The Secular Jinnah
By Yasser Latif Hamdani
November 05, 2012
Apparently, ‘secular’ is some sort of a bad word and anyone using this word in connection with Quaid-e-Azam is automatically a traitor
Our Urdu press, conspiratorial, nationalist and rightwing, is full of nazriati (ideological) warriors. This article is a rebuttal of two of the most popular standard-bearers of the Ghairat brigade and the so-called Nazria-e-Pakistan (idea of Pakistan).
In one of his recent columns (because in our country it is perfectly alright for in-service civil servants to moonlight as columnists), Orya Maqbool Jan has taken to task those misguided souls — such as this writer — who believe that Mr Jinnah wanted a secular Pakistan. Apparently, ‘secular’ is some sort of a bad word and anyone using this word in connection with Quaid-e-Azam is automatically a traitor. In this particular article, Orya Maqbool Jan relied on the ‘research’ of one Selena Karim who wrote a book called Secular Jinnah: Munir’s Hoax Exposed several years ago. The entire issue revolves around a quote attributed to Jinnah dating to a pre-partition interview.
The late Justice Munir, paraphrasing the Quaid’s interview with Doon Campbell of May 21, 1947, said that Jinnah believed that sovereignty would rest with the people regardless of religion, caste, creed, etc. I reproduce the actual quote by the Quaid: “Government of Pakistan can only be a popular representative and democratic form of Government. Its Parliament and Cabinet responsible to the Parliament will both be finally responsible to the electorate and the people in general without any distinction of caste, creed or sect, which will be the final deciding factor with regard to the policy and programme of the Government. The minorities in Pakistan will be the citizens of Pakistan and enjoy all the rights, privileges and obligations of citizenship without any distinction of caste, creed or sect. They will be treated justly and fairly. The Government will run the administration and control the legislative measures by its Parliament, and the collective conscience of the Parliament itself will be a guarantee that the minorities need not have any apprehension of any injustice being done to them. Over and above that there will be provisions for the protection and safeguard of the minorities, which in my opinion must be embodied in the constitution itself. And this will leave no doubt as to the fundamental rights of the citizens, protection of religion and faith of every section, freedom of thought and protection of their cultural and social life.” How is this in substance different? How does this actual quote change the secular nature of Jinnah’s vision? Any lawyer, historian or political scientist will tell you that is a perfect summation of a secular democratic state. Of course, Selena Karim is neither a lawyer nor a historian nor a political scientist. Her book is a rehashed version of Allama Pervez’s dogma on why Pakistan was created.
In a nutshell, Jinnah’s vision was of an inclusive democratic state where religion would be the “personal faith of an individual” and each citizen would have the same opportunities in every field — including the highest offices in the land — without any distinction of religion. The example that Jinnah quoted was from the history of Great Britain where religious wars between Catholics and Protestants were brought to an end by a practical separation of church and state. Jinnah believed — and many of his colleagues like Zafrullah Khan agreed — that this was a vision that was compatible with Islam. It must be remembered that Jinnah made his August 11 speech where he explicitly declared that religion would be a personal matter after Kiran Shankar Roy in his speech asked Jinnah to declare Pakistan a secular state. Jinnah’s response was unambiguous, undiplomatic and entirely secular. In what was his most important policy speech, Jinnah made no mention of Islamic principles or even God. Later that day, Jogindranath Mandal, a Hindu lawyer from East Pakistan with absolutely no training in Islamic law, became the new state’s first law minister. If Jinnah wanted an Islamic state, he certainly did not lift a finger to make that happen.
Meanwhile in a recent article, Hamid Mir repeats the same old hackneyed question: If Pakistan was supposed to be secular, why break away from the secular India and secular Indian National Congress. The Muslim grievances against the Congress were precisely that it did not live up to the ideals it professed. The gradual relegation of Urdu, which was the foremost symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity and promotion of Hindi-Hindustani in its place was one such occasion and there were several others. If Mir feels that these grievances were not enough as a justification then he is free to question the idea of Pakistan but he has no right to distort history as he did in his article. He went on to do precisely that when he distorted the facts of the Ilam Din case. The facts are that Jinnah did not appear in the case pro bono but for a hefty fee collected by the Muslims of Punjab for the defence. Ilam Din, contrary to the legend, never pleaded guilty and consequently, Jinnah never asked Ilam Din to change his plea; that is a scurrilous accusation against a man who was straight as an arrow.
Jinnah’s argument at the appellate level was that the session’s court had deliberately ignored two witnesses. How does that amount to support for Rajpal’s killing? It certainly did not mean support for the death penalty for blasphemy. Jinnah was part of the select committee that limited the punishment for scurrilous outrages to two years. Even then he had warned against the misuse of Section 295-A, and wanted guarantees for genuine and academic criticisms of religion. Could such a man have supported the killing of Rajpal? Nor was it a political stunt. Jinnah made no public pronouncements about the case but conducted it professionally, just as he had represented Phanse in the famous Bawla Case. Contrary to the claims of our right wing, the only pro bono brief Jinnah took, by his own admission, was Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s case.
My advice to our nazriati warriors: Please spare Mr Jinnah. He was too fine for philistines.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a practising lawyer.