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Stop Making Jinnah The Poster Boy Of A Xenophobic Nationalism

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Yasser Latif Hamdani writes that Jinnah died unsure of whether he was right in making Pakistan and discusses as to what would the founder of Pakistan say if he could see the subcontinent today – his Pakistan is now a theocratic state persecuting minorities and India under Modi on its way to become a Hindu Rashtra. 

Jinnah has once again become relevant in wake of the events in India. I have already addressed the fallacies of both Indian right wing and Indian liberals when it comes to Jinnah in several pieces here and elsewhere. It is the other side of the coin that I wish to address on his 143rd Birthday. This side is the triumphalism Pakistan’s ultra nationalists feel after the events unfolding in India. They feel that Jinnah has been vindicated given what the Hindu majority is up to in that country. Having spent much of my adult life studying Jinnah, I feel that Jinnah would not have been so sanguine and self congratulatory about this Pyrrhic posthumous “victory” and vindication. A South Asia consumed by xenophobic nationalism was certainly not what he would have wanted.

Let us start this by testimony of the recently-departed Kuldip Nayar. Nayar recounts in his book “On Heroes and Icons” that Jinnah had come to speak to his law college in Lahore. During the question answer session, Nayar asked him “What would be the reaction of Pakistan, if a third country was to attack India?” Jinnah replied that Pakistani soldiers would fight shoulder to should with their Indian counterparts against any invaders and finished with “Blood is thicker than water”. Invaders must be underscored. To Jinnah, who had once famously said “I am an Indian first second and last”, the idea of India was bigger than Pakistan or Hindustan. In fact I am willing to wager that Jinnah would have used the term Hindustani soldiers instead of Indian soldiers. To him Pakistanis were as Indian as Hindustanis. One of the strongest protests he would lodge with Nehru’s government was that they had misappropriated the name India, implying that there could be no India without Pakistan.

What I feel Jinnah was aiming at was not necessarily partition of India but at most a confederation. The use of the word “constitution” in singular in the Lahore Resolution as well as the convalescence period imagined therein shows how flexible the demand was. Jinnah’s concern for his main constituency remained, his brave words notwithstanding.

This constituency comprised the Muslims of UP, CP and Bombay. This is why he saw the Cabinet Mission Plan as a grand opportunity to jettison the maximum demand and settle on the basis of a loose federation. Ultimately it was Congress’ insistence on misinterpreting the grouping clause, that led to a break down of the Cabinet Mission Plan. In December, Jinnah and Nehru traveled to London together to compose their differences along with the British government. The British government confirmed that Jinnah’s interpretation was right but Congress would just not agree. By this time the Congress had begun to see the Muslim majority areas as a liability.

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They were ready to get rid of them. To this end, Jinnah fought till the very end to stop the partition of Punjab and Bengal but Congress and Mountbatten used the same “two nation theory” which was attributed to him to partition Punjab and Bengal. To avoid the partition of Bengal, Jinnah had agreed to a united independent and secular Bengal. Nehru vetoed this. To stop the partition of Punjab, he appealed to the Sikhs and they refused to accept the carte blanche he was giving them.

Being saddled with a moth eaten Pakistan he had rejected in the early 1940s, Jinnah remained unsure to his dying day if he had done the right thing. Speaking on 11 August, when he gave a clear secular vision for the country, Jinnah also remarked that in his view United India would not have worked but then went on to add “Maybe that view is correct; maybe it is not; that remains to be seen.”

In his essay from the aforementioned book, Nayar recounts that Khurshid Ahmed, Jinnah’s personal secretary, asked the Quaid-e-Azam on the dinner table whether it was a good idea to have Pakistan. Jinnah is said to have gone silent for a minute or two contemplating what to say. Then he broke the silence and said “Young man I do not know. Posterity will judge.” Tahira Mazhar Ali, Sikandar Hayat’s daughter, recalls that when Jinnah took an aerial tour of Punjab with Mian Iftikharuddin and saw the migration underway, he put his head between his hands and said “What have I done?” Then there is the testimony of his personal physician who he is reported to have told that Pakistan was the biggest blunder of his life. Whether or not true, one thing is certain, Jinnah died unsure of whether he was right in making Pakistan.

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So what would Jinnah say if he could see the subcontinent today – his Pakistan is now a theocratic state persecuting minorities and India under Modi on its way to become a Hindu Rashtra. Would he have been happy about being vindicated about Hindu majoritarianism or would he have felt pangs of responsibility as to the plight of those Muslims who were left in India?

One thing is certain, his plan of a Pakistan and Hindustan linked through either a minimal federal constitution or treaty relations would have resolved the majoritarian dilemma faced by both countries today. It would have been better for everyone. Pakistan he got was fundamentally different from the Pakistan he wanted. As for his overall vision for South Asia, Pakistan and India have only marched on each other and never together. Jinnah had assured Tahira Mazhar Ali that Pakistan and Hindustan would have open borders. That has not happened – at least since 1965. Since 1965 the evacuee properties have been renamed enemy property in both countries.

So my advice to my compatriots is to stop making Jinnah the poster boy of a xenophobic nationalism. Instead, they need to try and understand what it was that the only politician to be called the Best Ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity was trying to achieve. If we can do that, we can certainly start building a new future for Pakistan and all of South Asia.


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