(This article has been republished from The Quint’s archives to mark Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s death anniversary on 11 September. It was originally published on 6 July 2017.)
If it weren’t for Jogendranath Mandal, Babasaheb Ambedkar would have never gotten elected to the Constituent Assembly. Ambedkar strongly held that dalits were not Hindus, and that invited the Congress’ acrimony, who were also much against the Scheduled Class Federations (SCF). The dislike was so deep-seated that Ambedkar failed to win the Bombay provincial assembly election in 1946 as the Congress meddled with the Bombay SCF leadership.
It was then that Mandal, a Bengal SCF leader and someone quite close to the Muslim League, got Ambedkar into the Constituent Assembly with the League’s support. Jogendranath was later appointed Minister of Judicial, Legislative, Works and Buildings Departments in Muhammed Ali Jinnah’s cabinet. He became the only Indian minister in Pakistan’s first government.
This Pakistani and Indian Independence Day, we thought of telling you about this remarkable dalit leader, unceremoniously lost in the pages of history.
Aligning With the Muslim League
Mandal’s alliance with the Muslim League in Bengal spawned from the shockingly similar socio-economic conditions shared by Muslims and dalits in rural Bengal – stark poverty and social discrimination. He became a favourite of Muslim League premier Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy.
Mandal’s support for the Muslim League was also informed by his inference that scheduled castes would lead a better life in a secular Pakistan than in a casteist and communal India, ruled by the Congress Party. He admired Jinnah’s secular principles, and even declared that he could protect and safeguard the interest of minorities way better than Gandhi or Nehru. After Ambedkar got elected to the Constituent Assembly, he wrote a detailed letter to Mandal.
Jogendranath Mandal left India for Pakistan to become the country’s first Law Minister. He was, effectively, also one of its founding fathers.Mandal was the highest-ranking Hindu in the government of Pakistan, and his advocacy of secularism in Pakistan, where Muslims were in majority, is exemplary.
Jinnah’s Death and Mandal’s Homecoming
Contrary to general belief in India, Muhammad Ali Jinnah was an extremely secular individual. On 11 August 1947, when Jinnah was to be sworn in as the first Governor General of Pakistan, he wanted Mandal, a Hindu member of the Assembly, to preside over the session. Jinnah’s inclusion of and exceptional involvement with Mandal suggested his idea of building a secular state, where the interests of minorities would always be safeguarded.
Mandal supported the Objective Resolution in March 1949. It is this same resolution which today continues to generate political debates in Pakistan. Some progressive individuals in Pakistan believe that the resolution has been exploited to transform Jinnah’s ‘secular Pakistan’ into a ‘religious state’.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah passed away in 1948 and the course of history changed forever.
Mandal left no means unexploited to express his extreme displeasure and disagreement when Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan decided to make Pakistan an Islamic state. He argued strongly against making Islam the state religion, as it would adversely affect the religious and ethnic minorities in the country.
With Jinnah gone, Mandal became utterly disillusioned and was left without any support in a rapidly polarising Pakistan. Then, in 1950, thousands of lower caste Hindus in East Pakistan (present Bangladesh) were killed, marking the beginning of a long and arduous migration to India. Jogendranath Mandal fled Karachi and sent his resignation to the Prime Minister of Pakistan from Calcutta. (You can read the letter of resignation here.)
The Life of a Pariah
Jogendranath Mandal was considered a Pakistani in India, and was heavily criticised, insulted and hated for it. In spite of this, he dedicated his time and energy towards rehabilitating Hindu refugees (mainly the lower caste Namasudras) from East Pakistan who were pouring into West Bengal. He worked among several refugee camps, requesting and petitioning government officials to help the refugees.
But Mandal was made into a social untouchable. Political parties refused to align with, or even recognise him, often branding him a Pakistani agent. Nobody was ready to listen to what the man had to say, and even newspapers came down heavily on him. The ‘progressive’ communists in the state came up with a new moniker for him – Jogendra Ali Mollah!
Jogendranath Mandal contested the elections from Barasat in 1967, losing badly. He passed away a year later.