Meet MA Jinnah, the Man Who Almost Became India’s Top Leader
Who is the real Jinnah – the one who created Pakistan or who was once called the “apostle of Hindu-Muslim” unity?
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(This article has been republished from The Quint’s archives to mark Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s speech to to the constituent Assembly on 11 August 1947. It was originally published on 4 May 2018.)
Who is the real MA Jinnah? Jinnah, who single handedly created Pakistan or, the man who fiery nationalist and friend Sarojini Naidu called “the apostle of Hindu Muslim unity”?
Who is the real Jinnah, the man who never wore his Muslim identity on his sleeve, or the one, in 1940, who decided to demand that Muslims should have their own sovereign republic called Pakistan?
Who is the real Jinnah? The man who almost became the top leader of India in 1916-17, or the man who was lost in anonymity and left India to practice law in London in the 1920s? Who is the real Jinnah, the man who seemed humourless and emotionless or the man who was madly in love with his wife, Ruttei?
Jinnah will always remain an enigmatic figure in history. He is once again in news in India, but for the wrong reason. At a time when nationalism is the flavour of the season, Jinnah’s portrait in Aligarh Muslim University is causing a lot of angst.
Obviously, the so-called nationalists do not like it and will see to it that the issue is stoked to the point that it can help the Hindutva brigade polarise some votes in the 2019 elections. Jinnah is the reason for the mayhem on the campus of Aligarh Muslim University. The police had to resort to lathicharge due to communal tension in the campus and its vicinity.
There is no denying the fact Jinnah, for the hyper nationalists, is a hate figure, perceived to be the creator of an evil empire called Pakistan, and a man who wanted India to bleed to death.
But many of the foot-soldiers of rabid nationalism do not know that when Gandhi stepped on Indian soil from South Africa in 1914, Jinnah was the shinning star of India’s freedom struggle.
‘Jinnah, the Best Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity’
Jinnah was seven years younger to Gandhi and ironically, both belonged to Gujarat and were proud Kathiawaris. Despite his youth, his stature was considered to be at par with the top leaders of the freedom movement, like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Moti Lal Nehru, Phiroze Shah Mehta, Lala Lajpat Rai, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, CR Das, Madan Mohan Malviya, etc.
Gokhale was the tallest of all leaders. He was fond of both Gandhi and Jinnah. He used to say:
“Jinnah has true stuff in him and the freedom from all sectarian prejudice that will make him the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity.”Gopal Krishna Gokhale
When Gandhi gave a call to oppose the draconian Rowlatt Act, Jinnah supported him and resigned from the legislature. It was a huge setback for the British. Sir George Lloyd, the then Governor of Bombay, was of the opinion that “Jinnah was the most dangerous Indian leader and his political influence should be curtailed.”
Before Gandhi’s arrival, the freedom movement was constrained by constitutionalism; Congress as a party was, more or less, a pressure group. Though leaders like Tilak were toying with the idea of a mass movement, but it was Gandhi who succeeded in igniting the collective consciousness of India’s population.
Gandhi made the cause of independence a mass movement, and revolt against the Rowlatt act was a first step in that direction.
For Gandhi it was a God-sent opportunity to bring Muslims into the mainstream of the freedom movement; it as an opportunity to create a common bond between Hindus and the Muslims. Jinnah, however, was a little uncomfortable with the movement.
Gandhi Takes the Lead Role in the Freedom Struggle
Jinnah felt that the Khilafat/anti-Rowlatt movement had religious overtones. Moreover, he was also not happy with Gandhi’s patronising attitude.
But Gandhi, by the turn of 1920, had attained sainthood in the eyes of the people. For his followers, opposition to Gandhi was blasphemous and Jinnah committed that blunder. He decided to oppose Gandhi’s resolution for non-cooperation in Kolkata’s special session of the Congress party.
He was hooted and was almost beaten up by angry followers. But Jinnah was also stubborn.
In the Nagpur session, he yet again failed to read the mood of the people and that was the end of his political career which he had carefully crafted for 23 years. He was down and out, and Gandhi became the monarch of the freedom struggle.
Defeat was painful for Jinnah. His ambition to emerge as the topmost leader of India was shattered. Finally, he decided to move to England and retired from politics for a few year. When he came back in 1934, he was not the same person.
His wife Ruttei death at a very young age left him more “self-centred”. When he was called by his Muslim friends to return to India, he was there to protect the “qaum”. He returned to India as the permanent president of the Muslim League. For him, the Congress was now a Hindu party.
In the Lucknow session of the Muslim League in 1937, Jinnah, “for the first time appeared in a long coat and loose trousers of the Indian Muslims, and not in his well cut European suit.” Jinnah, who hated Gandhi in his loin cloth, was now a Muslim leader.
The former ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity said, “Congress is pursuing a policy which is exclusively Hindu; that the majority community have clearly shown their hand that Hindustan is for Hindus.”
Gandhi was deeply pained to hear Jinnah’s Lucknow speech. For him, it was a “declaration of war”, and he his expressed his true feelings to Jinnah in a letter. Jinnah wrote back calling his stand only an instrument of “self-defence”.
‘Are You the Same Mr Jinnah?’
Gandhi reminded Jinnah about his past and asked, “In your speeches I miss the old nationalist... are you still the same Mr Jinnah?” Jinnah was very bitter.
He wrote back saying, “I would not like to say what people spoke of you in 1915 and what they speak of and think of you today.” This statement indicates that Jinnah had not forgotten the humiliation which he faced in 1920 in Kolkata and Nagpur; he was out to seek revenge. The battle was more personal than political.
From now on, the demand for a separate sovereign state for Muslims was just a formality. In 1940 in the Lahore session of the Muslim league, a resolution was passed and it was declared that Hindu and Muslims were two different nations and could not live together.
Gandhi refused to carry this line and pleaded that Hindus and Muslims were not two nations, but part of the same civilisation. But Jinnah had gone too far and conciliation was not possible.
The man who did not speak the language of common Muslims, – he always spoke in English even in public meetings – the man who never offered Namaz, and the man who loved ham-sandwiches, created a country in the name of Islam. India was partitioned and Pakistan came into being.
But millions of people from either side were butchered and the world witnessed the biggest-ever human migration in 1947. When India got independence, the world was gloomy. After 70 years of independence, we are still fighting in his name. It’s not a good sign.
(The writer is a columnist and can be reached at @ashutosh83B.This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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