It is important to keep oneself well informed about the early political life of Jinnah to get a better understanding of an individual who was hailed as one of the most enigmatic figures in Indian politics.
There couldn’t have been a better synergy at the political crossroads of the on going Indo-Pak dialogue. When co-incidences are loud and clear, they should be appropriately recognised before they fade in collective memory. I encountered a book Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity, Jinnah’s Early Politics by Ian Bryant Wells, published this year, which stands out as the best in the current politics that were stroked out around the controversy over the credentials of Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s secularism and L.K Advani’s version of it. While Advani’s version of secularism was clearly not acceptable to his own party members and was much criticised, it has become clear in the larger political framework how the very concept of secularism is one that is still the most mis-interpreted and misused by extremist right-wing politicians to gain political mileage. It is of common knowledge that Advani is surely not an evangelical secularist that he pretends to be, one would be interested to see how these current interpretations of secularism are understood in today’s context.
Ian wells’s partial political biography of Jinnah details out the life of a great political thinker and an extremely complex strategist. It successfully manages to confound an already mysterious political character like Jinnah. This book introduces us to that Jinnah, who was the political heir to the constitutionalism of the devout Hindu politician Gopal Krishna Gokhale and the liberalism of Morley. As a person who was born into the minority Khoja community, Jinnah converted into the Shia community before entering into aggressive politics. It is a hypothetical proposition to think that he took up this conversion to the Shia community because he could not advocate his politics from the position that he was in i.e. an evolving politician from a minority within a minority. Jinnah was relatively a late starter in Indian politics when he got into the Indian legislative council at the age of thirty-five. All through out his early politics, he was strong in advocating Hindu- Muslim unity in India. This is what led to Sarojini Naidu bestowing on him the title of ‘Ambassador of Hindu- Muslim unity’.
But one needs to introspect as to how did this ambassador of Hindu Muslim unity metamorphosise into becoming the ‘Father of Pakistan’. This seems to be a huge grey area that has never been thoroughly studied by any historian and researcher. This book is no exception. Many historians have told us ad nauseum that while leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad were deeply religious individuals who were secular, Jinnah and Savarkar who were atheists turned out to be figures who endorsed communal politics. It is high time we start introspecting the entire politics of that period and contextualise it. Many concepts have never remained the way they started off.
They change from time to time and it is important to recognise this change for a better understanding of the socio – cultural functioning of the nation-state. Before 1937, if one sees the political scenario, one will say that Jinnah was undoubtedly secular. The change in his attitude happened after Gandhiji joined the Congress and he was cornered. Cornered by the Congress in the late 1920’s and criticised by his own community, an isolated Jinnah left for England to practice law.
The person who was to return in 1935 was a completely different Jinnah who came back to India in the midst of Gandhi’s non- violent movement. And this time around he was not trying to fix the gap between the Congress and the League. How did this change come about? Did he feel the exercise he was pursuing to bond the Congress and the League, futile? These are some of the complex questions to which history has no answers. But after his transformation, it was not a difficult journey for him to bring about Pakistan as a separate nation. His call to the Muslims for celebrating December 22nd as the ‘Day of deliverance and thanksgiving’ turned out to be effective. From there on till the ‘Direct action day’ in the August of 1946, one can see the complete absence of his secular politics. And unfortunately this is the Jinnah that many people in India know. This is the Jinnah over which the extremist Hindutva forces pride their awareness and spread their understanding of it among the Indian masses.
Ian Wellses work is an extremely interesting document that is well researched on the early politics of Jinnah. And in the present context, it is important to keep oneself well informed about this phase of Jinnah’s life to get a better understanding of an individual who was hailed as one of the most intriguing, fascinating and an enigmatic figure in Indian politics. If one reads his speech of August 11, 1947, which was delivered to the Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly, one can sense his act of apology and acknowledgement that communal politics were extremely divisive. Here it would be interesting to ask if Jinnah was trying to get back to his earlier politics of secularism since his dream of an independent Pakistan was achieved. But before anything else was said and done, he died the next year and that was the end of understanding his politics. It will be interesting to ask questions like what if he had been made the prime minister of Pakistan in 1947? What if he had died before the Partition? Would Pakistan have been a secular nation if Jinnah had lived on?
This is not the first time that secularism is being re-interpreted. It has been done every time communal politics has taken a forefront in India. More then seeing if Jinnah was a secularist or a communal person or just a highly confused politician, it is important to recognize the tragedy that surrounds the complete ignorance of that phase of his life when he metamorphosised from a secular individual to a communal leader.
”Veejay Sai is a writer, editor and a Culture Critic living and working from Bangalore, India. He has written and published extensively on Music, Fashion, Food, Theatre, Art, Film and more. He is a human rights activist and a research scholar and has worked with some of the world’s biggest social organizations. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org”