Jinnah v. Nehru – who was more democratic?

It is fashionable amongst Pakistanis to point out how “autocratic” Jinnah was as opposed to Jawaharlal Nehru and somehow it was this autocratic behavior on the part of the father of the nation that is the reason why Pakistan is a dysfunctional democracy at best.

The truth of course is that Jinnah’s conduct as His Majesty’s Governor General of Pakistan was far more democratic than that of Nehru as his Majesty’s Prime Minister of India and here is why:

1. Section 93/Article 356:  The power to dismiss provincial assemblies. This was omitted by Jinnah in GOIA 1935’s Pakistani adaptation but was retained by Nehru.  This is significant. Jinnah did not send provincial assemblies packing.  His so called dismissal of Khan Sahib’s ministry was necessitated by the fact that Khan sb had lost his majority in the assembly. It was in fact an inhouse change. Compare this to Nehru’s treatment of Shaikh Abdullah (who he jailed for many years) in Kashmir and Nehru’s dismissal of Kerala’s first elected government by using Article 356 of the Indian Constitution and that was not the first one. 

2. Nepotism:  Jinnah did not engage in promotion of his family members in political posts. Fatima Jinnah was not elected as the President of the Muslim League.  In India, Nehru oversaw his daughter Indira’s election to Congress’ presidency thereby laying the foundations of the longest running dynasty in South Asian politics.

3. Annexation of Princely States:  A lot of Jinnah’s detractors claim that his alleged arm twisting to get Khan of Kalat to  sign the document of accession was somehow undemocratic. Let us assume that there was indeed arm twisting, was any princely state in India allowed to go its own way?  For one Kalat there are no less than 20 examples of the Indian government under Nehru twisting, coercing and threatening states into submission.

Now on the issue of Jinnah’s choice to become the Governor General instead of the Prime Minister-  Jinnah’s decision followed what was norm rather than exception in Dominion Constitutional governments – with a strong national leader taking up the mantle of GG to raise himself above party lines.  Nehru was not to Congress or India what Jinnah was to the Muslim League or Pakistan.  In any event, after the creation of Pakistan, Jinnah saw himself as more than just the leader of a minority community party of India. He was now the father of the nation. This is precisely why he resigned as the Muslim League president as well.  It was a tragedy that while the Congress had an array of leaders ranging from Gandhi, Nehru , Patel, Azad and C R Gopalachari, Jinnah was the only one of the same national renown and ability.

Jinnah and Nehru were both democrats, albeit flawed ones.  However if there has to be a comparison, Jinnah as Governor General was far more timid than Nehru as Prime Minister.


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