Jinnah role in freedom struggle

THE PEOPLE’S JINNAH HALL

Print edition : January 18, 2019

Jinnah

Babu Rajendra Prasad addressing a prohibition meeting at Jinnah Hall on June 24, 1939. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Photo: The Hindu Archives

People’s Jinnah Hall on Grant Road in Mumbai. Photo: Emmanual Yogini

Both Indians and Pakistanis believe that Jinnah was politically born on March 23, 1940, the day the Muslim League adopted the Pakistan resolution. Both ignore his glorious role as a fighter for India’s freedom.

It is one thing for India to refuse to hand over to Pakistan the Jinnah House, at Mount Pleasant Road in the Malabar Hill in Mumbai. Inexcusable, though that is, it is unforgivable to wilfully, maliciously neglect the People’s Jinnah Hall in the compound of the Congress House, off Lamington Road, in the same city. The house was Jinnah’s property, which the Central government acquired as evacuee property after Partition. The Hall, as its very name indicates, is the people’s property. It was built with public funds, as a tribute to one who was then the uncrowned King of Bombay, as the city was then called. One of the leaders of the Bombay Bar, Jinnah was Chairman of the Board of Directors of Bombay Chronicle, established by his mentor Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, as a nationalist counter to the British owned The Times of India. He was president of the Home Rule League, a leading member of the Indian National Congress and president of the All India Muslim League. He was also a member of the Imperial Legislative Council (later the Central Assembly) from 1910.

For long India was committed to handing over Jinnah House to the Government of Pakistan. On January 13, 1956, India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan, C.C. Desai, wrote to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru suggesting that “the house of M.A. Jinnah, on Malabar Hill in Mumbai, should be salvaged from the auction to which all evacuee property was subjected, and be preserved by the Government of India as a relic of Jinnah”. He thought that such a gesture would contribute to a better understanding between India and Pakistan.

Nehru sent a note on that letter to the Secretary General, the Foreign Secretary, and the Commonwealth Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs on January 19. The Cabinet disagreed. Bombay was rocked by riots over the formation of the State of Maharashtra.

In his note to the Cabinet dated March 7, 1955, Nehru had suggested that Jinnah’s house must not be auctioned and “we should further be prepared to make a gift of it to the Pakistan Government, should they desire to use it as a memorial”. (Selected Works [second series], Volume 29, page 595.) Subimal Dutt, then Foreign Secretary, noted on January 20 that it would not be appropriate for the government to set up the memorial since Jinnah “was responsible for the partition of the Indo-Pakistan sub-continent”, but if the Pakistan government itself wanted to purchase the house and preserve it as a memorial to Jinnah, “we certainly should raise no objection”.

Nehru’s opinion was “all I can suggest is that the house should not be sold for the present and we should await further development” (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Volume 31, pages 375-376). The minutes of an India-Pakistan meeting later record India’s willingness to hand over the property to Pakistan. So strong and fervent was Jinnah’s nationalism that two British Governors of Bombay contemplated his deportation out of India. John Bryant Wells, an Australian scholar who delved into the archives, wrote: “A second contributing factor to Jinnah’s reduced political status by 1920 was the attitude of the governments of India and Bombay towards him. Their malevolent response to Jinnah’s ‘disloyal’ Home Rule League activities left him with a reputation as a trouble maker. The Governor of Bombay, Lord Willingdon, labelled him ‘irreconcilable’ and a leader of ‘bad’ character. His later agitation against Willingdon further raised the ire of the administration. Although the reaction of the Indian press was to report his ‘magnificent leadership’, the British were not similarly impressed. Willingdon recommended Jinnah’s deportation, but his successor, George Lloyd, ‘was not disposed to begin his career by conferring unnecessary martyrdom’. (Later he changed his view on the possibility of Jinnah’s deportation.) In 1918 Jinnah was labelled an ‘extremist’ and even a ‘Bolshevist’” (Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity: Jinnah’s Early Politics, Permanent Black, page 1077).

Jinnah resigned from the Imperial Legislative Council over the massacre at the Jallianwallah Bagh. Walls records that, used as he was to the style of debating in the House of Commons, Jinnah used the same aggressive style in reproaching British officials. His speech on Bhagat Singh is a masterpiece.

Jinnah & Tilak

The People’s Jinnah Hall, as it is aptly called, is in the compound of the Congress House. It is not very far from Shantaram’s Chawl, venue of the battles he fought in Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s company. It was an expression of the public’s admiration for Jinnah’s strong and successful leadership of a campaign against the Governor, Lord Willingdon. The campaign was provoked by Willingdon’s insult to his comrade Tilak. In a real sense the People’s Jinnah Hall is a memorial to their comradeship and a reminder of a phase in national politics which holds many a lesson for our times.

On June 10, 1918, the Governor convened a war conference at the Town Hall in Bombay to enlist popular support for the war effort. It was part of a series that began with the war conference convened by the Viceroy on April 16.

Willingdon invited Tilak to his conference in Bombay. Also invited were Jinnah, B.G. Horniman, N.C. Kelkar, Jamnadas Dwarkadas, and S.R. Bomanji. Though the Governor’s opening speech was critical of the Home Rule League, he prevented Tilak from replying to the criticism. Tilak reiterated his stand that “home defence was ultimately connected with home rule”. The Governor interrupted him to say that “he could not permit a political discussion” on a resolution pledging loyalty to the King-Emperor. Nor would he permit amendments to the resolution. Tilak left the dais and returned to his place in the hall. N.C. Kelkar followed much the same line and was given the same treatment. Thereupon, Tilak and his colleagues walked out. Jinnah stayed behind and spoke for them and for the Home Rule League. L. Robertson, Chief Secretary to the Government, sent a full report of the proceedings to the Secretary to the Home Secretary of the Government of India. “I am, however, to invite attention to the objectionable remarks which the Honourable Mr. Jinnah thought it fit to make while speaking on resolution II” on the war effort.

Jinnah rebutted the charge against the League: “I must say that I was pained, very much pained, that Your Excellency should have thought fit to cast doubts on the sincerity and loyalty of the Home Rule party. I am very sorry, my Lord, but with the utmost respect I must enter my emphatic protest against that view. The Home Rule party is as sincere and as anxious to help the defence of our motherland and the Empire as anyone else....

“If you wish to enable us to help you, to facilitate and stimulate the recruiting, you must make the people feel that they are the citizens of the Empire and the king’s equal subjects. But you do not do so. You say that we shall be trusted and made real partners in the Empire. When? We don’t want words; we want action and deeds, immediate deeds. I will only give one instance. At the Delhi Conference we unanimously passed a resolution recommending that a substantial number of King’s Commissions should be granted to the people of India; but nothing has been done yet.”

The Governor: “I really must suggest to the Honourable Mr Jinnah that he had better go to the Government at Delhi or Simla and say these things there. I have no power in this particular matter.”

Jinnah: “I am simply saying this, that I understand that this Government is directed to carry out the proposals approved by the Government of India, and I say that if the Government wants us to cooperate with them and carry out their wishes in this province, then let them trust us.”

The Governor: “But the Honourable Gentleman might send any suggestions he wants to be adopted.”

Jinnah: “My Lord, the procedure has already been laid down and I do not wish to challenge anything but I only wish to say that I do not approve of the personnel of the boards. My next point is that I do not approve the memorandum annexed to the resolution. I have had no opportunity given to me of exercising my judgement upon it and how can I approve of it? I refuse to be a party to the adoption of this memorandum which I have had no opportunity to consider. I hope this Conference would agree and Your Excellency would believe me that to doubt our sincerity, that to doubt our loyalty is an insult to our party and we will not have it.”

Towards the end of this conference the Governor took exception to the remarks of Jinnah who again spoke: “I would only request Your Excellency to refer to Your Excellency’s speech where Your Excellency has doubted the sincerity of the Home Rule League to help the Government, and if I am wrong I would withdraw my protest.”

Six days later a huge public meeting was held at the hallowed Shantaram’s Chawl in Girgaum under Gandhi’s chairmanship at which Jinnah moved a resolution embodying the national demands on the war. It was followed by another at China Bagh on Home Rule Day.

By now Jinnah was a scourge of the government. K.M. Munshi said that the likes of him he had never seen before. He was then 42 and had 30 years of a hectic life ahead of him. Success came to him fairly early in life, and his politics, even in the early days, was involved mass politics. Men like him were not to be trifled with, as Willingdon and, later, others discovered.

As the Governor’s term of office expired, Sir Stanley Reed, editor of The Times of India, and some others formed a committee to hold a meeting and vote a memorial on behalf of the city in honour of the departing dignitary. Jinnah and 29 others wrote to him on November 8, warning him that “should any such meeting be called we shall attend the same for the purpose of opposing” the proposal. On retirement, Sir Stanley became a Conservative member of Parliament and contributed a weekly letter from London to The Times of India for a good few years after Independence. Letters were also written to the Sheriff of Bombay. B.G. Horniman waged a campaign against the Governor. A fiery campaign ensued in the press.

trial of strength

At long last, the day for the decisive trial of strength arrived on December 11, 1918. It was seven o’clock in the morning when the leaders of the anti-requisitionists arrived at the Town Hall and were received with loud cheers by a band of two or three hundred of their supporters, who had arrived earlier and were waiting on the roadside in front of the Elphinstone Gardens, now Horniman Circle. Overnight it had been ascertained that no one would be allowed on the Town Hall steps until the doors were opened. The whole place was in charge of a large force of the police, and a letter addressed to the Commissioner of Police had failed to elicit a reply to the questions that were addressed to him in regard to the arrangements. A few hours passed in tense expectation. At 10 o’clock, the doors were opened, the intention to do so being communicated only a few minutes beforehand to the leaders of the opposition, who immediately took places in the queue which had been kept for them by their supporters. Thus the first persons to enter the Town Hall were Jinnah, Jamnadas, Horniman, Umar Sobhani, K.M. Munshi, Tairsee, S.G. Banker, P.K. Telang, Mowji Govindji Sheth, Syed Hussain, other leaders, and a large following of supporters. In the meanwhile, Suleman Cassim Mitha had arrived on the steps and assumed command of the operations for packing the meeting with loyalists, which had apparently been entrusted to him.

The first victory was gained after the anti-requisitionists secured the front place in the queue, and the second when they succeeded in resisting an audacious attempt to thrust them into the back seats. Headed by Jinnah, they insisted on their right as the first-comers to take whichever seats they chose and after some argument their claim to occupy the seats in the central part of the Town Hall was conceded. Mrs Ruttie Jinnah was on the steps to the Hall controlling the volunteers.

By five o’clock, the Hall was uncomfortably packed. The arrival of the Sheriff at this time provoked an extraordinary scene. Those seated on the platform, and standing on it in front, raised vociferous cheers which were immediately drowned by long-continued shouts of “Shame, Shame”. Other leaders of the requisitionist party received the same demonstration and counter-demonstration from the two parties.

At about 5:30 in the evening, quiet was restored. Immediately after the reading of the notice convening the meeting, by the Sheriff, Horniman rose and addressed the Sheriff to make a protest; the latter, however, refused him a hearing and his voice was drowned in the shouts of those on and near the platform supporting the requisitionists. While Horniman was still standing and endeavouring to be heard, Sir Dinshaw Wacha rose and moved that Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy should take the chair. This was apparently seconded by Sir Fazalbhoy Currimbhoy. Without any attempt to put the motion to the vote, and ignoring Horniman’s shouted protest that this party wished to propose an amendment that P.K. Telang be elected chairman, Sir Jamsetjee walked to the chair.

From that moment the fate of the meeting was sealed. For about 20 minutes the anti-requisitionists continued their shouts of “no, no” in protest against this arbitrary procedure and Sir Jamsetjee’s taking of the chair while the stewards, volunteers, and other supporters of the platform shrieked and yelled in derision, hurling challenges and epithets at the anti-requisitionists. What was going on on the platform, nobody could see or hear. It is said that Sir Jamsetjee presented the resolution of appreciation of Lord Willingdon from the chair and declared it carried. The farce came to an end when the Commissioner of Police appeared on the platform, and backed by a posse of police, ordered the hall to be cleared. The anti-requisitionists headed by their leaders proceeded to leave the hall.

Unnecessary violence was used by the police in clearing the hall and several of the anti-requisitionists were assaulted, including Jinnah and Subedar.

When the leaders of the opposition appeared on the steps, after leaving the meeting, they were received with a long continued roar of cheers from a huge crowd. Horniman, while coming down, was seized and carried shoulder-high round the circle amidst a scene of extraordinary enthusiasm, the occupants of the crowded verandahs and balconies also cheering and waving handkerchiefs. The demonstration reached its culmination in Apollo Street where Jinnah, Jamnadas, and Horniman delivered brief speeches from the windows of an insurance company’s office. They emphasised the significance of the great victory that had been won for self-determination and declared that never again would flatterers and sycophants dare to flout public opinion. No such popular demonstration had ever been witnessed in Bombay before.

‘Citizens of Bombay’

Horniman said that a full account of what happened during the whole day at the Town Hall would be related to them at the meeting that night at Shantaram’s Chawl. Amid ringing applause the speaker made way for Jinnah, who, in answer to repeated calls from audience, said: “Gentlemen, you are the citizens of Bombay. You have today scored a great triumph for democracy. Your triumph today has made it clear that even the combined forces of bureaucracy and autocracy could not overawe you. December the 11th (1918) is a Red-Letter Day in the history of Bombay. Gentlemen, go and rejoice over the day that has secured us the triumph of democracy.”

A huge demonstration was then staged at Shantaram’s Chawl that night. The three leaders who were instrumental in smashing the farewell meeting of the day gave an account of the proceedings of the meeting in the Town Hall. Horniman then moved the following resolutions.“I. That this meeting of the citizens of Bombay enters its emphatic protest against the conduct of the Sheriff of Bombay and the conveners of the proposed Willingdon Memorial meeting for the arbitrary and disgraceful methods employed by them in refusing to afford proper facilities to the opponents of the meeting and contriving by mean and despicable methods to pack the meeting.

“II. That this meeting of the citizens of Bombay condemns and protests against the cruel and partial conduct of the police in carrying out their work in regard to the arrangements of that meeting.

“III. That this meeting of the citizens of Bombay condemns the administration of Lord Willingdon and protests against the proposal to raise any sort of memorial to Lord Willingdon for his services.”

Syed Husain seconded the resolution in a brief speech in Urdu, in the course of which he remarked that Jinnah had by his share in the events of the day set an example of magnificent leadership of which not only Bombay but India might well be proud. The resolutions were then put to the meeting and carried unanimously.

A police officer reported: “I was asked to clear the Hall. I accordingly entered the Hall with a posse of police and cleared it. Jinnah, Horniman, and one or two others of the anti-requisitionist party were rather roughly handled by some of the stewards while the crowd were being cleared from the Town Hall. Mrs Jinnah made herself conspicuous in the afternoon by appearing in the gallery of the Town Hall and waving greetings to the crowd outside. She later took up a position inside the Town Hall compound and addressed her husband’s supporters advising them to stand by their rights and to resist the police. Throughout the day it was very noticeable that the educated Home Rulers adopted a contumacious attitude, refusing to obey the orders of the police, thereby compelling them to execute those orders by force. The ‘police’ were everywhere greeted by cries of ‘shame’ and a similar reception was accorded to the members of His Excellency’s Executive Council, High Court Judges and other high officials who attended the meeting.

“After the Town Hall meeting was over, the anti-requisitionists led by Horniman, Jinnah, and Jamnadas proceeded to Mr V.A. Desai’s office at Apollo Street and held an informal meeting. On the same night at 9.30 p.m. a public meeting was held at Shataram’s Chawl to protest against the management of the meeting at the Town Hall and the conduct of the police. Jinnah was in the chair. Jamnadas, Horniman, Narsingh Prasad, Bhagwandas Vibhakar, L.G. Khare, M.K. Azad, Mowji Govindji, Dr. Erulker, and Mrs. Ramibai Kamdar addressed the meeting.

“Continuing, Jamnadas said by their deeds that day they had abundantly proved that they would never care for self-interest, nor would aim only at the commonweal. [Hear, hear]. They all know what glorious past India had had, but judging from their deeds, he was confident that if they continued to remain firm in their determination and in asserting their rights, they had a still brighter future for India. [Loud and prolonged cheering].

“Mr K.M. Munshi then rose and related in detail all the principal events of the day. They had proved by their deeds that whatever may be the personal qualities of a Governor he would not receive a public memorial if he was not popular. [Hear, hear]. He then eulogised the firmness and sacrifice of the leaders of the counter-requisitionists, particularly Jinnah, the likes of whom, the speaker said, he had never seen before.”

This was the genesis of the Jinnah Hall. A Bombay Solicitor, B.D. Lam, wrote a letter which the Bombay Chronicle published on December 14. It read: “Sir, I have read with great pride and deep emotion the reports of yesterday’s meeting and I cannot withhold my high admiration for the bold and the fearless leadership of Mr Jinnah in inaugurating a new era in the public life of Bombay.

“The real issues of this fight have been clouded by the excitement caused by the conduct of the police and the supporters of the Sheriff’s meeting. We have, therefore, to look at the result in its proper light, and the true test of the success of Mr Jinnah and his noble band of supporters lies in two great facts. The first is that the supposed public meeting lasted only a few minutes and no speeches could be made by the supporters of Lord Willingdon. To call this a meeting of the citizens of Bombay to vote a memorial is a shame and hypocrisy. The second great truth is that no Sheriff will henceforth make bold to flout public opinion and call a meeting in the name of the citizens of Bombay. That is an achievement of which Mr Jinnah and his followers have reasons to be proud.

“If, as a result of the meeting, anybody deserves a memorial it is Mr Jinnah whose fine leadership and fearless courage have marked a great epoch in the public life of Bombay. He has shown the spirit of our late lamented leaders like Dadabhai Naoroji and Gopal Krishna Gokhale.

“We should mark our great appreciation of Mr Jinnah’s service by raising a fund in which each of his supporters should contribute one rupee. That rupee will come not from a man’s pocket but from his heart. If we had our own way we would raise a statue of Mr Jinnah to be placed in the Town Hall of Bombay, for Mr Jinnah has forever laid low the tyranny of Town Hall meetings held in the name of the public. His name will be cherished forever as the great Indian who is a symbol of their true public spirit. That spirit never existed in Bombay, but Mr Jinnah has established it on firm basis in yesterday’s proceedings. We ought not to allow this occasion to pass without a fitting tribute to Mr Jinnah. A souvenir ought to be presented to him to mark the everlasting services he has rendered not only to Bombay but to the whole of India.”

113 Esplanade Road. B.D. Lam

Each donor contributed a rupee. Within a month, 65,000 citizens had raised a fund of Rs.65,000. Annie Besant came down from London specially to inaugurate the People’s Jinnah Memorial Hall.

It was in the fitness of things that when, in 1975 during “the emergency” in India, the Bombay Committee of Lawyers for Civil Liberties decided to hold a meeting of the city’s lawyers to protest against the violation of civil liberties and the rule of law, it was this Hall—the People’s Jinnah Hall—that they chose as the venue for the meeting. It was to be a private meeting restricted to invited lawyers since public meetings were banned. It was to be addressed, among others, by M.C. Chagla, former Chief Justice of the High Court, J.C. Shah, former Chief Justice of India and N.P. Nathwani, a former Judge of the High Court. The Commissioner of Police refused permission to hold the meeting. In a landmark judgment delivered on December 16, 1975, Chief Justice R.M. Kantawala and Justice V.D. Tulzapurkar allowed a writ petition quashing the Commissioner’s order.

Jinnah was 42 then. This did not prevent Nehru from tutoring Mountbatten that success had come to Jinnah late in life. Both Indians and Pakistanis believe that Jinnah was politically born on March 23, 1940, the day the Muslim League adopted the Pakistan resolution. Both ignore his glorious role as a fighter for India’s freedom.

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