed the notion of pan-Islamic nationhood (see: Ummah) and strongly condemned the concept of a territory-based nation as anti-Islamic: "In tāzah xudā'ōⁿ mēⁿ, baṙā sab sē; waṭan hai: Jō pairahan is kā hai; woh maẕhab kā, kafan hai... (Of all these new [false] gods, the biggest; is the motherland (waṭan): Its garment; is [actually] the death-shroud, of religion...)"[34] He had stated the dissolution of ethnic nationalities into a unified Muslim society (or millat) as the ultimate goal: "Butān-e raⁿŋg ō-xūⁿ kō tōṙ kar millat mēⁿ gum hō jā; Nah Tūrānī rahē bāqī, nah Īrānī, nah Afġānī (Destroy the idols of color and blood ties, and merge into the Muslim society; Let no Turanians remain, neither Iranians, nor Afghans)".[35]

Pakistan, or The Partition of India (1945)[edit]

In his 1945 book Pakistan, or The Partition of India, Indian statesman and Buddhist Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar wrote a sub-chapter titled "If Muslims truly and deeply desire Pakistan, their choice ought to be accepted". He asserted that, if the Muslims were bent on the creation of Pakistan, the demand should be conceded in the interest of the safety of India. He asks whether Muslims in the army could be trusted to defend India in the event of Muslims invading India or in the case of a Muslim rebellion. "[W]hom would the Indian Muslims in the army side with?" he questioned. According to him, the assumption that Hindus and Muslims could live under one state if they were distinct nations was but "an empty sermon, a mad project, to which no sane man would agree".[36]

Justifications by Muslim leaders[edit]

Muhammad Iqbal

Muhammad Iqbal's statement explaining the attitude of Muslim delegates to the London round-table conference issued in December 1933 was a rejoinder to Jawaharlal Nehru's statement. Nehru had said that the attitude of the Muslim delegation was based on "reactionarism". Iqbal concluded his rejoinder with:

In conclusion, I must put a straight question to Pandit Jawaharlal, how is India's problem to be solved if the majority community will neither concede the minimum safeguards necessary for the protection of a minority of 80 million people, nor accept the award of a third party; but continue to talk of a kind of nationalism which works out only to its own benefit? This position can admit of only two alternatives. Either the Indian majority community will have to accept for itself the permanent position of an agent of British imperialism in the East, or the country will have to be redistributed on a basis of religious, historical and cultural affinities so as to do away with the question of electorates and the communal problem in its present form.

— [37]

In Muhammad Ali Jinnah's All India Muslim League presidential address delivered in Lahore, on 22 March 1940, he explained:

It is extremely difficult to appreciate why our Hindu friends fail to understand the real nature of Islam and Hinduism. They are not religions in the strict sense of the word, but are, in fact, different and distinct social orders, and 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 India to destruction if we fail to revise our notions in time. The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, litterateurs. They neither intermarry nor interdine together and, indeed, they belong to two different civilizations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. Their aspect on life and of life are different. It is quite clear that Hindus and Mussalmans derive their inspiration from different sources of history. They have different epics, different heroes, and different episodes. Very often the hero of one is a foe of the other and, likewise, their victories and defeats overlap. 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.

— [38]

In 1944, Jinnah said:

We maintain and hold that Muslims and Hindus are two major nations by any definition or test of a nation. We are a nation of hundred million and what is more, we are a nation with our own distinctive culture and civilization, language and literature, art and architecture, names and nomenclature, sense of values and proportions, legal laws and moral codes, customs and calendar, history and tradition, and aptitude and ambitions. In short, we have our own outlook on life and of life.

In an interview with the British journalist Beverley Nichols, he said in 1943:

Islam is not only a religious doctrine but also a realistic code of conduct in terms of every day and everything important in life: our history, our laws and our jurisprudence. In all these things, our outlook is not only fundamentally different but also opposed to Hindus. There is nothing in life that links us together. Our names, clothes, food, festivals, and rituals, all are different. Our economic life, our educational ideas, treatment of women, attitude towards animals, and humanitarian considerations, all are very different.

In May 1947, he had an entirely different emphasis when he told Mountbatten, who was in charge of British India's transition to independence:

Your Excellency doesn't understand that the Punjab is a nation. Bengal is a nation. A man is a Punjabi or a Bengali first before he is a Hindu or a Muslim. If you give us those provinces you must, under no condition, partition them. You will destroy their viability and cause endless bloodshed and trouble.

Mountbatten replied:

Yes, of course. A man is not only a Punjabi or a Bengali before he is a Muslim or Hindu, but he is an Indian before all else. What you're saying is the perfect, absolute answer I've been looking for. You've presented me the arguments to keep India united.

Savarkar's ideas on "two nations"[edit]

The Hindu Maha Sabha under the presidency of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, discussed the idea of Hindus and Muslims being two separate nations 16 years before Jinnah did.[39][40][41]

According to Ambedkar Savarkar's idea of "two nations" did not translate into two separate countries. B. R. Ambedkar summarised Savarkar's position thus:

Mr. Savarkar... insists that, although there are two nations in India, India shall not be divided into two parts, one for Muslims and the other for the Hindus; that the two nations shall dwell in one country and shall live under the mantle of one single constitution;... In the struggle for political power between the two nations the rule of the game which Mr. Savarkar prescribes is to be one man one vote, be the man Hindu or Muslim. In his scheme a Muslim is to have no advantage which a Hindu does not have. Minority is to be no justification for privilege and majority is to be no ground for penalty. The State will guarantee the Muslims any defined measure of political power in the form of Muslim religion and Muslim culture. But the State will not guarantee secured seats in the Legislature or in the Administration and, if such guarantee is insisted upon by the Muslims, such guaranteed quota is not to exceed their proportion to the general population.[36]

But Ambedkar also expressed his surprise at the agreement between Savarkar and Jinnah regarding two nation for Hindus and Muslims.While underlying the affinity and camaraderie between Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim League on the issue of the Two-nation theory he wrote:

“Strange it may appear, Mr. Savarkar and Mr. Jinnah instead of being opposed to each other on the one nation versus two nations issue are in complete agreement about it. Both agree, not only agree but insist that there are two nations in India—one the Muslim nation and the other Hindu nation.”[42]

On 1943 Savarkar himself expressed his strong support for Jinnah's demand for separate nation for Muslims before partition.On August 15 1943 in Nagpur, he unequivocally said :

"I have no quarrel with Mr Jinnah's two-nation theory. We, Hindus, are a nation by ourselves and it is a historical fact that Hindus and Muslims are two nations."[43]

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan's opposition to the partition of India[edit]

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as "Frontier Gandhi" or "Sarhadi Gandhi", was not convinced by the two-nation theory and wanted a single united India as home for both Hindus and Muslims. He was from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, in present-day Pakistan. He believed that the partition would be harmful to the Muslims of the subcontinent. Post partition, Ghaffar Khan was a strong advocate of the Pashtunistan movement.

Gandhi's View[edit]

Gandhi was against the division of India on the basis of religion. He once wrote:

I find no parallel in history for a body of converts and their descendants claiming to be a nation apart from the parent stock.[44][45][46][47][48]

View of the Ulama[edit]

The two nation theory was opposed by the Deobandi scholars, a departure from the position of their predecessors Shah Waliullah, Syed Ahmed and Muhammad Ismail. The principal of Darul Ulum Deoband, Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madni, not only opposed the two nation theory but sought to redefine Indian Muslim nationhood. He advocated Indian nationalism, believing that nations in modern times were formed on the basis of land, culture, and history.[49] He and other leading Deobandi ulama endorsed territorial nationalism, arguing that Islam permitted it.[50] Despite opposition from most Deobandi scholars, Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi and Mufti Muhammad Shafi instead opted to justify the two nation theory and concept of Pakistan.[51][52] Likewise, the Barelwi ulama supporting the Muslim League and its Pakistan demand, argued that befriending 'unbelievers' was forbidden in Islam.[50]

Post-partition debate[edit]

Since the partition, the theory has been subjected to animated debates and different interpretations on several grounds. In his memoirs entitled Pathway to Pakistan (1961), Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman, the first president of the Pakistan Muslim League, has written: "The two-nation theory, which we had used in the fight for Pakistan, had created not only bad blood against the Muslims of the minority provinces, but also an ideological wedge, between them and the Hindus of India.".[53] He further wrote: "He (Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy) doubted the utility of the two-nation theory, which to my mind also had never paid any dividends to us, but after the partition, it proved positively injurious to the Muslims of India, and on a long-view basis for Muslims everywhere."[54]

According to Khaliquzzaman, on 1 August 1947, Jinnah invited the Muslim League members of India's constituent assembly to a farewell meeting at his Delhi house.

Mr. Rizwanullah put some awkward questions concerning the position of Muslims, who would be left over in India, their status and their future. I had never before found Mr. Jinnah so disconcerted as on that occasion, probably because he was realizing then quite vividly what was immediately in store for the Muslims. Finding the situation awkward, I asked my friends and colleagues to the end the discussion. I believe as a result of our farewell meeting, Mr. Jinnah took the earliest opportunity to bid goodbye to his two-nation theory in his speech on 11 August 1947 as the governor general-designate and President of the constituent assembly of Pakistan.


In his 11 August 1947 speech, Jinnah had spoken of composite Pakistani nationalism, effectively negating the faith-based nationalism that he had advocated in his speech of 22 March 1940. In his 11 August speech, he said that non-Muslims would be equal citizens of Pakistan and that there would be no discrimination against them. "You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the state."

The theory has faced scepticism because Muslims did not entirely separate from Hindus and about one-third of all Muslims continued to live in post-partition India as Indian citizens alongside a much larger Hindu majority.[56][57] The subsequent partition of Pakistan itself into the present-day nations of Pakistan and Bangladesh was cited as proof both that Muslims did not constitute one nation and that religion alone was not a defining factor for nationhood.[56][57][58][59][60]

Impact of the creation of Bangladesh in 1971[edit]

Some historians have claimed that the theory was a creation of a few Muslim intellectuals.[61] Prominent Pakistani politician Altaf Hussain of Muttahida Qaumi Movement believes history has proved the two-nation theory wrong.[62] He contended, "The idea of Pakistan was dead at its inception, when the majority of Muslims (in Muslim-minority areas of India) chose to stay back after partition, a truism reiterated in the creation of Bangladesh in 1971".[63] Canadian writer Tarek Fatah termed the two-nation theory as "absurd".[64]

Prominent political commentator Irfan Husain, in his column in Dawn, observed that it has now become an "impossible and exceedingly boring task of defending a defunct theory".[65] However some Pakistanis, including a retired Pakistani brigadier, Shaukat Qadir, believe that the theory could only be disproved with the reunification of independent Bangladesh, and Republic of India.[66]

According to Sharif al Mujahid, arguably the preeminent authority on Jinnah in Pakistan, the two-nation theory was relevant only in the pre-1947 subcontinental context.[67][full citation needed] He is of the opinion that the creation of Pakistan rendered it obsolete because the two nations had transformed themselves into Indian and Pakistani nations.[68][full citation needed] The columnist Muqtida Mansoor has quoted Farooq Sattar, a prominent leader of the MQM, as saying that his party did not accept the two-nation theory. "Even if there was such a theory, it has sunk in the Bay of Bengal."[69][full citation needed]

Ethnic and provincial groups in Pakistan[edit]

Several ethnic and provincial leaders in Pakistan also began to use the term "nation" to describe their provinces and argued that their very existence was threatened by the concept of amalgamation into a Pakistani nation on the basis that Muslims were one nation.[70][71] It has also been alleged that the idea that Islam is the basis of nationhood embroils Pakistan too deeply in the affairs of other predominantly Muslim states and regions, prevents the emergence of a unique sense of Pakistani nationhood that is independent of reference to India, and encourages the growth of a fundamentalist culture in the country.[72][73][74]

Also, because partition divided Indian Muslims into three groups (of roughly 150 million people each in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) instead of forming a single community inside a united India that would have numbered about 450 million people in 2010 and potentially exercised great influence over the entire subcontinent, the two-nation theory is sometimes alleged to have ultimately weakened the position of Muslims on the subcontinent and resulted in large-scale territorial shrinkage or skewing for cultural aspects that became associated with Muslims (e.g., the decline of Urdu language in India).[75][76]

This criticism has received a mixed response in Pakistan. A poll conducted by Gallup Pakistan in 2011 shows that an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis held the view that separation from India was justified in 1947.[77] Pakistani commentators have contended that two nations did not necessarily imply two states, and the fact that Bangladesh did not merge into India after separating from Pakistan supports the two nation theory.[78][66]

Others have stated that the theory is still valid despite the still-extant Muslim minority in India, and asserted variously that Indian Muslims have been "Hinduized" (i.e., lost much of their Muslim identity due to assimilation into Hindu culture), or that they are treated as an excluded or alien group by an allegedly Hindu-dominated India.[79] Factors such as lower literacy and education levels among Indian Muslims as compared to Indian Hindus, longstanding cultural differences, and outbreaks of religious violence such as those occurring during the 2002 Gujarat riots in India are cited.[2]

Pan-Islamic identity[edit]

The emergence of a sense of identity that is pan-Islamic rather than Pakistani has been defended as consistent with the founding ideology of Pakistan and the concept that "Islam itself is a nationality," despite the commonly held notion of "nationality, to Muslims, is like idol worship."[80][81] While some have emphasised that promoting the primacy of a pan-Islamic identity (over all other identities) is essential to maintaining a distinctiveness from India and preventing national "collapse", others have argued that the Two Nation Theory has served its purpose in "midwifing" Pakistan into existence and should now be discarded to allow Pakistan to emerge as a normal nation-state.[73][82]

Post-partition perspectives in India[edit]

In post-independence India, the two-nation theory has helped advance the cause of groups seeking to identify a "Hindu national culture" as the core identification of an Indian.[citation needed] This allows the acknowledgement of the common ethnicity of Hindus and Muslims while requiring that all adopt a Hindu identity to be truly Indian. From the Hindu nationalist perspective, this concedes the ethnic reality that Indian Muslims are "flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood" but still presses for an officially recognized equation of national and religious identity, i.e., that "an Indian is a Hindu."[83]

The theory and the very existence of Pakistan has caused Indian far-right extremist groups to allege that Indian Muslims "cannot be loyal citizens of India" or any other non-Muslim nation, and are "always capable and ready to perform traitorous acts".[84][85] Constitutionally, India rejects the two-nation theory and regards Indian Muslims as equal citizens.[86] From the official Indian perspective, the partition is regarded as a tactical necessity to rid the subcontinent of British rule rather than denoting acceptance of the theory.[86][87]

See also[edit]


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  • Khaliquzzaman, Choudhry (1961), Pathway to Pakistan, Lahore: Brothers' Publisher (published 1993)

External links[edit]