Jinnah in India's history

Published : Aug 12, 2005 00:00 IST

Mohammed Ali Jinnah in the famous Jinnah House, which Pakistan is now demanding, on Mount Pleasant Road on Malabar Hill in Mumbai. -

Mohammed Ali Jinnah in the famous Jinnah House, which Pakistan is now demanding, on Mount Pleasant Road on Malabar Hill in Mumbai. -

The story of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, canonised in Pakistan and demonised in India, has a contemporary relevance. His personality and record are central in any honest inquiry into the causes of Partition.

L.K. ADVANI was by no means the first of the adventurers who tried their skills in self-promotion by holding forth on Mohammed Ali Jinnah, professing to retrieve "the real Jinnah" from the morass of hagiography in Pakistan and demonisation in India. Politicians, journalists and academics of varied hues participated in this sport. Amazingly, there is yet not one comprehensive collection of his writings and speeches from 1906, when he entered public life, till his death in 1948, let alone a definitive biography. If a Pakistan academic, Akbar S. Ahmad, involved in an unsavoury controversy over a film on Jinnah, likened him to Saladin (sic), Stanley Wolpert, an American academic, who claimed to have toiled for more than a quarter of a century over his biography, appointed him as "Managing Director of the Tata Enterprises" (sic) and hailed Z.A. Bhutto as a "Sufi mystic". He could not tell M.O. Mathai and John Mathai apart. Jinnah's close friend Kanji Dwarkadas was made a "Parsi" and Sir Abdullah Haroon "a princely ruler" of Khairpur state.

Any biography, to be worth the name, must provide an intelligent explanation for Jinnah's famous speech of August 11, 1947. Wolpert's failure in this test is abject: "What was he talking about? Had he simply forgotten where he was? Had the cyclone of events so disoriented him .... ?" Disorientation would be too charitable an explanation for Wolpert's comments.

As the Advani episode revived interest in Jinnah, protagonists on both sides entered the lists. On one point Indians and Pakistanis heartily concur. Jinnah was politically born on March 23, 1940, when the Muslim League passed a resolution demanding partition of India on the basis of religion. Neither side is interested in his superb record before that. How does one evaluate a political leader whose later career and credo seem so radically different from those that marked him most of his life, with only a brief twilight period to separate the two? It is unhistoric to read the two completely apart. It is equally wrong to rewrite the record of 1906-1940 because of what ensued thereafter, all the more so if one has not cared to understand the first phase correctly.

Churchill's personality as war leader had shades of the distrusted Churchill of old; but facets of greatness emerged prominently only during the Second World War. Jinnah's secularism is not to be underestimated because he later espoused the poisonous two-nation theory; nor is his culpability, on this score, affected by the creditable record earlier. The crucial question, surely, is whatever led a man of his sterling qualities and unblemished patriotism to advocate India's partition and espouse a theory whose poison spread far and deep? The partition of India must rank in any list of 10 of the greatest tragedies in the history of man. A heavy responsibility devolves on any who brought it about.

The story of Partition as told by court historians in both countries has a political significance. Bar a very few, Indians and Pakistanis lack the sense of security and pride in objective scholarship. Israel's scholars like Ilan Pappe or scholarly journalists like Tom Segev cheerfully demolish the "patriotic" myths surrounding Israel's establishment. Jinnah symbolises Pakistan. He must be canonised. A searching look at his mistakes would be unpatriotic. For a corresponding reason, Jinnah must be demonised, lest the wrongs and failings of India's heroes attract closer scrutiny. For opposite reasons Jinnah became a loyalty test in both countries, along with Kashmir and the Partition.

But Jinnah's life has a contemporary relevance. His personality and record are central to any honest inquiry into the causes of India's Partition. Besides, they lie at the core of the discourse about nationalism versus communalism and the distinction between the "nationalist" Muslim and the Sarkari Musalman. Were men like V.D. Savarkar, Jayakar, Madan Mohan Malaviya and Lala Lajpat Rai "nationalist" Hindus or Hindu communalists? Are L.K. Advani and K.S. Sudarshan "nationalist Hindus" or "Hindu nationalists"? As the discourse progressed, schoolboy questions began to be addressed to Muslims exclusively. Indian first or Muslim first? Gamal Abdel Nasser felicitously remarked that he belonged to three concentric circles - at one and the same time - Muslim, Arab and African. Contrary to myths in both countries, Jinnah's nationalism as an Indian and concern for his community, Muslims, formed a seamless web of deep commitment. At no time was he at all unmindful of the one while espousing the cause of the other. They formed an integral whole in an outlook, which is still not appreciated in India today.

The Aga Khan led a delegation of 35 Muslim leaders to the Viceroy Lord Minto at Shimla on October 1, 1906, to demand separate electorates and much else besides. On October 7, Gujarati of Bombay published a letter by a 30-year-old struggling lawyer, Jinnah, asking angrily: "May I know who ever elected the gentlemen who are supposed to represent Bombay... . I know of no meeting of the Mahomedan community that appointed these worthies to represent Bombay." Jinnah attended the 22nd session of the Congress at Calcutta on December 27, 1906, over which Dadabhai Naoroji presided. Jinnah was then his private secretary. A resolution was moved by two Muslim members criticising the Privy Council's ruling that the Wakf-e-Ala-Aulad violated Muslim law. It was a common form of trust created for the settler's progeny. The community was in uproar. Jinnah's remarks in support of the resolution revealed his "public philosophy", to use Lippmann's expression. "It is a matter of gratification to the whole of the Muhammadan community, that we have got on the programme of the Indian National Congress a question which purely affects the Muhammadan community. That shows one thing, gentlemen, that we Muhammadans can equally stand on this common platform and pray for our grievances being remedied through the programme of the National Congress." (Syed Shatifuddin Pirzada: The Collected Works of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah; Vol. I, (1906-1921), 1984; pages 1 and 2 for the letter and the speech respectively (emphasis added, throughout). Pirzada deserves high credit for the pains he took to acquire a copy of the letter. The series, referred to as CW, ended in 1986 with Volume III (1926-1931). Was Jinnah a nationalist in October (on page1) and a communalist in December (on page 2)?

This was to be his approach for the next 30 years - staunch advocacy of India's freedom and simultaneously espousal of Muslims' grievances without necessarily sharing the Muslim viewpoint. In 1906, the Congress was hospitable and sensible enough to pass the resolution that it did. In later years it was far less so. It was the liberalism of 1906 that made it possible for Jinnah to play the role he did. Elected to the Imperial Legislative Council he successfully piloted a Bill validating the family Wakf in 1913.

Ian Bryant Wells, an Australian scholar, understands that, but not fully. Which is why every setback in Jinnah's pursuit of conciliation drives him to declaim that he then turned to the other plank of his programme. His comments on many a juncture are out of place; but his research is painstaking and extensive. The book is an invaluable addition to the literature on Jinnah. It is not a definitive work even on the phase it covers (1910-1934) but it draws on some archival material hitherto unpublished (Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity: Jinnah's Early Politics; Permanent Black; pages 269; Rs.595). Few take this high road to scholarship and consult the record - Jinnah's own utterances in the legislature or public platforms and his writings - instead of spinning familiar theories; namely that he was embittered by his exclusion from Congress, more so after his wife's death, and he disliked mass politics. All are utterly false, as the record shows. It reveals Jinnah as he was. The book's title is derived from the compilation of Jinnah's speeches and writings published in 1918 by Ganesh & Sons, Madras, publishers of nationalist literature. It covered the period between1912 and 1917 and bore the title Mohomed Ali Jinnah; An Ambassador of Unity, with a biographical appreciation by Sarojini Naidu. She called him a "cross-bencher". In his foreword, the Raja of Mahmudabad, Mohamed Ali Mohamed, endorsed the sobriquet of "Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity".

Sarojini Naidu began by quoting Jinnah's confession "in a priceless moment of self-revelation". He had said: "It is my ambition to become the Muslim Gokhale." Even after he had become the Quaid-e-Azam and advocate of Pakistan, Jinnah praised Gopal Krishna Gokhale's liberal and broad-minded statesmanship in his presidential address at the Muslim League's 30th session in Delhi on April 24, 1943, and said "he [Gokhale] was a tower of intellect". Sarojini Naidu proceeded to quote Gokhale on Jinnah: "He has true stuff in him and that freedom from all sectarian prejudice which will make him the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity."

An ambassador can perform his role only when he enjoys the confidence of both sides. Throughout his career, Jinnah rose above communal feeling and tried "to combine Hindus and Muslims in one harmonious union for the common good" (December 20, 1913). That is how he brought about the pact between the Congress and the League in Lucknow in 1916. Wells writes: "As a Muslim with a demonstrated record of concern for the Muslim community, he was in a position to pressurise the Muslims to reduce their demands without being seen as a Congress lackey. As a noted nationalist and a colleague of Gokhale, he was similarly able to persuade the Hindus to make concessions to the Muslims without being labelled a communalist."

To the League session in 1923 Jinnah said: "India will get Dominion Responsible government the day the Hindus and Muhammedans are united. Swaraj is an almost interminable term with Hindu-Muslim unity." This ambassador fiercely guarded his independence and integrity. At the Congress session on August 28, 1900, he supported a resolution deprecating separate electorates in local bodies. But, he added: "I wish it to be made quite clear that I do not represent the Muhammedan community here nor have I any mandate from the Muhammedan community. I only express my personal views here and nothing more" (CW, Vol. I, page17).

In a manner of his own, he stood above both communities. At the Lucknow session he said: "Whatever my individual opinion may be, I am here to interpret and express the sense of the overwhelming body of Muslim opinion, of which the All-India Muslim League is the political organ." He inwardly loathed separate communal electorates. But like Gokhale and Bal Gangadhar Tilak, he realised that Muslims wanted them, and "a minority must, above everything else, have a complete sense of security before its broader political sense can be evoked for cooperation and united endeavour in the national tasks" (Ganesh; page 46). In November 1917, he said at a public meeting in Shantaram Chawl: "My message to the Musalmans is to join hands with your Hindu brethren. My message to the Hindus is to lift your backward brother up" (ibid; page 155).

By then he had joined the Muslim League but on a condition which Sarojini Naidu recorded: "Loyalty to the Muslim League and the Muslim interest would in no way and at no time imply even the shadow of disloyalty to the larger national cause to which his life was dedicated" (Ganesh; page11).

Elected to the Imperial Legislative Council in 1909 he got entangled in a row with its President, the Viceroy, when he attacked South Africa for "the harsh and cruel treatment that is meted out to Indians". Lord Minto called him to order. "Cruelty" was too strong a word to use for "a friendly part of the Empire". Jinnah's retort was characteristic: "Well My Lord, I should feel inclined to use much stronger language." He did not wish to break the rules and repeated his censure dropping the word "cruelty". South Africa's behaviour "is the harshest which can possibly be imagined".

In the clime of 1917 he ridiculed fears of "brute" and "permanent" communal majority, which possessed him in 1939. Few care to ask why. Fewer still care to ask why the Gandhi-Nehru leadership deviated from the path set by Gokhale and Tilak. Jinnah's speech is relevant still: "It is said that we are going on at a tremendous speed, that we are in a minority and the government of this country might afterwards become a Hindu government ... . I particularly wish to address my Mahomedan friends on this point. Do you think, in the first instance, as to whether it is possible that the government of this country could become a Hindu government? Do you think that government could be conducted by ballot boxes? Do you think that because the Hindus are in the majority, therefore they could carry on a measure, in the Legislative Assembly, and there is an end of it? If seventy millions of Mussalmans do not approve of a measure, which is carried by a ballot box, do you think that it could be enforced and administered in this country? Do you think that the Hindu statesmen, with their intellect, with their past history, would ever think of - when they get self-government - enforcing a measure by a ballot box? ... . This is a bogey that is put before you by your enemies to frighten you, to scare you away from the cooperation with the Hindus, which is essential for the establishment of self-government.

"If this country is not to be governed by the Hindus, let me tell you in the same spirit, it was not to be governed by the Mahomedans either and certainly not by the English. It is to be governed by the people and the sons of this country, and I, standing here - I believe that I am voicing the feeling of the whole of India - say that what we demand is the immediate transfer of the substantial power of government of this country and that is the principal demand of our scheme of reform. Do not our opponents understand this? Are they so dull? Are they so foolish? Do they not understand this demand? Our demand is this: `You have monopoly in this country in the government of this country. You have monopoly in this country in the Army. You have monopoly in the commerce of this country. We are not going to submit to any of these three monopolies. You have enjoyed them for the last 150 years, but we are tired of it.'" This was his message to the Muslim League in 1917.

Ayesha Jalal demonstrates in her work The Sole Spokesman that Jinnah was by no means too assured of his hold on his Muslim followers, especially the arch provincialists. He was ever the mediator. At the All-Parties' Convention in December 1928, which rejected his proposals (on the Nehru Report), he plaintively pleaded: "What we want is that the Hindus and Mussalmans should march together until our object is obtained. Therefore, it is essential that you must get not only the Muslim League but the Mussalmans of India and here I am not speaking as a Mussalman but as an Indian and it is my desire to see that we get seven crores of Mussalmans to march along with us in the struggle for freedom. Would you be content with a few? Would you be content if I were to say `I am with you'? Do you want or do you not want Muslim India to go along with you?"

In her neglected classic Forfeited Future, Marguerite Dove noted the language he used in 1934: "Can we completely assure Muslims that the safeguards to which they attach vital importance will be embodied in the future Constitution of India?". She remarked that it is "indicative of Jinnah's conception of himself as an arbiter... not wedded to the Muslim viewpoint" (Chanakya Publications, 1987; page 398). Indeed, in his speech of August 11, 1947, he said "even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis ... ".

But the schoolboy tests caught up even with a man with his background. He said on in September, 1931: "I am an Indian first and a Muslim afterwards and I agree that no Indian can ever save his country if he neglects the interests of Muslims because it is by encouraging them that you will be able to serve your country" (Bombay Chronicle, September 15, 1931).

This is the difference between the truly nationalist Muslim and the Sarkari Musalman, the classic Uncle Tom. M.C. Chagla was secretary of the League till the late 1920s when he broke with Jinnah - professionally as his junior and in politics. Not only did he turn his back on Muslims completely but he denounced them when he was High Commissioner to the United Kingdom in The Times (London), January 26, 1962. An Indian envoy stationed abroad writes to the press of the host country to inform the people there about the situation in his own country presenting it in a favourable light; not to denounce to them a section of his own nation. He complained to President Radhakrishnan that secularism would be compromised if Dr. Zakir Hussain became President (S. Gopal; Radhakrishnan; page 358). Zakir Hussain had stood steadfastly for the values of nationalism and secularism and chose a life of privation as educationist. Chagla became a High Court Judge during the Raj and ruled in favour of the British in a celebrated habeas corpus case in 1942. He would, of course, have had no complaint if he were made President. An ancillary line he took in politics was to denounce Pakistan ceaselessly.

In 1930, only a year before Jinnah spoke thus, he said as he left for London to attend the Round Table Conference: "I can only say to my people that I shall hold India's interests as sacred and that nothing will come in my way of doing my duty to my country." (The Tribune; October 4, 1930).

He had left the Congress, but not Indian nationalism. But as the Congress tried to enlist Muslims who would toe its line, Jinnah warned the League in October 1937 that the Muslims were "divided ... there is a group that stands with face turned towards the British" and another that was pro-Congress. "The worst toady on earth, the most wicked communalist today amongst Muslims - when he surrenders unconditionally to the Congress and abuses his own community - becomes the nationalist of nationalists tomorrow. These terms and words are intended to create an inferiority complex amongst the Musalmans and to demoralise them. (Speeches and Writings of Mr. Jinnah; edited by Jamiluddin Ahmad; Vol. I page 31).

Where did he stand? He said on September 28, 1939: "Some people have a dictionary of their own, but within the honest meaning of the term I still remain a nationalist" (ibid, page 86). The commitment to Indian nationalism now survived on borrowed time. It was soon abandoned.

WHATEVER happened to make the "Ambassador of Unity", the mediator between two communities, the advocate of one of them and a very strident one at that? He had espoused redress of Muslims' grievances even while he functioned as mediator. The record, quoted above, reveals the spirit in which he acted throughout. Fanciful theories came to be advanced for the change by those who had no patience with the record.

Three constants must be remembered. First, religion and politics must be kept apart. Wells writes: "Jinnah opposed the inherently religious nature of Gandhi's programme. Gandhi had won over the Muslims by embracing the cause of the Khilafat, while within the Congress his call was characteristically Hindu. Jinnah strongly resisted the introduction of religion into politics." He said in the Central Legislative Assembly in 1925: "For God's sake do not import the discussion of communal matters into this House." In the same forum he said on February 7, 1935: "Religion should not be allowed to come into politics. Religion is merely a matter between man and God." Safeguards for the minorities "is a political issue". Differences between Hindus and Muslims were "a national problem and not a communal dispute", he wrote to Chagla on August 5, 1929. On February 1, 1943, the advocate of Pakistan repeated: "religion ... is strictly a matter between God and man" (Ahmad; Vol. 1, pages 5 and 469).

Another constant was the individual conscience in public life. Jinnah was for social reform, including reform of personal laws, when opinion in both communities was against it. In 1912, he supported Bhupendra Basu's Special Marriage Bill: "The position of a representative in the Council, be he Hindu or Muhammadan, is awkward because the orthodox opinion is against it (the Bill), but that, I submit, is no reason for a representative who owes a duty to his people to refrain from expressing his conviction fearlessly. It does not necessarily follow that because a majority are against it, they are right. If a representative in this Council is convinced in his mind that this is a measure which is a good for his country and his people, he ought to support it."

During the 1926 elections, he told his electors: "I am your representative so long as I represent you. Your interests are mine but under no circumstances shall I ever place them above my conscience," adding: "The moment I find I cannot carry out your mandate without derogation to my conscience, I shall ask you to replace me." Supporting the Hindu Child Marriage Bill in the Assembly on September 11, 1929, he censured Muslims who opposed the Bill. But honest as ever, he admitted "my constituency has not given me any mandate whatsoever".

The last constant was commitment to education and, with it, to mass politics in order to raise popular awareness. A man who could address meetings with Tilak in Shantaram Chawl and invite assault by the police in the Town Hall during the agitation against Governor Willingdon was no elitist. He wanted to "reach the masses", he said in 1917.

Jinnah upbraided the government severely on Gokhale's Elementary Education Bill. "We should do all this to improve the masses of this country to whom you owe a much greater duty than to anybody else. My answer is that you must remove that reproach that is levelled justly against British rule, namely, the neglect of elementary education. My answer is that it is the duty of every civilised government to educate masses, and if you have to face unpopularity, if you have to face a certain amount of danger, face it boldly in the name of duty... .

"Then it is said, `Oh! but the people will become too big for their boots', if I may use that expression, that `they will not follow the occupations of their parents, they will demand more rights, there will be more strikes, they will become socialists'. Well, Sir, are you going to keep millions and millions of people under your feet for fear that they may demand more rights; are you going to keep them in ignorance and darkness forever and for all ages to come because they might stand up against you and say we have certain rights and you must give them to us? Is that the feeling of humanity? Is that the spirit of humanity? I say, Sir, that it is the duty of zamindars and of the landlords to be a little less selfish. I say, Sir, that it is the duty of the educated classes to be a little less selfish. They must not monopolise the pedestals, but they must be prepared to meet their people. They must be brought down from their pedestals if they do not do their duties properly. I say, Sir, that it is the elementary right of every man to say, if he is wronged, that he is wronged and he should be righted."

And now, read Jawaharlal Nehru's comments in his Autobiography: "The enthusiasm of the people outside struck him as mob hysteria. There is as much difference between him and the Indian masses as between Savile Row and Bond Street and the Indian village with its mud huts. He suggested once privately that only matriculates should be taken into the Congress ... [this] was in harmony with his general outlook." This was a malicious falsehood written of a Jinnah who censured the government in 1925. "I say it is the greatest stigma on the government of any country in the world to show that after your 150 years of rule, as is the case in this country, you have not given knowledge and light, nay even the three R's, no more than 6 to 7 per cent of the population of this country. Is that going to be your policy? Is that the way you are going to advance India constitutionally and make her fit for self-government and for self-defence?" Jinnah once proposed a joint Congress-League Committee to draw up "a practical programme for the organisation of workers and peasants" (Foundations of Pakistan; edited by S.S. Pirzada; Vol. I, page 582).

One writes "malicious" advisedly, because even at the height of Jinnah's reputation as a secularist Nehru wrote to K.T. Shah on July 12, 1929: "I find there is not very much in common between him and me so far as our outlooks are concerned." Nehru's later comments on Jinnah reveal that his feelings about Jinnah were almost visceral. In 1942 and 1946 he said that Jinnah had no place in the country!

Contrary to common impression, Jinnah was a central figure in Indian politics since at least 1916, if not earlier. The nationalist daily Bombay Chronicle wrote of him on October 27, 1928: "Mr. Jinnah's position in Indian politics is indeed, very unique. Standing as he does in the rank of the greatest politicians of the day, as president of the All-India Muslim League and as a trusted friend of Hindus, Mr. Jinnah exercises a great influence over his countrymen."

On April 28, 1928, Motilal Nehru wrote to Purshottam Thakurdas, "I can think of no other responsible Muslim to take his place", while Jinnah was abroad. In the aftermath of the agitation against Willingdon, K.M. Munshi spoke at a meeting on December 11, 1918, and referred to Jinnah as one "the like of whom he had never seen before" (Bombay Chronicle, December 12, 1918). It became fashionable to paint him as one who "arrived" at the centre of politics only after 1940.

The British hated this "Bolshevik", as Willingdon called him in 1918. A proposal to deport Jinnah to Burma was mooted twice, by Willingdon and his successor George Lloyd. Jinnah attacked Britain's economic exploitation of India. The Home Member of the Viceroy's Executive Council, H. Haig, called him "the arch enemy of the British Raj". Jinnah constantly took a principled stand on terrorism. He denounced the crime but pleaded for redress of the wrongs that drove people to it. He told the Viceroy on September 23, 1918: "It was said by the Honourable Home Member that these are not political matters, but crimes. With the utmost respect, I beg to differ from him. These are political matters and very much so. You must remember that in India before 1906 there was no such thing as criminal conspiracies of revolutionary characters ... . The cause of this, My Lord, is that there is discontent, there is dissatisfaction, there is unrest. Might I say, My Lord, that it is partly, if not wholly due to your policy .... "

On September 16, 1924, he asked: "Why do these educated young men, bright youths who have drunk at your own literature and who have imbibed those principles of liberty and freedom, come together in secret organisations in order to assassinate you, the very people who have taught those fine principles? Why? Because they feel that this government do not respond to their aspirations, to their ideals and to their ambition to secure complete political freedom for their country ... . Sir, can you point me out a single country in the world ... that claims the name of a civilised government, which has got a statute of this kind because there are a few bombs thrown. Which country is free, where bombs are not thrown? Is this the way you are going to prevent bombs being thrown? No. The way to prevent bombs being thrown is to meet the people, to respond to their feelings, their sentiments and their legitimate and proper aspirations .... I say that it is opposed to every principle of the Constitution that in normal times the Executive should have such a power. Even if the Executive were responsible to the Legislature I should be the last person to give this power. Why have at all any judicial tribunals in this country? Why not leave everything to the Executive? The very object, the very fundamental principle of law which says that no man's property or life is to be taken away without a judicial trial and without giving him the right to defend himself you take away by this Act." He resigned from the Legislative Council in protest against the Rowlatt Act in a stinging letter to the Viceroy. He consistently opposed preventive detention.

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