Former deputy prime minister L.K. Advani was perfectly right in his recent assessment of Pakistan's founding father and great leader M. A. Jinnah as a secular, tolerant leader, rather than a narrowly religious one. Several members of Advani's BJP, who branded him a party "traitor" for only speaking the truth about Jinnah in Karachi, proved their own ignorance of recent Indian history as well as their bigotry and intolerance.
| PICTURE SPEAK |
|BOTCHED CHAPTER: Jinnah (above and third from right) warned Mountbatten (to his left) against the hasty Partition |
As a young man Jinnah first left Karachi to study law in London, where he was inspired to join the Indian National Congress, helping its "Grand Old Man" Dadabhai Naoroji win his first seat in the House of Commons. Jinnah was hailed by Mahatma Gandhi's political guru, Congress president Gopal Krishna Gokhale, as India's "best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity". Congress' patriotic poet Sarojini Naidu wrote of Jinnah's "virile patriotism" in her poetry and Britain's prime minister Ramsay MacDonald was proud to call him his friend. During World War I it was barrister Jinnah who primarily drafted the Lucknow Pact that brought the Congress and the Muslim League together for the first and only time on a joint platform demanding virtual independence from the British Raj immediately after the war ended.
Brilliant and incorruptible barrister that he was, Jinnah always believed in the principles of justice and fair play, even as he did in democracy, hallmarks of his secular philosophy of life. Nor did he ever fear to speak his mind, rejecting the "shallow, bastard and desperate political maxims" of weak-minded British bureaucrats and insisted that their observation that Indians are unfit to govern themselves was "baseless". In 1917, when the Liberal secretary of state Edwin Montagu first visited India and met its leading politicians, it was Jinnah-"armed to the teeth with dialectics"-whom he admired most, rightly noting that "it is, of course, an outrage that such a man should have no chance of running the affairs of his own country". And after World War I ended in victory for the Allies, when the timid British Viceroy Lord Chelmsford extended hateful martial "laws" instead of rescinding them, Jinnah was the first elected member of the Legislative Council to resign, protesting that the "constitutional rights of the people have been violated at a time when there is no real danger to the state, by an overfretful and incompetent bureaucracy which is neither responsible to the people nor in touch with real public opinion".
I wonder how many members of Mumbai's BJP know that the P.J. Hall still standing inside the compound of the city's Indian National Congress building commemorates the historic struggle led by Jinnah on December 11, 1918, when he rallied more than 300 ardent, youthful Congress supporters to block the attempt by Governor Lord Willingdon's sycophantic courtiers to honour that Tory despot on the eve of his departure. Jinnah so fearlessly shouted down the sheriff of Bombay, who tried to convene that meeting, that it had to be called off. The police cleared the Town Hall, outside of which Jinnah addressed a mass meeting that night. "Gentlemen, you are the citizens of Bombay," he told the cheering crowd. "Your triumph today has made it clear that even the combined forces of bureaucracy and autocracy could not overawe you ... go and rejoice over the day that has secured us the triumph of democracy." P.J. Hall had originally been named "People's Jinnah Memorial Hall".
Jinnah was born a Muslim and remained a Muslim throughout his life, yet his faith was always intensely private, undemonstrative. Throughout the last decade of his life he feared that British India's Muslim minority would have to face greater hardships and more discrimination under a potential "Hindu Raj" than they had hitherto faced under the British. In the aftermath of the 1937 elections he hoped that Jawaharlal Nehru's victorious Congress might generously respond to overtures from his Muslim League to form coalition governments in several of the large provinces, primarily UP. But that hope was shattered. Nehru rejected all coalition attempts, for his Congress party had clearly mustered a majority of votes.
To Jinnah's mind, however, that majority reflected South Asia's Hindu majority, rather than the region's entire population, one-fourth of which was Muslim. He firmly believed that British India's Muslim "minority" was, in fact, an inchoate, separate Nation-State, rather than a communal minority, and at the annual meeting of his League in Lahore in the March of 1940 articulated what came to be known as his "Pakistan" demand for separate statehood. In the aftermath of World War II the British Labour government, which won a thumping majority in the Commons, attempted to help the Congress and the League reach an agreement on a federal constitution, which would have allowed them to share power over the region as a single, loosely unified state in much the same geographic form as they now divide most of South Asia and compete against one another as the sovereign nation-states of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. The leaders of both the Congress and the League came close in 1946 to agreeing to that, but never could quite resolve their deepest fears, hatreds and mistrust of one another, echoing ancient legacies, it seemed, dating back to the dawn of Islamic invasions of India over a millennium ago.
By 1947, Britain's Home Government felt so sick and tired of Hindu-Muslim conflicts, petty bickering and wrangling and was so preoccupied with its own growing post-War economic problems that Clement Attlee's cabinet decided to cut and run from its imperial albatross as swiftly as possible. The major problem, however, was to put a happy face on publicity photos of the demise of its Raj, for which a handsome young admiral would have to be flown to Delhi as the last viceroy. The tragically hasty, ineptly botched partition of Punjab and Bengal, to which Mahatma Gandhi never agreed and against which Jinnah tried in vain to warn Lord Mountbatten, as did his own governors and leading British advisers, left a million innocents to die in its aftermath. Three post-Partition wars over Jammu and Kashmir later, and after the recent nuclear-arming of both India and Pakistan, the two countries have at last launched a promising peace process.
Advani's diplomatic wisdom as well as historic accuracy, therefore, in praising Jinnah's secular faith in democracy and representative government and legal institutions for Pakistan should have been applauded by his own party, as well as by all of India, Pakistan and the rest of the world. For what Advani said can only bolster the peace process, so hopefully launched at the last saarc summit in Islamabad by President Pervez Musharraf and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In his first great speech to Pakistan's Constituent Assembly in Karachi on August 11, 1947, which Advani rightly quoted, Jinnah said: "You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of 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 ... We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State."
Muslim extremists then found Jinnah's wise tolerance and rationality as unpalatable as Advani's extremist Hindu colleagues in the BJP still seem to. Several attempts were made to assassinate Jinnah, all by fanatical Muslims, who called him a "traitor" to Islam, much the way a fanatical Hindu murdered Gandhi, whose message of non-violent love for all humans proved too hard to swallow for minds poisoned by irrational hatreds. I believe, however, that Mahatma Gandhi, Jinnah, and Advani have all been right in valuing truth, tolerance and peace more highly than hatred and conflict compounded by lies. Satyameva jayate!
The author is distinguished professor emeritus of Indian History
at UCLA and editor-in-chief of the soon-to-be-published four-volume Encyclopedia of India. He has written around 20 books on Indo-Pak
history, including Jinnah of Pakistan.