Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Quaid-e-Azam Day! ...I Think! Maybe! Perhaps!

It's December 23rd, and that of course means only two days remain until the big day I know you've all been waiting for.

That's right: it's almost Quaid-e-Azam Day!

Christmas, as I'm sure you know, is a Christian holiday. Pakistan is explicitly not a Christian nation. It was created that way. Pakistan was originally, prior to its creation in 1947, part of British India.

Quaid-e-Azam, which translates to "Great Leader" (real name: Muhammad Ali Jinnah), is celebrated in Pakistan on December 25th for being the catalyst in gaining independence.

In 1906, the All-India Muslim League was founded in Dhaka. If you recognize Dhaka as actually being in Bangladesh, well, it was. After 1971. In 1906, it was part of India too. The AIML was the place to be if you were a Muslim in India looking for political clout, and Jinnah was no exception. Though his goal was originally home rule for India, his politics took a more Muslim tack upon the rise of Mahatma Gandhi. Jinnah sought to achieve his aims through the hals of power, and dressed in a Western style. Gandhi, dressing explicitly Indian, went the nonviolent-activism route. Jinnah was worried that such an approach was just going to drive a wedge between the Hindu and Muslim communities. Whether or not it was Gandhi's influence that did it, a wedge was, of course, driven. Jinnah, then part of India's legislature, resigned in 1920, convinced the Muslim community was getting shafted.

Fast forward to 1940. Jinnah now heads the AIML, espousing the "Two Nation Theory", which had been proposed to the AIML in 1930 by a guy named Muhummad Iqbal. The Two Nation Theory was that Hindu and Muslim differences had by now become so irreconcilible that the only sane thing to do would be to give each side a country and let everyone get on with their lives. in 1940, the "Pakistan resolution" became the AIML's number one goal. Over the next several years, Gandhi would meet with Jinnah several times in 1944 to try and get Jinnah back on board, but if there's anything Gandhi could have told him, it came too late, and in fact, the fact that the talks were held at all was held up as proof that Gandhi didn't speak for a unified India.

In 1946, things came to a head. Britain was on their way out, and India had to figure out how self-rule was going to work. It wasn't. The Muslim community was too worried about being marginalized by the Hindu community, and demanded the two-state solution. The Indian legislature rejected that proposal, which is probably the moment when you can pinpoint the crystalization of the India/Pakistan rivalry that continues to this day, particuarly Jinnah's. What happened next, on August 16, 1946, was officially called "Direct Action Day", but in practice was widespread Muslim rioting and looting in Calcutta, spurred on by Jinnah's proclamation: "We shall have India divided or India destroyed." Some 5,000-10,000 Hindus ended up dead as a result, and copycat riots were triggered across India, including one in Noakhali (in modern-day Bangladesh) that has subsequently been referred to as genocide.

That was pretty much that. There was no way India could remain united like this. There was no choice but to split off Pakistan into its own Muslim nation. It was made official on August 17, 1947, with the provinces of Punjab and Bengal being split in half in a very haphazard split drawn up by British lawyer Cyril Radcliffe, who didn't have good maps and didn't know what in blazes he was doing. To say the least, this was a messy transition. As there were millions of people of one religion living on the side given to the other religion, most of those millions (not all; some Muslims in India stayed behind) had to get the hell out of their respective Dodge, and not all of them made it over the border alive, especially as the border made for a very handy collision point as the two sides passed each other on the way. The best estimate is that the transfer killed half a million people, though some claims range up to a million dead. And at the end of it, the region of Kashmir was mutually claimed. They still haven't worked out that one.

One way or another, Jinnah is credited with essentially founding Pakistan. He didn't stick around to see how things turned out for it, though; he died in 1948, only about a year after independence. So why does Pakistan celebrate Quaid-e-Azam Day on December 25th? By now you're very possibly guessing that it's some sort of stick-it-to-the-West thing, but no, it just happens to be Jinnah's birthday.

A birthday that only Pakistan really notices, but then, by now they're probably fine with that.

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