Over the last few days I have stumbled upon two things that have precipitated this post: one, I happened to watch Jinnah and two, I came across a series of articles by A.G. Noorani on Jinnah and Partition [Jinnah in Indian History, Assessing Jinnah and Jinnah and Partition].
Jinnah happens to be the most misunderstood personality of the Indian subcontinent. In Pakistan, we have turned Jinnah into a superhuman object – someone who is beyond fault. Much of this was evident in the movie Jinnah. While the movie did raise some tough questions [questioning and then justifying partition and the resultant carnage] but it only told one side of the story – more or less sticking to the Pakistan’s state’s version. What struck me the hardest was the fact that the most critical line from his August 11 speech was edited from the movie:
You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State….
You will find that in 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.
Yes, the state commissioned the making of the movie and thus it is not all that surprising. Though I will still go on to construe it as character assassination – maybe it is a bit harsh but the truth of the matter is that we haven’t done Jinnah any justice. His true ideals remais forgotten and the state here only continues to ensure that that they are buried deeper.
While in Pakistan we have idolised Jinnah, he has been made into the devil in India. He is the person who shed his secular credentials for ambitions of heading a Muslim state and caused the partition of India. Both these charges need to be refuted in the strongest words.
In my understanding Jinnah’s volte-face from being the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity [an Indian nationalist] to a proponent of the Two Nation Theory [a Muslim Nationalist] can be explained by the events of the decade of 1935-1945. Jinnah returned to India in 1935. Two main events seem to have transformed his outlook into a Muslim nationalist one from an Indian nationalist one. One, there was increased discourse between him and Iqbal. They both shared a lot of correspondence through series of letters till Iqbal died. One thing that does make out of their discourse is that Jinnah gradually became aware of the nationalist Muslim strand in Indian politics and began to think more of the ‘Muslims’ of India, than of ‘Indians’. This is an interesting insight into the relationship shared between the two. But it is uncertain to what extent Jinnah agreed with Iqbal’s ideals- because prior to Jinnah’s return to India these two rarely did see eye-to-eye. Anyways, the other factor that precipitated his volte-face was the outcome of the elections of 1937 – the emergence of the Congress ministries and the excesses against the Muslims under governance.
But this in itself does not exonerate him of having caused the partition of the India. The popular belief in India [and Pakistan] remains that he was equivocal in his demand for a separate demand homeland for the Muslims of India. He was the stubborn uncompromising constitutionalist. On the contrary, Jinnah very much wanted to work within the framework of a United India. It was in this spirit that he had accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946, which provided for a Union of India with three units to the federation. The Centre was to maintain control over the areas of defense, foreign affairs and communications – the federations were free to formulate their own governments. But of course, that fell apart once Congress eventually rejected the terms of the Cabinet Misson Plan. A. G. Noorani provides a very comprehensive and neutral view of the event in this piece.
There is another critical aspect that Noorani discusses in his articles. Noorani believes that the blame for the eventual partition of the subcontinent lies with the Congress leadrship for it never really allowed a workable alternative to Pakistan develop. As Noorani notes:
The Governor of Punjab, H.D. Craik, wrote perceptively to the Viceroy on April 1, 1940: “It is reasonable at present to assume that Muslims would accept something less than partition, but the longer time that elapses without any concrete alternative being put forward, the more the support and favour partition proposals are likely to receive from the Muslim masses, who will now follow Jinnah’s lead blindly” (emphasis added, throughout).
In August Jinnah won the Pakistan he had demanded in March. He had now only to secure Muslims’ support in the Pakistan provinces. The Congress also accepted the principle of non-coercion. It made Pakistan inevitable by refusing to propound an alternative to it; by refraining from pointing out forcibly and at the outset that it entailed partition of Punjab and Bengal – and the loss of many a League leader’s lands – and by treating Muslim Congressmen as irrelevant.
So eventually, it was the lack of political space that compelled the partition of the subcontinent. Precious lessons from it are still to be leant.
It is slightly coincidental that I have ended up penning this piece around Quaid’s death anniversary. It is high time that we begin to respect and acknowledge Jinnah for the man that he really was – in contrast to what we have imagined him to be [on either side of the divide] in the subcontinent. We owe him that much.
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