In continuation of Pak Tea House’s earlier “Partition of India: a Dialogue” we reproduce from The Hindu, A G Noorani’s famous article “Assessing Jinnah” written in the aftermath of L K Advani’s “Jinnah is secular” scandal. This is a well written piece which praises Jinnah for his contribution to the freedom struggle but also takes him to task for his failings. It also calls for a balanced assessment of the man, and not the hero-demon dichotomy that exists in scholarship about him in the subcontinent. For Pakistanis, there are several lessons here which should be driven home and internalized:
1. Jinnah was essentially a secular liberal who had fought for a United India. It was when he was spurned by the Congress that he devised an alternative strategy.
2. Pakistan, as it was formed on 14th August, 1947, marked a defeat for Jinnah’s objectives and not their fulfillment. Jinnah’s idea of Pakistan was envisaged within an India whole. Yet it was the inherent contradiction in Jinnah’s strategy that weakened his hand at the end. He over played his hand and was left out in the cold.
3. Pakistan was not created for any theocratic ideal or millenial dream. It was – like all nation states- a product of history. It can only survive if it pays heed to Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan as a secular democratic state committed to the welfare of the masses.
4. Peace with India and reconciliation with our past is the only way Pakistan can lay to rest the demons that have haunted it since its creation.
IGNORANT biographers have made much of the fact that at a reception in his honour on January 12, 1915, Gandhi asked Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who was presiding, to speak in Gujarati; implying that he was embarrassed because he knew only English. But Gujarati and Cutchi were the only two languages Jinnah spoke perfectly; “beautifully”, M.C. Chagla recalled. His devoted follower M.A.H. Ispahani put it delicately: “Even in this language [English] the meticulous don would have found some flaws” (The Jinnah I Knew ; page 107).
But, with the indifference to matters of substance that marks most writings on Jinnah, they overlook a more significant aspect to the relationship. Dr. Ajeet Jawed draws pointed attention to its implications. When Gandhi returned to India from South Africa, Jinnah was a national leader towering above Motilal Nehru, Tej Bahadur Sapru and M.R. Jayakar. He was a colleague of Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Bal Gangadhar Tilak. He performed a central role in the Congress, the Muslim League and the Home Rule League (HRL). Gandhi’s demand was certainly presumptuous, if not insulting. But it revealed his pronounced tendency to establish his ascendancy. It worked with all others – save Jinnah. In his correspondence, he even advised Jinnah gratuitously about his wife. In October 1916, addressing a conference over which Jinnah presided, Gandhi referred to him as “a learned Muslim gentleman … . an eminent lawyer and not only a member of the Legislature but also president of the biggest Islamic association in India” (Secular and Nationalist Jinnah; page 193).
Gandhi was “cutting Jinnah to size”, as a sectarian leader. Jinnah was neither put out nor deflected from the course he followed. Chimanlal Setalvad and he remained two persons who never subordinated their will and judgment to him. On his part, till the end Jinnah treated Gandhi as a peer. He was not forgiven for this. Jinnah could not be “domesticated” like the Nehrus and Sardar Patel, nor co-opted.
Equally wrong is the impression that Jinnah was embittered because Gandhi, in effect, ousted him from two bodies – from the Home Rule League of which Jinnah was president, and from the Congress. About what happened in the former, we have Jayakar’s detailed account in his memoirs, The Story of My Life (Vol. I, pages 316-318 and 404-5). In December 1919, Jinnah invited Gandhi to join the HRL as its president. So much for his ambition and ego. He overruled Jayakar’s opposition, which was based on Gokhale’s advice: “Be careful that India does not trust him on occasions where delicate negotiations have to be carried on with care and caution… . He has done wonderful work in South Africa… . but I fear that when the history of the negotiations… is written with impartial accuracy, it will be found that his actual achievements were not as meritorious as is popularly imagined.”
Gandhi promised Jayakar that he would not change the HRL’s character. He became its president in March 1920. Gandhi and Jinnah had cooperated at the Amritsar session of the Congress in November 1919. At the Calcutta Congress in September 1920, Gandhi unfolded his programme of non-cooperation. Jinnah said that while he was “fully convinced of non-cooperation” he found Gandhi’s programme unsound. Gandhi was able to win over the doubters. He failed with Jinnah. Maulana Shaukat Ali tried to assault Jinnah, but was stopped by his friends. Gandhi took the battle to the HRL and presiding over its session on October 3, 1920, had its objectives changed in breach of his promises. It was a coup. Nineteen veterans resigned from the HRL, including Jinnah, Jayakar and K.M. Munshi (vide Jayakar, page 405 for the text of the letter). Gandhi flouted his promises to Jayakar, as he recorded.
On October 30, 1920, Jinnah wrote a letter to Gandhi which is of historic importance: “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. All this means complete disorganisation and chaos. What the consequence of this may be, I shudder to contemplate; but I, for one, am convinced that the present policy of the Government is the primary cause of it all and unless that cause is removed, the effects must continue. 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.”
This was not an intimation of parting of ways but a plea for unity against the British, differences on the methods notwithstanding.
At the Nagpur session in December 1920, Gandhi’s capture of the Congress was complete. Only, it was a victory procured by a Faustian deal with the Ali brothers on Khilafat. Jinnah was in a minority of one. Decades later, Munshi lauded him for his courage. Ian Bryant Wells’ comment is fair: “By taking up the Khilafat issue, he gained substantial support for his own political programme.” Without the Ali brothers’ support, he could not have pushed through his programme.
Before long, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) ordained that Congressmen should give 2,000 yards of hand-spun yarn every month. Jinnah was still not embittered. This is what he said on February 19, 1921: “Undoubtedly Mr. Gandhi was a great man and he had more regard for him than anyone else. But he did not believe in his programme and he could not support it” (The Collected Works of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah; edited by Syed Shatifuddin Pirzada; Vol. I; page 411. Emphasis added throughout). Jinnah attended the Congress’ annual session in Ahmedabad in 1921. The yarn requirement was another matter.
Jinnah knew what was at stake. He accurately predicted that the movement would divide the communities and breed disrespect for law and order. He supported the Khilafat cause, opposed the Ali brothers’ methods, and gave up once Turkey made its own decision. He told the League: “We are not going to rest content until we have attained the fullest political freedom in our own country. Mr. Gandhi has placed his programme of non-cooperation, supported by the authority of the Khilafat Conference, before the country… . The operations of this scheme will strike at the individual in each of you, and therefore it rests with you alone to measure your strength and to weigh the pros and cons of the question before you arrive at a decision. But once you have decided to march, let there be no retreat under any circumstances… . One degrading measure upon another, disappointment upon disappointment, and injury upon injury, can lead a people only to one end. It led Russia to Bolshevism. It has led Ireland to Sinn Feinism. May it lead India to freedom… I would still ask the Government not to drive the people of India to desperation, or else there is no other course left open to the people except to inaugurate the policy of non-cooperation, though not necessarily the programme of Mr. Gandhi.”
He convened a meeting of representative Muslims in Delhi in March 1927, which put forth four major demands. One of these was for a one-third representation in the Central Legislature. A committee of the Congress, set up to examine their import, accepted the demands. Its members were Motilal Nehru, Sarojini Naidu, Maulana Mohammed Ali and Srinivasa Iyengar. The AICC accepted the committee’s views with minor changes.
The Hindu Mahasabha led by Madan Mohan Malaviya opposed these demands, as did Muslims in some provinces. Opposition to the Simon Commission divided the League, but Jinnah supported the Congress in the campaign to boycott this all-White body. The alternative constitutional proposals adopted in the famous Nehru Report dashed Jinnah’s hopes. The Report did not even refer to Jinnah’s proposals, or to their acceptance by the Congress. Jinnah now put forth his 14-points. Their rejection and his personal humiliation at the All-Parties Convention are chapters in a story told several times over. (For a crisp, documented account vide Uma Kaura’s classic Muslims, and Indian Nationalism; Manohar; 1977.)
Three myths must be laid to rest. First, it did not mark “a parting of ways”. Jinnah said in his speech at the Convention: “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.” The second myth is that soon after this Convention, “Jinnah found himself in the company of the Aga Khan” and other reactionaries. The Aga Khan convened an All-India Muslim Conference in Delhi on December 31, 1928, around the same time as the All-Parties Convention on the Nehru Report in Calcutta. Wolpert `records’ how Jinnah came late, looked around and what he wore. It is a fabrication. While the Ali brothers and even radicals like the Leftist poet Maulana Hasrat Mohani participated, in sheer disgust at the outcome of the Calcutta Convention, Jinnah did not. He had rejected the invitation brusquely.
The third is about Motilal Nehru’s attitude. His letter to Gandhi on August 14, 1929, reported his talks with the Hindu Mahasabha leaders: “We agreed that the Hindu opposition to the Muslim demands was to continue and even be stiffened up by the time the Convention was held.” He concluded: “You will see that the stumbling block in our way is this question of one-third Muslim representatives and on this point even the most advanced Musalmans like Dr. M.A. Ansari, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Mr. T.A.K. Sherwani and others are all very strongly in favour of the concession. I would therefore ask you to direct your attention now to the Mahasabha leaving Ali Brothers and Mr. Jinnah to stew in their own juice.” (The Indian Nationalist Movement 1885 – 1947; Select Documents; edited by B.N. Pandey; Macmillan; pages. 63-64). This document establishes that: the convention failed because of the Hindu Mahasabha’s obduracy; Motilal Nehru cooperated with the Mahasabha leaders though he saw no harm in the demand; and the “advanced Musalmans” failed to stand up to the Congress leaders for the community’s rights, which Jinnah did without falling in the Aga Khan’s camp of pro-British reactionaries. This is what made Jinnah truly unique – clarity of thought, moral courage, and sturdy, uncompromising independence. These were the qualities that made him so formidable an adversary later and so tragic in his fall from the ideals he once espoused.
Jinnah continued to cooperate with Gandhi even after Nagpur. In December 1929, he went all the way to Sabarmati Ashram to discuss the Viceroy’s announcement of a Round Table Conference. Documents published recently show Jinnah pleading with the Viceroy on his behalf and that of the Congress in 1929-30. “I am left with the impression that Mr. Gandhi himself is responsible,” he wrote.
His wife Ruttie’s death in her 30th year, on February 20, 1929, shook Jinnah to the core. He withdrew from society and became distant. To think that it changed his political outlook is to underestimate the man’s commitment and to fly in the face of the record. Even in 1937, eight years later, he saw “no difference between the ideals of the Muslim League and of the Congress, the ideal being complete freedom for India”.
On July 21, 1937, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to Rajendra Prasad: “During the general election in U.P. [United Provinces] there was not any conflict between the Congress and the Muslim League.” With characteristic Nehruvian consistency, he proposed “the winding up of the Muslim League group in the U.P. and its absorption in the Congress”.
In later years, Azad professing, as ever, superior wisdom pinned the blame on Nehru. It was Azad, not Nehru, who gave the surrender terms to Khaliquzzaman: the League’s group “shall cease to function as a separate group” (for the text vide Indian Politics 1936-1942; by R. Coupland; Oxford University Press; page 111). Sapru’s letter to B. Shiva Rao of The Hindu, dated November 16, 1940, referred to his experience of “party dictatorship or Congress Ministries wherever they have existed… . So long as these people were in power they treated everybody else with undisguised contempt”. That experience led him to believe that the “Western type of majority rule in India will not do. And we shall have to come to some arrangement by which we may take along with us the minorities in matters of general interest” (Crusader for Self-Rule; Rima Hooja; Rawat Publishers; page 280). This is precisely what Jinnah came to hold and for the same reason – the Congress’ refusal to share power.
He had received short shrift from Gandhi and the British at the Round table Conference in London and decided in desperation to settle down there. Returning to India, he arrived at a pact with Rajendra Prasad in 1934, in which he abandoned separate electorates. In the light of 1928, he insisted that the Congress secure the Mahasabha’s assent as well (for the text vide Marguerite Dove’s Forfeited Future; page 462). Nehru, however, went so far as to assert: “There are only two parties in the county, the Congress and the government.” Jinnah retorted: “There is a third party in the country and that is the Muslims.” If in 1928 Jayakar questioned Jinnah’s credentials as a representative, in 1937 Nehru did likewise: “May I suggest to Mr. Jinnah that I come into greater touch with the Muslim masses than most of the members of the League.” The Congress, at one remove Nehru himself, represented everybody and would lay down the terms for the future.
Jinnah accepted the challenge and built up through mass politics a representative capacity that stunned all. Nothing in his past should have surprised any. Men like Mohammed Iqbal and Maulana Mohammed Ali had come to regard him as the “only” Muslim leader. At the League’s session in October 1937, Jinnah pleaded: “Let the Congress first bring all principal communities in the country and all principal classes of interest under its leadership.” He had in mind, not merger, but “a pact”, a concept he had “always believed in”. But Nehru had no use for “pacts” between “handfuls of upper-class people”. Jinnah, in his view, represented them alone. There really was no “minority problem”. The people were concerned with bread and butter. Economic issues alone mattered.
Jinnah laid bare his heart in a much neglected speech at Aligarh in February 1938 in which he recalled the past: “At that time there was no pride in me and I used to beg from the Congress.” The first “shock” came at the RTC; 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… . The only hope for minorities is to organise themselves and secure a definite share in power to safeguard their rights and interests.”
He had said in October 1937 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’s recipe went disastrously wrong. 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.
Jinnah refashioned the League and made it a progressive body. He told the students at the AMU: “What the League has done is to set you free from the reactionary elements of Muslims and to create the opinion that those who play their selfish game are traitors. It has certainly freed you from that undesirable element of Maulvis and Maulanas. I am not speaking of Maulvis as a whole class. There are some of them who are as patriotic and sincere as any other but there is a section of them which is undesirable. Having freed ourselves from the clutches of the British government, the Congress, the reactionaries and so-called Maulvis, may I appeal to the youth to emancipate our women.” Later he delivered “a warning to the landlords and capitalists who have flourished at our expense” (J. Ahmad; Vol. I; pages 39, 43 and 507).
What was his alternative, the Viceroy asked Jinnah. He replied on October 5, 1939, that “an escape from the impasse … lay in the adoption of Partition”. His article in Time and Tide of London on January 19, 1940, spoke of “two nations who must both share in the governance of their common motherland… so that the present enmities may cease and India may take its part amongst the great nations of the world” – as one nation. An identical contradiction was made in his speech of August 11, 1947: “a nation of 400 million”. The Pakistan Resolution of March 23, 1940, did not refer to the two-nation theory that Jinnah now began to advocate with greater stridency. It envisaged in the last paragraph an interim centre prior to partition, which Ambedkar alone noted. Even 24 hours before its adoption, the draft provided for a limited centre (vide the writer’s article, “The Partition of India”; Frontline; January 4, 2002).
In a real sense our leaders were a profoundly ignorant and arrogant lot. They failed the crucial test which Edmund Burke propounded in his Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents written in 1770. He held that “the temper of the people amongst whom he presides ought to be the first duty of a Statesman. And the knowledge of this temper it is by no means impossible for him to attain, if he has not an interest in being ignorant of what it is his duty to learn”.
It is not any “interest” alone which prevents self-education. So does Hubris. Jinnah, Gandhi and Nehru were men of colossal pride and vanity beyond the ordinary. Jinnah should have known that besides the inherent falsity of the poisonous concept, a nationalism based on religion degenerates into violent sectarianism. Gandhi acting as “the supreme leader” never seriously strove for conciliation in a plural society. Nehru denied the validity of the concept itself. Both spurned Jinnah. He painted himself into a corner from which he did not know how to escape.
We know in retrospect how and why things went wrong. Jinnah did not devise a formula for power-sharing in a united India. The Congress was adamant against sharing power with him. Nehru forgot the lessons of 1914 when socialists expected the workers to rise against their governments when they went to war. The workers turned out to be more chauvinistic than the “upper classes”. So it was with communal feeling in a deeply religious society which Nehru least understood. Neither did Jinnah. He espoused the two-nation theory. While its consequences affect India, it holds his own state hostage.
We now find the problem of a “permanent majority” in all plural societies in Europe, Asia and Africa. On December 20, 1986, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s spokesman in Madras (now Chennai) said “two nations… coexist in one country”. The LTTE does not propound sincerely a “viable alternative to Eelam”, though.
Arend Lijphart’s seminal work, Democracy in Plural Societies, published in 1982, propounded the concept of “consociational democracy”. This would have been unthinkable to the Congress. It implied a national pact on power sharing. Safeguards are not enough. Empowerment is crucial.
From 1906 to 1936, the basis for discourse on the minority problem in India was a pact on safeguards for the minorities. What Jinnah said at the RTC in London on September 5, 1931, was conventional wisdom then: “The new Constitution should provide for reasonable guarantees to Muslims and if they are not provided, the new Constitution is sure to break down.” Jawaharlal Nehru had no patience with anything that preceded his arrival on the scene of Indian politics. In a letter to Gandhi on September 11, 1931, he branded Jinnah’s proposition as “narrow communalism”.
Nehru’s was a nationalism that denied the very fundamentals of Indian society, so far removed was he from the realities. Even Jinnah’s moderation in 1931 was of no avail against Nehru’s obdurate refusal to recognise that minorities were entitled to some rights. Nehru’s was an absolutist secularism garnished with a socialism that he could only dimly perceive. A colossal intellectual failure all round produced a tragedy of cataclysmic proportions. Tragedy, it has been said, lies not so much in the conflict between good and evil as between one good force and another.
Like Nehru, Jinnah also shattered the established basis of discourse. Nehru did so on the minorities’ rights, Jinnah on India’s unity; Nehru in arrogant ignorance, Jinnah in arrogant reliance on his tactical skills. Jinnah’s greatness lay in the pre-1940 record when he was a tireless conciliator, a real statesman. Both men were secularists. Therein lies the tragedy. Nehru harmed secularism by denying the legitimacy of minority rights. Jinnah ruined it by the two-nation theory.
The leaders drifted apart not only politically but also in personal estrangement. After 1937, Jinnah’s rhetoric became abusive. Gandhi did not spare comments of a personal nature, either.
In the aftermath of Partition, rhetoric on both sides, Indian and Pakistani, verged on abuse. Pakistanis questioned Nehru’s sincerity as a secularist. On the Indian side, a portrait of Jinnah came to be painted of a man rude, arrogant and bereft of humanity. Sarojini Naidu’s was a portrait of a man of deep sensitivity and refinement: “a naive and eager humanity, an intuition quick and tender as a woman’s, a humour gay and winning as a child’s”.
Unlike Chagla, Jinnah’s other junior, Yusuf Meheralli, went to prison and courageously argued back with him. But he never denigrated Jinnah. He told an American reporter: “After half an hour’s conversation with Jinnah one returns a devotee.” Men as diverse as V.P. Menon, Frank Moraes, P.B. Gajendragadkar, A.S.R. Chari, Mohammed Yunus and M.O. Mathai have testified to Jinnah’s warmth and impeccable good manners. He would argue patiently with the young.
The great short-story writer Sadat Hasan Manto interviewed Jinnah’s chauffeur and wrote an essay, “Mera Saheb” (My Boss), which was published in a collection called Ganje Farishte (Bald Angels). An English translation was published in the Illustrated Weekly of India of February 10, 1985, by Mr. Ghazeli (a pen name, of course). It reveals a man intensely human and in pain. Whenever memories of his dead wife and estranged daughter possessed him, their clothes would be spread out on the carpet for a while. He would then walk to his bedroom, wiping tears. Memoirs of his ADC Ata Rabhani, I was the Quaid’s ADC (Oxford University Press; 1996) reveal a clubbable gentleman.
But the caricature of “whiskey, pork and Savile Row suit” came to stay. No one mentioned two respected Congress presidents who were devotees of Bachus. One, a man of religion, was a notorious alcoholic; the other, a lawyer, was a notorious addict. In a state of inebriation he once kicked a bucket containing food; the guests fled. Jinnah’s neighbour in New Delhi, Sir Sobha Singh, recalled that he always drank in strict moderation.
Remember, Jinnah was eagerly sought after to sit on committees. A good committee man must be a good listener with a talent for compromise. No one cares to ask why it was that while Jinnah got along famously with Tilak, Malaviya and Lajpat Rai, he had problems with Gandhi. “Lalaji had generally not much difficulty in working with M.A. Jinnah.” They would walk into each other’s room with ease “sometimes several times in the course of the same day… and go together to Malaviyaji to continue the discussion” (Lajpat Rai by Feroz Chand; Publications Division; page 499).
That people were surprised when Jinnah’s stout defence of Bhagat Singh in the Assembly was brought to light recently shows how little he was understood. “The man who goes on a hunger strike has a soul. He is moved by that soul” and was prepared to die for the cause, Jinnah thundered. Few had as good a record on civil liberties. “I thoroughly endorse the principle, that while this measure should aim at those undesirable persons who indulge in wanton vilification or attack upon the religion of any particular class or upon the founders and prophets of a religion, we must also secure this very important and fundamental principle that those who are engaged in historical works, those who are engaged in bonafide and honest criticisms of a religion shall be protected” (CW, Vol. III, page 208). (Vide the writer’s essay “Jinnah’s commitment to liberalism”; Economic and Political Weekly; January 13, 1990.)
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. In his Autobiography Nehru maliciously caricatured him as one who distrusted, if not disliked, the masses and attributed to him a suggestion, he “once privately” made, that “only matriculates should be taken into the Congress”. No authority for this palpable falsehood is cited. Jinnah was not one to make such a remark privately which went against his entire outlook. Nehru wrote thus in 1936. Nearly two decades earlier Jinnah’s strong assertion to the contrary was made publicly and in London on August 13, 1919, in his evidence before the Joint Select Committee of Parliament on the Government of India Bill.
The Secretary of State for India Edwin Montagu was downright rude: “Question 3633: How long have you been in public life Mr. Jinnah? – (Answer) Since I was twenty-one (i.e. 1897). 3634: Have you ever known any proposal come from any government which met with your approval? – Oh, Yes… 3636: You must have felt very uncomfortable?… ”
Major Ormsby “Q 3810: You speak really as an Indian Nationalist? – I do.” Lord Islington asked: “Q 3884: You would say that there are people in India who though they may be not literate, have a sufficient interest in the welfare of the country to entitle them to a vote? – I think so, and I think they have a great deal of common sense… . I was astonished when I attended a meeting of mill hands in Bombay when I heard some of the speeches, and most of them were illiterates.” Could such a man have made the suggestion Nehru attributed to him in 1936? Not surprisingly, in 1937 Jinnah converted the League into a mass organisation, pledged to complete independence.
Interestingly, the next day Jinnah took his wife Ruttie to the theatre. He had as a student performed in plays and even toyed with the idea of becoming an actor. When they returned home, a little after midnight Ruttie gave birth to their daughter Dina. It was on August 14-15, 1919, a devoted friend of both recorded (Ruttie Jinnah: The Story of a Great Friendship; Kanji Dwarkadas; page 18).
Addressing the League in 1924, Jinnah proudly noted that “the ordinary man in the street has found his political consciousness”. He mentioned “Mahatma Gandhi” and threatened that if the British did not respond Indians should “as a last resort make the government by legislature impossible” and resort to “parliamentary obstruction and constitutional deadlocks”. This was the language of a Congressman, not liberals like Sapru.
Most of Jinnah’s friends were non-Muslim and they remembered him affectionately. Kanji Dwarkadas’ two volumes of memoirs, India’s Fight for Freedom and Ten Years to Freedom, are well documented. K.M. Munshi said “Jinnah warned Gandhiji not to encourage the fanaticism of Muslim religious leaders” in the Khilafat movement. He wrote in his Pilgrimage to Freedom (1968): “When Gandhiji forced Jinnah and his followers out of the Home Rule League and later the Congress, we all felt, with Jinnah that a movement of an unconstitutional nature, sponsored by Gandhiji with the tremendous influence he had acquired over the masses, would inevitably result in widespread violence, barring the progressive development of self-governing institutions based on a partnership between educated Hindus and Muslims. To generate coercive power in the masses would only provoke mass conflict between the two communities, as in fact it did. With his keen sense of realities Jinnah firmly set his face against any dialogue with Gandhiji on this point.”
Even so Jinnah did not part company with him. Three other episodes followed – the Nehru Report, the RTC in London, and the Congress’ arrogance of power (1937-39). He appealed to Gandhi in 1937, through B.G. Kher, to tackle the situation. Jinnah drew a blank.
Belatedly, on December 6, 1945, Gandhi confided to the Governor of Bengal, R.G. Casey: “Jinnah had told him that he (Gandhi) had ruined politics in India by dragging up a lot of unwholesome elements in Indian life and giving them political prominence, that it was a crime to mix up politics and religion the way he had done.”
In 1936, even as he set out mobilising Muslim support, Jinnah refused to exploit the Shahidganj Mosque issue in Lahore and doused the fires. Jinnah was no Advani (vide the author’s article “Ayodhya in reverse”; Frontline, February 16, 2000). The Governor of Punjab wrote: “I am greatly indebted to the efforts of Mr. Jinnah for this improvement and I wish to pay an unqualified tribute to the work he has done and is doing.”
Pothan Joseph was handpicked by Jinnah to be Editor of the League’s organ Dawn. He recalled that “there was no trace of pressure or censure and he was anxious to test his views by inviting criticism in the seclusion of his drawing room… the notion of his having been a common bully in argument is fantastic, for the man was a great listener… he was really a man with a heart, but determined never to be duped or see friends let down. He didn’t care a hang about being misrepresented as Mir Jaffer or Judas Iscariot. No one could buy him nor would he allow himself to be betrayed by a kiss.”
Amazingly, Jinnah’s superb record as an MP remains yet to be studied – as a member of the Central Legislative Assembly he spoke on a variety of subjects; the Motor Vehicles and the Post Office Acts included. On March 10, 1930, he denounced the restrictive orders imposed on Vallabhbhai Patel and on January 22, 1935, the detention of Sarat Bose. He emulated the combative style of British MPs. The British, arrogant as ever, resented it. Indians, thin-skinned, took it personally.
Dewan Chaman Lall, a close friend for 30 years and a noted Congress MP, recalled Jinnah’s efforts for settlement before and after 1940 and said in 1950: “He was a lovable, unsophisticated man, whatever may be said to the contrary. And he was unpurchasable.”
Sarojini Naidu did not change her opinion of the man even after he began to advocate partition. She described him at a press conference in Madras on January 18, 1945, as the one incorruptible man in the whole of India. “I may not agree with him, but if there is one who cannot be bought by title, honour or position, it is Mr. Mohammed Ali Jinnah.” Predictably Nehru was “upset” by her “excessively foolish speech” (SWJN: First Series; Vol. 13, page 546).
Surely, any decent biography, any honest appraisal must reckon with the entire record. No serious effort has been made to explain the change. Why did a man who wrote on March 17, 1938, that “it is the duty of every true nationalist, to whichever party or community he may belong, to help achieve a united front” against the British advocate the partition of India on March 23, 1940? Why, indeed?
The reason is not hard to seek. Jinnah was an Indian nationalist who did not believe that nationalism meant turning one’s back on the rights of one’s community. The Congress stipulated that, virtually. Its shabby record on Muslims in the Congress bears recalling; some day Jinnah lost his balance, abandoned Indian nationalism and inflicted on both his nation and his community harm of lasting consequences. Nehru, in contrast, stood by the secular ideal till his dying day.
Pakistanis, on the other hand, wilfully shut their eyes to Jinnah’s grave mistakes and canonise him. They overlook the damage inflicted on Pakistan itself, let alone the Muslims of India.
Jinnah’s record from 1906 to 1940 does not obliterate the record of 1940-48 any more than Nehru’s brave fight, against all odds, for secularism in India or Gandhi’s conscious choice of martyrdom alters the record prior to 1947. Gandhi knew his life was in peril, but did not compromise and did not flinch one bit.
The record prior to 1940 only deepens the tragedy that befell Jinnah, and because of him, the India he loved and the community whose interests he sought to advance. Responsibility for the partition was not his exclusively; but his share was enormous.
The League’s Resolution of March 23, 1940, brought partition into the realm of the possible. The collapse of the Cabinet Mission’s Plan of May 16, 1946, for a united India dragged it into the abyss of inevitability. For this, Jinnah was not a bit responsible. That phase deserves a closer study than it has received.
Indians and Pakistanis must come to terms with Jinnah’s record in its entirety. He was of a heroic mould but fell prey to bitterness and the poison that bitterness breeds. In the present age, some will be talking of his virtues; others of his failings alone. Posterity alone will do him justice.
Some day, the verdict of history on Jinnah will be written definitively. When it is written, that verdict will be in the terms Gibbon used for Belisarius: “His imperfections flowed from the contagion of the times; his virtues were his own, the free gift of nature or reflection. He raised himself without a master or a rival and so inadequate were the arms committed to his hand, that his sole advantage was derived from the pride and presumption of his adversaries” (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; The Modern Library; Vol. II, page 240).