Jinnah’s secularism

By A. G. Noorani

Courtesy: Frontline

THERE is an aspect to L.K. Advani’s comments on Jinnah at Karachi which has been overlooked. A month or so earlier, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the rabid Jamaat-e-Islami leader of Pakistan, had denounced Jinnah’s famous presidential speech to Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947. Advani’s praise and quotation from the speech has boosted the morale of Pakistan’s secularists who always cited it.

The speech has been quoted in bits and pieces; never analysed as a whole. Nor for that matter the entire and considerable corpus of Jinnah’s record from 1906 to 1948. There is no single complete series of his Collected Works. One such effort ended in 1931. Historians in India, Pakistan and abroad propound fanciful theories from their own standpoints; never mind the record. The speech was neither an act of contrition or repentance nor a reflection of two Jinnahs. He had unwisely used the poisonous two-nation theory to promote under the slogan of Pakistan, his real objective – a power-sharing accord. Gandhi, Nehru and Patel sabotaged the Cabinet Mission’s Plan of May 16, 1946, for United India which was done in complicity with Stafford Cripps (vide “Cripps and India’s Partition”, Frontline, August 2, 2002).

OPINION – Jinnah’s speech was a crie de coeur. He had not changed his outlook. In 1919 he gave evidence before the Joint Select Committee of the British Parliament on the Government of India Bill. His answers to questions by one of its members, Major Ormsby-Gore, bear recalling today.

Q: You said you spoke from the point of view of India. You speak really as an Indian nationalist? – I do.
Q: Holding that view, do you contemplate the early disappearance of separate communal representation of the Mohammedan community? – I think so.
Q: That is to say, at the earliest possible moment you wish to do away in political life with any distinction between Mohammedans and Hindus? – Yes. Nothing will please me more than when that day comes.
Q: I am only referring to them, of course? – And therefore that is why I really hope and expect that the day is not very far distant when these separate electorates will disappear.

JINNAH was then a member of the Congress, a president of the Muslim League, and architect, along with Tilak, of the Pact between the two bodies at their sessions in Lucknow in 1916.

It was the same Jinnah who famously declared on August 11, 1947: “Now, if we want to make this great state of Pakistan happy and prosperous we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor. If you will work in cooperation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed. If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this state with equal rights, privileges and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make.”

He did not stop there. What is little recalled is that he proceeded to put intra-Muslim differences on a par with Hindu-Muslim differences: “I cannot emphasise it too much. We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities – the Hindu community and the Muslim community because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalees, Madrasis, and so on – will vanish. Indeed, if you ask me this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain freedom and independence and but for this we would have been free peoples long ago. No power can hold another nation, and specially a nation of 400 million souls in subjection; nobody could have conquered you, and even if had happened nobody could have continued its hold on you for any length of time but for this.”

Jinnah’s reference to “a nation of 400 million” rather than the “Muslim nation of 100 million” implied rejection of the two-nation theory. He concluded: “Now, I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state.”

These extracts read together reveal that the man’s outlook on nationalism and secularism had not changed since 1919. It was an extempore speech. Few care to study it carefully. He said that their first duty was “to maintain law and order”; that is, protect minorities. The next duty? Combat “bribery and corruption. That really is a poison. We must put that down with an iron hand”. Thirdly, “black-marketing is another curse”. Fourthly, “the evil of nepotism and jobbery. This evil must be crushed relentlessly.”

It was after these four points that he went on to dilate, first, on the partition and, next, on secularism: “I know there are people who do not quite agree with the division of India and the partition of the Punjab and Bengal.” He was reaching out to them. He then went on to say the things quoted above. It was straight from his heart: “I cannot make any well-considered pronouncement, at this moment.”

He made another pronouncement in 1925, which provides a clue. When discussing the Indian Finance Bill (1925), he stated on the Legislative Assembly floor: “I Sir, stand here with a clear conscience and I say that I am a nationalist first, a nationalist second and nationalist last… I once more appeal to this House. Whether you are a Mussalman or a Hindu, for God’s sake do not import the discussion of communal matters into this House, and degrade this Assembly, which we desire should become a real National Parliament. Set an example to the outside world and our people.”

Few people have cared to study Jinnah’s pronouncements on secularism as a whole. One of the few is Dr. Awajeet Jawed. Her father Dr. Balwant Singh was a Congressman and freedom-fighter. Jawed’s book Secular and Nationalist Jinnah is based on solid research (Kitab Publishing House, Jhandewalan, New Delhi; pages 318, Rs. 400).

How many know that Jinnah was once president of the Postal Union, which had 70,000 members, or that the Governor of Bombay, George Lloyd, included his name in a list of eight for deportation to Myanmar?
His vision of Pakistan was of a democratic secular state based on the rule of law. Cordial relations with India were crucial for its fulfilment. He told the communist lawyer, A.S.R. Chari, who then represented Daily Worker (London, October 5, 1944): “We will say `hands off India’ to all outsiders.” Eric Streiff of New Zurcher Zeitung was told (March 11, 1948) that the paramount interests of India and Pakistan demanded that they “should coordinate for the purpose of playing their part in international affairs… and jointly… defend their frontiers… but this depends entirely on whether Pakistan and India can resolve their own differences.”

He had a curious notion of an India which comprised two member states – Pakistan and “Hindustan”. He angrily wrote to Mountbatten on August 26: “It is a pity that for some mysterious reason Hindustan have adopted the word `India’ which is certainly misleading and is intended to create confusion.”

If Jinnah, the partitionist, had a latent sense of an India above the two states, Jawaharlal Nehru, the ardent Unionist, not only contributed to the collapse of the 1946 plan but adopted a policy that would congeal the partition: Congress leaders demonised him systematically. So did Indian academics and the press. Jinnah yet awaits a fair assessment, warts and all. That must include his own mistakes and grave lapses as well. The Congress spurned him in 1937-39. But he went overboard and did much harm by his miscalculations. Indians and Pakistanis must reflect on all aspects of his life, not selectively as they do.

By any test Mohammed Ali Jinnah was a truly great man. In personal integrity this tragic figure had no peers. His political record from 1906 to 1939 reveals a spirit of conciliation and statesmanship, which Congress leaders did not reciprocate. Indians must begin to acknowledge his greatness and the grave injustice the Congress leaders did to him. Pakistanis must begin to acknowledge the ones he did not only to himself but to the infant state he founded.

Source – http://frontlineonnet.com/fl2213/stories/20050701004602300.htm

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