Eqbal Ahmad on Quaid-i-Azam, M A Jinnah

Yasser Latif Hamdani

I am posting these three articles on Jinnah and Pakistan movement by the late Eqbal Ahmad.

I Pakistan’s Endangered History
[Dawn, 4 June 1995]

It is a great privilege for me to be speaking on this very unique occasion. It is rare among us Pakistanis to honour the Quaid-i-Azam beyond rhetoric, and in a substantive way. Professor Zaidi deserves our gratitude for compiling two volumes of the Jinnah Papers. These are but the tip of Mr. Jinnah’s fragmented archieves, for these 3,000-plus pages cover only four months and ten days of his eventful life, from Feb 20, 1947, to June 30. A total of 50 volumes are projected in this series to be published by the Quaid-i-Azam Papers Project.

I know Professor Zaidi to be a driven man who has devoted more than three decades of his life to gathering, restoring, compiling, and editing this national treasure. I am sure that you will join me in wishing him the good health he needs to complete this truly noble mission. I know that his spirit and dedication will not wilt as long as his body holds out. So may you live long, and remain immersed for years to come in the life and times of Pakistan’s founding father.

Professor Sahib, as a historian and archivist you have reached the fulfillment of a life-long dream. You have rescued from dire neglect and the dungeons of dictatorship the private papers of Mr. Jinnah. You have been persistent in getting them preserved, catalogued, and published. And today you have the unique pleasure of seeing two of your former students – one at the helm of the state and the other a humble teacher – speak at the launching of the volumes you have compiled. Few historians and fewer teachers can hope to achieve more in lifetime. Our heartiest thanks and congratulations to you.

But before I make a final bow to a man’s remarkable accomplishment, I should underline that it is shared with a woman. During the months that became years Parveen Zaidi patiently bore the burnt of professor Zaidi’s highly articulated frustrations with Pakistan’s versatile foot draggers. And she actually helped with the difficult task of restoring and preserving the decayed archives. In the process, she became Pakistan’s first and so far only internationally recognised restorer of manuscripts. Her services have since been sought by international organisations such as UNESCO and governments as far apart as Turkey, Iran, and Malaysia. During the decades of toil with these papers she nursed the good professor through – two heart operations, and shared with him the very tragic loss of the younger of their two sons. I hope you all join me in offering them both our heartfelt thanks and deepest sympathies.

I should say a word about the quest for excellence and our people’s response to it. Sadly, there is paucity of excellence in this country. It was not always so in the land of Mohammed Iqbal, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Saadat Hasan Manto, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and Professor Abdus Salam whom we have all but formally banished from our midst. Hence ordinary citizens are wistfully engaged when they notice someone striving for excellence with a sense of purpose other than getting rich. And they support the endeavour with an enthusiasm that defies expectation. Men like Abdul Sattar Edhi and Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan will testify to this gratifying phenomenon of civil society in Pakistan.

I recall how anxious professor Zaidi had been about finding the people who could help him in organising, collating, and editing the enormous piles of the Quaid-i-Azam’s papers. “This is back-breaking work Eqbal, and it requires perseverance and skill”, I recall Professor Zaidi worrying aloud soon after he had returned to Pakistan three years ago, “I can teach the skill but where shall I find the people with discipline of work and the will to persist? “Well, they appeared, men and women, young and old, determined to help, eager to learn. Learn they did, and help they gave with dogged determination. In the end the Jinnah Papers is as much their achievement as it is Professor and Mrs. Zaidi’s. They are here in this hall deserving of our warmest hand of appreciation.

Therein lies an insight which I should underline for the benefit of this and the future leadership of Pakistan: The heart of this country, its people, is clean like spring water, solid as rock, and poetic in its yearning for goodness, justice and enlightenment. Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s greatness lay in sensing this simple truth. He led them with unassailable integrity along a path that promised economic justice, liberation from a constricting past, and an enlightened future. They followed with enthusiasm and dedication, without fear or misgiving, and conferred upon this unlikely barrister the historic honour of becoming the founder of an important state. It is a tragic fact that since his passing this great people, like the Quaid’s material legacies, has suffered from negligence and breach of faith.

One price, and by no means the greatest, of this neglect is that neither Mr. Jinnah, nor the movement he led has been accorded serious scholarly attention. Of the four biographies so far published on him, only one, by Stanley Wolpert has scholarly merit and views its subject in the larger context of colonial and nationalist politics. And apart from Dr. Saleem Ahmed’s book which covers the years 1906-1921, no serious work has been done on the Muslim League and the Pakistan movement.

Archives are the memory bank of a nation; and works of history articulate that memory in organised, meaningful ways. It is truly tragic that our archives suffer from neglect and fragmentation, and historians are nearly extinct in Pakistan. To make matters worse, we are bringing up ill-informed generations who are being taught in schools poisonous and ideologically loaded distortions as history. An early exposure to this phenomenon was provided in a pioneering essay entitled “Rewriting the History of Pakistan” by Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy and Abdul Hameed Nayyar which appears in ‘Islam, Politics and the State’, edited by Air Marshal Asghar Khan. A greater service was rendered later by Professor K.K. Aziz’s ‘ The Murder of History in Pakistan.’

The process of polluting the sources of knowledge in this country had begun earlier; it climaxed in the dictatorship of Ziaul Haq who obviously perceived educational institutions as an important instrument of consolidating his tyranny in the name of Islam and an invention labeled the “Ideology of Pakistan”. The General declared as compulsory the teaching of Pakistan Studies in degree colleges, including engineering and medical institutions. The rewriting of history proceeded then on a grand scale. The University Grants Commission issued a directive informing prospective textbook writers that the aim of the new course is to “induce pride for the nation’s past, enthusiasm for the present (sic), and unshakable faith in the stability and longevity of Pakistan”. Lest this leaves some ambiguity, therefore room for accommodating some canons of historiography, authors were given the following guidelines:

“To demonstrate that the basis of Pakistan is not to be found in racial, linguistic or geographical factors, but, rather, in the shared experience of a common religion. To get students to know and appreciate the Ideology of Pakistan, and to popularise it with slogans. To guide students towards the ultimate goal of Pakistan – the creation of a complete Islamised state.”

I do not know of any country’s educational system that so explicitly subordinates knowledge to politics. Teaching and writing of history, always in jeopardy in Pakistan, has now passed from historians to hacks. They have invented a history that historians, of whom only a handful are left in Pakistan, shall not recognise. The Quaid-i-Azam was among their first victims: he underwent a metamorphosis becoming a man of orthodox religious views who sought the creation of a theocratic state and the Ulema, who with rare exceptions had opposed Jinnah and the Pakistan movement, emerged as heroes and founding fathers of Pakistan. The Jinnah Papers are rebuke and reminder of the distortions to which our history has been subjected. They also ensure that future historians shall have easy access to the real Jinnah and the movement he led.

Professor Zaidi has ideas on how to preserve and consolidate our sorely neglected and fragmented archives. I beg for a national effort to review and revise the curricula and textbooks of history and Pakistan Studies in our schools. To no do so is to condemn future Pakistani generations to ignorance and obscurantism.

Jinnah, in a Class of His Own
[Dawn, 11 June 1995]

Mohammad Ali Jinnah is an enigma of modern history. His aristocratic English lifestyle, Victorian manners, and secular outlook rendered him a most unlikely leader of India’s Muslims. Yet, he led them to separate statehood, creating history and, in Saad R. Khairi’s apt phrase, ‘altering geography’.

Several scholars, among them H.M. Seervai, Aisha Jalal and Saad R. Khairi, help explain his shift from Indian nationalism to Muslim separatism but the mystery of Jinnah’s appeal remains. After all, neither Muslim nationalism nor the idea of Pakistan originated with him; he embraced them somewhat reluctantly.

There is another way of viewing the matter. In the twentieth century, two extraordinary personalities competed for the leadership of Indian Muslims. They were Abul Kalam Azad and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. As a point of departure in comprehending the aspirations of Muslims in India, we might review their biographical profiles.

The contrasts in their family background, education, culture, and styles of leadership were remarkable. Azad’s ancestors belonged since Emperor Babar’s time to the Persian and Urdu-speaking Muslim aristocracy of India. His great-grandfather was one of the last Ruknul Mudarrasin, a position roughly analogous to today’s ‘minister of education’, in Mughal India. After the War of 1857 his family migrated to Madina where it intermingled with the Sharifain aristocracy. Azad’s mother was a daughter of Sheikh Mohammed Zaher Watri, in his time Madina’s best known ‘Alim’. His father Maulana Khair al-Din gained much fame in the Muslim world for his ten-volume work on Islam, and for his central role in the restoration of Nahr Zubeida, Makkah’s main source of water. Among Indian Muslims who were still wistful over a lost empire, and reeling from the excesses of British colonisation, it is hard to envision a family with better credentials than Abul Kalam Azad’s.

Abul Kalam was a most worthy scion of an extraordinary family with roots deep in the duality—Indian and pan-Islamic—to which South Asia’s Muslims have been historically linked both psychologically and culturally. Born in Makkah, he was fluent in Arabic, at ease in Persian, and a most gifted writer of Urdu prose. He was deeply immersed in the mystical tradition of Islam. As early as 1919 he wrote on Sarmad Shaheed and the grand dichotomy between state and civil society in Islam. His later commentaries on the Holy Qura’an are still regarded as among the best in the world.

“Who is your master among the mufassareen?” I asked the late Maulana Kausar Niazi some years ago. “Abul Kalam” he replied reflexively. Al-Hilal, the magazine Azad founded in 1912, at age 22, marked the beginning of serious, mass circulation Urdu journalism. With its successor al-Balgah, it remains a milestone in the development of Urdu as a popular vehicle of political and social discourse. Azad was a spellbinding speaker and, like Jinnah, an ardent nationalist. In 1923, at age 35, he was the youngest man to be elected president of the Indian National Congress, a record Nehru will break later. An overwhelming majority of India’s Ulema supported him.

The man we shall later revere as the Quaid-i-Azam was a contemporary of Azad, and a most unlikely contender for Muslim leadership. He was born in 1876; Azad in 1890. But beyond the proximity of age, the two stood in sharp contrast to each other. While Azad’s aristocratic roots lay in the Muslim heartland of UP and Bengal, Jinnah was born to a middle class business family in the port town of Hindu-dominated Karachi. At age 21 he moved to England, thence to Bombay, the modern gateway to British India. Unlike Azad who belonged to the majority Sunni denomination of Islam, Jinnah came from the minority Shi’a community. He was the prototypical westernized Indian, tutored at Lincoln’s Inn, tailored at Saville Row, in his youth a Shakepearian actor, a constitutionalist barrister in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, married to a Parsi woman. More at home in English than his native Gujrati, Jinnah spoke little Urdu which he would later designate as Pakistan’s official language, knew neither Persian nor Arabic, and had only the rudimentary knowledge of Islam which is common to western educated Muslims. He was anathema to an overwhelming majority of the Ulema of the subcontinent, including so grand a figure as Maulana Husain Ahmed Madani and such ideologue as Abul Ala Maudoodi.

Mr. Jinnah made little effort to overcome his obvious handicaps. Unlike Barrister M.K. Gandhi with whom Jinnah shared similarities of language, class, and education, and who donned the Mahatma’s home spun dhoti, Jinnah stuck to his western ways and pin-stripe suits. He bowed but rarely to populist symbols, appearing only occasionally at political ralies, and shunning the display of emotion in public. Reasoned arguments and cold logic were the hallmark of Jinnah’s discourse. He spoke at political rallies as though he were addressing a courtroom, or a conference of lawyers. This is not the populist style anywhere, least of all in South Asia. Yet, in less that a decade of his return from London in 1935, he had eclipsed his political foes no less than colleagues in the Muslim League, and successfully established himself and the League as the sole spokesman of India’s Muslims. In the elections of 1937 the Muslim League barely survived as a minor political party; in 1940 it set Pakistan as its goal. Barely seven years later the new state was born.

In the Introduction to this first volume of Jinnah papers Professor Zaidi has asked this central question: “What then turned Jinnah into the embodiment of Muslim hopes and aspirations?” One answer, admirably documented by Saad Khairi and H.M. Seervai, is that the leadership of the Indian National Congress allowed Jinnah no alternative even though he constantly probed for one. But a deeper explanation offered in Professor Zaidi’s Introduction worth quoting: “What distinguished Jinnah from his great contemporaries is that he was quite self-consciously a modern man – one who valued, above all, reason, discipline, organisation, and economy. Jinnah differed from other Muslim Leaders in so far as he was uncompromisingly committed to substance rather than symbol, reason rather than emotion, modernity rather than tradition.”

But how could this apparently modern figure so powerfully appeal to a people laden with tradition and religious inertia? I should summarise Professor Zaidi’s answer to this question: Jinnah’s peculiar appeal worked because collectively Indian Muslims had an instinctive if inarticulate grasp of recent history. “It was a community conscious of its declining condition, and it had experienced the ineffectiveness of old remedies. After all, neither the revivalist prescriptions of Shah Waliullah, nor the fiery war cries of Syed Ahmed Shahid, nor the flamboyant, though confused, demarche of the Khilafat movement – with which Abdul Kalam Azad had become associated and from which Jinnah kept a pronounced distance – provided relief from the ills which afflicted Muslim society in India. Restorationist alternatives had nearly exhausted when Jinnah re-entered the second act of contemporary Muslim tragedy in India. On their part, leaders of the Indian National Congress were so overcome with hubris that they refused to open viable political doors to this wounded and bewildered people.

Significantly, by then the modernist view of the causes of Muslim decline and of the remedies it required, especially as articulated by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and his ideological successors, including Iqbal, had seeped into the consciousness of the Muslim intelligentsia. There was to this phenomenon also a pan-Islamic context: In the 1930s the Muslim world as a whole had entered what Albert Hourani has described as the Liberal Age when Muslim nationalism grew exponentially on the premises of modernism and reform. Mr Jinnah returned from England in 1935 to find himself swept to the crest of this wave.

In the four decades that have followed his passing, Pakistan has moved precipitously away from the country its founding father had envisioned, and the people had created at costs beyond counting. The two volumes of Jinnah Papers and the archives from which they are drawn do not tell the story of the cowardice and betrayals which followed the Quaid-i-Azam. What they do tell us is who he was, how he waged a difficult and deeply painful struggle for statehood, the vision he nourished, and the hopes he had for this country. I would like to recall him and remind us in passing of what we have done with his legacy. I am sorry if in the process I cause some discomfort to some of you readers.

The Betrayed Promise
[Dawn, 18 June 1995]

Before I recall Mr. Jinnah and the aspirations which inspired the subcontinent’s Muslims to seek separate statehood, it is relevant to underline the price nations pay when the values and expectations on which a state is founded are systematically betrayed.

Since Plato’s time political theorists have acknowledged the centrality of legitimacy in the consolidation and continuity of states. Legitimacy refers not to the popularity of a government or given institutions thereof; rather it entails the title to authority which a system of power enjoys among citizens. A subjective attribute, legitimacy issues forth largely from objective factors—the values which shape state or government policies, predominance of the rule of law and prevalence of distributive justice in society and, above all, the degree of coincidence between promise and fufilment in terms of the rights of citizenship. It is for the lack of these attributes that Pakistan has been suffering from a growing crisis of legitimacy. The separation of East Pakistan was but the most dramatic outcome of this crisis. At the heart of this crisis has been our collective failure to resolve the central issue of the nature of the Pakistani state, and the sources of laws which govern it.

During the decade which preceded India’s partition politics of the Congress no less than the Muslim League had become greatly laden with the language of religion and communal symbols. Mr. Jinnah too partook of it, most prominently when he enunciated the two-nation theory. Yet, two facts stood out: one was that the Ulema in their overwhelming majority opposed him and he made scant effort to placate them. The other was that he remained uncompromisingly opposed to theocracy. Thus, in the year of communal frenzy, and high point of religious fervour—1946 he said: “What are we fighting for? What are we aiming at? It is not theocracy, not for a theocratic state. Religion is dear to us. All the wordly goods are nothing when we talk of religion. But there are other things which are very vital—our social life and our economic life, and without political power how can you defend your faith and your economic life.” Need I explain the relevance of this passage in these tormented times of blasphemy laws, Hudood and Qisas ordinances, and Shariat Bills?

Jinnah did invoke Islamic ideals often as informing the policies and practices of the state and its governments. Always, this was to emphasise the congruence of democracy, social justice, and rule of law to Islamic values. Thus to the Sibi Darbar in 1948, he said: Let us lay the foundations of our democracy on the basis of truly Islamic ideals and principles. Our Almighty has taught is that our decisions in the affairs of the state shall be guided by discussion and consultations.” And again, “Islam and its ideals have taught us democracy. It has taught equality of man, justice and fairplay to every body. In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic state, to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims – Hindus, Christians, and Parsis – but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.”

This is a sort of pledge given to all citizens, has been honoured in the breach. In less than three decades we had four ‘minorities’, each a little less Pakistani than the so-called Muslim majority. During this year alone Christian citizens had to take asylums abroad because even after a court had acquitted them of blasphemy charges, their safety was not assured; an Ahmadi was beaten to death inside a government building, and scores languish in prisons without trial. If he were to appear in my dream how shall I convey our shame to the lean old man whose life and work we celebrate year with much fanfare and enthusiasm.

Or hear him on the question of women: “It is a crime against humanity that our women are confined within the four walls of their home like prisoners. Women are our companions and you should take them out with you to work shoulder to shoulder in all spheres of life.” I have not asked but Professor Zaidi may have been in the audience that day in 1944 when the Quaid spoke thus to students at Aligarh University. Four decades later a dictator promulgated in this country the Zina and Hadood Ordinances. Among their contributions to national progress is that one law provides a licence of sorts to actual and potential rapists, and the other reduces the worth of a woman’s witness to half of a man’s. So far three elected governments have failed to remove this stain on our society and the state.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah had been anxious from the outset over the persistence of sectarian and exclusionary tendencies in our social and political life. In speech after speech, he warned of their menace to society and beseeched: “…For God’s sake give up this provincialism. Provincialism has been one of the great curses, and so is sectarianism, Shia, Sunni, etc…. You should live, act and think in terms that your country is Pakistan and you are Pakistani.” As I read this I wondered if he might have foreseen that the country he founded shall break up from an excess of sectarian practices by those in power, his successors shall engage in creating minorities, upholders of law shall dark, citizen in streets, offices, and mosques, and terrorist factions shall be allies of the state!

Civilizations are built on the rule of law as are states and nations. There is ample evidence that the Quaid-i-Azam die not lose sight of this civic principle even in the darkest hours of 1947. He made no distinction of class, ethnicity and religion when it came to the enforcement of law in defence of people and society. There is a rare note of admiration in Lord Louis Mountbattan’s confidential memo of June 24, 1947, to Evan Jenkins: “I talked to Jinnah last nigh and he begged me to be utterly ruthless in suppressing trouble in Lahore and Amritsar. He said ‘I don’t care whether you shoot Muslims or not, it has got to be stopped.’/*TN/” The death count mounts these days in the civil war born of sectarianism, terror and crime. Tragically, politicians and governments are so enmeshed as part of the problem that they can-not be even a small part of the solution.

Who then is responsible? And where do we go from here? Frankly, we have no one to blame but ourselves—me and you who are in this hall—members of all of the national intelligentsia. I am tempted one last time to quote Jinnah: “Corruption is a curse in India, and amongst the Muslims especially in the so-called educated and intelligentsia. Unfortunately, it is this class that is selfish, and morally and intellectually corrupt.”

This straightforward estimation encapsules our ultimate failure. It has been a failure of conscience not intelligence, of will not comprehension, of courage not imagination. We could read a long length of time the writing on Bengali walls. But we read in selfish silence with an indifference seeped in self-absorption. Acquiescence prevailed as the Pakistani establishment dealt blow after blow at our body politics, made a mockery of citizenship rights, turn murder and mayhem into a mission, and finally surrendered to a conquering adversary. A simple insight is alien to us: that power is prone to excesses, corruption, and miscalculations; that it is moderated only by a dissenting and assertive civicl society, and that critical mass is constituted, at all except the revolutionary moment, by the intelligentsia. Inertia is ever immune to experience. So horrors follow upon horror. And so we survey every day the killing fields of Karachi as we did those of Dhaka and Noakhali. This must end. It will not until our complicity comes to an end and our silence is broken.

POSTSCRIPT: Learned people have argued that the roots of the confusion which underlie Pakistan’s crisis of ideology and statehood lie in its formative experience. Thus commenting on my last article in this space, Dr Akbar Naqvi, (Dawn, June 15, 1995. “Letters To the Editor”) argues that it is not true that the Muslim masses instinctively chose progress and democracy against theocracy, because the 1946 election, which was a referendum for Pakistan, was won on the cry of Islam in danger.” He writes further on that: “The Dilemma of two horns, one represented by the liberal and the other by Ulema was Mr. Jinnah’s contribution to Pakistan. He needed it as an ambiguity which served well to make Pakistan a popular cause.” Most historians would regard his argument about the 1946 election as much too moot. After all, the election served to confirm rather than to create broad-based Muslim support for the League. Also, to the best of my knowledge the Quaid never himself used the ‘Islam in danger’ slogan. Dr Naqvi’s more analytical argument over “Mr. Jinnah’s contribution” is, nevertheless, worthy of reflection and debate which I hope shall be joined by others.

(Note: This is the last of three articles adapted from an address at the launching of Jinnah Papers, edited by Dr Z.H. Zaidi)




Comments are closed.