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Jinnah’s journey from an Indian nationalist to a Muslim separatist

Pakistan was to be a modern democratic state where religion would not be the business of the state. He appointed a Hindu as the law minister precisely to drive home that the newly formed Muslim homeland was not exclusively for Muslims but that minorities of whatever creed would also play their part in this new nation.

September 11, 1948 was the day when the founder and maker of Pakistan, Mr. Mahomed Ali Jinnah, passed away leaving a fledgling new nation rudderless and directionless. The nation survived but the vision that Jinnah had articulated but had been unable to imprint on it did not.

Pakistan’s birth was controversial. At the center of controversy was this almost emaciated but well dressed London-trained barrister-politician who had started his career as a member of the Indian National Congress and was once hailed as the Best Ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity. Indeed no one could have imagined that Mr. Jinnah, the beloved dandy of Bombay’s high society, British India’s leading lawyer and a staunch Indian Nationalist, would one day take a somersault and end up destroying the very unity he had so cherished in his early career. Indeed had someone suggested to Jinnah then that he, who was by all accounts not bothered with religion in his life, would one day end up becoming the founder of a Muslim homeland that would ultimately fashion itself an Islamic Republic, he would have laughed at him or dismissed him with contempt.

What had happened between 1904, when he first attended a Congress session, and 1947, when he took oath as the Governor General of the newly created state of Pakistan, has puzzled historians ever since. Both his staunchest admirers in Pakistan and his most unforgiving critics often try and sidestep the story of how it all happened, so cataclysmically befuddling the transformation was. Had he turned more religious or conservative in his life, it would have been easier to explain. But he did not. So the convenient explanation seems to be that he was a power hungry politician who used religion to get power. This explanation does not gel with his record where on numerous occasions he turned down offers of knighthood, governorships and judgeships of the High Courts. Dr B R Ambedkar, in his book writes: “It is doubtful if there is a politician in India to whom the adjective incorruptible can be more fittingly applied. Anyone who knows what his relations with the British government have been, will admit that he has always been their critic, if indeed, he has not been their adversary. No one can buy him. For it must be said to his credit that he has never been a soldier of fortune” (Pakistan and Partition of India; 1946; page 323)

DAWN newspaper- September, 1948

DAWN newspaper- September, 1948

This is confirmed by H V Hodson, the Reforms Commissioner who knew him personally, and who writes: “One thing is certain he did not change for any venal motive. Not even his political enemies ever accused Jinnah of corruption or self-seeking. He could be bought by no one, and for no price… He was a steadfast idealist as well as a man of scrupulous honour.” (Great Divide; Chapter Two Great Personalities)

Enough evidence has surfaced, especially after the Transfer of Power Papers were de-classified, which show a radically different picture from the one that was painted by Lord Mountbatten, who was looking to justify his shameful scuttle from India in 1947 by making Jinnah a scapegoat. Dr. Ayesha Jalal’s monumental work, “Sole Spokesman” and Indian jurist H M Seervai’s “Partition of India: Legend and Reality” have presented an alternative thesis which has now become the new orthodoxy amongst those studying partition in rarified academic atmosphere on Western institutions of higher learning. Jinnah had very deliberately raised the demand for Pakistan confident that Congress would never accept it and would instead deal with him as the “Sole Spokesman” of the Muslims of India to work out the details of a post-Independence India. Thus Pakistan was Plan B nationalism or BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement). But for BATNA to be effective for a negotiation, Jinnah had to show that the Muslims of India were asking for Pakistan in earnest.

It was high stakes negotiation, which almost got Jinnah what he wanted in form of the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 before it was torpedoed by Jawaharlal Nehru leading ultimately to partition of India. It must be remembered that Jinnah resisted partition to the very end, not the least because it meant driving a line through the heart of Punjab and Bengal, both provinces which were key to Jinnah’s vision of a federal compromise between Hindus and Muslims at the all India center.

Only Dr Ambedkar, another discerning constitutional lawyer, had the measure of Jinnah’s strategy. His book “Pakistan and the Partition of India” was itself a tactical publication, written to garner debate on the issue and to resolve it to the mutual satisfaction of Hindus and Muslims. The heart of the book lies in Ambedkar’s formula for a temporary and partial division of British India into Hindustan and Pakistan, together under the umbrella of an all India council, on a 10 year trial basis, giving all parties enough time to negotiate a settlement acceptable to both sides and coming together as united India. This is what Jinnah had wanted. It was no wonder that when asked by Gandhi to explain the Pakistan demand, Jinnah recommended he should read Ambedkar’s book.

Jinnah, it may be concluded reasonably did not ultimately want partition but rather an equipoise which would help Muslims and other classes like the untouchables get effective safeguards against caste Hindu domination, which Jinnah at witnessed at close quarters since 1928 when on Hindu Mahasabha’s behest, Congress’ supposedly secular Hindu leaders had rejected the four amendments proposed by pro-Congress faction of the Muslim League under Jinnah. Experience with the failure of Muslim reserved seats to ensure Muslims a share of power in Congress led provinces in 1937 and led Jinnah to the conclusion that paper safeguards meant nothing unless the safeguards were effective to and that in order to secure the interests of not just Muslims but other minorities, there had to be effective safeguards. This is when two-nation theory was born. The whole calculus of minority and majority was upturned through this radical new idea.

Not everyone accepts this reading of history, primarily because it challenges the sanctification of figures like Gandhi and Nehru who are central to the modern Indian identity. However what is indisputable in the history books is that Jinnah was ready and willing to accept something less than a sovereign Pakistan. It was Congress that foreclosed all other options in what must have been a rude shock to the League’s Quaid-e-Azam. And then Lord Mountbatten happened. Lord Mountbatten was the single most devastating force of nature primarily because his oversized ego was not compensated by any extraordinary ability or skill. His inept handling of independence and partition, especially his mad rush which saw him bring forward the date of independence by 10 months, laid the foundations of the bitter animosity and rivalry the two twins born on 15 August face even today. It is a tragedy that even today films are made, like Viceroy’s House, to whitewash Lord Mountbatten’s pernicious role in the whole affair.

Once confronted with the possibility of a Pakistan that Jinnah had asked for but had never expected to be granted, Jinnah took off the hat of Muslim nationalism and reverted to being the secular liberal he had been most of his life. Pakistan was to be a modern democratic state where religion would not be the business of the state. He appointed a Hindu as the law minister precisely to drive home that the newly formed Muslim homeland was not exclusively for Muslims but that minorities of whatever creed would also play their part in this new nation. Unfortunately his death 69 years ago on this date has meant neither his vision nor the long political journey he undertook to get where he did have survived in the national consciousness of Pakistan.

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Yasser Latif Hamdani

The writer is a Pakistani lawyer. He is also the author of the book 'Jinnah: Myth and Reality'

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