Two famous men celebrate their birthdays on 25th December and both have names that start with J! Jesus and Jinnah. The coincidence does not stop here, as it is almost certain that neither was actually born on this day! Regardless, both had immense impact on the world. For Jesus, this was universal and for Jinnah maybe more regional; yet given the current geopolitical situation one can comment that Jinnah may be more relevant than he is considered to be. For, if there was no Jinnah there would have been no Pakistan, and if there had been no Pakistan… well I leave that for you to contemplate.
Since I first became aware of the world, Jinnah was part of it. My father, a diehard supporter of Jinnah, had a collection of books on him and regularly I would come across him being praised in school curriculum, newspapers, TV etc. Songs of praise for him would be on radio and TV emphasizing what a great favor he did us by making Pakistan. Only much later in my life did I come across a contrarian view, that the creation of Pakistan may not have been all that great an idea, that this was accompanied by immense suffering and repercussions that are with us even today. I have now met and talked to many who consider Jinnah as the arch-villain, the man who is responsible for all the disasters we see in context of India-Pakistan. For a while I almost believed in this and maybe this is the way it is. Even though it may sound like self praise, I have never been able to subscribe to just one point of view. For me trying to understand how and why something happened has always been of great importance. So while I am unable to give the saintly statues people like my father gave to Jinnah, I am also unable to relegate him to the category of the great satan. Jinnah was a human being, just like all those who have been born since the world started – nothing more and nothing less. He did great things, and he made mistakes, and in the annuls of history, where no one is ever in a position to pass the final judgment, he made his mark.
The tragedy is that Jinnah, who was the most nationalist of Indians, became the symbol of Indian partition. Jinnah, the most secular of Indians, became the architect of a religious theocratic state called Pakistan. What more can be the ironies of life?
Brilliant and articulate, honest and tactless, Jinnah often suffered the problems such people are prone to, which is that nobody likes them! The British disliked him for his blunt nationalism, the Hindus disliked him saying he is pro-Muslim and the Muslim disliked him saying he is pro-Hindu! Many times during his life this led to him being isolated and marginalized and this influenced his decisions and actions.
Going over the life of MA Jinnah, there is undeniable evidence that he was a staunch Indian nationalist, a secular person for whom religion had no importance and who worked tirelessly to bring Hindus and Muslims together in a struggle for a free and united India. So it is hard to explain that ultimately he went against all these principles and passions – what the hell went wrong? Two recent books I have come across – one by an Indian Author Ajeet Jaweed titled Secular and Nationalist Jinnah and the other by Pakistani Ayesha Jalal titled The Sole Spokesman – have attempted to answer this dilemma.
Jinnah was an exception. Men like him are born once in a millennium. All other players of that time, Mountbatten, Gandhi, Nehru etc were nowhere near his calibre in ability or sincerity to their cause. Yet circumstances created by the myopic views of others ensured that this man, who could have done so much good, will play a negative role in history!
Looking at Jinnah's political history one can almost clearly define the watershed moments when things changed. Jinnah, the most passionate nationalist, the most ardent advocate of Hindu-Muslim unity, and the most secular of seculars, made decisions that led down the slippery slope of him becoming the instrument for India's Partition and creation of a state using the absurd principle of religion to define a nation.
The first such moment came in 1920. We know that by 1916 Jinnah had become the most adored politician in India. His tireless work to unite Hindus and Muslims to work together for India which resulted in the Lukhnow Pact had earned him the title of the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. Some claim that Jinnah had no interest in freedom for India. That is nonsense. Perhaps people don't realize or ignore that the first demand of self rule for Indians was not made by Gandhi or Nehru but a white, Christian, female, immigrant from England, Annie Besant, who in 1916 had formed the All India Home Rule League demanding India for Indians. For this she was arrested in 1917 and while she was in jail it was Jinnah who became the interim president of Home Rule League. Jinnah had brought Hindus and Muslims, Congress and Muslim League at a common platform from which a constitutional movement for India's self rule could have been launched without involving any communal passions. And then Gandhi Ji arrived!
Gandhi captured leadership of Congress in 1920 using the religion card for the first time in Indian politics. By supporting the non-progressive and pro-Khilafat Muslims he secured the allegiance of many Muslim ulema and political activists. At the same time Gandhi introduced the use of Hindu symbolism in politics. The result was that the religious differences between Hindus and Muslims were highlighted and brought into politics. Jinnah was distraught with this. He denounced Gandhi for causing schism and split not only between Hindus and Muslims but also between Muslims and Muslims and Hindus and Hindus, even fathers and sons! At the Nagpur session of Congress in December 1920 Jinnah alone had the courage to speak out against Gandhi's policies on behalf of the intellectual, reasonable and secular section of Indian population and stated that, ''This false and dangerous religious frenzy has confused Indian politics resulting in Hindu and Muslim zealots who are harming the national cause''. So here we can see that the person who let the genie of using religion in politics out was not Jinnah but Gandhi Ji; and it is ironic that many now consider Jinnah to be responsible for religiously motivated Partition of India and think Gandhi Ji had nothing to do with it! This was also the parting of the way between Jinnah and Congress. It was indeed a sad moment when the Congress lost its most brilliant politician, preferring the religiously tainted politics of Gandhi Ji to the secular religiously blind politics of Mr Jinnah.
In 1927 Jinnah made a comeback in mainstream politics. This was provided by the Simon Commission report, which gave him an opportunity to try and unite the Hindus and Muslims once again. Here he had to balance the demands and aspirations of Muslim majority provinces who wanted a weak centre with Congress, who wanted a strong centre. Jinnah was never a supporter of separate electorates and here he managed to convince the Muslims that these can be traded for other concessions from the Congress. Unfortunately the Nehru Report of August 1928 refused to give any concessions at all! Here we get the answer to the question people ask as to why did Jinnah need to split the country? Why he did not demand more concessions? Well he certainly did demand, there was a list of demands, perhaps some acceptable and some not so acceptable to Congress, but the high handedness of Congress was that they were not willing to give anything. Jinnah repeated these demands in December 1928 through his Fourteen Points and Motilal Nehru remarked that they were preposterous and that Mr Jinnah can be safely ignored. So once again we can see that just like Jinnah is not guilty of introducing religion into politics he is not guilty of not trying to come to an understanding with Congress – but his attempts were thwarted. This was the second major setback for what he stood for and after 1928 Jinnah spent several years in England away from Indian politics.
We can see from the above how despite his best efforts, and no fault of his, Jinnah failed to keep religion and politics separate and to bring Hindus and Muslims to an understanding. However, the final phase in which he himself became the leader demanding a country based on religion started much later, around 1939, and perhaps only became definite in 1946. For, before that he held hope for some compromise formula to be agreed to as shown by his acceptance of the Cabinet proposals which could have avoided full scale partition of India.
As Ayesha Jalal tells us, it was only in the last 13 months of British rule that we see the tragic collapse of Jinnah's strategy – tragic because he had always tried to keep himself above crude communalism and had cherished Indian unity. And here we see Mr Jinnah about whom someone had once remarked, ''Mr Jinnah religiously shaves his beard every morning and just as religiously avoids going to the mosque every Friday”. Mr Jinnah who had stated more than once that 'I am first an Indian and then a Muslim' become the Quaid-a-Azam for the Muslims creating a separate nation on religious basis!
For, until this tipping point Jinnah had almost certainly considered the demand for Pakistan he made in 1940 as a bargaining chip, a policy to ask more to settle for less. When the Cabinet mission plan looked to be an opportunity to give him something of what he wanted he was willing to work with it despite that it went against the demand for a separate country. On the other hand, Congress under Nehru would have nothing of it, thinking that Pakistan was Jinnah's bluff Nehru had decided to call it. Nehru's blunt rejection of Cabinet proposals by declaring that the centre will decide how to change the plan, will have the power to interfere with provincial autonomy and make economic policies without considering the provinces put the fear of God in Muslim power centers. The Muslim majority provinces of Punjab and Bengal now saw their autonomy to be at risk in post Partition centre dominated India and the Muslim commercial interests saw the commerce to be dominated by Tatas and Birlas. Jinnah was now firmly pressed into the corner. Declare that he did not want Pakistan and result in complete loss of face, or actually change his stance from using demand for Pakistan from a bargaining tool to a real end to be achieved… it is a no brainer as to why he chose the latter.
Today Jinnah is being portrayed as the person responsible for the communalism that plagues the sub-continent; even for the jihadism and terrorism that comes with it. I feel this is rather unfair for Jinnah was just one player in the game politicians played at that time. Among them he was the most sincere and honest. And maybe this was his undoing; to try and be sincere and honest in a game which requires chicanery and dishonesty. He was eventually forced to play the game on these terms – perhaps he should not have and just faded away from the annuls of history. But to be honest is this even an option in life?
The creation of Pakistan did not please everyone, Ch Rehmat Ali, who had first proposed the idea called Jinnah Quisling-e-azam (he had already been called Kafir-e-azam by the Ahrars).
By this time Jinnah was a sick and broken man. All that he held to be right, all that he had worked for had crashed to the ground and he had been forced to create a nation accompanied by an orgy of unbelievable violence that no one had expected. All he could do was try to salvage what he could from the disaster by creating a progressive and secular Pakistan. But here also he was fighting a losing battle as is apparent from his letter to the CM of NWFP Dr Khan Sahib, who backed Congress, asking for his support.
''Khan Sahib I know that you are a man of character and integrity. It is men like you whose help I need to build up Pakistan. As it is I am surrounded by thieves and scoundrels and through them I can do little for the poor Muslims who have suffered so much... I am a very much misunderstood man. I never wanted all this blood-shed. I want peace, believe me so that I can do something for the masses.
I have been myself anxious to convert the League into National League, open to every loyal citizen of Pakistan. But I am being attacked by mad Mullahs and extremists who are out to create trouble for me. That is exactly why I want you and your colleagues to join the League and help me in ousting these dangerous elements.''
For his own reasons Khan Sahib did not accept his offer and at the end these thieves and scoundrels, these mad Mullahs and extremists took over the entire country resulting in the mess we see today.
I am sure some will wonder what is the point of all this now? For, that was then and we should move on rather than look back. Yet besides the need to remember Jinnah on his birthday is the need to remember what he always believed in. He believed in secularism, non-violent and constitutional ways to change things, to develop tolerance for those of different religions, to shun militant communalism and to reject the mullahs and priests calling for fundamentalism. To work on these principles is the only way we can get out of the abyss we find ourselves in. If for nothing else, he should be remembered for this.