Two-Nation Theory

Two-Nation Theory

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The Two-Nation Theory proposed by Allama Iqbal is the ideology that the primary identity of Muslims in the Indian subcontinent
Indian subcontinent
The Indian subcontinent, also Indian Subcontinent, Indo-Pak Subcontinent or South Asian Subcontinent is a region of the Asian continent on the Indian tectonic plate from the Hindu Kush or Hindu Koh, Himalayas and including the Kuen Lun and Karakoram ranges, forming a land mass which extends...

 is their religion, rather than their language or ethnicity, and therefore Indian Hindus and Muslims are two distinct nationalities
Nationality is membership of a nation or sovereign state, usually determined by their citizenship, but sometimes by ethnicity or place of residence, or based on their sense of national identity....

, regardless of ethnic or other commonalities. The Two Nation Theory was a founding principle of the Pakistan Movement
Pakistan Movement
The Pakistan Movement or Tehrik-e-Pakistan refers to the historical movement to have an independent Muslim state named Pakistan created from the separation of the north-western region of the Indian subcontinent, partitioned within or outside the British Indian Empire. It had its origins in the...

 (i.e. the Ideology of Pakistan
Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

), and the Partition of India
Partition of India
The Partition of India was the partition of British India on the basis of religious demographics that led to the creation of the sovereign states of the Dominion of Pakistan and the Union of India on 14 and 15...

 in 1947. The ideology that religion is the determining factor in defining the nationality of Indian Muslims is also a source of inspiration to several Hindu nationalist
Hindu nationalism
Hindu nationalism has been collectively referred to as the expressions of social and political thought, based on the native spiritual and cultural traditions of historical India...

 organizations, with causes as varied as the redefinition of Indian Muslims as non-Indian foreigners 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
Shuddhi is Sanskrit for purification. In Hinduism it is a part of worship. It also sometimes refers to reverting to Hinduism after converting from Hinduism to another religion.-Shuddhi movement:...

 of Indian Muslims to Hinduism.

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." 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".

Opposition to the theory has comes from two sources. The first is the concept of a single Indian nation
Greater India
Greater India is a term that refers to the historical spread of the culture of India beyond the Indian subcontinent...

, of which Hindus and Muslims are two intertwined communities. 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 as well. 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 former provincial units of the subcontinent which are true nations and deserving of sovereignty.


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." 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. 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." 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
Liaquat Ali Khan
For other people with the same or similar name, see Liaqat Ali Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan was a Pakistani statesman who became the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, Defence minister and Commonwealth, Kashmir Affairs...

 (later prime minister of Pakistan) argued that Indian Muslims were not yet a nation, but could be forged into one.

The movement for Muslim self-awakening and identity was started by the Muslim Modernist and reformer Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817–1898). Poet Philosopher Allama Muhammad Iqbal
Muhammad Iqbal
Sir Muhammad Iqbal , commonly referred to as Allama Iqbal , was a poet and philosopher born in Sialkot, then in the Punjab Province of British India, now in Pakistan...

 (1877–1938), (the poet of East), provided the philosophical explanation and Barrister
A barrister is a member of one of the two classes of lawyer found in many common law jurisdictions with split legal professions. Barristers specialise in courtroom advocacy, drafting legal pleadings and giving expert legal opinions...

 Muhammad Ali Jinnah
Muhammad Ali Jinnah
Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a Muslim lawyer, politician, statesman and the founder of Pakistan. He is popularly and officially known in Pakistan as Quaid-e-Azam and Baba-e-Qaum ....

 (1871–1948) translated it into the political reality of a nation state. Allama Iqbal's presidential address to the Muslim League on December 29, 1930 is seen as the first introduction of the two-nation theory in support of what would ultimately become Pakistan. The scholar Al-Biruni
Abū al-Rayḥān Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad al-BīrūnīArabic spelling. . The intermediate form Abū Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī is often used in academic literature...

 (973-1048) had observed, at the beginning of the eleventh century, that Hindus and Muslims differed in all matters and habits. On March 22, 1940, Jinnah made a speech in Lahore
Lahore is the capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab and the second largest city in the country. With a rich and fabulous history dating back to over a thousand years ago, Lahore is no doubt Pakistan's cultural capital. One of the most densely populated cities in the world, Lahore remains a...

 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 1,000 years of history, the relations between the Hindus and Muslims could not attain the level of cordiality. 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
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, they began to demand a separate state. The League
League of Nations
The League of Nations was an intergovernmental organization founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War. It was the first permanent international organization whose principal mission was to maintain world peace...

 demanded self-determination
Self-determination is the principle in international law that nations have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no external compulsion or external interference...

 for Muslim-majority areas in the form of a sovereign state promising minorities equal rights and safeguards in these Muslim majority areas.

The Two-Nation Theory asserted that India was not a nation. It also asserted that Indian Hindus and Indian Muslims were each a nation, despite great variations in language, culture and ethnicity within each of those groups. 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." 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." Therefore, "the conception of Indian Muslims as a nation may not be ethnically correct, but socially it is correct." Iqbal had also championed the notion of pan-Islamic nationhood (see: Ummah
Ummah is an Arabic word meaning "community" or "nation." It is commonly used to mean either the collective nation of states, or the whole Arab world...

) and attacked the concept of a territory-centered nation as anti-Islamic: "In taza khudaon mein bara sabse watan hai; Jo pairahan iska hai, voh mazhab ka kafan hai (Of all the new false gods, the biggest is the Motherland (watan); The garment of this idea is actually the death-shroud of religion)." He had stated the dissolution of ethnic nationalities into a unified Muslim society (or millat) as the ultimate goal: Butaan-e-rang-o-khoon ko tor kar millat mein gum ho ja; Na Turani rahe baqi, na Irani, na Afghani (Destroy the idols of color and blood-ties, and merge into the Muslim society; Let no Turanians remain, no Iranians, no Afghans).

In his book Pakistan, or The Partition of India, 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."

Two Nation Theory in the post-partition period

After Independence and Partition, the Two Nation Theory has faced criticism within Pakistan on several grounds. It faced skepticism because Muslims did not entirely separate from Hindus and about one-third of all Indian Muslims continued to live in post-partition India as Indian citizens alongside a much larger Hindu majority. The subsequent partition of Pakistan itself
Bangladesh Liberation War
The Bangladesh Liberation War was an armed conflict pitting East Pakistan and India against West Pakistan. The war resulted in the secession of East Pakistan, which became the independent nation of Bangladesh....

 into the present-day nations of Pakistan and Bangladesh
Bangladesh , officially the People's Republic of Bangladesh is a sovereign state located in South Asia. It is bordered by India on all sides except for a small border with Burma to the far southeast and by the Bay of Bengal to the south...

 was cited as proof both that Muslims did not constitute one nation and that religion could not be used a defining factor for nationhood. Some historians have claimed that the theory was a creation of a few Muslim intellectuals. Prominent Pakistani politician Altaf Hussain
Altaf Hussain
Altaf Hussain is the founder and leader of the Muttahida Quami Movement . The MQM emerged as the third largest political party in the national assembly of Pakistan during 1988 and 1990 elections. The MQM secured representation in the parliamentary elections held in the northern areas of Pakistan...

 of Muttahida Qaumi Movement
Muttahida Qaumi Movement
Muttahida Qaumi Movement generally known as MQM, is a liberal-secular political party of Pakistan. It is generally known as a party which holds immense mobilizing potential in province of Sindh...

 believes history has proved the two-nation theory wrong. He contended that "The idea of Pakistan was dead at its inception, when the majority of Muslims chose to stay back after partition, a truism reiterated in the creation of Bangladesh in 1971."

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. 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. 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 in the subcontinent and resulted in large-scale territorial shrinkage for cultural aspects that became associated with Muslims (e.g. the Urdu language).

This criticism has received a mixed response from Pakistani commentators. Some 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. Others have stated the theory is still valid despite the still-extant Muslim minority in India, and asserted variously that Indian Muslims have been "Hinduised" (i.e. lost much of their Islamic identity due to assimilation into Hindu culture), or that they are treated as an excluded or alien group by an allegedly Hindu-dominated India. Factors such as lower literacy and education levels amongst Indian Muslims as compared to Indian Hindus, long-standing cultural differences, and outbreaks of religious violence such as those occurring during the 2002 Gujarat Riots
2002 Gujarat violence
The 2002 Gujarat violence describes the Godhra train burning and resulting communal riots between Hindus and Muslims. On 27 February 2002 at Godhra City in the state of Gujarat, the Sabarmati Express train was attacked by a large Muslim mob in a conspiracy. But some authentic sources deny the claim...

 in India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 are cited. 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," while the commonly-held notion of "nationality, to Muslims, is like idol worship." While some have emphasized 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. Prominent political commentator Irfan Husain
Irfan Husain
Irfan Husain has been writing on a wide range of subjects for newspapers in Pakistan and elsewhere since 1970. He currently writes two weekly columns for Dawn, Pakistan’s widely circulated and highly respected daily...

, in his column in The Dawn
Dawn (newspaper)
Dawn is Pakistan's oldest and most widely read English-language newspaper. One of the country's two largest English-language dailies, it is the flagship of the Dawn Group of Newspapers, published by Pakistan Herald Publications, which also owns the Herald, a magazine, the evening paper The Star and...

, observed that it has now become an “impossible and exceedingly boring task of defending a defunct theory”. However some Pakistanis including, a retired Pakistani Brigadier believe that the theory could only be disproved with the reunification of independent Bangladesh
Bangladesh , officially the People's Republic of Bangladesh is a sovereign state located in South Asia. It is bordered by India on all sides except for a small border with Burma to the far southeast and by the Bay of Bengal to the south...

, and Republic of India.

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. This allows the acknowledgment of the common ethnicity of Hindus and Muslims while requiring that all adopt a Hindu identity in order 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." The theory has provided ideological inspiration to the allegation 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". Constitutionally, India rejects the two nation theory and regards Indian Muslims as equal citizens. From the official Indian perspective, Partition is regarded as a tactical necessity to rid the subcontinent of British rule rather than denoting acceptance of the theory.

Statements and sayings

In Muhammad Ali Jinnah
Muhammad Ali Jinnah
Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a Muslim lawyer, politician, statesman and the founder of Pakistan. He is popularly and officially known in Pakistan as Quaid-e-Azam and Baba-e-Qaum ....

's All India Muslim League Presidential Address delivered at Lahore, on March 22–23, 1940, he explained:
Allama Iqbal's
Muhammad Iqbal
Sir Muhammad Iqbal , commonly referred to as Allama Iqbal , was a poet and philosopher born in Sialkot, then in the Punjab Province of British India, now in Pakistan...

 statement explaining the attitude of Muslim delegates to the london's Round-Table Conference issued in December, 1933 was a rejoinder to Jawahar Lal Nehru's statement. Nehru had said that the attitude of the Muslim delegation was based on “reactionarism”. Iqbal concluded his rejoinder with:

Savarkar's opposition to the formation of Pakistan

The Hindu Maha Sabha under the presidentship of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar
Vināyak Dāmodar Sāvarkar was an Indian freedom fighter, revolutionary and politician. He was the proponent of liberty as the ultimate ideal. Savarkar was a poet, writer and playwright...

, presented a stand of complete opposition to the formation of Pakistan. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar summaries Savarkar's position, in his Pakistan or The Partition of India as follows,

Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan's opposition to the partition of India

Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan who is also known as "Frontier Gandhi" or "Sarhad Gandhi" was not convinced by the Two Nation Theory and wanted a single United India as home for both Hindus and Muslims. He headed from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, in present day Pakistan, where he told Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi , pronounced . 2 October 1869 – 30 January 1948) was the pre-eminent political and ideological leader of India during the Indian independence movement...

: "You have put us in the mouth of Wolves."