The Jinnah controversy By K.Subrahmanyam It is a strange coincidence that even as there is an intensifying debate in Pakistani civil society on their national identity, Indians should be arguing about Jinnah’s secular credentials and whether the partition of British India leading to the creation of Pakistan was a gift of Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhai Patel to Jinnah in order to avoid creation of an independent India as a loose federation but as a strong centralized state. It is very likely many Pakistanis may consider the new Indian thesis as a total negation of what they have been taught to believe. It would mean that Jinnah’s ‘ two nation thesis’ was a negotiating ploy and Pakistan was not the result of a struggle of the people of Pakistan against British imperialism and Hindu domination as they have been taught to believe in the last 62 years. In Pakistan in all official portraits , Jinnah has been made to shed his Savile Row suit and wear a traditional Sherwani. All references to his drinking and eating habits have been censored to remove his partiality to scotch whisky and ham. His advocacy of secularism for Pakistan in his speech to Pakistani constituent assembly on 11th August ,1947 is not readily accessible to the Pakistani public At this stage to raise these delicate issues even as Pakistan is struggling with its national identity problem will appear at least to some Pakistanis as an attempt to influence the Pakistani debate, especially when it is buttressed by the argument that partition could have been avoided if Jinnah had been accommodated. Today there is overall consensus in Pakistan that it was created as a result of the struggle based on the ‘two nation theory’ The debate on the national identity of Pakistan is about what kind of Islamic state it should be and not on whether the ‘Two nation theory’ is valid or not. Jinnah in his 11th August, 1947 speech did not refer to the two nation theory at all. He said, “One can quite understand the feeling that exists between the two communities wherever one community is in a majority and the other is in a minority. But the question is whether it was possible or practicable to act otherwise than what has been done………. And what is more , it will be proved by actual experience as we go on , that was the only solution of India’s constitutional problem”. He was very prescient in this observation.
When the majority of Bengali speaking Pakistanis and the minority Urdu speaking Pakistanis could not get along with each other it was inevitable they had to part company. When Jinnah refers to majority and minority in this speech he was obviously not referring to the Hindus and Muslims. He was referring to the Muslim majority provinces and Hindu majority provinces. The former was a minority in India as a whole while the latter constituted the majority. He could not afford to talk about the two nation theory on the basis of religion since he was abandoning all the Muslims of the Hindu majority provinces who gave him the electoral support in the separate electorate elections of 1945 and were responsible for making him the spokesman of the Muslims and enhancing his stature in Indian politics . In Bengal it was Fazlul Haq who dominated and in Punjab and Sindh the unionists. In the Muslim majority provinces, the majority had no complaints about the Hindu domination and in fact Jinnah could not get majority votes in the Provinces, now constituting Pakistan in the 1945 elections. Surely Jinnah was not an orthodox practicing Muslim and was secular in his outlook. Though he was like Iqbal, a second generation convert from the Hindu faith - unlike Iqbal - he was not driven by his religious fervor. Nor was he a man of the masses. If his concern was for the Muslims he should have known that partition would subject the Indian Muslims to greater handicaps. Were he a true federalist he could not have attempted to impose Urdu on the majority Bengalis in East Pakistan. If he was a person punctilious about the rule of law, as he claimed to be, when he parted company with Gandhiji at the time of Non-cooperation movement - he could not have ordered the Direct Action Day and unleashed the Great Calcutta Killing in August 1946. Jinnah was a careerist who was bent on acquiring power and glory. Narendra Singh Sarila, in his seminal work “The Shadow of the Great Game: The untold Story of the Partition” cites two statements of Jinnah to successive viceroys. He told Wavell in November 1946: “(The) British should give him his own bit of territory ,however small it might be.” And on April 10, 1947 he told Mountbatten: “ I do not care how little you give me as long as you give it to me completely.” Sarila’s book brings out that as far back as 6/7 February 1946 , Wavell had sent a tentative plan for partition of India. It also reveals that Prime Minister Attlee telegraphed to the Cabinet Mission in India on 13th April 1946 that in the view of the British Chiefs of Staff, mass chaos would take place in India if the scheme creating Pakistan was not put into effect. The British had already decided to partition undivided India so that Pakistan would be
available as a friendly base for the British to guard the ‘wells of Power’ in the Middle East and to safeguard their communication lines to the Far-East. Only when faced with the British threat of transfer of power to individual provincial assemblies and the Princely States, did Nehru and Patel accept partition to save India from fragmentation. When Sarila’s book was published in 2005 Jaswant Singh wrote: “The outcome of original research, this book is unique in several ways….This is not a revisionist book . It is revelatory of new facts.” But in his biography of Jinnah, the author in Jaswant Singh has chosen to overlook all the documentation on the British determination to partition India as far back as early 1946 and Jinnah’s subsequent role in helping the British to achieve that result and to fulfill his own personal ambitions. Jinnah was secular ,no doubt. He cynically used political Islam for his personal ambition and in the process unleashed the first terrorist attack on India , the Great Calcutta Killing. In that sense he continues to be relevant in the contemporary situation in the subcontinent. (The Hindi version of this article first appeared in the Dainik Jagran, Sunday - August 30, 2009. ) *********************************
Published on Apr 2, 2010
The Jinnah controversy It is a strange coincidence that even as there is an intensifying debate in Pakistani civil society on their national...