By Shehreen Najam
September 9, 2014
I never thought a day would come when my ears would cringe at the mere mention of ‘democracy’, and even more so, at Inquilab and Insaf. Not because I don’t stand for these values, but perhaps, because I am dismayed by how they are being re-defined by a select few. Civil disobedience is now the pursuit of Inquilab, anarchy is to be pronounced as Insaf, and democracy — the demands of an individual leading a mob.
Amidst this rising madness, I found some solace in an excerpt from a speech by the founding father of our nation. A man, who unlike the unruly people he once governed, believed in a system, in liberal constitutionalism, in the state, and most of all, in evolution.
In an interview with Durga Das after the Calcutta meeting of the Congress in 1920, Jinnah made his approach to politics very clear: “I part company with the Congress and Gandhi. I do not believe in working up mass hysteria. Politics is a gentleman’s game.”
The procedural recourse to justice is how we differentiate between revolutionary movements and chaos and disruption in the law and order of a state. Jinnah did not resort to the use of threats and mobs to enforce his demands; instead, he sought the support of his fellow parliamentarians, and voiced his grievances in Parliament.
His approach, however, did not compromise his support for socialist and nationalist freedom fighters of the time, such as Bhagat Singh, who had been arrested for throwing a bomb at the Punjab Assembly. Subsequent to that, Jinnah was noted to have had the loudest voice in the Parliament in advocating and empathising with Mr Singh’s route to freedom. It is noteworthy that Jinnah persistently sought issues within the ambit of the constitution.
Jinnah’s constitutional approach led him to reject Gandhi’s pressure on him and other Congress party members to boycott the British. So much so, that Jinnah resigned from the Congress in 1920 and continued his struggle for independence through constitutional means. He strictly opposed any form of disobedience against British rule he himself sought independence from. In the final years before independence, Gandhi, in opposition to British rule, boycotted the elections. However, Jinnah and Allama Muhammad Iqbal both participated. In this is a reflection of leaders who despite all their opposition and grievances with the state, chose to fight through the system, not against it.
My comparison between Gandhi and Jinnah is by no means a criticism of the former — Gandhi’s leadership was exemplary and worthy of much respect and admiration. I only seek to exemplify Jinnah’s persistent and principled stance to remain on constitutional grounds throughout his struggle for independence. At a student union’s farewell party for him before he left for London, Jinnah made a statement whereby expressly describing his secular and democratic values:
“What is a state? What is a representative government? Does it mean that the 70 million Muslims should be tied hand and foot in a constitution where a particular class of Hindus can possibly tyrannise over and deal with as they like? Is that representative government? Is that democratic government? Certainly not…”
It was clear that Jinnah was displeased with the state of affairs. But what did he do as a leader professing values of ‘democracy’ and Insaf? Declare war against the state? Called for a mob to blackmail the state to have his demands met? No. He did what is now unthinkable for many. He did what revolutionaries do. He made his demands through the state — the very state he had wished to seek independence from.
One could easily label such notions of democracy as wilful romanticism, but Jinnah’s uncompromising struggle to defend the institutions sends a very important message. That once the dust settles, the state must carry on, and in order to do so effectively it must retain the strength of its institutions. So, to the callers of civil disobedience I conclude with this final message, in the words of Jinnah himself:
“I thank you for your kind suggestion offering me ‘to take my share in the new life that has opened up before the country’… All this means complete disorganisation and chaos. What the consequence of this may be, I shudder to contemplate; but I, for one, am convinced that the present policy of the government is the primary cause of it all and unless that cause is removed, the effects must continue. I have no voice or power to remove the cause; but at the same time I do not wish my countrymen to be dragged to the brink of a precipice in order to be shattered. The only way for the nationalists is to unite and work for a programme, which is universally acceptable for the early attainment of complete responsible government. Such a programme cannot be dictated by any single individual, but must have the approval and support of all the prominent nationalist leaders in the country; and to achieve this end I am sure my colleagues and myself shall continue to work.”
Shehreen Najam is a graduate of the Harvard Law School and currently works as an international development consultant in London. She has also taught at LUMS