Ayesha Jalal (India Today)
Whether you are Hindus, Muslims, Parsis or Christians,” Jinnah said in April 1942 to journalists in Allahabad, “all I can say to you is that, however much I am criticised, however much I am attacked and today I am charged with hate in some quarters, I honestly believe that the day will come when not only Muslims but this great community of Hindus will also bless, if not during my lifetime, after I am dead, the memory of my name.” That day may not have quite dawned yet, but the reassessment of Jinnah by top Hindu leaders in India suggests the day may not be far off.
Historians are unlikely to find anything dramatically new in Jaswant Singh’s recent book on Jinnah. What is new is a top BJP leader’s acceptance of an interpretation of Jinnah’s role in South Asian history that is now generally accepted by scholars. Nearly a quarter of a century ago I had shown in my book The Sole Spokesman, based on a study of then newly available archival sources, that there was a disjunction between Jinnah’s aims and the final outcome of Partition in August 1947.
Jinnah had wanted an equitable share of power for India’s Muslims, not a partition based on the agonising dismemberment of Punjab and Bengal. Far from hating Hindus, he was opposed only to a version of Congress majoritarianism that showed scant respect for difference.
Nehru and Patel, despite their other ideological disagreements, both wanted power at the helm of a centralised state created by the British Raj. Jinnah, by contrast, believed that at the moment of the British withdrawal the unitary centre fashioned by the colonial masters should stand dissolved and a new Union of India created through negotiation among its constituent units. In the context of 1947, these units might have been Hindustan representing the Hindumajority provinces and Pakistan representing the Muslim-majority provinces, each with substantial minorities whose rights would be fully protected.
Once the all-India negotiations failed to make headway and the Hindu Mahasabha had called for the division of the two main Muslim-majority provinces of Punjab and Bengal in early 1947, Nehru and Patel insisted on partition; the sole spokesman of India’s Muslims tried to avoid such a catastrophe till the very end. Partition could have been averted had the Congress been prepared to cede more power to the provinces and give an adequate share of power to the Muslim League at a federal centre.
In the end, Nehru and Patel in their different ways were prepared to pay the price of dividing the motherland for centralised power in a unitary state after exiling a maimed, mutilated and moth-eaten Pakistan to the northwestern and eastern extremities of the subcontinent. If Jaswant’s book helps bring into public discourse what scholars have known for some time, he will have contributed to a more intellectually honest understanding of the subcontinent’s past.
A diehard liberal and a staunch Indian nationalist who ended up carving out a separate Muslim state of Pakistan, Jinnah has had a stormy life after death. Pakistanis call him Quaid-e-Azam, the great leader, who saved the Muslims of India from Hindu domination. Many Indians damn him for destroying the unity of India in pursuit of his self-serving politics. Influenced by Lord Louis Mountbatten’s narcissistic utterances glorifying his role as the last viceroy, the British found in Jinnah a perfect bogeyman to absolve themselves of responsibility for partitioning India in 1947.
For someone who famously described himself as a cold-blooded logician and kept his cards close to his chest, the founder of Pakistan is an elusive subject of history. Those with a penchant for anecdote, legend and gossip have churned improbable yarns about a man whose manifold contributions to India’s anti-colonial struggle have attracted less sober comment than furore over his role in the division of the subcontinent.
Being misunderstood is a peril from which few public personalities are immune. Jinnah’s misrepresentations in history have assumed chronic proportions because they are intrinsically linked to sacred idioms in the rival nationalisms of secular India and Islamic Pakistan. This was graphically illustrated by the uproar in India over L.K. Advani’s comments about Jinnah being “secular” during a high profile visit to Pakistan in the summer of 2005. While in Karachi, the president of the Hindu right-wing BJP commended Jinnah’s address to the first meeting of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly as a vision for a secular South Asia.
Speaking extempore, the Quaid-e-Azam told the Assembly on August 11, 1947 that if Pakistan wanted to count for something in the international comity of nations, it would have to rise above the angularities of sect and community: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed-that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”
In making a point to allude to this particular speech, the BJP leader was issuing a subtle reprimand to the rulers of contemporary Pakistan. They had subverted the ideals of their founding father by becoming embroiled in religious extremism and terrorism. The irony of Advani, a “communal” leader in the Indian nationalist lexicon, teaching secularism to his Pakistani hosts was lost on his compatriots. The Congress joined the BJP cadres in condemning the statement, omitting to note that calling Jinnah ‘secular’ is a dubious distinction in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan where it is widely interpreted as la dini or irreligious.
“Who can foretell the secrets of tomorrow” or “foresee the hidden forces that sometimes work to build our destiny higher than our dreams?” Sarojini Naidu had once mused. She was paying a tribute to Jinnah, the dynamic Bombay-based lawyer who had won her admiration for his moderate, liberal views and fierce devotion to the nationalist cause. His political mentor and role model, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, had said of Jinnah that “he has true stuff in him and that freedom from all sectarian prejudice which will make him the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity”.
The remark was popularised by Naidu, who wished she could peep into the “book of the future” to see whether it was written that “he, whose fair ambition it is to become the Muslim Gokhale may in some glorious and terrible crisis of our national struggle pass into immortality as the Mazzini of the Indian Liberation”.
The future unfolds inexplicably. Jinnah attained immortality, not as the Mazzini of the Indian nationalist struggle but as the architect of a Muslim Pakistan. Far from being remembered as the “ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity”, he is condemned in India as a rank “communalist”-a pejorative term used after the late 1920s for those not subscribing to the Congress’s brand of nationalism. On more than one occasion, Jinnah made it clear that his battle was against “Congress Raj” and not the Hindu community.
Even while insisting on national status for Indian Muslims after 1940, he assumed that given their physical contiguity, Pakistan and Hindustan would make federal, confederal or treaty arrangements on matters of common interest. He gave the example of America where “23 independent sovereign states” had forged agreements covering their mutual interests. European states too had inter-trade and commercial treaties as well as strategic alliances. “We are not enemies of Congress,” Jinnah informed Punjabi Muslim and Hindu students in August 1944, though “we do not agree on certain points”. “But we should be united against common enemies” just as the League and the Congress came together to vote against the colonial government in the central assembly.
“If we must have a separate State,” he went on in the same vein, “that will not mean we shall have nothing to do with each other.” He was convinced that “both Hindus and Muslims would be happy when Pakistan is established” since it was in their best interest. They would never “allow anybody, whether he is Afghan or Pathan, to dominate us” because “India is for Indians”. It would be “foolish of the Hindus, and vice versa”, not to come to the defence of Pakistan if were invaded by any outside power.
The calamitous events of 1947 did not alter Jinnah’s view of the necessity for good relations with India. He advocated “real friendship” between the two dominions, not the forced reunion that was being predicted. Pakistan had “come to stay” and was “ready to come to an understanding or enter into agreements with Hindustan as two independent, equal, sovereign States.” The two dominions “should bury the past and resolve that despite all that has happened, we shall remain friends”.
“There are many things which we need from each other as neighbours,” and “we can help each (other) in diverse ways, morally, materially and politically and thereby raise the prestige and status of both Dominions.” A prerequisite was the restoration of law and order so that peace could prevail in the two countries and the minorities in particular could “feel that their life, property and honour are absolutely safe and secure and they will get without question a fair deal from their respective Governments”.
In March 1948 when asked if Pakistan and India could settle their disputes, Jinnah replied in the affirmative, adding so long as New Delhi “shed the superiority complex” and deals with us “on an equal footing”. He had “no doubt” about the “vital importance to Pakistan and India as independent sovereign states to collaborate in a friendly way jointly to defend their frontiers both on land and sea against any aggression”. For this to happen, the two countries had to “resolve their differences”. “If we can put our house in order internally”, Jinnah maintained, “then we may be able to play a very great part externally in all international affairs”.
If Jinnah’s vision has been lost sight of in Pakistan, his hopes for a real partnership between India and Pakistan remain unrealised. The flow of history has not invalidated Jinnah’s vision. He had told his compatriots that the “scrupulous maintenance and enforcement of law and order” was vital for progress. Islam enjoined on every Muslim “to give protection to his neighbours and to the minorities regardless of caste and creed”.
While warning that Pakistan could not remain a “mere spectator” to the suffering of Muslims in India, the Quaid-e-Azam asked Pakistanis to “make it a matter of our prestige and honour to safeguard the lives of the minority communities and to create a sense of security among them” because “retaliation and violation of law and order will ultimately result in weakening the very foundations of the edifice you have cherished all these years to erect”. These words ring truer than ever at a time when Pakistan, whose establishment Jinnah had hailed as a “cyclonic revolution”, has spiralled out of control in its single-minded pursuit of strategic parity with India.
In his own assessment of his place in history in which he looked forward to the day Hindus would honour his memory, Jinnah drew an analogy between himself and the first man to appear on the street with an umbrella, only to be laughed and scorned at by the crowd because they had never seen one before. Like other personalities in history who started off on the unbeaten track, he too was carrying an umbrella.
“You may laugh at me,” he said selfassuredly, but time will soon come when “you will not only understand what the umbrella is but…use it to the advantage of everyone of you.” As the state for whose creation he is credited stands dangerously poised at the crossroads of chaos and order amidst new and emergent shifts in regional and international politics, there is an urgent need for Pakistanis and Indians to grasp the meaning of Jinnah’s metaphor of the umbrella and rustle up the courage and the conviction to use it to their mutual benefit.
-Ayesha Jalal is the Mary Richardson Professor of History at Tufts University, USA.