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Jinnah: Hindu-Muslim Unity to Muslim Separatism?

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

This is a continuation of a series of articles I have been writing on Jinnah to explain his politics better which has long been the subject of controversy especially his alleged “change of ideals” which – as the All India Reporter put it- represents “one of the strangest things” in South Asian History.  

Many explanations have been given for this strangest thing since 1948 when All India Reporter threw up this challenge to historians. They range from inane to ridiculous. Hardly one – with the notable exception of Ayesha Jalal, IIan Bryant Wells and to a certain extent Stanley Wolpert- has attempted however to look at Jinnah’s career in entirety. Doing so would lead to two conclusions :

a. Jinnah was and remained all throughout his political life a staunch Indian nationalist who nonetheless was not ready to turn his back to his community which not only gave him representative status but which as a minority had to secure some level of equality with the Hindu majority before a consensual inclusive Indian nationality could be evolved.

b. Jinnah was a politician who understood that politics is the art of possible.

Keeping this in mind we can divide Jinnah’s career into four distinct phases:

1. 1906-1910 : Indian and Indian alone

This was the period when Jinnah, in his early 30s, believed – as he would realise later- that Indian nationalism should remain unconcerned with the various religious, ethnic and other parochial divisions and should impose a territorial unity from the top. In this period Jinnah strongly condemned the formation of the Muslim League and the Rajas and Nawabs who under the leadership of Aga Khan petitioned the British rulers for separate electorates. In 1910, despite his opposition to separate electorates, he was named as a Congress candidate and defeated a Muslim League candidate on a Muslim seat. He remained however an Indian to whom his religious belief was a personal matter and not a political issue.

2. 1910-1930 : Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity I and Congress

During this phase Jinnah began to appreciate better the concerns of the Muslim community and saw the separate electorate system as an important temporary measure which could be dispensed with provided adequate safeguards are provided. The crowning achievement of this was the Lucknow Pact, where he conceded Muslim majorities in Muslim majority provinces in return for separate electorate system. During this period. The failure of the Congress – which was strongly influenced by the Hindu Mahasabha- to come to an agreement on the Nehru report with Jinnah’s pro-Congress faction of the Muslim League ended his dream of Hindu-Muslim Unity through Congress-League pact though it did not close the door on political settlement between the two. Read my article “Jinnah, M C Chagla and the Nehru Report” for more on this period.

3. 1930-1940: Spokesman of a Muslim Minority for a United India

All throughout the 1930s, Jinnah continued to search for ways of bringing Hindus and Muslims together. However post 1934, he was firmly rooted as a leader of the Muslim minority instead of a national leader who happened to be Muslim. He however remained an Indian nationalist in so much as that he stood for Indian Unity, Independence from Britain and a Hindu-Muslim settlement. As with his earlier period he sought an alliance with the Congress. However Congress’ majority in 1937 elections rendered his alliance dispensable for the Congress leaders. Unfortunately sense did not prevail on the Congress despite having been roundly defeated on all Muslim seats save one in UP which was won only as a consequence of UP Muslim League’s support for the Congress. During this period Jinnah had also tried to enlist Muslim groups of diverse opinions and formed the Muslim Unity Board with his old foes and Congress allies – Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind- but when the break between League and Congress came after the elections, JUH put its lot firmly in with the Congress. It was here that Jinnah raised the stakes and disputed the Congress claim of representing Muslims when it did not win any Muslim support in the elections.

4. 1940-1947: Apostle of Pakistan

1940 was a watershed. Jinnah and the League demanded independent states for Muslims of India wherein constituent units would be autonomous and sovereign and which states would also ensure that minorities are fully safeguarded. By doing so Jinnah seems to have calculated that there were any number of new possibilities for Hindu-Muslim Settlement and indeed Congress-League agreement and all of which were variants of what Pakistan could like in the future, namely:

a. Full independence: The creation of one or two Muslim majority states in India (as at present) with territorial adjustments.

b. Sovereign states in a confederation:  The creation of a Pakistan and a Hindustan with notional political unity, defence cooperation of some kind and a consensual foreign policy. As it would be a treaty arrangement, any party could walk out of it at any time.

c. A Federation with parity between Hindu Majority Zone and Muslim Majority Zone: This would require one or more autonomous groupings of Muslim majority provinces within a federation to have in total the same number of representatives in a federal legislature as Hindu majority provinces, with princely India forming the third plank. There would also be the option of secession available – primarily as a safeguard against any attempts to modify the agreement. Important to note here is that this was not to be a parity of Hindus and Muslims constitutionally but rather a regional parity. This – Jinnah must have concluded- was the best possible outcome.

d. Indian federation with Muslim Groupings but no parity: This is precisely what the Cabinet Mission Plan provided and Jinnah accepted even though this was in his view the worst case scenario for him. It is often forgotten that Cabinet Mission Plan itself was closer to the Congress point of view than the League.

This was in essence what Jinnah was after. All these were in the realm of possibility and the ball was in Congress’ court to decide which one it was going to be. Jinnah had realised that achieving a common Indian nationality when a minority formed significant majorities on two opposite ends of the subcontinent would be impossible without significant concessions by the majority – concessions which saner minds in Congress were ready to give but were restrained from doing so by the Hindu Mahasabha’s disproportionate influence on the Congress machinery.

To this end it is helpful to compare two statements by Jinnah side by side. The first was made in the Indian Central Legislature on 11 September 1939 and the second is Jinnah’s famous 11 August 1947 address to Pakistan’s constituent assembly.  On first reading these might seem entirely contradictory but like Jinnah’s career these are in a logical order. In 1939 he described the fusion of Hindus and Muslims into one national unity as a distant dream (but a dream which one might add he had struggled for till then). In his address to the constituent assembly he stated:

In due course of time Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in a religious sense for that is the personal faith of an individual but in a political sense as citizens of one state.

He was perhaps naive in assuming that his Muslim co-religionists would be any more generous to their minorities than his Hindu countrymen had been to Muslims. In fact on the contrary, Muslim majority has proved to be infinitely more brutish. While this is a burden we in Pakistan have to bear,  it goes without saying that the traditional view of a sudden 180 degree shift in Jinnah’s “ideals” is naive and wrong.

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