By Prafull Goradia
January 26, 2019
While advising India on how to treat minorities, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan must be aware that Qaid-e-Azam Jinnah was a Shia, a sect now being treated as a minority in his country. Some in Pakistan want Shias to be expelled from Islam. That brings us to the Qaid. Jinnah was not exposed to religiosity. His father was a second generation convert; his grandfather Jeenabhai, a Halai Lohana from Dhoraji, near Rajkot was converted to the Ismaili Khoja sect, led by Aga Khan. The Bombay High Court in its judgement of 1866, declared the Ismaili Khojas to be half-Muslim and half-Hindu; some Khoja womenfolk do the Swaminarayan puja. This writer has seen a signboard above a shop in Goa that read Akbar Ali Ram Ali & Sons.
The surname Jinnah began with Jeenabhai; Jeena in Gujarati means tiny. Mohammad Ali’s first passport stated his surname as Jinnahbhai. Leaving for England at the age of 16, he had little exposure to Islam, except for a short stint at a Karachi madrasa. Once in London, he soon became a brown Englishman. After a four-year stint in England, Jinnah returned to Bombay in 1896. His child wife, whom he had married in Karachi, and his father had passed away. Family contact had become limited; his three older sisters had got married. Jinnah took charge of the youngest, Fatima and admitted her to a Christian school in Bandra. He began building his legal career, first as a magistrate at the handsome salary of Rs 1,500. His heart being in advocacy, he soon took to pleading at the Bombay High Court. Most fellow advocates as well as clients were Gujarati Hindus, with very few Muslims.
One of his juniors, M.C. Chagla was liberal enough not to mind Jinnah consume pork sandwiches at the Ritz opposite the Gateway of India. Once Jinnah let a Muslim Leaguer’s son passing by his table to enjoy a sandwich from his plate, and Chagla quipped: “If this incident is reported outside, Jinnah Sahib, you could lose your next council election.”
Jinnah had a younger brother, Ahmed Ali, a friend of my maternal grandfather Dharamdas Vora. Ahmed admitted to Vora that he enjoyed his sundowner, a taste and habit he picked up from his elder brother. Ahmed was clear that they were culturally Parsi; they did not perform the namaz. Until his brother became the League president, they had no pyjamas, so convenient for namaz. The elder Jinnah had married Ruttie Petit, the daughter of a Parsi bigwig. Religion occurred to Jinnah when he became Muslim League president. Lest Sunni Muslims question him about his not being cent per cent Muslim, he shifted to the Asna-Ashri sect, the dominant among Shias.
In 1928, at the Congress plenary session at Calcutta, he got a rude shock. Jinnah, far from being accorded the respect of a national leader, was hooted out as he insisted on addressing the Mahatma as “Mister Gandhi”. Leaving Calcutta next morning, at the door of his compartment at Howrah, he told his friend Dewan Chaman Lal, who had come to see him off, “This is the parting of ways.” Jinnah was indeed done with the Congress; he shifted to London, buying an impressive bungalow at Hampstead. He practised from the Empire’s capital, becoming its highest paid barrister. His daughter Dina joined him and entered a classy school. All this indicated that Jinnah intended to live in London semi-permanently. The Englishman in him truly liked the English environment.
The newly married Liaquat Ali Khan arrived in London with his young bride as a stop on his honeymoon. He telephoned Jinnah, who invited the couple to Hampstead for dinner. Liaquat confided that Muslim Leaguers in India felt leaderless and wanted Jinnah to return and lead them. Jinnah wanted Liaquat to check whether he would really be their choice. Liaquat did a thorough survey, visiting every provincial capital. Most local bigwigs displayed virtual unanimity on Jinnah as their supreme leader. They felt the Congress was comparatively active, while the League was not able to do much. No one knew what their Qaumi aim should be. They had no objection to making Jinnah the president for life, if only he would return and lead them.
Liaquat’s feedback helped make up Jinnah’s mind to return and lead India’s Muslims. According to Ahmed Ali, it was only on his return that his elder brother had pyjamas and Sherwani tailored. To crown his Muslim uniform, he acquired a matching headgear, a black Karakul fur cap. His portrait in this getup appears as the founder of Pakistan. There however, remained gaps in his Islamisation. Whether he performed Namaz remained a mystery; his fluency in Urdu was a non-starter. English was his real language; the next best was his mother tongue Gujarati.
Elections, as required under the Government of India Act of 1935 were held in 1937 in every province. Despite separate Muslim and non-Muslim electorates, the League fared poorly. Jinnah had to find a way to galvanise the Muslims. With no mass contact, his feedback was probably his Khoja and Memon acquaintances in Bombay. The ulemas as well as orthodox elitists fell for Dar-ul-Islam. A greater ideal was a “new Medina”, particularly because with the abolition of the Caliphate in 1924, and the last Caliph and Sultan of Turkey Mehmed VI being exiled, nostalgia was whipped up for pan-Islamism.
From the days of Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan (Aligarh), there was talk of Hindus and Muslims as two separate qaums or nations. Syed Ameer Ali, a judge of the Calcutta High Court too had written on the separateness of Muslims. Poet Allama Iqbal, as president of the League’s 1930 Allahabad session proposed separate political entities. In 1934, Chaudhry Rahmat Ali, a Cambridge scholar, coined the word Pakistan. The idea of a separate Muslim nation initially failed to attract the Muslim majority provinces, namely Punjab, NWFP, Sind and Bengal. Happy to rule their own provinces, they saw no need for any change.
It were UP’s Muslims who were most enamoured of a separate state, especially those of Aligarh and its university. The only segment that had thought through the idea of separation and its consequences were Bombay’s Muslim businessmen, who wanted to be free of competition from Parsis, Marwaris, and other Baniyas like the Shettys and Chettiars. In the words of one Mr Habib, later head of the prominent Habib Bank, “I would rather compete in business with Punjabi farmers than you Baniyas.” He mentioned this to his junior business partner, Ratilal Gandhi, who for several years headed the Bombay Pradesh Congress Committee.
In the course of Ahmed Ali’s chats with my grandfather, one point stood out. In whichever field Jinnah operated, he had to be the number one, not second or third. He became the highest paid barrister in the British Empire. He ensured that he was made the Muslim League’s life president. In the Congress, he did not hit the top and quit not only the organisation but also the country until the Muslim League claimed him. Jinnah, an introvert, did not compromise with the environment. He knew his mind and did not care for public opinion. On the contrary, he moulded it.
For example, Jinnah convinced the Muslims of the minority provinces, especially UP, Bihar and even composite Bombay, areas which could not have been parts of Pakistan. According to Dr Rafiq Zakaria, these provinces were Pakistan. Majority provinces, Punjab, NWFP, Sind and Bengal fell in line late, less than two years before Partition. This only illustrates how he moulded public opinion so that Jinnah could find his place in history. Many students of Aligarh University went to the Punjab to canvass for the League in the 1945-46 elections. They were asked by potential voters what was there in Partition for them. Their answer: “To create a new Medina.”
Pakistan was created and many UP-ites migrated to Karachi, only to find themselves unwelcome and branded as Mohajirs (migrants). Their leader Altaf Husain had shifted to London. Much later, he went on record to have said that “Pakistan was a mistake”. To conjecture, how then could Jinnah have convinced himself of leading the Pakistan movement? Muslims in the subcontinent were approximately 25% of the total population and distinctly less educated than Hindus, Christians and Parsis. They did not own many industries, nor did they control businesses to any significant extent except in Bombay. Whatever there was of Muslim wealth was in land, which the Congress party and its socialists were threatening to take over for the tillers of the soil. Thus, the community in the foreseeable future was disadvantaged compared to others.
It was easy to convince the gullible that for Muslims the choice was “separate or perish”. The clarion call of “Islam in danger” was convincing. Without being able to address the crowds in Urdu, Punjabi or Bengali, languages most Muslims understood, Jinnah could sell this dream. A report by a young Pran Chopra, later editor of the Statesman, is telling. At Jalandhar, Chopra was present at an election rally in which Jinnah was campaigning for the 1945-46 elections. He spoke in English. When the muezzin called for prayers, Jinnah stopped and sat down on a chair while the crowd dispersed for namaz, lit a cigar and relaxed until the crowd returned and resumed his address. Jinnah had no inhibition and the public did not mind. The cause of Islam was greater than all; the rest were details.
This was the height of delirium to which the Qaid-e-Azam was able to rocket Indian Muslim crowds. It is for history to judge whether his campaign was sincere or fraudulent. But one thing is clear. Jinnah’s partition saved the Hindu civilisation from an Islamist catastrophe. An undivided India would today have over 40% Muslims. Their tactical voting would have consistently produced a Muslim Prime Minister.
Nevertheless, the Qaid-e-Azam’s place has been reserved in history’s hall of fame as the founder of one of the largest countries in the world. All the same, we must never forget that the Qaid, in achieving his own ambition, incidentally, prevented Muslim primacy in independent India.