Revisiting Jinnah

By Lavpuri

In the summer of 2005, I picked up a copy of Stanley Wolpert’s Jinnah of Pakistan from New Delhi’s Khan Market, a market located near Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s former residence, 10 Aurangzeb Road. Along with me, many others in journalistic and academic circles were buying books written on Pakistan’s founding father. Our interest in Jinnah and curiosity about his role in history had been piqued by a statement made by Lal Krishan Advani, the president of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

Paying tributes to Jinnah in Karachi, Advani described him as among the ‘very few who actually create history. Qaid-e-Azam is one such rare individual.’ Advani also referred to  Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech, in which he made a forceful espousal of Pakistan as a secular state. As such, Advani’s statement caused a political storm within the BJP.

In the Indian imagination, particularly that of the BJP, Jinnah is held responsible for the Partition of India and the ensuing communal riots. Millions of Indians imbibe this notion in their early life through school and college history books. In this context, Advani had to pay the price for his reconciliatory remarks on Jinnah. He had to resign from the party president’s post. The ongoing controversy continues to haunt him, and even resurfaced during the 2009 parliamentary elections.

Jaswant Singh, in his newly released book, Jinnah – India, Partition, and Independence, goes a step further than Advani. He is the first Indian lawmaker to publicly challenge Jinnah’s vilification and question the claim that he was singlehandedly responsible for Partition. Singh apportions much of the blame for Partition on Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel.

Not surprisingly, the action against Singh was swift and decisive as compared to Advani. He was expelled from the party without any notice. The reason for this drastic decision was the much bigger challenge that Singh, a self-proclaimed liberal democrat, posed to the BJP and its ideological moorings: he attacked Patel, the party’s pivotal icon in the freedom struggle. It is notable that the BJP is indifferent to Jaswant Singh’s criticism of Nehru, who it finds guilty of several other ‘wrongdoings,’ including internationalising Kashmir.

On Patel, however, the BJP remains hyper-sensitive to any criticism. He is described as the Iron Man of India, credited for the amalgamation of hundreds of princely states with the Indian union. Indeed, Patel didn’t hide his majoritarian streak of politics. He had serious political differences with his colleagues. He belonged to Gujarat, a state ruled by BJP’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is alleged to be complicit in an anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002. (Keeping with character, Modi took no time in banning Singh’s book and termed it as an insult to Gujarat.) Incidentally, the most revered personalities in Pakistan and India, Jinnah and Mohan Das Karam Chand Gandhi, both hailed from Gujarat as well.

By dismissing Singh, the BJP is sending a message that it will not tolerate any critical examination of national icons and question its negative portrayal of Jinnah. The BJP fears that this will impact its reputation as a nationalist political outfit. But the party calculations seem to be out of sync with empirical reality as it underestimates the maturity of the Indian masses. After all, the BJP’s over-simplistic and negative political campaign caused the second consecutive defeat of the party in the 2009 parliamentary elections.

The exposure of many Indians to the wide array of work done on Partition through various sources, including the internet and foreign scholarship, strengthens the process of revisiting political history with an open mind. The understanding of historical and social factors that resulted in Partition and the personalities that ushered in a new era is being shaped with the revelation of new facts.

In this context, I discovered an interesting nugget of post-Partition Pakistani history. It is little known that Pakistan’s first national anthem was penned by a Hindu. A few months before his death in 2004, I interviewed the writer, Professor Jagan Nath Azad. The interview shed light on some important aspects of Jinnah’s personality and the political environment prevailing at that time.

Azad, a Punjabi Hindu, was in Lahore in August 1947 and was working at Radio Lahore. ‘A friend told me that the Quaid-e-Azam wanted me to write a national anthem for Pakistan. I told him it would be difficult to pen it in five days. But my friend pleaded that as the request has come from the tallest leader of Pakistan, I should consider his request. On much persistence, I agreed,’ Azad recalled.

Azad was told by his colleagues that that the ‘Quaid-e-Azam wanted the anthem to be written by an Urdu-speaking Hindu.’ Azad believed that Jinnah wanted to sow the roots of secularism in a Pakistan where intolerance had no place. Coincidentally, two days after he asked a Hindu to write the national anthem, Jinnah made his inaugural speech in the Pakistan constituent assembly. Jinnah said: ‘You will find that in the course of time, Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state.’

To view the national icons of India and Pakistan in black or white will defeat the pursuit of objective research. There is enough scholarly material on Partition, mostly published by foreign authors, which discusses the social and historical forces that influenced politics and politicians. It is regrettable if we deny the intellectual and academic space to our own researchers to find objective explanations to past events. A grand reconciliation in the history writing of both countries is only possible in an environment free of fear and demagogy.

The author is a Fulbright fellow at New York University. He previously reported for The Hindu in Jammu.

Courtesy Dawn



Filed under Pakistan

12 responses to “Revisiting Jinnah

  1. Dr.R.K.D.Goel

    This discusion now on Jinnah has no meaning. Why the BJP is doing post mortem of partition of India 62 years earlier?

    Now the great concern is how to have safe guard of India from the Pakistani LeT / Al Quaida attacks. In India the SEMI / Indian Mujahideen’s are reorganising in the region of Vadodara and Surat region as per the IB report of Centre Govt. We are getting new threats daily from LeT to attack again India in much bigger way than 26 / 7 of Mumbai attack.

    To divert the attention of LeT attack this new chapter of Jinnah started by the BJP.

    The BJP should concentrate how to save India? If war between India and Pakistan will took place it will be difficult for India to maintain internal security when the Indian’s Muslim youth are converting into LeT followes and Jihadi’s.

  2. D_a_n

    Dr. R.K.D. Goel…the following nugget was provided by you…

    ‘To divert the attention of LeT attack this new chapter of Jinnah started by the BJP’

    and pray tell What actually would the BJP actually get by diverting attention from the LeT? ….and why in the world does Jaswant Sinha get talked into researching a book for five years…..writing it…and getting thrown out of his party…
    all that to ‘divert’ attention from the LeT?
    just how do you do that….?

    Is the grand scheme dependant on the book being such a page turner that those reading it wont actually notice that they are under attack?

    rejoice! For I believe we have found the Indian cousin of Dr. Shahid Masood 🙂

  3. bonobashi@Bangalore


    In this instance, I have no hesitation in proclaiming from the rooftops that your champion is better than our champion. And this is in the welterweights. Further up, it’s a clean sweep for your lot.

    I’m glad we are losers in this round. 😀

  4. hello,

    it is about time that the sub continent began coming to terms with partition – it reasons, its consequences – it seems that both sides of the border are making the same mistakes again in dealing with their various parts 😦
    – the strong centralized identity silliness – linguistic, religious or ethnic
    – the confusion of the religion for identity
    – and the desire for ‘direct action’ rather than slower processes !

    I am glad – that partition is finally being talked about. both sides need closure – if peace has to be permanent !

  5. YLH


    There is a national psychosis in your country about the word “Direct Action”. No Indian seems to know the meaning of this phrase which means civil disobedience. You are welcome to research it,

    While Gandhi was a known practitioner of direct action, Jinnah did not resort to direct action till the 40th year of his political career. League’s direct action was mostly peaceful all over India. What happened in Calcutta is certainly not what Indians have blindly believed. For example the Transfer of Power Papers has a secret letter from the Viceroy to one of his Colleague dated 21st August where the Viceroy admits that there is no evidence of League’s involvement in the violence in Calcutta. Sir Francis Tuker’s account has “sikhs” being bussed into calcutta armed to the teeth with guns and knives whereas Muslims without exception seem to be armed with sticks. According to all reports the number of Muslim dead was three times that of Hindu. This is also there in Wavell’s letter to Pethick Lawrence.

    Furthermore it was the League that lost out as a result. It was forced to join the interim government. British minutes of the meeting show how they used events in Calcutta to pressurize the “constitutional minded” Jinnah to give up on his demands vis a vis the interim government. Contrary to claims by simplistic publicists, Direct Action did not create Pakistan, it ensured that the Pakistan Jinnah got would always be a motheaten one.

    How ironic that Indians keep abusing the words “direct action” when early 1947 Nehru used it and declared League was not progressive enough to resort to direct action.

    Well then…cheerio.

  6. when i say direct action – i mean in the current context as opposed to the in the Jinnah or independence context.

    the ability to take to the streets, and start violence to prove a point or gain a upper hand, rather than follow due process. we see this in both nations – especially in the form of riots, violent morchas, disruption of every day life thro’ violence.

    but, thank you for the historical clarification 🙂

  7. rashid

    Was there a Divine hand in unjust and unfair partition of India?

    May be some do not find my post as relevant to the on going discussion in this thread, but I think it is. I see from a different perspective. The reality is that whole mess is rooted in the way the boundaries were drawn.

    Readers may not agree, but I do think there was Divine involvement in UNJUST and UNFAIR partition of India. Village of Qadian in district Gurdaspur were supposed to come in Pakistan. Actually, some one I knew personally witnessed Pakistan’s flag hosted for 3 days on the Post Office, the government building in Qadian. As British rulers intended to give Kashmir to India, and its only route was through district Gurdaspur, so partition map was adjusted by Redcliff commission. Just imagine if whole of Gurdaspur district had come into Pakistan what Pakistanis would have done to grave of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. And of course Pakistanis would have stopped whatever research has been done or will be done in future to identify Jesus grave in mohalla Khanyar, in Sirinagar, Kashmir.

  8. bonobashi


    why are you luring me to sure destruction?

    I must beg leave to disagree with your interpretation of direct action and your account of its operation on the ground. If you wish to have academically correct counter-arguments, I do not have them. If eye-witness accounts will do, I have them.

    Direct action was implemented by Suhrawardy’s organised squads. Your mention of Tuker’s busloads of Sikhs makes me wonder about Tuker, otherwise a well-reputed soldiers; where on earth did these Sikhs spring from? If you are aware of the make-up of Bengal then and later, there were no Sikhs, except the settled Sikh businessmen, transport operators and sprinkling of professionals, in Calcutta itself. There was no earthly possibility of any settlement nearby, certainly not within bussing distance, that could have provided these genocidal squads.

    This is costing me 60 rupees for half an hour, so you will be very pleased to learn that I am forced to reserve my indignant protest till later, till a more financially accommodating moment, but please put my protest on record. “I shall return.”

    Perhaps around the 15th of September or so, when I return to Calcutta and unlimited broadband.

    Would you have me go into battle unarmed? especially against a pistoleer of your reputation?

  9. Majumdar

    Bono da,

    We would very much appreciate an unbiassed account of DAD.


  10. Dr.R.K.D.Goel

    What the purpose will be solved now to do post mortem whom is / was responsible for partition of India? So much views are given about Jannah including the RSS ex chief Mr. Sudarsanji.

  11. YLH

    Dear Bono,

    Francis Tuker’s account talks of Sikhs being bussed in. If you revisit it you will find it.

    Now if you consider your own comments in this light, you’ll realize the massacre of Calcutta was planned alright but it was never the AIML was made an example out of.

    TOPP support this conclusion alone.

    Now I am sorry but there is absolutely no evidence for what you suggest atleast in historical sources that we have.

    If organized mobs of Suhrawardy would have done it, it wouldn’t have been a complete massacre of Muslims.

  12. YLH

    PS: I do hope you will make an effort to impartially revisit the evidence on hand.