Much has been written on Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s inaugural address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. The contents have oft been deliberately obscured and sometimes debated with reference to other speeches. The objectives have either been to reinforce or demonise the views of the Quaid. Ultra-rightists consider it a figment of the national imagination. Others absorb it as a genuine directive by Jinnah at the grassroots to make Pakistan truly egalitarian. 67 years hence, and Pakistan’s political evolution is a reflection of this debate wherein every school of thought has attempted to envision Jinnah’s Pakistan in the context of its own political leanings.
To lay the foundations in a Pakistan just born and about which analysts cast serious doubts, Jinnah’s guidelines are equally important. He said, “The Constituent Assembly has two main functions to perform. The first is the onerous and responsible task of framing the future constitution of Pakistan and the second of functioning as a full and complete sovereign body as the Federal Legislature of Pakistan.” Successive assemblies could neither frame a constitution nor allay the forces of exploitation.
Jinnah elaborated this vision by saying, “You will no doubt agree with me that the first duty of a government is to maintain law and order, so that the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected by the State.” He continued, “...Bribery and corruption... is a poison... we must put that down with an iron hand and I hope that you will take adequate measures as soon as it is possible for this Assembly to do so.” He declared emphatically, “I want to make it quite clear that I shall never tolerate any kind of jobbery, nepotism, nor any influence directly or indirectly brought to bear upon me.’ Unfortunately, the rulers of Pakistan did the opposite. The people of the country are not secure, corruption is rampant, consumer cartels proliferate and jobbery and nepotism, a gateway to success.
The people of the country were Jinnah’s major constituency. He underlined their importance by declaring, “If we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, especially of the masses and the poor. If you...work together in a spirit that every one of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he has had with you in the past, no matter his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last, a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make.” Unfortunately, after his demise, what emerged is a fractured, divided and insecure Pakistan. The people upon whom Jinnah laid the foundations stand abandoned.
Commentators ignore the fact that this speech was made in the backdrop of the partition of United India on the basis of two religious identities: Hindu and Muslim. In his later clarifications, Jinnah asserted that Muslims living in India were under obligation to remain loyal citizens of India just as Hindus residing in Pakistan were accepted as equal citizens. He initiated a template on respective Hindu-Muslim Majority areas where religious, ethnic, sectarian and other minority groups would be elevated as equal citizens. Rather than religions, he was attacking the class system of the sub-continent based on caste and feudalism, which made the region vulnerable to colonialism. He made a final dash to forestall large scale communal migrations. He was adamant that religious minorities be elevated to equality, and have better socio-economic prospects in Pakistan than in India. Here was a challenge he threw at Congress; that Pakistan was prepared to positively compete with India in a classless society.
Little did Jinnah know that despite his message of co-existence designed to bringing an end to religious identities in the sub-continent, the communal migration would lead to some of the worst human atrocities of the century. No government in India or Pakistan has persevered to obliterate the class system mainly because it is anathema to elitist interests.
For Jinnah, Pakistan existed the day he made his speech. He said, “We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all equal citizens of one State.” Reinforcing the communitarian and egalitarian spirit of Pakistan, Jinnah said, “You are free to go to your temples; you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or 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.”
Jinnah manifested this vision by appointing Joghendara Nath Mandal, a Bengali Hindu as his first Federal Law Minister, Chaudary Chandu Lall, a Christian as Deputy Speaker of the Punjab Assembly, Sir Zaffar Ullah as his Foreign Minister and Samuel Martin Burke of Shahkot as his diplomat at large. He engaged the Christian Goan community of Karachi to set up Pakistan Railways, Police and District Admirations. Very few know that after hoisting the national flag on 14 August 1947, he joined Mr. Gibbons, a member of the Constituent Assembly, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for thanksgiving. It was the first and last time in Pakistan’s history that such diversity existed at the highest levels of Pakistan’s politic body.
There is an attempt to obscure Jinnah’s historic address as “Minorities Day.” In fact it is a day of national integration. And the Azadi March is an opportunity to turn the clock back, to Jinnah Ka Pakistan.
Brigadier (Retired) Samson Simon Sharaf is a political economist and a television anchorperson.