By Yasser Latif Hamdani
Waseem Altaf’s article on Viewpointonline (Jinnah “the Quaid”) made some completely inaccurate claims that need to be addressed. Almost every claim in the said article is inaccurate when tested on the touchstone of historical facts. Since Viewpointonline is as closeminded in its approach to dissent as Daily Ummat or LUBP, they are unlikely to publish my rebuttal.
Mr. Altaf’s first claim is that Jinnah became a Shia to advance his political career. This is completely inaccurate. Jinnah had converted out of Ismaili Khoja Faith in 1901 (5 years before Jinnah entered politics as an Indian Nationalist) after his sister Mariam was excommunicated from the Aga Khani sect by the Aga Khan himself for marrying out of the Aga Khani sect. In any event most of Muslim League’s founding members were Ismaili and Aga Khan was the first president of the Muslim League. Therefore Mr. Altaf’s claim is laughable to say the least. In any event Jinnah should have either converted to Sunni Islam or to Hinduism to forward his political career by that logic.
Mr. Altaf’s second claim that Jinnah disowned his daughter is also not backed by any real historical evidence. Not only is there no legal document that states that Jinnah disowned his daughter but evidence suggests to the contrary. A substantial amount is left to his daughter in his will after the said marriage. Here is an account by Dina Wadia (from “A Daughter’s Memory”):
“My father was not a demonstrative man. But he was an affectionate father. My last meeting with him took place in Bombay in 1946. He had come from New Delhi, in the midst of most heavy preoccupations with crucial negotiations. He phoned, inviting me and my children to tea.
“He was very happy to see us – Dina was five and Nusli, two. We mostly talked about the children and politics. He told me that Pakistan was coming. Despite his pressing engagements in New Delhi he had found time to buy presents for us. “As we said good-bye, he bent down to hug Nusli. The grey cap, which he wore so often that it now bears his name, caught Nusli’s fancy, and in a moment he had put it on his grandson’s head saying, ‘Keep it, my boy.’ Nusli prizes the cap to this day. I remember the gesture because it was characteristic of his sensibility and consideration for me and my children. At the time of partition, Dina decided to stay on in India. She had married into one of the wealthiest Parsi families of India, the Wadia family.”
Does this sound like he disowned his daughter?
Dr. Ayesha Jalal’s painstaking work as well as that of H M Seervai shows that Jinnah’s Pakistan was not synonymous with partition of India or the partition of Punjab and Bengal. Neither Mountbatten nor his latter day apologists like Mr. Waseem Altaf fully understand the significance of the fact that Punjabi and Bengali are not synonymous with “Indian”. The multiple identities thesis is well known and when Jinnah argued that a Punjabi is a Punjabi before he is Muslim or a Hindu he was stating what was obvious to a historian – regional identities trumped communal ones and communal trumped and continue to trump national identities. Jinnah himself an Indian nationalist for most of his life was well aware of this unfortunate fact. Mountbatten’s response- again not completely stated in terms that Mr. Altaf gives (he seems to be very generous in paraphrasing)- showed Mountbatten’s inability to understand the complex dynamics of identity in South Asia. In any event partition was forwarded by Nehru and Gandhi who shot the cabinet mission plan down. Even Maulana Azad accepts it. That Jinnah was moved by the violence at partition is admitted even by unsympathetic Indian historians. That he made every effort to put it down ruthlessly where ever he could is also recorded as part of history. I do not wish to respond to the wild fantasies about wine parties and what not because they have no historical merit.
Then we come to other odd distortions of history- the caricature of Jinnah created conveniently over the years- that Mr. Altaf deploys in his poorly researched article. Almost all impartial academics have rejected charges of “excessive snobbery” and “elitism” leveled against Jinnah. Ian Bryant Wells writes on Page 237 of “Ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity”: “Jinnah was not, however, a political elitist that he is sometimes painted as being… he remained committed to the rights of the people of India and showed himself able to come to the streets to motivate and lead the masses”. Incidentally even today in Mumbai there is a hall commemorating the mass agitation Jinnah led against Lord Willingdon.
The reason why Jinnah chose to be Governor-General instead of prime minister is plain enough. The Times of London wrote in its editorial of July 11, 1947: “Yet those who will be called to rule Pakistan may hold that relatively undeveloped qualities that make up much of its territory must be guided by a governor general capable of exercising the functions of higher control and co-ordination which formerly vested in a Canning or a Curzon.” The powers Jinnah enjoyed were far less than those enjoyed by either Canning or Curzon, mind you, and when compared to, say, powers vested in and assumed by President Abraham Lincoln in the aftermath of the civil war, Jinnah’s powers were toothless.
Even Lord Mountbatten, who never made any effort to hide his ambitions, had more power as Governor-General than Jinnah. Mountbatten was handed — allegedly — a blank piece of paper by Nehru for cabinet selection. Mountbatten presided over not just every major decision of the Indian government but he even commanded and directed the Indian troops in Kashmir. This was far beyond the powers Jinnah had.
As a student of law and constitution, I must state here that in the empire’s history, a powerful politician like Jinnah taking over as the first Governor-General of a self-governing dominion is the norm and not the exception. Lord Elgin and Lord Dufferin were two such political Governors-General, both instrumental in the formative phase of Canada. Ireland’s first Governor-General of the Dominion was an active party politician (Jinnah on the other hand had resigned from the presidency of the Muslim League soon after independence stating that he could not as Governor-General remain at the head of an avowedly communal organisation). So if Jinnah is to be called autocratic, then from Bismarck to Lincoln and Roosevelt, every Dominion Governor-General was autocratic, including India’s first Governor-General.
So why did Nehru choose to become prime minister instead of Governor-General? Important as Nehru was, he was just one party leader and at best a stalwart amongst at least three others. There was no question of Congress forwarding Nehru’s name for the Governor-General given that he was not a neutral arbiter for the various party factions. He had a major rival in Patel and his position in the Indian pantheon was by no means as absolute as Jinnah’s. Jinnah was — as Nehru wrote in his book, Discovery of India — the only Muslim League politician of noted ability, and entirely without the lure of office. Nehru’s role in India was to be that of a respected party politician and not that of an impartial arbiter that Jinnah’s followers expected.
There are many myths that are woven around Jinnah’s period as Governor-General of Pakistan, one of which was forwarded by Campbell Johnson who inaccurately claimed in his book Mission With Mountbatten that Jinnah applied for powers under the Ninth Schedule of the Government of India Act 1935 (GOIA 1935). It was the Ninth Schedule of the GOIA 1935 that strengthened the Governor-General and gave him powers to ensure passage of bills in a form that had been recommended by the Governor-General. From July 19, 1947 onwards, the Ninth Schedule was no longer available.
A constitutional point of divergence between the Dominion of Pakistan and the Dominion of India was Section 93, which empowered the Governor-General to dismiss provincial legislatures. It was Pakistan that omitted Section 93 and India that adopted it. Therefore, the Pakistani Governor-General could not, in contrast to the Indian Governor-General, dismiss a legislature. This is very relevant in the context of the Khan Ministry dismissal, for that dismissal was not the dissolution of a legislature but simply constitutional manoeuvring. The governor of NWFP, after concluding that Dr Khan Sahib no longer commanded the confidence of the House, invited Abdul Qayyum Khan to form the government, which he did. After this, the House was prorogued and reconvened when Qayyum had established a majority before the budget session. Technicality? Perhaps. However, the Canadian Governor-General as late as December 2008 used the same constitutional device to save Prime Minister Harper’s government and no one accused her of being undemocratic.
The dismissal of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP, now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) government has long been cited as an example of an early streak of authoritarianism in Pakistan’s history. It is said much of Pakistan’s later crisis of democracy has its roots in this decision. This sound bite has been used by many critics of Jinnah as being one grave example of lack of statesmanship at a critical juncture. I have a different view and I will endeavour to explain why.
We must examine whether Jinnah’s actions vis-à-vis the NWFP Assembly in that first week of independence were unconstitutional. If these actions were not unconstitutional, were these undemocratic and malicious under a veil of constitutionality? Finally, if we conclude that these actions were either unconstitutional or undemocratic, were these actions responsible for Pakistan’s subsequent crisis of constitutionalism and democracy, which manifested itself in the form of prolonged periods of direct military rule in the country.
To begin with, it is important to note again that Pakistan opted to omit Section 93 powers, which allowed the central government to dismiss provincial legislatures. India, on the other hand, retained these powers and used the same on several occasions to dismiss provincial legislatures. The dismissal of the Khan Ministry in NWFP, however, was not a dismissal of the legislature. The governor of NWFP, Sir George Cunningham, acting on the advice of the Governor-General under Section 51(5), dismissed Dr Khan Sahib as the chief minister and invited Abdul Qayyum Khan of the Muslim League to form the government. Therefore, the issue of constitutionality of the action does not arise per se.
Now the real question is whether this meant a dismissal of a democratically elected government and whether this action taken at the behest of Jinnah was indeed undemocratic or malicious. To address whether the decision was democratic or not, let us consider the facts. Dr Khan Sahib became the premier after the 1946 election on the basis of 30 members in a House of 50. Out of these 30 members, 12 were Hindu MLAs. It may be pointed out that the weightage given to the Hindu community was 24 percent against an actual population of six percent in the province; 11 of these 12 Hindu members moved to India at independence. Of the remaining 19, two belonged to the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, an ally of the Congress Party. Congress proper had won only 16 seats out of a total of 38 Muslim seats. Therefore, Dr Khan Sahib enjoyed the support of 19 members in a House of 39, already a minority government. Later the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind members also parted company and so did a Congress member Mian Jaffar Shah, leaving Dr Khan Sahib with only 16 members in a House of 39. As for the procedure adopted to effect a ministry and get the requisite support, the newly formed League ministry had to show its numbers by the next budget session, which it did.
Even otherwise Dr Khan Sahib had lost all moral authority to govern after the referendum a couple of months before independence, which had returned 51 percent votes in the Muslim League’s favour. While in recent years some have tried to argue that the referendum was questionable, the truth is that Congress had not only endorsed the referendum but had successfully procured the removal of Sir Olaf Caroe, who it deemed inaccurately as pro-League, as governor, replacing him with Sir Robert Lockhart to preside over the said referendum. Even Dr Khan Sahib had confidently declared that if the League received 30 percent of the votes in the election, he would resign. Dr Khan Sahib himself agreed that the referendum was as proper or improper as the election that had gotten him into power and this was promptly reported to the Viceroy by Rob Lockhart, Congress’ governor of choice. Lockhart went on to advise Dr Khan Sahib that the right and proper thing to do was to resign immediately. The governor also expressed concern that the continuation of a ministry so utterly hostile to the new state would be untenable and that the Viceroy should consider dismissing the NWFP government under section 93, which would be the best course available. In public, of course, both Dr Khan Sahib and Bacha Khan continued to declare that the referendum was improper and fraudulent. To this end, it is important to quote Kanji Dwarkadas, who in his letter of July 26, 1947 said: “An American journalist who has returned to Delhi from the Frontier has told me that…the Frontier referendum was run on fair lines and not as Dr Khan Sahib and Abdul Ghaffar Khan have explained it. He found Dr Khan Sahib to be muddled headed and both Khan brothers are now rather sore with the Congress for having let them down.”
As a liberal democrat with close to four decades of parliamentary experience in the Indian legislature, Jinnah was repulsed by the idea of dismissing any Legislative Assembly. Therefore, in early August, he suggested instead that if given a chance the Muslim League could form a coalition government with non-Muslim representatives, which would give the Muslim League legislative majority and thereby bypass the Section 93 dismissal. As mentioned earlier, this Section 93 was in any event not available after August 14, 1947. Rob Lockhart was of the view that if a change was to be made, in the fitness of things, it had to be made quickly because he recalled that Dr Khan Sahib had warned of a mass movement, which he “would try and keep non-violent”. Lord Mountbatten failed to heed either advice and consequently it fell to the Governor-General of Pakistan to take a decision that he had hoped to avoid.
The Khan brothers were openly hostile to Pakistan. They had boycotted the referendum citing that it did not have the option of NWFP remaining independent or worse joining Afghanistan. Bacha Khan had on June 27, 1947 called for an independent and free Pathan state based on Islamic principles and social justice. Dr Khan Sahib meanwhile continued to distribute arms licences to his party men. Similarly, consider the police intelligence report of August 5, 1947 that said: “It is rumoured in some circles that Congress and Red Shirt supporters might start civil disobedience after the 15th of August if the Congress Ministry is made to vacate the office. It is reported that the Faqir of Ipi will declare jihad against the British and the Hindus after the Id and that the Zalmai Pakhtoon Party would fight the Muslim League for the attainment of Pathanistan” (See No 220, National Documentation Centre, Islamabad, 1996, 263-264, The Referendum in NWFP). In the circumstances, which government was going to allow an openly hostile government to continue in power, especially when that government had lost its majority in the Legislative Assembly? In the US for example, President Abraham Lincoln had dismissed not one but five state legislatures in the South in the immediate aftermath of the civil war. Jinnah, on the other hand, had not dismissed the legislature but had ensured an in-House change. Therefore, in the view of this writer at least the dismissal of the Khan Ministry was constitutional, democratic and morally responsible.
Finally on Balochistan and the annexation of Kalat, I would say that no princely state in Indian subcontinent was given the right to sovereignty by either India or Pakistan. This is the legal paradigm. It is no more coercion than India’s actions in Hyderabad, Junagadh, Tripura or Travoncore. So frankly that is neither here nor there.