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JINNAH : disturbed spirit
BY M J AKBAR

JINNAH WAS LIBERAL-SECULAR FOR MOST OF HIS LIFE, BUT NOT ALL HIS LIFE!

Mohammad Ali Jinnah, aristocrat by temperament, catholic in taste, sectarian in politics, and the father of Pakistan, was the unlikeliest parent that an Islamic republic could possibly have. He was the most British of the generation of Indians that won freedom in August 1947. As a child in the elite Christian Mission High School in Karachi, he changed his birthday from 20 October to Christmas Day. As a student at Lincoln’s Inn, he anglicised his name from Jinnahbhai to Jinnah. For three years, between 1930 and 1933, he went into voluntary exile in Hampstead, acquired a British passport, set up residence with his sister Fatimah and daughter Dina, hired a British chauffeur [Bradley] for his Bentley, kept two dogs [a black Doberman and a white West Highland terrier], indulged himself at the theatre [he had once wanted to be a professional actor so that he could play Hamlet] and appeared before the Privy Council to maintain himself in the style to which he was accustomed. He wore Savile Row suits, heavily starched shirts and two-tone leather or suede shoes. Official portraits in Pakistan present him in a more “Islamic” costume, but the first time he wore a lambskin cap and sherwani was on 15 October 1937 when he presided over the Lucknow session of the Muslim League. He was 61 years old.

Despite being the Quaid-e-Azam, or the Great Leader of Muslims, he drank a moderate amount of alcohol and was embarrassingly unfamiliar with Islamic methods of prayer. He was uncomfortable in any language but English, and made his demand for Pakistan — in 1940 at Lahore — in English, despite catcalls from an audience that wanted to hear Urdu. His excuse was ingenious: since the world press was in attendance, he said, it was only right that he speak in a world language. The brilliant lawyer was never short of a convincing argument.

He married a beautiful young Parsi girl, Ruttie Petit, child of a wealthy non-Muslim Bombay business family who was disowned by her parents for marrying outside her faith. Ruttie wore fresh flowers in her hair, silk dresses, headbands that sparkled with diamonds, rubies and emeralds, and smoked English cigarettes in ivory holders. The marriage frayed, but it produced a daughter, Dina, who loved her father but was more reticent about the nation he created. Dina stayed back in India, and must have been the only Indian to wave a Pakistani flag from her balcony on 14 August 1947. In an incident poignant with Wodehousian overtones, Jinnah, who wore a monocle as a young barrister, recalled his first “friction with the police” to his biographer, Hector Bolitho [Jinnah, Creator of Pakistan, John Murray, 1954]. It was during an Oxbridge boat race: “I was with two friends and we were caught up with a crowd of undergraduates. We found a cart in a side street, so we pushed each other up and down the roadway, until we were arrested and taken off to the police station ... [and] let off with a caution.” It was the only time Jinnah went to jail. In contrast, the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, who gave up Savile Row for unshaped homespun cotton, spent half the years between 1920 and 1947 in a series of British prisons.

1920 was a seminal year of the freedom movement, for Mahatma Gandhi took over its leadership and launched the non-cooperation, or Khilafat, movement with a marriage of two currents: the overall anger against British colonisation and the Muslim outrage against the defeat of the Caliph of Muslims, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and the fall of the holy cities, Mecca and Medina, to the British in the First World War. When Gandhi allied with the ulema, and challenged the rule of law, Jinnah, a pre-eminent leader of the Congress as well as the Muslim League, objected. He walked out of the Nagpur session of the Congress rather than endorse Gandhi’s leadership. As he said, “Well, young man. I will have nothing to do with this pseudo-religious approach to politics. I part company with Congress and Gandhi. I do not believe in working up mob hysteria.”

The young man was a journalist, Durga Das. The older man was Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The reference is from Durga Das’ classic book, India from Curzon to Nehru and After. Jinnah said this after the 1920 Nagpur session, where Gandhi’s non-cooperation resolution was passed almost unanimously. Jinnah’s decision was entirely in character with his liberal-secular record.

On 1 October 1906, 35 Muslims of “noble birth, wealth and power” called on the fourth Earl of Minto, Curzon’s successor as Viceroy of India. They were led by the Aga Khan and used for the first time a phrase that would dominate the history of the subcontinent in the 20th century: the “national interests” of Indian Muslims. They wanted help against an “unsympathetic” Hindu majority. They asked, very politely, for proportional representation in jobs and separate seats in councils, municipalities, university syndicates and high court benches. Lord Minto was happy to oblige. The Muslim League was born in December that year at Dhaka, chaired by Nawab Salimullah Khan, who had been too ill to join the 35 in October. The Aga Khan was its first president.

The Aga Khan wrote later that it was “freakishly ironic” that “our doughtiest opponent in 1906” was Jinnah, who “came out in bitter hostility toward all that I and my friends had done. He was the only well-known Muslim to take this attitude. He said that our principle of separate electorates was dividing the nation against itself”. ON PRECISELY the same dates that the League was formed in Dhaka, Jinnah was in nearby Calcutta with 44 other Muslims and roughly 1,500 Hindus, Christians and Parsis, serving as secretary to Dadabhai Naoroji, president of the Indian National Congress. Dadabhai was too ill to give his address, which had been partially drafted by Jinnah and was read out by Gopal Krishna Gokhale.

Sarojini Naidu, who met the 30-year-old Jinnah for the first time here, remembered him as a symbol of “virile patriotism”. Her description is arguably the best there is: “Tall and stately, but thin to the point of emancipation, languid and luxurious of habit, Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s attenuated form is a deceptive sheath of a spirit of exceptional vitality and endurance. Somewhat formal and fastidious, and a little aloof and imperious of manner, the calm hauteur of his accustomed reserve but masks, for those who know him, a naïve and eager humanity, an intuition quick and tender as a woman’s, a humour gay and winning as a child’s, a shy and splendid idealism which is of the very essence of the man.”

Jinnah entered the Central Legislative Council in Calcutta [the capital of British India then] on 25 January 1910, along with Gokhale, Surendranath Banerjea and Motilal Nehru. Lord Minto expected the Council to rubber stamp “any measures we may deem right to introduce”. Jinnah’s maiden speech shattered such pompousness. He rose to defend another Gujarati working for his people in another colony across the seas, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Jinnah expressed “the highest pitch of indignation and horror at the harsh and cruel treatment that is meted out to Indians in South Africa”. Minto objected to a term such as “cruel treatment”. Jinnah responded at once: “My Lord! I should feel much inclined to use much stronger language.” Lord Minto kept quiet.

On 7 March 1911 Jinnah introduced what was to become the first non-official Act in British Indian history, the Wakf Validating Bill, reversing an 1894 decision on wakf gifts. Muslims across the Indian empire were grateful. Jinnah attended his first meeting of the League in Bankipur in 1912, but did not become a member. He was in Bankipur to attend the Congress session. When he went to Lucknow a few months later as a special guest of the League [it was not an annual session], Sarojini Naidu was on the platform with him. The bitterness that divided India did not exist then. Dr M.A. Ansari, Maulana Azad and Hakim Ajmal Khan attended the League session of 1914, and in 1915, the League tent had a truly unlikely guest list: Madan Mohan Malviya, Surendranath Banerjea, Annie Besant, B.G. Horniman, Sarojini Naidu and Mahatma Gandhi. When Jinnah did join the League in 1913, he insisted on a condition, set out in immaculate English, that his “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” [Jinnah: His Speeches and Writings, 1912-1917, edited by Sarojini Naidu]. Gokhale that year honoured Jinnah with a phrase that has travelled through time: it is “freedom from all sectarian prejudice which will make him [Jinnah] the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity”. In the spring of 1914 Jinnah chaired a Congress delegation to London to lobby Whitehall on a proposed Council of India Bill.

When Gandhi landed in India in 1915, Jinnah, as president of the Gujarat Society [the mahatmas of both India and Pakistan were Gujaratis], spoke at a garden party to welcome the hero of South Africa. Jinnah was the star of 1915. At the Congress and League sessions, held in Mumbai at the same time, he worked tirelessly with Congress president Satyendra Sinha and Mazharul Haque [a Congressman who presided over the Muslim League that year] for a joint platform of resolutions. Haque and Jinnah were heckled so badly at the League session by mullahs that the meeting had to be adjourned. It reconvened the next day in the safer milieu of the Taj Mahal Hotel. The next year Jinnah became president of the League for the first time, at Lucknow.

Motilal Nehru, in the meantime, worked closely with Jinnah in the Council. When the munificent Motilal convened a meeting of fellow-legislators at his handsome mansion in Allahabad in April, he considered Jinnah “as keen a nationalist as any of us. He is showing his community the way to Hindu-Muslim unity”. It was from this meeting in Allahabad that Jinnah went for a vacation to Darjeeling and the summer home of his friend Sir Dinshaw Manockjee Petit [French merchants had nicknamed Dinshaw’s small-built grandfather petit and it stuck] and met 16-year-old Ruttie. I suppose a glorious view of the Everest encouraged romance. When Ruttie became 18 she eloped and on 19 April 1918 they were married. Ruttie’s Parsi family disowned her, she separated from Jinnah a decade later. [The wedding ring was a gift from the Raja of Mahmudabad.]

As president Jinnah engineered the famous Lucknow Pact with Congress president A.C. Mazumdar. In his presidential speech Jinnah rejoiced that the new spirit of patriotism had “brought Hindus and Muslims together for the common cause”. Mazumdar announced that all differences had been settled, and Hindus and Muslims would make a “joint demand for a Representative Government in India”. Enter Gandhi, who never sat in a legislature, and believed passionately that freedom could only be won by a non-violent struggle for which he would have to prepare the masses.

IN 1915 Gokhale advised Gandhi to keep “his ears open and his mouth shut” for a year, and see India. Gandhi stopped in Calcutta on his way to Rangoon and spoke to students. Politics, he said, should never be divorced from religion. The signal was picked by Muslims planning to marry politics with religion in their first great campaign against the British empire, the Khilafat movement.

Over the next three years Gandhi prepared the ground for his version of the freedom struggle: a shift from the legislatures to the street; a deliberate use of religious imagery to reach the illiterate masses through symbols most familiar to them [Ram Rajya for the Hindus, Khilafat for the Muslims]; and an unwavering commitment to the poor peasantry, for whom Champaran became a miracle. The massacre at Jallianwala Bagh in 1919 provided a perfect opportunity; Indian anger reached critical mass. Gandhi led the Congress towards its first mass struggle, the Non-Cooperation Movement of 1921.

The constitutionalist in Jinnah found mass politics ambitious, and the liberal in him rejected the invasion of religion in politics. When he rose to speak at the Nagpur session in 1920, where Gandhi moved the non-cooperation resolution, Jinnah was the only delegate to dissent till the end among some 50,000 “surging” Hindus and Muslims. He had two principal objections. The resolution, he said, was a de facto declaration of swaraj, or complete independence, and although he agreed completely with Lala Lajpat Rai’s indictment of the British Government he did not think the Congress had, as yet, the means to achieve this end; as he put it, “it is not the right step to take at this moment. You are committing the Indian National Congress to a programme which you will not be able to carry out”. [Gandhi, after promising swaraj within a year, withdrew the Non-Cooperation Movement in the wake of communal riots in Kerala and of course the famous Chauri Chaura incident in 1922. Congress formally adopted full independence as its goal only in 1931.] His second objection was that non-violence would not succeed. In this Jinnah was wrong.

There is a remarkable sub-text in this speech, which has never been commented upon, at least to my knowledge. When Jinnah first referred to Gandhi, he called him “Mr Gandhi”. There were instant cries of “Mahatma Gandhi”. Without a moment’s hesitation, Jinnah switched to “Mahatma Gandhi”. Later, he referred to Mr Mohammad Ali, the more flamboyant of the two Ali Brothers, both popularly referred to as Maulana. There were angry cries of “Maulana”. Jinnah ignored them. He referred at least five times more to Ali, but each time called him only Mr Mohammad Ali.

Let us leave the last word to Gandhi. Writing in Harijan of 8 June 1940, Gandhi said, “Quaid-e-Azam himself was a great Congressman. It was only after the non-cooperation that he, like many other Congressmen belonging to several communities, left. Their defection was purely political.” In other words, it was not communal. It could not be, for almost every Muslim was with Gandhi when Jinnah left the Congress.

HISTORY MIGHT be better understood if we did not treat it as a heroes-and-villains movie. Life is more complex than that. The heroes of our national struggle changed sometimes with circumstances. The reasons for the three instances I cite are very different; their implications radically at variance. I am not making any comparisons, but only noting that leaders change their tactics. Non-violent Gandhi, who broke the empire three decades later, received the Kaiser-I-Hind medal on 3 June 1915 [Tagore was knighted the same day] for recruiting soldiers for the war effort. Subhas Bose, ardently Gandhian in 1920, put on uniform and led the Indian National Army with support from Fascists. Jinnah, the ambassador of unity, became a partitionist.

The question that should intrigue us is why. Ambition and frustration are two reasons commonly suggested in India, but they are not enough to create a new nation. Jinnah made the demand for Pakistan only in 1940, after repeated attempts to obtain constitutional safeguards for Muslims and attempts at power-sharing had failed. What happened, for instance, to the Constitution that the Congress was meant to draft in 1928? On the other hand, Congress leaders felt that commitments on the basis of any community would lead to extortion from every community. The only exception made was for Dalits, then called Harijans.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who remained opposed to partition even after Nehru and Patel had accepted it as inevitable, places one finger on the failed negotiations in United Provinces after the 1936-37 elections, and a second on the inexplicable collapse of the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 which would have kept India united — inexplicable because both the Congress and the Muslim League had accepted it. The plan did not survive a press conference given by Nehru. But to blame Nehru alone is completely erroneous. He had just been named Congress president, replacing Azad, since the party president would head any interim Government pending freedom. But he was hardly the supreme authority in the party. Gandhi could have intervened at any moment, but did not. Nehru had strong reservations about the right of the units to secede; Jinnah may have accepted a “moth-eaten” Pakistan but Nehru was not ready to accept a “moth-eaten” India. Azad disagreed, arguing the classic Congress case that since communalism was a British poison, it would ebb once Indians ruled their own state; he was ready, in other words, to give Indians a chance to prove that communalism was a passing phenomenon and flourish as a united nation.

Jinnah responded with the unbridled use of the communal card, and there was no turning back. His protest culminated in the call for Direct Action; this in turn engendered the carnage of the Calcutta riots; which, in turn, led to the massacres of Bihar riots. The prospects of unity were washed away in the blood on the streets and mudpaths. A deeply saddened Gandhi spurned 15 August 1947 as a false dawn [to quote Faiz]. He spent the day not in celebrations in Delhi but in fasting at Calcutta. Thanks to Gandhi — and H.S. Suhrawardy — there were no communal riots in Calcutta in 1947.

Facts are humbling. They prevent you from jumping to conclusions.


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Jaswant Singh’s Jinnah has certainly provoked much ado about something, but what is that something? Would this biography have made news if the author had not been a senior leader of the BJP? The world of books requires some chintan, but fortunately no chintan baithak. Who or what, then, is the story: Jinnah or the BJP? The two are not entirely unrelated, for the BJP was formed as a direct consequence of the creation of Pakistan. The umbilical cord still sends spasms up its central nerve.

Two questions frame the Jaswant-Jinnah controversy. Was Jinnah secular? Do Nehru and Patel share the “guilt” for Partition?

Neither question is new, but both have an amazing capacity for reinvention. Jawaharlal’s great socialist contemporary, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, fired the first broadside in “The Guilty Men of Partition”: the title implied that responsibility extended beyond Jinnah. But since his purpose was polemical, the frisson was lost in forgotten corners of libraries. Jaswant Singh had little to gain from searching for some good interred with Jinnah’s bones, and a bit to lose.

For most of his life, Jinnah was the epitome of European secularism, in contrast to Gandhi’s Indian secularism. Jinnah admired Kemal Ataturk, who separated religion from state. Gandhi believed that politics without religion was immoral; advocated equality of all religions, and even pandered to the Indian’s need for a religious identity. He never publicly disavowed the ‘Mahatma’ attached to his name, even when privately critical, and understood the importance of ‘Pandit’ before Nehru, although Jawaharlal was not particularly religious. Azad had a legitimate right to call himself a Maulana, for he was a scholar of the Holy Book.

Jinnah was not an agnostic. He was born an Ismaili Khoja, and consciously decided to shift, under the influence of an early mentor, Badruddin Tyabji, from the “Sevener” sect, which required obedience to the Aga Khan, to the Twelvers, who recognized no leader. But his faith did not include ritual. He might have posed in a sherwani to demand Pakistan, but he would have considered ‘Maulana Jinnah’ an absurdity. In the end, Jinnah and Gandhi were not as far apart as the record might suggest. Jinnah wanted a secular nation with a Muslim majority; Gandhi desired a secular nation with a Hindu majority. The difference was the geographical arc. Gandhi had an inclusive dream, Jinnah an exclusive one.

The Indian elite tends to measure secularism in pegs: Hindus who do not drink are abstemious, and Muslims who do not are puritan. Jinnah was content with a British lifestyle. He anglicized his name from Jinnahbhai to Jinnah, and dropped an extra ‘l’ from Alli. His monocle was styled on Joseph Chamberlain’s, and he even had a PG Wodehouse moment during a visit to Oxford, when he was arrested for frolics on boat race day (he was let off with a caution; he would never spend a day in jail). His secret student dream was to play Romeo at Old Vic, and only an anguished letter from his father (“Do not be a traitor to your family”) stopped him from becoming a professional actor. He relaxed after a tiring day by reading Shakespeare in a loud resonant voice.

His politics was nationalist and liberal. His early heroes were Phirozeshah Mehta and Dadabhai Naoroji (known as “Mr Narrow-Majority” because he was elected to the House of Commons in 1892 by only three votes). After he met Gopal Krishna Gokhale at his first Congress session in 1904, his “fond ambition”, in Sarojini Naidu’s words, was to become “the Muslim Gokhale”. No one could have hoped for higher praise than what Jinnah received from Ms Naidu: “...the obvious sanity and serenity of his worldly wisdom effectually disguise a shy and splendid idealism which is of the very essence of the man”. Jinnah was only 28.

Since Jaswant Singh has written a thematic biography, rather than a comprehensive one, the book skims over personality and addresses the politics of partition. Jinnah’s life is a window through which the author sees the larger landscape of Pakistan, and the heavily mined road towards this green horizon. One of the best sections of the book is the detailed examination of the great debates of 1927 and 1928, although it does underplay the influence of the Hindu Mahasabha on the Congress at the time. What is evident is that Jinnah walked away from 1928 with a deep sense of grievance, and when he returned to politics in 1934, it was with a firm sense of entitlement. From this, emerged, propelled by steely commitment and brilliant leadership, Pakistan in 1947.

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A contribution on the same subject, slightly differently worded, was carried in ‘Covert’, a fortnightly launched by M. J. Akbar in its issue ‘ 15 May – 31 May 2008

Appeared in Times of India - August 26, 2009

 
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