The house that Jinnah built

Print edition : November 07, 2003

Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammad Ali Jinnah. - THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Jinnah Papers: Pakistan - Struggling for Survival, 1 January - 30 September 1948, Editor-in-Chief Z.H. Zaidi; Qauid-i-Azam Papers Project, Government of Pakistan; distributed by Oxford University Press, Pakistan; pages 835, Rs.750.

THIS volume appeared just about the time the Government of India decided to allow the Indian Council of Cultural Relations to occupy the magnificent Jinnah House at Mount Pleasant Road in Mumbai. A few years after Partition, the British Deputy High Commissioner (DHC) began to reside there. The most senior information officials at the DHC occupied the first floor. Both moved out in the early 1980s. Around this time India agreed to Pakistan's request that it be allowed to buy or use Jinnah House to house its Consul-General and his offices, only to change its mind. For well over a decade no one lived there. The place went to seed; but never faded away from public memory or of those interested in the history of Partition and its aftermath.

For one thing, it was of undoubted historic significance. The Gandhi-Jinnah talks were held at this bungalow in September 1944. So were Jinnah's talks with Subhas Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru who met him there last; ironically, on August 15, 1946, exactly a year before India became independent and was partitioned. The host became Governor-General of Pakistan and the visitor, Prime Minister of India. Astrologers might ponder over the fact that Jinnah's only child, his daughter Dina, was also born on August 15, 1919.

Less famous was Jinnah's house at 10 Aurangzeb Road in New Delhi where the Ambassador of the Netherlands now resides. Jinnah bought it, he did not build it, unlike the Bombay house. The house at 10 Aurangazeb Road was sold to Ramkrishna Dalmia for Rs.3 lakhs shortly before Partition. In contrast, Liaquat Ali Khan did not sell his house. He gave it to his country. "Pakistan House" at Tilak Marg, formerly Hardinge Road, is now the residence of Pakistan's High Commissioner. Liaquat, born to wealth, died an impoverished man.

But it is not these "small" houses that we are here concerned with. Sunday Standard of June 14, 1981, had a detailed account of all that from one Adil Dastoor. Of greater relevance is Jinnah's concept of the greater house he built, Pakistan, and of its relations with India. Pakistanis little realise that his dream was shattered with the exodus of non-Muslims from West Pakistan. For reasons more than one, not least the character of the state, he wanted them to live there. Events overwhelmed him. He had, obviously, not quite reckoned with the rancorous atmosphere to which he himself had made no small a contribution with his abrasive rhetoric, arrogance and, of course, the poisonous two-nation theory. Most in the Congress did not lag behind in this, either.

Partition was not a parting in amity, but in bitterness. How then does one explain Jinnah's financial dealings on the eve of Partition and immediately thereafter? He prided himself on his sense of realism and rightly so. But hubris is a cruel master to those it possesses. It robbed Jinnah of that gift. Jinnah, it seems, thought that there would be no barriers between India and Pakistan.

His colossal fortune was not built up only from earnings from his lucrative practice at the Bar and the high fees he charged. He was a careful and persistent investor in shares and landed estates. By March 1947, both the Congress and the Muslim League were agreed that India would be partitioned. How then is one to explain Jinnah writing to share brokers and estate agents that very month buying 500 shares in Air India Ltd. And showing keen interest in the purchase of "Sandow Castle", described as "a large property near Bombay with 18 acres of land and with an unrestricted view of the sea". Its price was advertised at Rs.5 lakhs. He could have easily afforded to give 10 Aurangzeb Road in New Delhi to his country instead of selling it for Rs.3 lakhs.

Therein lies the relevance of this volume. A couple of documents it publishes would suggest that Jinnah liked to return to Bombay (as it was known then) and spend his last days in the house he had so fondly built. It confirms the account which India's first High Commissioner to Pakistan, Sri Prakasa, gave in his memoirs Pakistan: Birth and Last Days (Meenakshi Prakashan; Meerut, 1965).

Nehru left the Bombay house undisturbed out of courtesy. But there was a shortage of accommodation and questions were asked. Sri Prakasa was directed to consult Jinnah's wishes and the rent he wanted for letting it out. It may be recalled that the Administration of Evacuee Property Ordinance was promulgated in 1949 with retrospective application from March 1947. Travel restrictions (passports and visas) were imposed abruptly in 1948. Many were stranded on the wrong side of the frontier.

Jinnah was completely taken aback by Sri Prakasa's inquiry "and almost pleadingly said to me: `Sri Prakasa, don't break my heart. Tell Jawaharlal not to break my heart. I have built it brick by brick. Who can live in a house like that? What fine verandahs? It is a small house fit only for a small European family or a refined Indian prince. You do not know how I love Bombay. I still look forward to going back there.'

"`Really Mr.Jinnah!' I said. `You desire to go back to Bombay. I know how much Bombay owes to you and your great services to the city. May I tell the Prime Minister that you want to go back there?' He replied: `Yes, you may'."

Sri Prakasa recalled this talk in a letter to Jinnah dated July 30, 1948. It bears quotation in extenso for it reveals a lot of Jinnah's and Nehru's civility. "You will perhaps remember the interview that you were good enough to grant me on May 14, when I asked for your permission, on behalf of the Government of India, to requisition your Bombay house, in view of the acute shortage of accommodation, particularly when the house was vacant for the preceding many months.

"Besides the consideration of sentiments which we all understand, and the Government of India appreciate, you particularly mentioned that a house like that could only be occupied by either a prince or a multi-millionaire of very refined tastes, and that if it were given to all sorts of persons they would only destroy the house. You were also pleased to add that it would be difficult for anyone to imagine how much you loved Bombay and hoped, when things were settled, to go back there some day. You asked me to help in saving the house and I promised to do my best.

"I immediately sent a long telegram to Jawaharlal, conveying to him your sentiments and your desires. In deference to your wishes, he advised the Government of Bombay accordingly, and your house was not touched. I have now heard from him again; and I have to write to say that owing to the acute shortage of housing in Bombay, the Government of Bombay are being considerably embarrassed by permitting this big house remaining unoccupied, particularly when they have introduced a very rigorous housing control in that city. I have, therefore, once more to approach you with the request that you may be pleased to permit the Government of Bombay to allot your house to one of the principal foreign consulates stationed there...

"The Government of India also assured me that when the house is allotted to the consulate, a condition will be imposed that whenever it should be required for your personal use, it will be vacated by them on the expiry of a suitable period of notice. I may be permitted to add that it was a matter of great gratification to me when I learnt you were expecting to be able to go back to the city, which owes so much to you...

"If I may suggest, it would, indeed, be gracious on your part if you could yourself offer the house, in view of the conditions in Bombay, for the use of a foreign consulate. This will eliminate the fear that you expressed that the requisitioning of your house would create bitterness in the mind of Indian Muslims who may interpret the action of [the] government in a very different light; when they know that you are voluntarily making the offer in order to meet legitimate requirements, no hostile feeling will be roused, and the act will naturally and rightly be regarded as a most gracious gesture on your part."

Jinnah replied on August 16: "Thank you for your letter dated the 30th of July and for all the trouble that you have taken, and to Jawaharlal for giving careful considerations to this case. I am quite willing, as suggested by him, to let this house on the terms mentioned in your letter to a foreign consulate, not because of any racial feeling but (because) the house is built entirely in European style and for the use of a small European family.

"As regards the rent, I was offered some time ago Rs.3,000 per month, but it does not lie in my mouth to fix the rent. As it is requisitioned by [the] government, I leave it to the government to make fullest inquiries and fix such rent as they may think reasonable.

"I would prefer the American Consulate to occupy it because they would be really in a position to keep the amenities, and the very large and pretty garden which is very essential, in good condition. Thanking you for all that you have done, and looking forward to meeting you when I return to Karachi."

That was not to be. Jinnah was then in Quetta, a dying man. He breathed his last on his arrival at Karachi on September 11, 1948.

BUT Jinnah House did not cease to invite attention. In a note to the Cabinet on March 7, 1955, Nehru recalled the relief in Pakistan at the decision not to auction it as evacuee property. "I think we should further be prepared to make a gift of it to the Pakistan government, should they desire to use it as a memorial. I should like the Cabinet to consider the matter... " (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Second Series, Volume 28; Oxford University Press; page 595). On January 13, 1956, India's High Commissioner to Pakistan C.C. Desai suggested to Nehru that Jinnah House be preserved "as a relic of Jinnah" (as the editors put it in their footnote). Thereupon Nehru wrote to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in January 1956 recalling that as the Cabinet did not give his suggestion a "whole hearted welcome... There was no decision."

His colleagues objected to India, rather than Pakistan, putting up "a Jinnah memorial in Bombay". Nehru felt that in the "disturbed conditions" in the city, owing to the Maharashtra movement, the idea was "impracticable". S. Dutt, Foreign Secretary, minuted on January 20, 1956, that a Jinnah memorial by India would be inappropriate; but if the Pakistan government wanted to buy the house and preserve it as a memorial to Jinnah, "we certainly should raise no objection" (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Volume 31; pages 375-6).

It reflects the pettiness in some other quarters that in New Delhi the tax authorities began a probe "to find from which income" 10 Aurangzeb Road had been bought by Jinnah. This to a man who paid advance income tax in July 1947, knowing that he would soon be leaving India for good and acquire immunity as head of a foreign state. Jinnah sent a polite reply to the Income Tax Officer in New Delhi on April 6, 1948. It read: "With regard to the 10 Aurangzeb Road property, it was purchased by me from the funds that became available to me by selling my securities. The property was purchased, as far as I remember, in 1938 from Mr. Bisakha Singh of New Delhi, and as to further particulars that you require, all the Title Deeds are now handed over to Seth Jaidayal Dalmia (Dalmia Jain Niwas, New Delhi) and you can inspect them all. The income from the property was nil as it was never let, hence I have not been able to include this in my return for the year 1947-48. The position was the same in 1946-47. I am glad to note that you will now complete the assessment at your earliest convenience." He was willing to pay his taxes even after Partition.

SO much for matters of human interest. Some documents record events that were to loom large decades later. Sindh Chief Minister M.A. Khuhro wrote to Jinnah on January 13, 1948, complaining of the refugee influx from India. "Unless we take some prompt and energetic action, we would some day find ourselves completely overwhelmed by the problem." To this day they are dubbed mohajirs (refugees). The Mohajir Qaumi Movement began in Karachi in the early 1980s.

The seeds of East Bengal's secession were also sown in 1948. Or, were they always present in its soil? M.A. Rahim wrote to Jinnah on March 10: "You are expected to visit Dacca shortly. The Bengalis are pretentiously (sic) against the Urdu language. They are afraid of the Punjabi element permeating in (sic) the local administration. In your awaited speech at Dacca, you may say out openly (that) if that be their fear they may reserve reasonably a certain number of posts to be held by the Bengalis (say 60 per cent) and the rest by the non-Bengalis... " Attached was a note by Abdul Matin Chaudhury, a veteran politician, who said: "Fuel was added to the smouldering fire by the controversy as to what should be the state language of Eastern Pakistan, Urdu or Bengali. In Dacca, the student community, which dominates the political landscape, is amongst the most vehement protagonists of Bengali, while a section of public men, the Jamiyyat Ulama-i-Islam, Bengal, with its branches in different districts are championing the cause of Urdu. But in this controversy the target of the wrath of the champions of Bengali happens to be those whose mother tongue is not Bengali." This rift persists still between the two major parties in Bangladesh.

The United States Consulate in Calcutta reported to the Secretary of State on March 6: "The newcomer has... procured almost all of the government jobs, even those in post offices, railroads and district administration. The Bengali Muslims had expected that the Eastern Pakistan government would be manned by its Provincial Muslims and this development has created among them a very strong resentment. This resentment is not local; it was evident in Chittagong and reports from various districts indicate that the feeling is quite general.

"The political sign-post that displays most forcibly this resentment is the Urdu question. The Bengali Muslim speaks Bengali which has distinct political, cultural and provincial values that are traditional. All Bengalis, either Muslim or Hindu, have been proud of their language and literature. During the late months of 1947, widespread dissatisfaction was manifest when there was talk of making Urdu the lingua franca of all Pakistan. Attempts to change from Bengali to Urdu in the schools have failed; the President (Vice-Chancellor) of the University of Dacca - a prominent Muslim - has stated openly to the writer that Urdu is impossible as a replacement for Bengali; the great majority of Muslim Bengalis know no other language than Bengali.

"Ministers of the Central government, when speaking to Bengalis, have been forced to speak either in Bengali or English, and students repeatedly have staged protest meetings against the introduction of Urdu. The question was considered almost settled in East Bengal when its people were surprised to hear that their Prime Minister, Mr. Nazimuddin, had declared in Karachi, on February 25, that `the feeling of the majority of the people in Eastern Pakistan was that Urdu was the only language that could be adopted as the lingua franca of all Pakistan'."

Jinnah's speech in Dacca on March 21 made matters worse. It revealed how far removed he was from the realities: "Let me tell you in the clearest language that there is no truth that your normal life is going to be touched or disturbed so far as your Bengali language is concerned. But ultimately it is for you, the people of this province, to decide what shall be the language of your Province. But let me make it very clear to you that the state language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu and no other language. Any one who tries to mislead you is really the enemy of Pakistan. Without one state language, no nation can remain tied up solidly together and function. Look at the history of other countries. Therefore, so far as the state language is concerned, Pakistan's language shall be Urdu. But as I have said, it will come in time."

That very day the Deputy Leader of the East Bengal Congress Assembly party, Dhirendranath Datta, reminded Jinnah: "Your Excellency's statement at the opening session of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly to the effect that Pakistan would be a democratic secular state and that Hindus and Muslims in Pakistan would cease to be Hindus and Muslims in political and economic sphere created a very good impression in the Dominion and was very heartening to the minority communities. But the subsequent statements of different high functionaries of the state that Pakistan is a Muslim state and the Constitution would be framed according to the Shariat has created confusion and grave misgivings in the minds of the non-Muslims is greatly contributing to produce a sense of insecurity in their minds. A statement from your Excellency will go a long way to clarify the position."

A letter from Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan dated April 18 promised full cooperation. "The nature of my talk with you has been placed by me before the representatives of the Khudai Khidmatgar organisation. They have unanimously decided that they shall spare no efforts in strengthening and safeguarding the interests of Pakistan and they shall be prepared to make every sacrifice for this cause. And they have also agreed that they shall do nothing which may tend to obstruct the work of the government, but will indulge in legitimate criticism."

Jinnah was a stickler for propriety, in most matters. He was against holders of public office occupying posts in the party. But he flouted propriety by presiding over the Cabinet and holding some ministerial portfolios himself though he was Governor-General. This was utterly unprecedented and wrong. He laid the foundations of autocracy. In a speech to Officers of the Staff College at Quetta on June 14, he reminded them of their oath and said meaningfully:

"I want you to remember, and if you have time enough, you should study the Government of India Act, as adapted for use in Pakistan, who is the Governor-General and, therefore, any command or orders that may come to you cannot come without the sanction of the Executive Head. This is the legal position." He overlooked the fact that he had to act on the advice of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan. But in Pakistan the roles were reversed by Jinnah.

Thus in 1947-48 itself were sown the seeds of the four disasters that overcame Pakistan later - autocracy, secession of East Pakistan, Islamisation and the Mohajir movement. Jinnah himself sowed the seeds of autocracy and East Pakistan's alienation.

DOCUMENTS of real value are few and far between. The vast majority of the documents in the volume cover trivia - applications for jobs, for work, including one from Beverly Nichols, published speeches and the like. The editor tells us that "material of repetitive character, such as requests for photographs... congratulatory letters have not been included". There are, however, very many of them. To cite a few, on pages 132, 151, 163 and 621. Included are papers which are not "Jinnah Papers" at all and do not even refer to him; such as state papers of no relevance to his life. Included are some which make one wonder why the editor included them. Sample this from an English businessman who had come to Bombay: "I have been in India since October, charged by my firm Messrs Johnson and Johnson (Gt. Britain) Ltd. of Slough, Buckinghamshire, England, a subsidiary company of Messrs Johnson & Johnson of New Brunswick, USA, medical supply manufacturers and distributors - primarily of Baby Powder of worldwide fame - to report on the possible extension of our trading activities in the Dominion of Pakistan. It is my company's intention to seek to combine with the Government of Pakistan in such an extension." Would he have dared to write thus to the Governor-General of Canada or Australia?

There is no annotation, as is required in such a work. We are not told who the writer of a letter is. When we are, it is of someone known to all. Page 164 has 6 footnotes enlightening us who Churchill and other famous ones were. The same page, like most others, has another letter. But we are not told who the writer was. Poems of poor quality by obscure rhymesters are included.

The test is: Does the volume help one the better to understand Jinnah's record during this period? Publication of the papers is a government project. "The Cabinet decision of December 1996 regarding conversion of the project into an autonomous body has not been implemented even more than five years on."

Jinnah was one of the truly great men of our times. Detractors in India and adulators in Pakistan alike obscure his greatness, as do those of his contemporaries in India - Gandhi, Nehru, Azad and Patel.

We are told that "documents relating to the princely states have been grouped into two separate volumes, the 8th and 9th, which should be out in the near future". Dare one hope that they will shed at least as much light on Jinnah's policies on Kashmir, Hyderabad and Junagadh as the Nehru and Patel Papers do?

The series began in 1993 with a volume that covered events since February 20, 1947, the day the British government announced its plans to quit by June 30, 1948. A mass of material before that yet awaits publication.

The printing and get-up have maintained high standards over the decade. Oxford University Press has ensured a wide distribution of these fascinating volumes which no student of history can afford to ignore.

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