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Liaquat and Jinnah

A.G. NOORANI 24 September 2004 00:00 IST
Updated: 24 September 2004 00:00 IST

`Dear Mr. Jinnah': Selected Correspondence and speeches of Liaquat Ali Khan, 1937-1947; edited by Roger D. Long; Oxford University Press, Karachi; pages 328, Rs.495.

Liaquat Ali Khan: His life and work by Muhammad Reza Kazimi; Oxford University Press, Karachi; pages 354, Rs.595.

Jinnah-Liaquat Correspondence; edited by Muhammed Reza Kazimi; Pakistan Study Centre, University of Karachi; Indus Publications, Karachi; pages 286, Rs.350.

IN Pakistan and, more so, in India Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan suffers from neglect at the hands of historians. He was general secretary of the All India Muslim League from 1936 to 1947 and was Pakistan's first Prime Minister until his tragic and fateful assassination in October 1951. Pakistan's democracy struggled along until it was dealt a grievous blow in 1959 by an Army coup in which senior civil servants, politicians and the Chief Justice Munir of the Supreme Court collaborated. However, while in India study of this remarkable man suffered from mere neglect, in Pakistan a cottage industry of sorts sprang up in various quarters to denigrate Liaquat, compare him to Mohammad Ali Jinnah unfairly and all but canonise Jinnah. To this day, hardly any academic of note has ventured seriously to subject Jinnah's record to critical scrutiny, which is rightly his due as one of the great men the subcontinent has produced.

Two academics, Kazimi, a Pakistani, and Long, an American, have sought to fill the void. Both have edited collections of Liaquat's letters. Kazimi has written a biography; Long has been working on one. Kazimi's collection has more letters, including four of historic importance. Long has quoted extracts from Liaquat's speeches as well. Both provide annotations. Long's are more informative; besides, each chapter, covering a year, has a good introduction. Both authors have worked hard; but neither as hard as he ought to have. Sadly, both have ill-served the Nawabzada. Neither has grasped the full measure of the man; understood the significance of his enormous, almost indispensable, role in the movement for Pakistan; the equation he really had with Jinnah, and the qualities distinctly his - some of which Jinnah lacked. Their indifference to the record is matched by confident assertion unsupported by facts.

Kazimi claims that his book, a portrayal of Liaquat's "life and work" has gained by "the declassification of records pertaining to the role of Liaquat Ali Khan as Prime Minister... ." Both claims are unjustified. The period in which he served as Prime Minister covers 54 pages. Chapter 10 on "The Prime Minister" has two pages followed by two chapters on "the Soviet Bloc" and "The Western bloc" (of eight and seven pages, respectively). Another of 10 pages on Kashmir is followed by brief ones on the domestic scene and the economy, ending with the last, "Conclusion". Most of the sources on which the entire book is based are secondary. It was one of Liaquat's crowning achievements to have concluded the famous Nehru-Liaquat Agreement on April 8, 1950, after a week's negotiations in New Delhi. It concerned the minorities in both states. This landmark in India-Pakistan relations is not even mentioned. Nor is the historic conference on Kashmir, in New Delhi from July 20-24, 1950, under the United Nations Mediator Owen Dixon's auspices.

Kazimi seems unable to read documents correctly and speculates wildly. Lord Mountbatten recorded that on April 21, 1947, Liaquat "suggested that a possible alternative could be for two independent sovereign states to be set up and the Constituent Assemblies of the two devise machinery for running those matters connected with Defence, which were of common interest. Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan said the only hope, in a meeting of the Indian leaders, was to put two clear-cut alternatives before them... " Kazimi opines: "There seems to be omissions in these minutes as well. Liaquat speaks of two clear-cut alternatives to partition and only one is mentioned." The text clearly has Liaquat suggesting "a possible alternative" to Mountbatten and asking him to put forth "two" of his own for the leaders to choose from.

Khalid B. Sayeed wrote of Liaquat: "He carefully kept himself aloof from all intrigues and soon outpaced Choudhry Khaliquzzaman, his most formidable rival, and also Nawab Ismail Khan, Chairman of the Committee of Action, in rising to a position next to Jinnah... . But his main source of strength was the trust his leader placed in him. Had it not been for this fact, the clever Khaliquzzaman or the dynamic Suhrawardy might have supplanted him."

Kazimi comments: "What constitutes the most intriguing element of Khalid B. Sayeed's estimation, however, is his premise that Khaliquzzaman was cleverer and Suhrawardy was more dynamic than Liaquat. This means that Jinnah valued Liaquat neither for his judgment nor for his energy, but for his subservience to him. This is in conformity with the conclusion of M.C. Chagla, Liaquat's contemporary at Oxford and his predecessor as Jinnah's confidant. Chagla was under Jinnah's tutelage in his chambers as well as in political affairs. Had Chagla not broken with Jinnah and the League over the Nehru report, it would have been him and not Khaliquzzaman or Suhrawardy who would merit mention as Liaquat's most formidable rival and as Jinnah's closest ally"(emphasis added, throughout).

Sayeed's remarks do not support Kazimi's far-fetched conclusion. They reflect more than an incapacity to read the text. They reveal a profound ignorance of all three - Jinnah, Liaquat and Chagla - and Jinnah's needs which Liaquat fulfilled as his "right hand", as Jinnah publicly acknowledged.

Chagla was Secretary of the Bombay Muslim League in the 1920s when it was not a mass organisation. He studiously omits to mention this in his memoirs. It became one after 1937. A Chagla who could believe that the poem Sara (sic) Jahan se Achcha Hindustan Hamara "was written by [Mohammad] Iqbal in his nationalist days and when he changed his politics and became an extreme communalist he altered the first line to suit his newly found faith in Pakistan" was hardly equipped to play a role in politics after 1937 (M.C. Chagla; Roses in December, 1973, pages 34-35).

By then Jinnah had sized up the man around him. He did not need a "clever" men like Khaliquzzaman. (It is not a flattering word.) He needed not only a sensible, stable and trustworthy man, but one who could run the party machine; do the daily grind of dealing with "clever" provincials; be a man of the masses and one who understood the leader. Behind the charismatic Gandhi and Nehru was the Organisation Man, Sardar Patel. Sheikh Abdullah had Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed and later Mirza Afzal Beg. All these did the messy work, quietly and competently. Charisma can begin a movement; it cannot run a political party.

Without Jinnah's brilliant tactics, courage, determination and personal integrity, Pakistan would not have been and could not have been established. Without Liaquat's solid help, equable temperament, sure grasp of the party's requirements and unostentatious nature Jinnah would not, could not, have succeeded either. Muslim politicians there were more "clever" and "dynamic". But none had Liaquat's unique blend of gifts, which were indispensable to Jinnah's success. There was more to him, besides; he was, as his letters reveal, tactically astute and realistic as well. It must not be left unsaid. Unlike Jinnah he was not self-centred "an egotist without the mask" as B.R. Ambedkar called him. Few, hardly any, writers on the League's politics appreciate this fact. It lies at the core of the Jinnah-Liaquat equation.

The letters, which Long and Kazimi have edited, bring it out strikingly. Long concerns himself with policy; except at the end, when he touches dirt. Trivia absorb Kazimi. He writes in his Introduction to the Correspondence: "From the beginning of their correspondence in 1936 to the dawn of independence, Liaquat Ali Khan's mode of address to Mohammad Ali Jinnah remained consistently formal; `Dear Mr. Jinnah.' whereas Mr. Jinnah, excepting for the very first letter acknowledging Liaquat's resignation from the AIML Parliamentary Board always addressed him as `Dear Liaquat'." On a random count, there are over 30 letters in his volume in which Jinnah address him as "My dear Liaquat". He did, so, indeed in all but one. Liaquat always addressed him as "My dear Mr. Jinnah." He was nearly 20 years younger. Not to put too fine a point on it, socially they were equal. Comment is superfluous.

Kazimi includes four important letters which Long omits. One of June 16, 1939, informs Jinnah that two Congress Leftists, Mian Iftikharuddin and Sajjad Zahir, of the CPI, met him to urge a Congress-League settlement.

Both compilations reveal that contrary to the myth, the League was no monolith. In 1942 Jinnah faced dogged opposition from close lieutenants like M.A.H. Ispahani, the Raja of Mahmudabad, Khaliquzzaman and Nawab Mohammed Ismail. Sympathetic to the "Quit India" demand, they advocated a united front with the Congress against the British. These rich men, incidentally, belied Nehru's favourite myth that the League comprised British toadies.

On June 15, 1946, Jinnah's secretary wrote to Liaquat: "I am asked by Mr. Jinnah to forward to you a bill of expenses incurred by Mr. Jinnah's party on travel from Simla to New Delhi during the first week of June, which please find enclosed herewith." Evidently the amount (Rs.1,991) was to be paid from the League's funds, not from the fabulously rich Jinnah's. Earlier, on February 10, 1941, Jinnah himself demanded payment for the "800 copies of my booklet... delivered at the Central Office".

Now comes the most important of them all, a note of May 21, 1946, from Liaquat to Jinnah. It contained an incisive analysis of the Cabinet Mission's proposals of May 16, 1946, for a United India, comprising three Groups of Provinces (the Pakistani provinces in the west and the east and the rest of India) with union powers confined to defence, foreign affairs and communications. It is false to assert that it provided for "a weak centre". These were the minimum powers; not, maximum ones. The Provinces in Group A (the India of today) could have dissolved their Group and conferred on the Centre the powers it enjoys today. A province could secede from a Group but not from the Union, significantly. Properly worked, the India of today would have exercised the three powers over Pakistan and Bangladesh. Punjab and Bengal would not have been partitioned and the minorities would have stayed on in Pakistan and given it a new political complexion. It would have been a different India happier and united.

Liaquat's note was sharply critical of the proposals. But, Jinnah's statement of May 21 was far less so. The League's Council met in camera on June 3, 1946, and accepted the plan. Not surprisingly. For, Indians and Pakistanis alike overlook the fact that Jinnah's own proposal to the Mission on May 12 envisaged, not partition, but a confederation based on three groups. The bargainer would have conceded federation in a settlement. The Congress wrecked the Mission's Plan by dishonest prevarication.

Long has much to learn: "As Congress adopted the Gandhi creed, with its non-violence, prayer meetings, vegetarianism, celibacy, and spinning, among other Gandhian concerns, many Muslims saw this as becoming part and parcel of the Congress dogma." Neither celibacy nor vegetarianism formed a part of the Congress creed. In 1939, the British-owned paper The Statesman was not "favourable to the Congress governments". The expression one of "the unsung heroes of the Pakistan movement" is used generously, even for A.R. Nishtar who became Central Minister and Governor and Altaf Husain, also a Central Minister.

Writing to Jinnah on June 7, 1942, Liaquat referred to "a letter from Mr. Ahmad". Long confidently informs us that "Mr. Ahmad was M.A.H. Ispahani". One who had studied carefully would have understood this to be a respectful reference to his elder brother Ahmed, while Ispahani was referred to as "Hassan" by Liaquat in a letter of June 22 in the same volume. It also has a letter of July 25, which says, "the newsprint which Ahmad Isphani had written to you. I am told by Hassan is needed... ." Long's bitter lament that Francis Mudie, the Governor of Punjab's "decision not to write his memoirs was very unfortunate" might be assuaged if he would consult his Diaries in the British library. They blow sky high the claim that Jinnah was not aware of the tribal raid into Kashmir in October 1947. He was; so was Liaquat.

In the earlier parts of the volume Long's comments are most apposite. Liaquat's speeches reveal that his political outlook changed precisely for the reasons that influenced Jinnah - the arrogance of power exhibited by Congress Ministers in 1937-38, a fact about which even Tej Bahadur Sapru angrily complained to B. Shiva Rao on November 16, 1940: "You at Delhi... . cannot have any idea of the experience we have had of party dictatorship of Congress Ministers... as long as these people were in power they treated every body with undisguised contempt."

Long recalls: "In his early political career, Liaquat did not consider himself to be a spokesman for the Muslim community alone. This was first publicly indicated in a speech in the spring session of the Council in 1929 when the subject of separate electorates came up in a debate on an innocuous topic, the United Provinces Town Areas (Amendment Bill). The leading Muslims of the province, most notably the Nawab of Chhatari, spoke in favour of separate electorates while Liaquat, being heckled several times for his pains, spoke against it saying that Muslims had derived no real advantage from the system and only made people think in terms of community. Further, he argued, it made the majority community `irresponsible'. This was ironic in view of the fact that he had been elected to the Council by a separate electorate, something which was sharply pointed out to him, but this accurately reflected his views at the time. He believed that the best way to govern India was through disregarding religious differences. While he saw himself as a spokesman for the Muslims of the province and actively defended their interests in debate, he believed it was a mistake to bring religion into political considerations."

On March 22, 1938, in the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly Liaquat asked: "Is it not disgraceful to hear of Hindu Pani and Muslim Pani at railway stations?" On February 24, 1939, he asked: "Why do you not realise that everyone of you is not like the Hon'ble Premier (G.B. Pant) or like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru? Why don't you realise that there are amongst you people who pose as nationalists but they are the worst type of communalists?" Weeks later, he endorsed the two-nation theory and, a year later, Pakistan. The search for alternatives to a federation was on in July 1939. The broad outline which the Working Committee adopted in February 1940 envisaged two states of Pakistan ("Zones and "Dominions") not one. Even 24 hours before the Lahore Resolution was adopted on March 23, 1940, the draft envisaged a Centre for India. It was omitted (vide the writer's article "The Partition of India"; Frontline, January 4, 2002).

On Kashmir, both Kazimi and Long overlook a document of crucial importance - Mountbatten's offer to Jinnah on November 1, 1947, when they met at Lahore after Kashmir's accession to India. It read: "The Governments of India and Pakistan agree that, where the ruler of a state does not belong to the community to which the majority of his subjects belong, and where the state has not acceded to that dominion whose majority community is the same as the state's, the question of whether the state should finally accede to one or the other of the dominions should in all cases be decided by an impartial reference to the will of the people." Jinnah replied that a plebiscite was "redundant and undesirable". Hyderabad obsessed him.

In March 1947, when partition was a certainty, Jinnah had bought 500 shares in Osmanshahi Mills and Azam Jahi Mills in Hyderabad, together worth Rs.1,59,100; a small fortune in 1947. No one suggests that this affected his judgment on Kashmir; but it reflected poor judgment on Hyderabad's future and on India-Pakistan relations on the states' question. He constantly egged the Nizam not to accede to India (Jinnah Papers; First Series; Volume 3; edited by N.H. Zaidi; Quaid-I-Azam papers project; distributed by OUP, Karachi).

By November 27, 1947, V.P. Menon and Mohammed Ali, secretary-general of Pakistan's Cabinet, had hammered out a draft agreement. It provided for a plebiscite in Hyderabad also. It was shot down by Nehru. Menon would not have concluded it without Patel's approval nor Mohammed Ali without Liaquat's. Mountbatten also approved of it. Liaquat worked for a compromise but was obstructed by Jinnah. This accounts for their strained relationship for which Pakistanis blame Liaquat most unjustly. A cryptic entry dated 30, Novermber made by Jinnah in his Notebook read: "Kashmir - no commitment should be made - without my approval of terms of settlement. Mr. Liaquat has agreed and promised to abide by this understanding."

The next entry on the same page of the Notebook, dated 16, December, read: "Nehru's proposal is fundamentally different. There is no common basis or ground. There can be no solution of satisfactory nature unless the India D. (Dominion) agree to withdraw their troops and agree to replace the present administration by an independent and impartial regime and administration. With international police and military forces to restore peace and maintain law and order. It is only then that the question of plebiscite will have to be considered." Evidently, Jinnah had lost all touch with reality.

The Cabinet decided on December 30, 1947, that no question of policy or principle would be decided except at a Cabinet meeting presided over by Jinnah and that in the event of any difference of opinion between him and the Cabinet, (read Liaquat) his decision would be final and binding.

When Liaquat met Nehru in Lahore on December 9, 1947, it was to carry out the Jinnah line - total withdrawal of Indian troops, not merely the bulk of them, and replacement of the Abdullah administration. Nehru needed no excuse for ensuring a deadlock, anyway.

By November 1948, Pakistan was in such dire straits that Liaquat asked Clement Attlee to get the U.N. Security Council "to order and enforce an unconditional ceasefire immediately".

Kazimi's censure of Liaquat as Prime Minister is perfectly justified. He quotes approvingly from Allen McGrath's excellent work The Destruction of Pakistan's Democracy (OUP, Karachi; 1996; page 55): "Liaquat's approach to party politics was direct and forceful. Those who would form other parties were traitors, liars and hypocrites. Words like `dogs of India' were part of his vocabulary when discussing the opposition. He equated opposition to the Muslim League with opposition to Pakistan itself."

But McGrath censured, no less, Jinnah's unconstitutional behaviour - presiding over the Cabinet, holding portfolios. This Governor-General presided over the Constituent Assembly as well as the Muslim League. He told officers of the Staff College, Quetta, on June 14, 1948, that "the executive authority flows from the Head of the Government of 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." The Prime Minister's office was effectively undermined by an insecure Jinnah. This fuelled the ambitions of men such as Ghulam Mohammad and, not unlikely, Nishtar. Liaquat had to manage a difficult Cabinet after Jinnah's death in September 1948. As Ayesha Jalal remarked: "The murder of Liaquat Ali Khan (on October 16, 1951, at a public meeting) removed the one politician with the will and the ability to lend an ear to public opinion and turn it to positive advantage" (The State of Martial Rule; page 133). The India-Pakistan confrontation drove him to seek Western support, but he remained committed to non-alignment. Once he was gone, British toadies like Ghulam Mohammad and Zafarullah Khan had free play. The mystery of Liaquat's murder remains unsolved. Far smaller persons emerged - corrupt and authoritarian - Z.A. Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

Liaquat was a warm person, richly endowed with a sense of humour. On November 28, 1947, at a meeting with Mountbatten, Nehru and Patel, he begged them "to spend the night there (Lahore) when we came, since... it was in the social atmosphere of the evening that friendly and profitable business could be done." Sample this in a letter from London to Dr. M.A. Ansari on August 2, 1925: "I am a man who, in spite of his apparent sociability, has always preferred solitude to uncongenial company. But my God, there have been - moments during the last few days when my solitude seemed to be driving me mad, and I wanted somebody to lighten my heavy burden. But there was nobody to whom I could confide a momentous secret, and I think my heart and brain must both have suffered from this severe strain.

"London is a paradise for those who like woman, wine and chilly weather. Unfortunately I cannot indulge in any of these enjoyments, and a lonely man cannot really enjoy anything at all. My chamber-maid - please don't misunderstand me - often sympathises with me, when she sees me moping alone in my room, and I return this sympathy with an occasional tip. But she does not know that I am a married man, and that feminine charms, of which she has a decent modicum, are not a panacea for all human ills (Mushirul Hasan ed.; Muslims and the Congress; Manohar 1979; page 17).

This was a man born to wealth who died almost in poverty. He gifted his beautiful House Gul-e-Ra'ana at 8B, Hardinge Avenue in New Delhi to his country. Pakistan House at Tilak Marg is now the official residence of its High Commissioner to India. Jinnah sold off his palatial bungalow at 10, Aurangzeb Road to Ramkrishna Dalmia for Rs.3 lakhs before leaving for Pakistan and left a fabulous estate. The Rs.3 lakhs would have meant a lot to his country then.

Jinnah was undoubtedly one of the greatest leaders of his times. But Liaquat was a finer human being.

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