Unbottling the Djinn of Jinnah
By Mubashir Mushtaq
The powerful persona of Jinnah still reverberates in India sixty years after his death. Dead Jinnah has the potential to shatter and disintegrate an increasingly fascist BJP where freedom and forgiveness are being applied selectively. What would have been the fate of BJP had Jinnah been alive? Nehru and Gandhi have been painted as permanent saints while Jinnah has been portrayed as a permanent sinner in the Indian history. When one looks closely at the cult figure of Jinnah, the famous line comes to mind: No man can be hero all through his life…
Nobody would have thought that Jaswant Singh, one of the tallest BJP leaders, would unbottle the jinn of Jinnah from the bottle of history and mystery! The core issue of the ongoing debate is not that Jaswant Singh’s new book on Jinnah has rattled the BJP but his contention that Jinnah was not responsible for the Partition of India and the blame lay with Nehru and Vallabhai Patel. We will examine this assumption later; let’s first have a look at the kind of man Jinnah was and what drove him towards two-nation theory which culminated in the creation of Pakistan.
Jinnah was a towering national leader much before Gandhi returned from South Africa and entered public life. Jinnah was a colleague of Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Bal Gangadhar Tilak. He was better known than Motilal Nehru, Tej Bahadur Sapru and M.R. Jayakar. Gandhi’s rise to prominence lies in the Khilafat movement which Jinnah bitterly opposed. Jinnah was a permanent secular liberal while Gandhi adjusted his secularism according to the prevalent condition and the requirement. Gandhi believed in the idea of compromise while Jinnah didn’t. Gandhi appeased Muslims with Khilafat movement and Hindus by intoning Ramrajya. Therein lays the popularity of Gandhi. It is this “compromise” of Gandhi that made him more popular than any other leader in the Indian subcontinent.
In a letter dated October 30, 1920 – which is of historic importance – Jinnah wrote to Gandhi: “I thank you for your kind suggestion offering me ‘to take my share in the new life that has opened up before the country’. If by ‘new life’ you mean your methods and your programme, I am afraid I cannot accept them; for I am fully convinced that it must lead to disaster. But the actual new life that has opened up before the country is that we are faced with a Government that pays no heed to the grievances, feelings and sentiments of the people; that our own countrymen are divided; the Moderate Party is still going wrong; that your methods have already caused split and division in almost every institution that you have approached hitherto, and in the public life of the country not only amongst Hindus and Muslims but between Hindus and Hindus and Muslims and Muslims and even between fathers and sons; people generally are desperate all over the country and your extreme programme has for the moment struck the imagination mostly of the inexperienced youth and the ignorant and the illiterate...I have no voice or power to remove the cause; but at the same time I do not wish my countrymen to be dragged to the brink of a precipice in order to be shattered. The only way for the Nationalists is to unite and work for a programme which is universally acceptable for the early attainment of complete responsible government. Such a programme cannot be dictated by any single individual, but must have the approval and support of all the prominent Nationalist leaders in the country; and to achieve this end I am sure my colleagues and myself shall continue to work.”
Jinnah was beginning to dislike the dictatorship of Gandhi yet he remained a nationalist. After this, Jinnah’s disillusionment with Congress began to develop and there is historical evidence to this. The famous Nehru report which adopted alternative constitutional proposals ignored Jinnah completely. Jinnah’s 14-points were rejected the report. Further, he was personally humiliated at All-Parties Convention yet Jinnah remained steadfast and did not lose self-control. At the Convention he said, “We are all sons of the soil. We have to live together... If we cannot agree, let us at any rate agree to differ, but let us part as friends.”
In 1928, Jinnah advised and insisted Congress to seek Hindu Mahasabha’s assent to which Nehru arrogantly replied, “There are only two parties in the county, the Congress and the government.” Jinnah shot back, “There is a third party in the country and that is the Muslims.” Jayakar questioned Jinnah’s credentials as a representative and Nehru did the same in 1937 when he said, “May I suggest to Mr. Jinnah that I come into greater touch with the Muslim masses than most of the members of the League.”
Jinnah took up this challenge personally and began to work in order to establish his political credentials.
All this did not dishearten Jinnah to such an extent that he demands a separate homeland for Muslims. Till 1937, Jinnah saw “no difference between the ideals of the Muslim League and of the Congress, the ideal being complete freedom for India.”
Jinnah became to nurse a grudge against Nehru and Congress after his repeated attempts to obtain constitutional safeguards for Muslims and attempts at power-sharing had failed.
In October 1937, he said that “all safeguards and settlements would be a scrap of paper unless they were backed up by power.” In Britain the parties alternate in holding power. “But such is not the case in India. Here we have a permanent Hindu majority....”
This is where Jinnah went horribly wrong. His constant humiliation led him to majority-minority trap. He forgot that the key issue to Muslim development was through empowerment on all fronts including politics. Jinnah was so frustrated that he raised the slogan of “permanent Hindu majority”. As ace commentator A.G. Noorani writes, “The solution lay, not in aggravating the communal divide by his two-nation theory; but in the tactics of the Jinnah of old - mobilise both communities, espouse secular values and seek protection for the rights of all minorities as Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had urged him to do.”
In February 1938, Jinnah delivered a speech which is not well-known. There he poured his heart out: “At that time there was no pride in me and I used to beg from the Congress.” The first “shock” came at the Round Table Conference; the next, in 1937. “The Musalmans were like the No Man’s land. They were led by either the flunkeys of the British government or the camp-followers of the Congress…”
When viceroy asked him about the alternative, he replied on October 5, 1939, that “an escape from the impasse ... lay in the adoption of Partition”.
If Nehru compromised on minorities rights then Jinnah on India’s unity although both men were secularists. A.G. Noorani writes, “Therein lies the tragedy. Nehru harmed secularism by denying the legitimacy of minority rights. Jinnah ruined it by the two-nation theory.” He adds, “ Yet, it is doubtful if, in the entire history of India’s struggle for freedom, anyone else has been subjected to such a sustained, determined denigration and demonisation as Jinnah has been from 1940 to this day, by almost everyone - from the leaders at the very top to academics and journalists.”
The Cabinet Mission’s Plan of May 16, 1946, for a united India failed and dragged it “into the abyss of inevitability.” Everyone including Nehru and Patel had given up; only Maulana Abul Kalam Azad remained opposed to it. Both Nehru and Jinnah were equally responsible for the Partition.
“Jinnah”, in the word of A.G. Noorani, “was of a heroic mould but fell prey to bitterness and the poison that bitterness breeds.”
No man can be hero all through his life. It equally applies to Jinnah as well.
The last word should be left to M.J. Akbar:
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.