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The plain Mr Jinnah

By Saad Hafiz:

Muhammed Ali Jinnah who founded Pakistan in 1947 was a refined, anglicised and secular Indian Muslim and lawyer. To Indian Muslims he was a man of sterling personal qualities, the Quaid-e-Azam, ‘Great Leader’. To many Indians, Jinnah was an anti-Hindu demagogue and a political shyster, an unyielding humour-less man with a vainglorious nature. To the colonial masters,
Jinnah was a worthy adversary who respected British constitutional and liberal political traditions.

Jinnah has been described as a highly conventional politician, who can take no credit for original political thinking at any point. His ‘-isms’ were nationalism and liberalism. He began his career thinking within an ‘Indian’ framework, in the sense of nationalist opposition to British rule. Later, he renamed India’s Muslim community a ‘nation’ and continued his opposition from a narrower base. His resistance to colonialism, then Hindu majority rule, were both for the sake of liberal values: self-determination and political rights. It is thus entirely possible to read Jinnah in western terms, despite the Muslim label.

Jinnah was not averse to turning to religious elements when he desperately needed anything that would bolster support. His critics have tended to focus on this, ignoring the fact that he was only using religion for political purposes — something we have seen elsewhere as well. Jinnah himself was a frequent target of Islamist criticism for being too secular and not being a strong proponent of Islamic religious laws. Jinnah also wanted a secular state and yet Pakistan became an Islamic state.

Jinnah was also the only Muslim leader to have been able to stand up to the Congress party and the British on a regular basis, asserting Muslim independence from Hindu and British interests and power. This, rather than his western lifestyle, was the point upon which many Muslims focused the most. In a community that had had few powerful and charismatic leaders to whom people could point with pride, Jinnah became a hero.

Jinnah had made himself the foremost representative of the Muslims by a devotion to what he thought was in the best interest of the Muslims. He had secularist leanings. Jinnah was a sophisticated man who disliked the Hindu and Muslim small-mindedness that produced what some call fanaticism. He did not like holy men or mullahs.

Nationalist and secular in nature, the Jinnah-led All-India Muslim League relied on developing Muslim national consciousness as a means of uniting them against perceived adversaries, the Hindus and the British. The ‘renaissance’ of Indian Muslims was striven for through secular means while the historical basis was constituted at least largely on the basis of religion. This secular/religious ideological contradiction continues to plague Pakistan today.

Jinnah had been asking for Partition ever since 1940 but the Congress had resisted. Then with the country becoming ungovernable, their idea was to get the best India and create the worst possible Pakistan. Jinnah had no choice but to accept the Partition as he had asked for it so often. He wanted a bigger Pakistan but he got a smaller Pakistan and the provinces he got were poor. Therefore, Pakistan was a poor country from the start.

Jinnah had big ideas but he never had the time to resolve them at a local level or in any detail. His vision of Pakistan was that it should not be Hindu-dominated or British-dominated and filled with Muslims. But he made few attempts to define what a Muslim nation was.

The communal approach of the Muslim League under the leadership of Jinnah stoked and contributed to the stark horrors, contention and strife of the Partition.

Once Pakistan got its independence, Jinnah famously stood up and said that it was to be a liberal democracy that would respect the rights of minorities, including Hindus, Christians and Sikhs. Jinnah would not like the Pakistan of today because of the poverty and intolerance.

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