By Yasser Latif Hamdani
18 January 2016
A public intellectual, who I really respect, recently forwarded the opinion that Jinnah was confused and was unclear about what he wanted for Pakistan, i.e. whether he wanted it to be a secular state or an Islamic state. After all, different parts of Jinnah’s speeches are quoted by both the secularists and Islamists to prove their own point. I respectfully disagree with this view. Having read Jinnah in some detail, I am of the view that Jinnah was absolutely clear in what he wanted but in order to understand Jinnah you have to be aware not just of his agitation for Pakistan, which lasted seven years, but his political career starting from the time he campaigned for Indian nationalist Dadabhoy Naoroji in London.
As an Indian student in London studying to be a barrister, Jinnah was largely influenced by the writings of John Morley who he had the opportunity of listening to in the House of Commons. John Morley at the time was the embodiment of British liberalism and radicalism. He was a great opponent of imperialism and it was this idealism that Jinnah imbibed as a young Indian. He saw himself as nothing but. His identity as a Muslim was secondary and, to him, rather rudimentary. Therefore, he was not influenced by the followers of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan who wanted to chart a separate political course for Muslims. In 1904, by the time he had made a name for himself as a barrister, Jinnah first attended a meeting of the Indian National Congress and became its contributing member. From that point onwards he was a dedicated member of Congress. It is a forgotten fact of history that Jinnah was the biggest critic of the Simla deputation of Muslim notables who were agitating for separate electorates.
As a Congressman, Jinnah viewed with suspicion the creation of the All India Muslim League in 1906 and was trenchantly opposed to the creation of that political party, which to him seemed to be the British policy of divide and rule. In 1910, it was as a Congressman that Jinnah defeated the Muslim League candidate in an election on a Muslim seat in Bombay. Later, it was on the behest of Congress that Jinnah joined the Muslim League in order to wrest it from the loyalists and pro-British Muslims, which he succeeded in doing so. Not only did the Muslim League change its creed from unwaveringly loyalty to the crown to a party demanding self-rule, but in 1916, Jinnah managed to bring the Muslim League and Congress on the same platform essentially with the Lucknow Pact. The pact was hailed as the culmination of Hindu-Muslim unity and a landmark in the Indian independence movement. It was the Khilafat Movement that caused Jinnah’s split with Congress. Jinnah was trenchantly opposed to Gandhi’s encouragement of the Muslim ulema (clergy) in politics around a religious cause. With the Khilafat Movement, religious identities became non-negotiable just as Jinnah had warned Gandhi they would. Jinnah’s attempt over the next two decades, i.e. from 1920 to 1940, were aimed at resurrecting the Lucknow Pact and to bringing about a common front between Congress and the League against the British.
In this effort, Jinnah’s biggest handicap was the geography and demographics of the subcontinent. Muslims formed majorities in the northwest and the northeast of the subcontinent. In Punjab, Muslim opinion was dominated by the Unionist Party, which was a loyalist pro-British party of Muslim landlords allied with loyalist Hindus and Sikhs in the province. In the east, Fazlul Haq and his followers dominated Muslim politics. Consequently, the Jinnah-led Muslim League lost in these Muslim majority areas. It did well in places like UP where Muslims were a minority but Congress there could safely ignore Jinnah and the League because Congress had won overwhelmingly on the general seats. Therefore, by the late 1930s, Jinnah realised that the political fortunes of the Muslim League lay in winning the Muslim majority provinces. The erstwhile Pakistan demand mooted in Punjab and Sindh gave Jinnah that opportunity. By 1940, he came out guns blazing with the demand for a Muslim homeland. His calculation was — as shown so ably by Ayesha Jalal in her book Sole Spokesman — that Gandhi, Nehru and Congress would under no circumstances accept partition and would rather negotiate with him and the Muslim League into agreeing to a share in power for the Muslim minority at an all India level. His strategy almost worked when the Cabinet Mission Plan put forth a three-tier federation of India, with the grouping scheme in 1946. Yet it turned out to be a miscalculation when Congress all but ditched the plan and agreed to partition the country in 1947. Jinnah was therefore handed a moth-eaten Pakistan in 1947, which he did not think Congress would ever agree to give him.
Having achieved what he had been agitating for but what he really was using as a bargaining counter, Jinnah was left with the task of creating a new nation from scratch. As a liberal democrat, Jinnah envisaged Pakistan to be a modern democratic state where people of all creeds could live as equal citizens. This vision he expressed on several occasions and not just his famous August 11 speech. Yet as a politician he had to also refer to Islam while speaking in the idiom of his people. What Islamists and Jinnah’s detractors alike forget is that his references to Islam without exception were to prove that Islam was compatible with modern democracy and human equality. His speech to the Bar Association, quoted flippantly to prove that he wanted an Islamic state, when read in entirety says the same thing.
Jinnah was absolutely and unwaveringly against theocracy. He was against bars being placed on non-Muslims from aspiring to the highest offices in the state. As a potent symbolic move, Jinnah appointed a Hindu to be the first law minister of Pakistan. Jinnah was never confused about what he wanted for the new nation and he certainly did not want a state where “priests with a divine mission” would rule the roost and where odious “constitutional” bodies like the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) and Federal Shariat Court (FSC) would sit in judgment on the will of the people. It is a great tragedy that we have abandoned that pluralistic and inclusive vision for Pakistan.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Mr Jinnah: Myth and Reality.