Evaluating Jinnah

By Jahanzeb Hussain

Going through the special supplements of Pakistani newspapers on the occasion of his 136th birth anniversary on 25 December, one had the impression of reading about a superhuman who, despite all odds and all opposition, succeeded singlehandedly in winning a homeland for Indian Muslims facing extinction at the hands of cruel Hindus. In fact, Jinnah is not only considered above any criticism in Pakistan but he is also exalted as an epitome of steadfastness, perseverance and determination. He is presented as a model human being to be emulated by all. When, on the one hand, a TV interviewee assures that the prophet of Islam appeared to some eminent Ulama and told them that Jinnah had His blessings, and on the other, when some liberals insist that what Jinnah actually wanted was a secular and democratic state, it is clear that his personality has been placed on such a pedestal that to prove their view-point people have to center their arguments on some real or supposed aspect of his personality or some of his declarations. Mere suggestion of any fallibility on his part is considered tantamount to blasphemy. However, as the crisis of the Pakistani state and society deepens, there is increasing receptivity for a critical examination of the whole ideological construction whereby this country is a gift of God and Jinnah its center-piece (if not a Prophet). In order to help advance this emerging introspection it is important to evaluate Jinnah in the light of his actions and their objective effect on the destiny of undivided India and subsequently on that of Pakistan.

Jinnah’s real rise to political stature began in the wake of the formation of Congress ministries in the Muslim minority provinces of Bihar, Bengal, U.P and C.P as a result of 1937 elections. Although, the Muslim League performed dismally in these elections, the cultural backlash from Muslims against an independence movement which increasingly referred to the Hindu cultural symbols for creating national pride, led to the aggravation of communal tension in these provinces. This provided a fertile ground for the thriving of political ideologies based on communal hatred. The Muslim League as well as the Hindu Mahasaba increased their audience. The communal tension was not a new thing in large parts of India but its nature and its intensity differed from one place to another. Among Muslims in north India, there existed a very elaborate, erudite and structured discourse on the past glory of Muslims and their religious and cultural difference with Hindus. This discourse was employed to the fullest in the new political context in which the Muslim landed aristocracy felt threatened by a Congress rule catering to the interests of urban middle classes. In other Indian provinces where Muslims were in majority, although a sentiment of solidarity with the Muslims of the minority provinces existed, there was no fear of religious, economic or cultural domination by the other community. The political discourse among Muslims in northern India increasingly developed pan-Islamic overtones. From here on, the Muslim League underwent a radical change. From a party advocating the community interests of Muslims in constitutional, political, economic and cultural terms it evolved into an ideological party firmly anchored into Muslim identity in terms of religious faith, common history and over and above all a common, divine ordained destiny.

With this evolution of Muslim polity, Jinnah metamorphosed from an in-door politician into a mass leader portrayed as the savior of the Muslims of India. Having a well-knit party structure across India at his disposal, he acquired an authority which he used to the optimum for imposing himself as the main, if not the only, spokesman of Indian Muslims. A personality cult was created around him by a vast network of scribes, ideologues and orators. A schizophrenic Muslim intelligentsia glorified him, in the same breath, for his detached English manners, his skills as a lawyer and as a God-sent leader of Muslims.

The Lahore session of the Muslim League in March 1940, where the so-called Pakistan Resolution was passed, was the culmination of one process and at the same time the beginning of another. Culmination of the process of the Muslim League being a ‘defender’ of the Muslim minority and the beginning of the process when the Muslim League and Jinnah adopted an aggressive posture for the ‘conquest’ of a homeland for Muslims. Previously, there was no question of a separate nationhood for Muslims, but now it was forwarded that there was such an incompatibility between Hindus and Muslims that they could not live together. Not very far back in 1933, when for the first time leaflets advocating Pakistan were distributed by Chaudhry Rahmat Ali to the members of the round table conference, no Muslim took any interest in it. The initiative for raising the question of a separate homeland came from British. They pressed their questions while the Indian Muslim delegates were uninterested.

Although the Lahore resolution was open-ended and left the possibility for a common central government of India, it did open the flood gates for the surging of a separatist sentiment among Muslims. Much more than that, by defining a geographical configuration of one or more Muslim states i.e. the Muslim majority provinces of North-West and East India, it displaced the whole question of winning constitutional safeguards for Muslims, particularly in the provinces where they were in minority, towards the creation of a homeland for Muslims in provinces where Muslims had no apprehensions regarding their cultural and economic survival. More than anything else, it was the announcement of a battle-plan to convert the provinces where the Muslim League was extremely weak and had no historical roots to a particular idea of nationhood based on religion.

Each of the provinces which were intended to form Pakistan (Punjab, Sind, N.W.F.P, Baluchistan, and Bengal) had its specific political reality and aspirations which were very different from those of the province where Muslims were in minority and which were the most worked up in favor of separatism. In Sind, the Muslim sentiment was initially aroused during the struggle for the separation of Sind from Bombay. As the Congress leaders of Sind were opposed to the separation of Sind from Bombay, Muslim leaders looked towards the Muslim League for support. However, Muslim League did not win a single seat in Sind provincial legislature in the 1937 elections. In fact, it did not have any organization there at that time. The independent Ittehad Party led by G.M. Syed emerged as the largest party with 24 seats out of 60. G.M. Syed, who was originally a member of Congress, joined the Muslim League in 1938 out of disappointment for the lack of interest that the Congress showed for the particular problems of Sind. According to G.M Syed:

“I had reached the conclusion that the attitude of Congress towards the people of Sind was different from its policies in the rest of India. I tried my best to form a government in Sind which could work for the welfare of its people without communal considerations. Despite the fact that the Muslim League was founded on communal principles and most of its leaders were the lackeys of British and that this party had no program for welfare of common man, we joined it because it was the only other all-India party after Congress. We felt that this party does not have any sincere workers and if workers like us join it perhaps we will be able to transform it into an anti-imperialist and pro-people party.”

Subsequently, G.M. Syed became the president of Sind Muslim League and member of the Working Committee of the All-India Muslim League. Few months before the partition, however, he was expelled from the Muslim League and saw the same feudal lords against whom he had fought become governor and chief minister. The political and social context of Sind was very far away from the intense communal hatred which prevailed in Muslim minority provinces of northern India and sincere Muslim leaders joined the Muslim League more for the welfare of the province than out of a common religious affinity with Muslims of the provinces where the Muslim League had its historical roots. In Bengal, Muslim upper classes were apprehensive of the economic power of Bengali Hindus. However, both communities had a common revulsion against being ruled by a central government. The Governor of Bengal, Richard Casey, said in a note to the Viceroy in July 1945 that:

“I don’t think that I have made it clear in earlier letters that the conception of eastern Pakistan held by Nazimuddin- who later became Governor-General of Pakistan – is not the standard idea of a Muslim state. He paints the picture of a wholly autonomous sovereign state with a bare Muslim majority of population in which Muslims and Hindus will live in amity and share the responsibility for the business of government in approximate proportion to their numbers.”

Till the day of partition, the leader of the Muslim League in Bengal and the chief minister of the united Bengal, Hussain Shaheed Suharwardy, endeavored to preserve the unity of Bengal and reach an understanding with the provincial leaders of Congress to keep Bengal as a separate entity without any binding ties to either of the two states which were being created. He never saw eye to eye with Jinnah and was later accused of being a ‘Hindu agent’. Maulvi Fazal Haq, the Bengali leader, who was the co-mover of the Lahore Resolution with Saradar Sikander Hayat of Punjab, had a completely different understanding of the Lahore Resolution as compared to Jinnah. He believed in the concept of ‘autonomous Muslim states within India’ as laid down in the wording of the resolution. He fell out with Jinnah, was expelled from the Muslim League and engaged legal proceedings against him for the illegality of his expulsion. N.W.F.P had a strong popular movement called the ‘Khudai khidmatgar’ – servants of God – which was engaged in a non-violent struggle against British rule. This movement led by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was allied with the Congress. The Muslim League never had any roots in this province. In fact, this province was a thorn in the side of the Muslim League and Jinnah because it defeated the very idea of Pakistan. Baluchistan did not have a provincial legislature. Muslim League had an organization only in Quetta and some surrounding areas. It did not have any Baluch figure in its ranks. Its local leaders were some Pashtuns of Quetta. In Punjab, Muslim League was not in a dominant position but as the movement for Pakistan gathered steam the provincial dignitaries saw it as a chance to dominate the future state, and as the partition became inevitable they threw their weight behind the Muslim League. Lord Wavell, the Viceroy, in a note to Pethick-Lawrence on 31 August 1945 remarked:

“I am sure that the Pakistan idea is stronger in the Muslim minority provinces than the Pakistan provinces. At first sight this may seem surprising but the Muslims in Sind, Baluchistan, the NWFP, and the Punjab are already well on top and with a little forbearance keep their minorities fairly contented. They would gain little or nothing by Pakistan which would create for them large and perhaps uncontrollable minority problems. In Bengal the Muslims though numerically dominant are inferior to the Hindus in wealth and education and they too would probably lose moiré than they would gain by Pakistan. Assam is not really a Muslim majority province and its inclusion in Pakistan seems to me very doubtful.”

After the Lahore Resolution, Jinnah shed his image of constitutionalist lawyer of Home-Rule years; his declarations became rabidly communalist and his methods of running the party extremely autocratic. He became the sole decision maker in the party for political as well as organizational matters. After the passing of the Quit India resolution by the Indian National Congress on 8 August 1942, Jinnah, certainly in consultation with the British, tried to portray this movement as anti-Muslim rather than against the British. He called a meeting of the working committee of the Muslim League in Bombay. G.M. Syed in his book Sind speaks writes:

“On reaching Bombay we were informed by Nawab Bahadur Yar Jung that he has learned that Jinnah has met the Viceroy and promised him that he will get passed a resolution from the working committee of the Muslim League that the “Quit India” movement is in fact against Muslims rather the British. He said “Mr. Syed try to stop such a resolution because at this juncture it will be most inappropriate”. Despite my difference with Congress, I felt as progressive Muslim that the way the alien government is trying to suppress the sentiment of freedom among the people, an agreement between the Muslim League and Congress will foil its attempt o divide the people. The working committee of All India Muslim League met on 16 August. Mr. Jinnah presented a resolution against the Quit India resolution of Congress. I raised my objection and said “It will be inappropriate for us to say that the Quit India resolution of Congress is against Muslims. We should not torpedo the struggle against the British Imperialism. Such a resolution will close the path for all future agreements with the Congress.” Mr. Jinnah got annoyed and said “I am not prepared to make any compromise with Congress.” I objected and said “My amendment may kindly be accepted that first we should talk with Congress. If it accepts our conditions then we should have an agreement with it. If, on the contrary, it is not prepared for any agreement then we can pass a resolution.” Mr. Khuro supported me. Raja Sahib of Mahmoodabad supported me as well. Mr Jinnah scolded him, on which Raja Sahib of Mahmoodabad walked out of the meeting in protest. Mr. Hussain Ispahani wanted to talk but Mr. Jinnah did not allow him. Nawab Ismail wanted to present his point of view but he also was not allowed to talk. He (Jinnah) rejected my amendment and got passed his resolution.”

As his authority among Muslim masses increased and the British became more and more accommodative towards the idea of some sort of separate Muslim entity, Jinnah became venomous towards those Muslims who did not accept him as the sole leader of Muslims. As the British authorities made their intentions clear after the Second World War to quit India, Jinnah became extremely inflexible towards any kind of accommodation with Congress for resolving the communal divide and ensuring smooth transfer of powers to the representatives of India. No particular principles except his insistence that only the Muslim League can represent the Indian Muslims and the Muslim leaders of Congress should be refused recognition as Muslim leaders led to the failure of Simla Conference called by the Viceroy in June 1946. It was proposed by the British that Congress and Muslim League both nominate five members each for the interim government but Jinnah insisted that Congress should not nominate any Muslim because it represents only the Hindus even though at that time the Muslim League did not have government in three of the Muslim majority provinces namely Punjab, N.W.F.P and Bengal. According to some members of Muslim League Working Committee present at that time in Simla, Jinnah consulted the working committee only nominally and never revealed what transpired between him, the Viceroy and the Congress leaders. According to the account of G.M. Syed when he requested Jinnah to drop his objection regarding the Muslim members of Congress, Jinnah lost temper and said “I want to prove that Congress is a Hindu party.” When he insisted Jinnah said “Syed, your attitude is becoming more and more unbearable. It would be better if we part ways.”

Jinnah’s dictatorial control of the Muslim League and the confiscation by him of all rights of representing it in talks with the British and the Congress are shown by the following extract of the minutes of his meeting with Mountbatten on 5th and 6th April 1947:

“He gave me an account (which worries me a great deal) about his previous negotiations with Mr. Gandhi, including his version of the Gandhi/Jinnah correspondence in September 1944. He emphasized and tried to prove from his account that on the Muslim side there was only one man to deal, namely himself. If he took a decision it would be enforced, or if the Muslim league refused to ratify it, he would resign and that would be the end of Muslim League. But the same was not true of the representatives of congress – there was no one man to deal with on their side. Mr. Gandhi had openly confessed that he represented nobody- he only agreed to “endeavor to use his influence”- he had enormous authority with no responsibility. Nehru and Patel represented different points of view within congress- neither could give a categorical answer on behalf of the party as a whole.”

Elections were held in India in February 1946 for the central and provincial legislatures to prepare eventually for the transfer of powers. Muslim League presented these elections as a referendum for Pakistan. More simply the electors were told that the question they are called on to answer at the poll is “are you a true believer or an infidel and are you for Hindu Raj or for Pakistan?” The governor of N.W.F.P wrote in a note to the Viceroy in February 1946 that:

“The Muslim league on the other hand has talked about little but Pakistan. This is not really an intelligible war cry to 90% of their hearers. To the average Pathan villager in these parts, the suggestion that there can be such thing as Hindu domination is only laughable.”

Having agreed to the partition, the British were unwilling to countenance a situation in which the provinces earmarked for Pakistan expressed a desire not to join it. In a note from the Viceroy’s office to the Secretary of State’s office in London it is said:

“Similarly the isolated NWFP might ask what constitution it would have and whether it would be a separate dominion. For financial reasons the NWFP would obviously have to tag onto some more prosperous neighbor, but I think we are brought up against the necessity of deciding what is the minimum amount of territory that must exceed to Pakistan before Pakistan can be recognized as a separate dominion. The defection of NWFP would I suppose be fatal. The right way to treat the NWFP would be to compel it to join Pakistan if Pakistan came into being. But it seems to me that if both the NWFP and Sind object to join Pakistan, His Majesty’s Government should not be bound to recognize Pakistan.”

Jinnah made sure that only those candidates be given Muslim League tickets in Sind who will not raise any discordant voice regarding the partition plan. He suppressed the Sind Muslim League Council’s right to select the candidates in favor of the Central Parliamentary Committee of All-India Muslim League. When G.M. Syed, the president of Sind Muslim League, protested he was dismissed and subsequently declared traitor. When even then Muslim League could not obtain clear majority in the assembly, the British governor called for fresh elections which were heavily rigged in favor of Muslim League in order to ensure that the partition plan did not die.

In N.W.F.P, the situation was very difficult for the Muslim League. Despite all the efforts of the Muslim League, the Khudai Khidmatgars under the Congress flag won the elections. Dr. Khan Sahib, the brother of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, formed the provincial government. Muslim League started a civil disobedience campaign against the provincial government. Fatwas were issued that it was a government of infidels. Muslim League National Guards acting as storm troopers committed wide-scale arson and violence against Hindus and Sikhs who had never before faced such a situation in this province. Despite there being a Congress government, the partition plan of 3rd June 1947 called for a referendum to decide whether the people wanted to join India or Pakistan. In such circumstances when N.W.F.P was not contiguous to India and no third choice i.e. the independence was given, the result was a foregone conclusion. Khudai Khidmatgars boycotted the referendum and called for the establishment of an independent Pashtunistan. But the British ensured that N.W.F.P joined Pakistan. One of the first acts of Jinnah after the independence was to dismiss the democratically elected Dr. Khan Government.

In Baluchistan’s case Jinnah concluded, just before partition, an agreement with the Khan of Kalat for negotiating the nature of its future ties with Pakistan. He recognized the fact that Kalat was an independent state at the time of its treaty with the British in 1876 and that it is in this capacity that the state will enter into negotiations with future state of Pakistan. However, after independence, he unilaterally got approved allegiance to Pakistan by an unrepresentative Jirga.

As the parleys with the British went on for the final determination of the territories which will form part of Pakistan, Jinnah pleaded that the whole of Punjab and the whole of Bengal be made part of Pakistan. In Punjab Muslims were 16.2 million and non-Muslims 12.2 million. Two whole districts namely Jullundur and Ambala had Sikh majority. In Bengal, Muslims were 33 million and non-Muslims 27.3 millions. Whole contiguous areas of western Bengal had non-Muslim majority. His double-standards and unprincipled and ridiculous approach to the question of partition is shown by the following account of the meeting on the subject between him and Mountbatten held on 8th April 1947:

“I invited Mr. Jinnah to put forward his arguments for partition. He recited the classic ones. I then pointed out that his remarks applied also to the partition of the Punjab and Bengal, and that by sheer logic if I accepted his arguments in the case of India as a whole, I had also to apply them in the case of these two provinces. Whilst admitting my logic he expressed himself most upset at my trying to give him a “moth-eaten” Pakistan. He said that this demand for partitioning the Punjab and Bengal was a bluff on the part of Congress to try and frighten him off Pakistan. He was not to be frightened off so easily; and he would be sorry if I were taken in by the congress bluff. I replied “I would not be taken in; because if I agreed to such partition, it would be on your able advocacy; but I could not of course allow your theories to stop short at the provinces.” He was most distressed, and said that it would greatly weaken his Pakistan, and appealed to me not to destroy the unity of Bengal and the Punjab, which had national characteristics in common: common history, common ways of life; and where the Hindus have stronger feelings as Bengalis or Punjabis than they have as members of the congress. I said I was impressed by his arguments; and was therefore beginning to revise my ideas about any partition anywhere in India; since any argument that he produced for not agreeing to partition within the Punjab and Bengal applied with even greater force to India as a whole. For if he was to insist on the partition of India, he would be breaking up a great subcontinent of numerous nations, which could live together in peace and harmony; who could, united, play a great role in the world; but who, divided, would not even rank as a second class power. I am afraid I drove the old gentleman quite mad, because whichever way his argument went I always pursued it to a stage beyond which he did not wish it to go.”

In the short span of time that Jinnah remained alive after independence, one of his major pronouncements was to declare in Dacca that Urdu and only Urdu will be the national language of Pakistan. It was indeed taken as insult by the whole Bengali nation and it snowballed into the Bengali language movement of 1952 which proved to be the first assertion of Bengali nationalism and put into motion the process culminating in the separation of East Pakistan.

Another trait of Jinnah’s personality which is less known was his real talent of real-estate speculator. In fact, right when India was awash with human blood, much of it Muslim blood, Jinnah , apart from his political activities, was extremely busy buying and disposing off properties . I let the compiler of ‘Jinnah papers’ published by the government of Pakistan describe this ability of his in his words:

“His financial empire bore the hallmark of the self-made man. He dealt far-sightedly in the purchase and resale of property in some of the principal cities of India – a process marked by his personal involvement in such transactions. By 1940 he had no less than four large residential properties: his house at 10 Aurangzeb Road, Delhi, 7 posh Mayfair flats – fetching a monthly rental of Rs.2,295 – his bungalow at Little Gibbs Road and his palatial residence and at Mount Pleasant Road, Bombay, occupying an area of 15,467 square yards. This house was started in 1938 and completed at a cost of more than 2 lacs of rupees by Gregson, Batley and King, chartered architects of Bombay. He had sold his Mayfair flats in 1943 and was even prepared to sell his bungalow at Mount Pleasant Road for Rs.20 lakh. He owned a house in Lahore, residential plots in Gulberg, Lahore, and agricultural land in Malir near Karachi. Even in the hectic days of 1946, we find him negotiating the purchase of “The Retreat” in Katrain situated in an isolated place in the Kulu Valley. In March 1947, he is again found interested in “Sandow Castle”, a large property near Bombay on 19 acres of land and with an “unrestricted view of the sea” at an advertised price of rupees five lakh. Immediately after HMG’s Statement of 20 February 1947 he entered into a deal to purchase the Flag Staff House, Frere Town Quarter, Karachi, and made queries for a number of properties including a houseboat in Kashmir.”

It would be worthwhile if those who have put the prefix of Hazrat and the suffix of Rahamatullah with the name of Jinnah apart from giving him the title of Quaid-e-Azam as well as those who have declared him a democratic, liberal and secular politician took the pain to study the events and situate the man, his actions and their consequences in their correct context.


Sind Speaks by G.M. Syed.

Jinnah Papers by Cabinet Division Government of Pakistan.

Jahanzeb Hussain is the editor of Collateral Damage

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