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The two-nation theory (Urdu: دو قومی نظریہ do qaumi nazariya, Devanagari: दो क़ौमी नज़रिया,) is the ideology that the primary identity of Muslims on the Indian subcontinent is their religion, rather than their language or ethnicity, and therefore Indian Hindus and Muslims are two distinct nationalities, regardless of ethnic or other commonalities. 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. 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 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 of Indian Muslims to Hinduism.[not in citation given][improper synthesis?]
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 come from two sources. The first is the concept of a single Indian nation, 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, this view has been presented by the Baloch, Sindhi, and the Pashtun sub-nationalities of Pakistan.
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 (later prime minister of Pakistan) argued that Indian Muslims were not yet a nation, but could be forged into one.
According to Pakistan Studies curriculum, Muhammad bin Qasim is often referred to as the first Pakistani. Muhammad Ali Jinnah also acclaimed the Pakistan movement to have started when the first Muslim put a foot in the Gateway of Islam.
The movement for Muslim self-awakening and identity was started by the Muslim modernist and reformer Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817–1898). The poet philosopher Muhammad Iqbal (1877–1938), (the poet of East), provided the philosophical exposition and Barrister Muhammad Ali Jinnah (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 by some as the first exposition of the two-nation theory in support of what would ultimately become Pakistan. 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. On March 22, 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 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, 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.
The 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) and strongly condemned the concept of a territory-based nation as anti-Islamic: "In taza khudaon mein bada sabsay 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: Butaanay rang-o-khoon ko toad 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."
Muhammad Iqbal's 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:
|“||In conclusion, I must put a straight question to Pandit Jawahar Lal, 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.||”|
In Muhammad Ali Jinnah's All India Muslim League presidential address delivered in Lahore, on March 22, 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.||”|
The Hindu Maha Sabha under the presidentship of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, 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,
|“||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.||”|
Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan who is 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.
Since the partition, the theory has been subjected to debates and interpretations on several grounds. In his memoirs entitled Pathway to Pakistan (1961), Choudhry Khaliquzzaman, the first president of the Pakistan Muslim League, approvingly quoted Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy as saying that it proved harmful to the Muslims of India. According to him, Jinnah bade farewell to it in his famous speech of August 11, 1947. In his August 11, 1947 speech, Jinnah had spoken of composite Pakistani nationalism, effectively negating faith-based nationalism that he had advocated in his speech of March 22, 1940. In his August 11 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 been facing skepticism 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. 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 was not 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 of Muttahida Qaumi Movement believes history has proved the two-nation theory wrong.  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. 
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 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).
This criticism has received a mixed response in Pakistan. A poll conducted by the research think tank Gallup Pakistan shows that an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis hold the view that separation from India was justified in 1947. 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. 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 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. 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.
Orya Maqbool Jan, former information secretary of Punjab and a columnist for Express, one of the two major Urdu newspapers in Pakistan, claims that many Indian Muslims are worse off than untouchables and that they live in fetid ghettos. 
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, in his column in Dawn, 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, and Republic of India.
According to Prof. Sharif al Mujahid, arguably the preeminent authority on Jinnah in Pakistan, the two-nation theory was relevant only to the pre-1947 subcontinental context. 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.
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 evidence 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, the partition is regarded as a tactical necessity to rid the subcontinent of British rule rather than denoting acceptance of the theory.