Busted: Myths About Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah
It will be 73 years since Mr. Jinnah’s death this year and to many he still remains a mystery. Through my book “Jinnah a Life”, published by Pan Macmillan in 2020, I attempted to answer those burning questions about his life that have remained unanswered. There are a number of stock myths that Pakistanis and Indians have adopted to suit their respective national narratives.
The irony is that given the binary of Pakistan’s “Islamic State” narrative and India’s “secular state” narrative, these myths sit together rather comfortably. In Pakistan, a certain group of refuseniks and self-styled freethinkers has adopted the same myths to prove that Jinnah was evil incarnate and that Jinnah and Jinnah alone was to blame for the “colossal mistake” that partition was.
The aim of this article is not to discuss whether or not partition was a mistake. However, one should clarify that there is no such thing as partition of India. A political entity called India with a unitary center was an entity created by the British and did not exist before their coming in the 18th century.
The consolidation of India into a single polity was a British effort, one they remained committed to and at no point did they back out of it. In 1947, contrary to the imaginative claims of some, the British tried tooth and nail to keep India united and to ensure that the Royal Indian Army did not get divided. So what was partitioned in 1947? Punjab and Bengal were partitioned and that too at the insistence of the Congress Party, which hypocritically claimed to stand for the unity of India and composite nationalism.
It was Jawaharlal Nehru who torpedoed the Cabinet Mission Plan. This is borne out by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s biography “India Wins Freedom” where he states in clear terms that his decision to pass on the presidency of the Congress Party to Jawaharlal Nehru was a Himalayan Blunder. In torpedoing the Cabinet Mission Plan, Nehru destroyed the very edifice on which an independent and United India could have been built. In a multicultural state, there has to be give and take.
This is where the principle of consociationalism comes in. Any political scientist worth his salt defines consociational democracy as a democratic state internal divisions along ethnic, religious, or linguistic lines, which are resolved with mutual consent of these wider groups thus establishing a balance between the various segments. Thus, it stops a majority from riding roughshod over the minorities through one-man one vote. This system would have worked in India, had it been given a chance. And that is precisely what Jinnah was willing to do, but the short sightedness of Congress leaders, so gripped with the idea of a centralized majoritarian state, blew that chance. Only Maulana Azad was willing to recognise the irony of Patel and Nehru becoming the harbingers of division of India. So the first myth that Jinnah wanted to destroy the unity of India at all costs falls flat.
As H M Seervai, the leading legal mind of India, noted it was Gandhi and Nehru who stood for division and it was Jinnah who stood for a United India. This is not a Pakistani making this claim. It was a first rate jurist and lawyer in India, whose book on Constitutional Law is required reading in every law school in India, who made this claim. Thus, neither the claim of Pakistanis that Jinnah unwaveringly stood for a separate Pakistan nor the Indian claim that Jinnah was the devil who divided India can stand the test of facts.
The next claim that is made on both sides is that Jinnah wanted a theocratic state, despite the fact that Jinnah explicitly ruled it out on several occasions both before and after Pakistan was created. Those who claim that Jinnah only spoke in secular terms on 11 August 1947 (in his famous speech to constituent assembly) conveniently overlook his several (not one) speeches that say that “Pakistan shall not be a theocracy to be run by priests with a divine mission.” This was a consistent position throughout the Pakistan Movement.
In 1943, when a member from Bombay tried to introduce a resolution to commit Pakistan’s future constitution to “Hukumat-e-illayah”, Jinnah vetoed it saying that such an action would amount to a censure on every Leaguer. He added that the Constitution of Pakistan shall be what the people of Pakistan would decide.
Jinnah also told Raja of Mahmudabad to stop propagating the idea that Pakistan would be an Islamic state, asking him poignantly as to what sect of Islam would such a state be run by. He told him in clear words that Pakistan would be a liberal democratic state.
Jinnah also admired the modernizing reforms of Turkey’s great leader Ataturk, though it might be added that he could not nor did he want to impose those reforms by force.
Then the proponents of this myth of theocracy point to Jinnah’s speech before the Karachi Bar Association in January 1948. In this speech Jinnah said that the Constitution of Pakistan shall not be in conflict with Sharia. This was not a contradiction but a statement that a modern democratic state is not in conflict with Islam.
He had a modernist view of Islam and wanted to negotiate the very idea of Islam with a modern nation state. It was not a new idea. John Locke the father of modern liberalism, who Jinnah was inspired by, wrote his famous essay on toleration in a Christian context in his Treatise on the End of Government.
Even earlier, Roger Williams’ founded Rhode Island, which was in essence the first secular state in the world. Roger Williams was a devout Christian and a Puritan minister who argued that Christian ideals meant a separation of Church and State. This was in 1636.
That Jinnah thought in these terms and drew inspiration from the Christian past of England and other European states becomes abundantly clear when we consider that in his famous 11 August speech, he referred specifically to Protestant and Roman Catholic Conflict and the resolution of this conflict to be a precedent for Pakistan.
Critics of Jinnah have gone so far as to declare that there is no religious freedom in Islam. This is a counterfactual claim given that Islam since its early days stood for religious freedom. On this count, these critics (and also Islamists) point out that when Mountbatten spoke of Emperor Akbar, Jinnah dismissed it.
On the contrary, Jinnah called him “the Great Emperor Akbar” and stated Akbar’s toleration was part of the Islamic tradition. It is true because despite the fact that a section of Muslim Ulema described Akbar as a non-believer (a tag Jinnah was no stranger since he was himself called Kafir-e-Azam), Emperor Akbar’s milieu was essentially Islamicate and his ideas of Din-Illahi and Sulhe Kul were inspired by Muslim tradition in vogue in all three major Muslim empires of the time: Ottoman Empire, Safavids in Iran and the Mughals in India.
Finally we have some claims that are just not true. One writer says that the “only institution set up by Jinnah after independence was the Department of Islamic Reconstruction”. The source of this claim is Orya Maqbool Jan, whose testimony is more than suspect, who waved a paper claiming it was a document that established the department. He has persistently refused to produce the document on any forum for exhibition. There is a good reason for it.
Jinnah never authorized such a department. The department may or may not have been set up by the government of West Punjab. While that would not have meant the denial of the secular principle, there is just no such record of Jinnah’s affiliation with such a body.
Then the “Jinnah was not secular” camp speaks of Jinnah’s correspondence with Hassan Al Banna. The letter that Jinnah wrote – in response to Banna’s letter- is in the Jinnah Papers. It merely says that Jinnah could not associate himself with an organisation Banna had set up in Egypt to help Pakistan. Contrary to the claims of the “Jinnah was not in the secular camp”, it was a flat out refusal by Jinnah to seek Banna’s help.
Finally, we must put an end to this myth that Jinnah used religion as means to an end. At no point did Jinnah ever use religion. In fact he had said famously on 7 Feb 1935 that religion was merely a matter between man and God and should never be allowed in politics. In the same speech, he pointed out that the question of minorities was a political question and not a religious one. At no point did Jinnah speak of any religious state nor was there any resolution passed to this effect.
Responding to a heckler who kept saying Pakistan ka Matlab kiya La Illah Ilallah, Jinnah said that he had nothing to do with the slogan. Jinnah understood that a confessional state would lead to numerous divisions within the Muslim community. This is why Jinnah refused to declare Ahmadis Non-Muslim saying that he was no one to declare someone a Non-Muslim who claimed to be a Muslim. This earned the undying animosity of Ataullah Shah Bukhari and his followers (Majlis-Ahar-e-Islam) who started calling Jinnah Kafir-e-Azam.
Ironically, in one of the recent books, Ataullah Shah Bukhari and his followers, bigots of the worst kind- are described as “liberal nationalist Muslims”, presumably because they supported the Congress. Contrary to the claim that Jinnah used religion, religion was used against him. Congress unleashed sectarian Jamiat-e-Ulema-Hind and Majlis-e-Ahrar-e-Islam against Jinnah. Jinnah’s personal life, westernized outlook and sect (Shia Khoja) were easy targets for these bigots. Gandhi’s use of religion in politics had origins in the Khilafat Movement in the 1920s. It was this unholy matrimony that Congress now relied on.
The Muslims of India knew better and chose a liberal and modern Muslim like Jinnah over the bearded Mullahs in flowing robes.
The writer is a lawyer and commentator. He is also the author of the book ‘Jinnah: Myth and Reality’.