Why Jinnah became defiant

Print edition : September 06, 2013

March 1942: Mohammad Ali Jinnah with Sir Stafford Cripps after a meeting. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

A meeting of the Working Committeee of the All India Muslim League at Lahore. M.A. Jinnah (front row) is flanked by Sir Nizam-ud-Din (Home Minister, Bengal government) on the left and Sir Sikander Hayat Khan (Punjab Premier). Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan (second from right, second row) is among those present. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

C. Rajagopalachari with Jawaharlal Nehru. Among Congress leaders, Rajaji was the most sensitive to the issues raised by Jinnah. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

This book is a faithful record of Jinnah’s rise to unquestioned leadership, his tactical skills, his remarkable qualities as the Organisation Man, and also his short-sightedness.

“MR Jinnah recalled how in 1936 when Pandit [Jawaharlal] Nehru thundered that there were only two parties in India, namely, the British government and the Congress, he [Mr Jinnah] like a lamb bleated that there was also a third party” (Jamiluddin Ahmad; Speeches and Writings of Mr. Jinnah; Shaikh Muhamad Ashraf, Lahore; Volume 2, page 254).

Jinnah was speaking to students of Islamia College, Peshawar in November 1945. His remarks reflected his self-assurance and a sense of achievement in the last decade. There is, sadly, little effort, honestly and objectively, to explain how one who “bleated like a lamb” in 1936 came to become a formidable force a mere five years later.

In the main, two factors were responsible for this—the repeated rebuffs Jinnah received from Gandhi and the Congress and the transformation which the Congress itself underwent. The first has been widely noted, the second has been ignored.

K.M. Munshi records: “After the [1937] elections were over and the Congress had agreed to accept office, Jinnah told me, when we were by ourselves in the Bar Library of the Bombay High Court, that ‘we’ [the Congress and the Muslim League] should work together. I promised to convey his wishes to Sardar [Vallabhbhai Patel] and Gandhiji, which I did. I understood at the time that Jinnah had a similar discussion with Kher” (the Congress Premier of Bombay). Gandhi rebuffed Jinnah and directed him to meet, instead, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad. The Congress refused to accept Muslim Leaguers as members of its Ministries in the United Province and Bombay unless they left the League and joined the Congress, though they had fought the elections in a friendly spirit. On February 5, 1938, Jinnah bared his anguish to the Aligarh Muslim University Union. “At that time there was no pride in me and I used to beg from the Congress.” Muslims “were led by either the flunkeys of the British government or the coup followers of the Congress” (Ahmad; Volume 1, page 39). He decided to organise them into a force strong enough to be able to negotiate. This represented the fundamental divide between Gandhi and Nehru on the one hand and Jinnah on the other.

Jinnah sought a Congress-League Pact like the one he had forged with Bal Gangadhar Tilak in Lucknow in 1916. Nehru and Gandhi wanted all issues to be resolved in a Constituent Assembly, by a majority vote. Its consequences in a pluralistic society spelt a majoritarian polity. For Jinnah, there had to be a pre-negotiated “social contract which indeed must be the basis of an agreed Constitution” (Ahmad; Volume 1, page 129).

On New Year’s Day 1940, Jinnah pleaded with Gandhi: “Is it too much to hope and expect that you might play your legitimate role and abandon your chase after a mirage? Events are moving fast; a campaign of polemic, or your weekly discourse in the Harijan on metaphysics, philosophy and ethics, or your peculiar doctrines regarding khaddar, ahimsa and spinning are not going to win India’s freedom. Action and statesmanship alone will help us in our forward march. I believe that you might still rise to your stature in the service of our land and make your proper contribution towards leading India to contentment and happiness” (Ahmad; Volume 1, page 126).

On March 23, 1940, came the Muslim League’s resolution on Pakistan. The consensus at that time was that it was a bargaining counter. The text of the resolution clearly reveals some play at the joints. Barring Dr B.R. Ambedkar, hardly anyone cared to subject it to critical scrutiny.

What has been widely ignored is that, well before the 1940 resolution, the Congress had changed its character and complexion. One episode suffices to reveal that. In late 1945, Vallabhbhai Patel performed the opening ceremony of the Pransukhlal Mafatlal Hindu Swimming Bath & Boating Club at Chowpatty in Bombay. Its membership was confined—and still is confined—to Hindus. Can you imagine Nehru engaging in such a brazenly communal venture? That was not a reaction to the Pakistan resolution or Jinnah’s politics. It expressed an outlook which preceded them and led to both.

In the light of its failure, Muslim Leaguers as well as the Patelites in the Congress began to pour ridicule on the Muslim Mass Contact Campaign which Nehru launched once he became Congress president in 1937. Neither cares to face the truth. The movement had registered progress enough to cause alarm in the Muslim League, especially among its supporters at the Aligarh Muslim University where Communists and pro-Congress Muslims were present in significant numbers. The campaign was sabotaged by elements within the Congress. Its success would have arrested the transformation in the Congress and added to Nehru’s clout within the party. The Socialists would have gained strength.

The story of this sordid betrayal of fateful consequences has been told in a learned journal by a scholar who had delved into the archives: “The failure of Nehru’s Mass Contacts Campaign and the rise of Muslim separatism” by Lt Col. James E. Dillard ( Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies; Vol. XXXI, No. 2; Winter 2008). Dillard was Director of Graduate Studies at the National Defence Intelligence College in the United States and was a PhD candidate.

He begins by posing two questions: “Did Gandhi’s and Nehru’s tactics and political predilections lessen the likelihood of Hindu-Muslim unity and presage the partition of India? Was the gulf between revolutionary nationalists leading the Indian National Congress and the far more conservative Muslims impossible to bridge in the years before World War II? How grave a miscalculation was it for Congress to marginalise and bypass the Muslim League in mobilising a campaign to integrate Muslim voter into their political fold?”

Communal elements in the congress

After recalling the successes which the campaign had registered, Dillard pointed out: “The success of the Muslim Mass Contacts Campaign depended on the active support of provincial and district Congress committees. That this support was often not present can be attributed to a couple of factors. One reason was that these bodies were often controlled by men with anti-Muslim proclivities who had close links with the Hindu Mahasabha and other overtly communal organisations. Another factor was the continuing efforts of local Congress leaders to exacerbate communal tensions, particularly in places such as Budaun, Bareily and Dehradun. The presence of such elements in Congress made the task of drawing Muslims into the nationalist fold difficult. It further diminished the chances of accomplishing Hindu-Muslim amity.

“Congress’ one and only attempt to isolate these communal elements resulted in a dismal failure. On 11-16 December 1938, the CWC [Congress Working Committee] declared the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League as communal organisations and debarred elected members of Congress committees from serving on similar committees in the Mahasabha and the League. This decision, albeit adopted late in the campaign, led provincial and district Congress committees throughout India to ask whether they could exclude Hindu Mahasabhites from the Congress organisation. In a remarkably convoluted interpretation relayed to these committees, J.B. Kripalani, Congress’ general secretary, ignored the views of provincial and district leaders that the very prestige and credibility of Congress would suffer if Congress members could still serve as members of Hindu Mahasabha organisations. Kripalani demurred and wrote to the secretary of Bengal Provincial Congress Committee. ‘You must remember Article V (c) in the Constitution refers not to primary members of any communal organisation but to members of elected committees. There is therefore nothing in the Congress Constitution, even if the working committee named some organisations as communal, in the sense contemplated by Article V (c) to prevent ordinary members of such organisation from being office holders in the Congress organisation.’

“Disregarding the spirit of the CWC resolution, the general secretary’s interpretation gave a free hand to communal groups to move in and out of Congress with ease and to meddle in its affairs brazenly.” The exception was made in favour of the Mahasabha; the Muslim Leaguers were excluded.

Apart from Vallabhbhai Patel and Kripalani there were men like Rajendra Prasad, Ravi Shankar Shukla, Parshottamdas Tandon and G.B. Pant who did not share Nehru’s outlook. Sarvepalli Gopal’s biography of Nehru mentions the problems which Patel & Co. created for Nehru. There was, however, a serious flaw in Nehru’s approach also, born out of his arrogance. He dismissed the communal problem altogether and refused to have a pact with Jinnah. “It was based on a series of fresh assumptions that questioned the very efficacy of negotiating with a handful of Muslim politicians for short-term political gains. As Nehru observed, ‘We have too long thought in terms of pacts and compromises with communal leaders, and neglected the people behind them.’ He even called it a ‘discredited policy’ and hoped that Congress would not revert to it.”

Arrogance of power was so pervasive that on August 9, 1938, Sir Tej Bahadur wrote to Sachidanand Sinha: “Frankly with all my honour of Jinnah’s latter day politics, I think he is the only man in India who can accept the challenge”. This, Jinnah did by upsetting the apple cart decisively. The Pakistan resolution fired the imagination of masses of Muslims. The poisonous two-nation theory fouled the climate. The Congress had underestimated Jinnah’s personality completely. Had its tactics succeeded, he would have been marginalised into irrelevance and the Muslims left without anyone to press for their demands with the Congress leadership, which refused to recognise that the communal problem existed or that the Muslims needed safeguards negotiated with them.

This book is a faithful record of Jinnah’s rise to unquestioned leadership, his tactical skills, his remarkable qualities as the Organisation Man, which critics and admirers alike overlook, and also his short-sightedness, whose bitter consequences he and the Muslims had to face in 1947.

The proposals which Stafford Cripps put forth in his famous offer published on March 30, 1942, marked a triumph for Jinnah because for the first time ever the British envisaged the partition of India. That brought to the fore two crucial issues—the boundaries of Pakistan and the character of that state. When the Lahore Resolution spoke of “such territorial readjustments as may be necessary” to set up “independent states” in “areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority”, neither its draftsmen nor supporters could have been ignorant of the fact that in whole swathes of East Punjab and West Bengal Muslims were in a minority. If Jinnah had accepted the realities publicly, the League leaders with landed estates in East Punjab would have deserted him.

Cripps’ proposals

Cripps’ proposals enabled a province to secede from the Union. Owing to the “weightage” given to the minorities in the electoral arrangements in the Punjab, the proportion of Muslims in the legislature did not exactly correspond with the proportion of the population. In the legislature it was 50.9 per cent, of the population it was 57.1 per cent. The position in Bengal was still less well balanced: the corresponding figures there were 49.2 per cent and 54.7 per cent. Since it seemed improper that so momentous a decision should depend on so narrow a margin of votes, Sir Stafford proposed that, if the majority in favour of accession was less than 60 per cent of the legislature, the minority should be entitled to demand a plebiscite of the adult male population.

This volume helpfully fills some gaps in Volume I of The Transfer of Power covering the period January-April 1942 (ed. Nicholas Mansergh and E.W.R. Lumby; HMSO, London, 1970). Missing in both is Jinnah’s note to Cripps on April 8, 1942, to which Cripps referred in his letter to Jinnah on April 9 published in Jinnah Papers alone. It deserves to be quoted in full for it reflects the style and approach which Jinnah had already adopted to no good results: “Thank you very much for your note of last night giving me the alternative suggestion as to the determination upon non-accession by the provinces. I have, as you asked me to do, considered the matter carefully, but it is quite impossible for me to accept it for the following reason: You suggest that in any province where there is a Muslim majority, the plebiscite should be of that majority only and the decision should bind the whole provincial population, Musalman and other. If you apply this to a hypothetical case in which there is a Muslim population of 55 per cent with 45 per cent of other communities, then, according to your suggestion, the 55 per cent alone would take part in the plebiscite. A clear majority of those voting in the plebiscite would be 28 per cent of the total population and they could determine that issue for the whole province. In other words, 28 per cent of the whole population could compel 72 per cent to act against their own wishes. This is an obvious impossibility as I am sure you will recognise.”

Yet Jinnah pursued their line during his talks with Gandhi, as his letter of September 25, 1944, reveals: “They alone are entitled to exercise this right of theirs for self-determination.” Ambedkar’s critique was scathing. To Jinnah the Hindus of Punjab and Bengal “are only chattels so that they must always go whenever the Muslims” of those provinces “choose to drive them”.

Cripps’ press conference in New Delhi on March 29, 1942, should have alerted Jinnah. Asked a pointed question about plebiscite in a province in which two communities occupy separate areas, Cripps replied: “If there is the smallest amount of common sense amongst the Indians, there would be a rearrangement of boundaries as between the two Unions, and exchange of populations to get the [ sic.] large majority in each.” This is exactly what was agreed in June 1947.

Rajaji’s logic

As Prime Minister of the Madras Presidency, Rajaji (C. Rajagopalachari) persuaded the Legislature Congress Party to pass a resolution on April 23, 1942, which acknowledged “the Muslim League’s claim for separation”, albeit “as a lesser evil”, in order to form a national government. Only that bold, courageous and creative leader could have acted thus. He wrote to Jinnah on July 20, 1942, in which he quoted a memo by Liaquat Ali Khan which said: “In defining the area of the homeland, the North-West State would include Sind, Baluchistan, the North-West Frontier (Province) and the Punjab as they are constituted today. As regards Bengal, certain districts from Assam, where Muslims are in great majority, may have to be amalgamated with Bengal Province. On the other hand, certain districts in Bengal, where Hindus are in a great majority, may have to be seceded from Bengal. Subject to this modification in Bengal and Assam, the other Muslim [majority] provinces, as mentioned above, will come under Pakistan without any modification.” Why should the principle not apply to Punjab also?

Rajaji’s comments on this were devastating in their logic: “I am very anxious that the case for separation should not be spoiled by overstatement. In fact I am meeting many an argument against separation on the ground that they do not do justice to your position, and it would hurt the cause if Nawabzada is represented to have made the claim in regard to Punjab as contained in this paragraph. Punjab like Bengal contains districts where Hindus are in a great majority, and those districts both in Punjab and Bengal will have to be marked out of the scheme of Pakistan.

“I may again repeat what I said to you in person that it will not help the case to emphasise the claim that separation should be based on the ascertainment of the wishes of not all the people of the area but that the plebiscite should be confirmed [ sic, for confined] to the Muslims alone. In this, Nawabzada’s statement follows the resolution of the Muslim League Working Committee at the time of the Cripps negotiations. But the claim that the whole of Punjab as constituted today is to be deemed as an area wherein the Muslims are in a majority, is inconsistent with the resolution of the Muslim League wherein the claim for separation is confined to areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary.”

This was a friendly plea by one who had incurred odium for taking the stand he did. Jinnah replied on July 28: “ I am sorry I cannot discuss the matters of detail as I intimated to you in our interview. First of all, the question of the principle of separation should be agreed upon by those who represent Hindu India. All other questions that you have raised are merely matters of detail as to how to give effect to and carry on the partition of India.

“I do not want that we should be involved in discussing the details before the fundamental principle is agreed upon, as in my opinion it will create unnecessary confusion regarding the matter.”

Jinnah had a problem. Rajaji did not represent the Congress. Still, the people were entitled to know what the principle of separation entailed. But, to Jinnah “if you start asking for sixteen annas in a rupee, there is room for bargaining”. It was this overconfidence in his skills as a tactician in “bargaining” which proved to be his undoing not only in the messy partition but also on Junagadh, Hyderabad and Kashmir.

Jinnah was being unfair, not only to his opponents but also to his followers. Prof. R.J. Moore, one of the foremost authorities on Partition, reveals: “The Cripps Mission file (802) in the Quaid-i-Azam Papers contains correspondence between Jinnah and Cripps regarding the creation of a new Indian Union, but it is ‘embargoed’. On 17 January 1942 Jinnah had disclosed to [Prof. Reginald] Coupland his readiness for Punjab to cede Ambala Division to U.P., and for Bengal to cede its Hindu western districts to Bihar, provided it acquired Assam (Diary, page 65)” (R.J. Moore; Escape from Empire; Oxford University Press; page 54; footnote 117). Thus, Jinnah himself had accepted the principle of partition of both provinces. Yet, as late as in May 1947 he assured his followers that he would not yield on the issue—though at that very time he was “bargaining” on the terms of reference of a boundary commission on the two parts of Punjab and Bengal.

Baleful ideas

No less baleful were his ideas on history, geography and political science. In an interview to Preston Grover of the Associated Press of America on July 1, 1942, he said: “The only way for Britain… is to hand over the Muslim homelands to the Muslims and the Hindu homelands to the Hindus.” This was utter nonsense. Muslims did not enter the north, make it their “homeland” and spread downwards. Islam came first to the South, in Malabar. And what of Bengal and Assam? For that matter, wherever one was born was his “homeland”. His concept of Pakistan was majoritarian, a licence he was ready to concede to the rest of India.

The situation was not helped one bit by Gandhi and the Congress. Both spoke with a forked tongue, consistently. On April 11, 1942, the Working Committee said it could not “think in terms of compelling the people of any territorial unit to remain in an Indian Union against their declared and established will”. On May 1, 1942, the AICC declared that “any proposal to disintegrate India by giving liberty to any component state or territorial unit to secede from the Indian Union or Federation will be highly detrimental to the best interests of the people of the different States and provinces and the country as a whole, and the Congress, therefore, cannot agree to any such proposal.

“Giving permission for the resolution [to be] moved […] the President [A.K. Azad] gave it as his opinion that the resolution in no way contradicted the position taken up by the Working Committee at Delhi with regard to the question of the demand for the partition of India made by the Muslim League and incorporated in the resolution dealing with Sir Stafford’s draft proposals.” Only Azad could have reconciled the two.

Until the very end, as late as in 1947, neither the Congress nor Gandhi had anything to offer to the Muslim Leaguers or Congressmen. Tej Bahadur Sapru as well as V.P. Menon noticed this.

Jinnah’s personal integrity is acknowledged universally. This was particularly true of accountability for public funds. Even the donor of a rupee received a receipt signed by Jinnah himself. The accounts were audited. A note by his secretary Matlub H. Saiyid dated August 26, 1942, acknowledged: “The total amount received by M.A. Jinnah in response to his appeal for the All India Muslim League Fund upto 26th of August 1942 was Rs.3,48,611- 9-8” [that is, nine annas and eight paise].

Jinnah worked himself to death. He was fund collector, vote getter, policy guide and organisation man—a one-man army to face the Congress.

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