Saturday, December 25, 2010

Jinnah: The arrogant achiever

In November 1938, Hassan Ispahani wrote to M A Jinnah about Anwar Hassan, great-grandson of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. "Sir Syed rendered a service to the Musalmans of India that will remain unequalled so long as civilization remains. You will therefore agree with me that a young man and worthy descendant of his who is willing to work for his living should not be allowed to knock from pillar to post searching desperately for employment." Jinnah replied:"I think I did drop you a line from Bombay with regard to Anwar Masood saying that I could not help in the matter."

Ispahani's letter to Jinnah was not out of place. He had turned to a leading lawyer and towering leader of Muslims to help out the great grandson of Muslim visionary Sir Syed Ahmed Khan.

But what he got was a cold reply seeped in characteristic Jinnah style. For all his fame and brilliance as a lawyer and politician, Jinnah was not the one to mince words. Which is why I am baffled when some historians say that Jinnah never wanted a separate nation but was only creating a bogey to have more bargaining power for the Muslims.

Well, it doesn't make any difference for the reality is that India got partitioned. Thousands of families were uprooted, friends and relatives had to part ways and the bloodbath that followed was unprecedented.

And unfortunately it did not stop there. The two countries continue to be at loggerheads. Those Muslims who went to Pakistan got the label of Mohajir and the ones remaining in India found themselves numerically and intellectually diminished.

Urdu: Jinnah
and Gandhi

It was the same attitude of mincing no words that made Jinnah declare on his maiden visit to Dhaka after Partition that Urdu was to be the state language of Pakistan (which included East Pakistan). Jinnah himself was well conversant only in Gujarati and English and his knowledge of Urdu was scant.

I do not know if Jinnah made any efforts to learn Urdu or not, but expecting Bengali speakers to grapple with kaaf and gaaf proved costly. Once again it were the Muslims (Bihari Muslims) who bore the brunt when Bangladesh fought for its 'independence'. Caught between the two Pakistans, it was only recently after a court's decision that they got voting rights in Bangladesh.

In his letters Gandhi chided any Urdu-knowing person who wrote to him in English instead of Urdu. Gandhi's dream of Hindustani was a mix of Hindi and Urdu and he always advocated the use of simple Hindi and Urdu in both the scripts. He himself was trying to learn Urdu.

Jinnah moved in elite circles in Bombay in Saville Row suits and was one of the highest paid lawyers. He married Ruttie the daughter of his Parsi friend Sir Dinshaw Petit and gave the best to his sister Fatima. His English education and prominence as a lawyer made him arrogant bordering on the rude.

Once while he was in Shimla, Nawab Hamidullah Khan of Bhopal came to meet him. As he came out of his car, Jinnah told him not to come as he was busy."Try your luck tomorrow."

Gandhi's arrival in India changed the Congress's approach towards the British rule. Before that Jinnah was basking in the attention and praise he got from his mentors Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Dadabhai Nowroji. He famously defended Tilak in the Bombay high court and worked for Hindu-Muslim unity.

After Gandhi arrived most of the leaders rallied behind him. Nowroji, Gokhale, Pherozeshah Mehta and Tilak died. Motilal's son Jawaharlal came under the spell of Gandhi and even though he had differences with Gandhi he accepted his moral and superior authority.

Jinnah the popular leader

Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru remained a moderate all his life and continued to practise law. A liberal to the core and a renowned Urdu and Persian scholar, Sapru never played politics like Jinnah or Gandhi. He opposed the non-cooperation movement and the salt satyagraha. However, he commanded respect among the intellectual class and acted several times as a mediator between the British government and Gandhi.

I often wonder that Jinnah would have made a lasting positive effect if he had played a role identical to Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru. He was more suited for it and would have done an excellent job. However, the problem with Jinnah was while his past conduct and vision came close to that of wealthy, erudite and liberal individuals like Motilal, Sapru and Pherozeshah he wanted his popularity, reach and acceptance to match that of Gandhi and Nehru.

Ambedkar was another prominent figure who kept his distance from Congress. He had differences with Gandhi but unlike Jinnah he could identify himself more intensely with his people. Besides, there was no frontline Dalit leader in the Congress. Jinnah and Ambedkar held few rallies together bound by their mistrust of Congress and Gandhi. Unlike Jinnah, who came to London to practise law, Ambedkar never left his people and their cause.

Ambedkar chose to work with the Congress and took active part in deliberations of the Constitution and ensured whatever he could to safeguard the interest of Dalits. The Muslim League on the other hand refused to join the Interim Government of 1946 demanding that only they should be allowed to nominate Muslims in the cabinet. For them Maulana Azad, R A Kidwai, Asaf Ali and other Muslim leaders in the Congress did not exist!

Pakistan at all cost

For any politician it is their goals that matter. Everything else takes a backseat. The economy of the new country was definitely not on the mind of the Muslim League. TIME magazine reports that in September 1947, Pakistan paid a cheque to the British Overseas Airways Corporation which bounced.The company had transported 30,000 officials and their families from Delhi to Karachi. While they were fortunate to get their dues, the list of creditors was fairly huge.

However, as a shrewd politician Jinnah knew that religion and politics should not be mixed. He did not approve of the Khilafat agitation and was against using religion in politics. He should get full marks for his clarity of thought on this aspect. He kept this in mind when he declared that the minorities would get all the security and equality in Pakistan.

But while Jinnah asked for Pakistan, the Congress is also to be blamed for giving in to his demand. The conduct of Congress leaders left a lot to be desired. Their experience with the Muslim League ministers (they joined the Interim government later) made it clear that running a government with them would be a path full of thorns. Agreeing to Pakistan and getting rid of the Muslim League looked better and easier and convenient.

In 1925, Jinnah wrote a letter to The Tiimes of India lamenting that he was wrongly quoted describing Congress as Hindu institution. Yet when Gandhi died he described him as leader of the Hindu community. This in short was Jinnah's reason for Pakistan.

I have referred to books written on Jinnah by Rafiq Zakaria and Akbar S Ahmed


  1. It was a revision on pre-independence Indian history and the great leaders of Hindustan.Good analysis of Jinnah's attitude and vision.

  2. It was a good history revision on Pre-Independence India for me. I think, your analysis on Jinnah's attitude and vision is praise worthy.

  3. Danish
    I take Jinnah's view on this matter. He valued merit. Why must someone be rewarded (or punished) for an accident of birth?

  4. Thanks for the comments.
    Aakar: I too agree with Jinnah's view on 'sifarish'.

  5. Khalid Omar SiddiqiDecember 28, 2010 at 9:16 PM

    Mahatma Gandhi is probably the only major leader of the Indian Freedom Movement who is not known for displaying arrogance. Jawaharlal Nehru is very well known in India and abroad to show arrogance of an extreme kind at a number of occasions. As far as the Muslim face of Congress, Maulana Azad is concerned, you may very well read his address to the Indian Muslims in Delhi Jama Masjid right after independence in 1947 as well as his AMU convocation address in 1949. In other words,"Is hammam mein bahut se leader nange hain".