Jinnah: Facts and fiction about ‘the ambassador of Hindu Muslim unity’

Dr Vijay Rana 20 August 2009, London

How can Jinnah, the advocate of Hindu-Muslim separatism, the pioneer of the two-nation theory and the architect of India’s first mass violence campaign, the Direct Action Day, be described as a secular leader? While telling the true story of Jinnah, journalist, historian and filmmaker, Dr Vijay Rana asks how could a leader who used religion and violence for his political ends be secular or a democrat.

The Indian admirers of Muhammad Ali Jinnah have long tried to put him at par with Gandhi and Nehru. Recently, the pro-Jinnah chorus has grown into such a crescendo that many Indians are genuinely confused and think that the partition was the fault of Nehru and Patel.

Gandhi and Nehru were secular. They believed in communal harmony. Despite our numerous differences and mind-boggling diversities, they managed to lay the foundation of a secular and democratic India.

On the other hand, Jinnah’s vision was narrow and tactics uncompromising. He used both religion and violence to achieve his sectarian state of Pakistan. How can any leader who uses religion and violence to divide a people be either secular or democrat?

When we make Nehru and Gandhi villain and Jinnah a hero, that is where the problem begins – the problem of an inverted and politicised history. We Indians need to understand what Jinnah did to us and had we followed his path where we could have ended.

The Indian admirers of Jinnah need to explain how could they respect a man without respecting his legacy and life work. Moreover, what was Jinnah’s legacy – that ‘Hindus and Muslims are two nations.’ And what was his life’s work – the creation of  ‘the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.’

The supporters of Jinnah’s secularism seem to be oblivious that Jinnah’s speeches and writings are not written in undecipherable Indus script. They are available in print, in audio, in video and now on Google.

In June 2005, when Advani praised Jinnah during his Pakistan visit, the supporters of Jinnah launched a hyper-active media and scholarly campaign insisting on Jinnah’s secularism.  

For example, the scholarly Indian lawyer AG Noorani writing in the Frontline (13 June 2005), argued that Jinnah was ‘truly a great man. His political record from 1906 to 1939 reveals a spirit of conciliation and statesmanship, which Congress leaders did not reciprocate.’ ‘Indians must begin to acknowledge’, advised Noorani, ‘his greatness and the grave injustice the Congress leaders did to him.’

Noorani skipped any mention of Jinnah’s words or actions relating to his most active years, 1940-47. Because it was during these years, Jinnah was spreading fear among Muslims, telling them in Gandhi’s India that Muslims would be ‘absolutely wiped out of existence.’

However, the most ingenious distortion of history came from the British author Patrick French. In the Outlook magazine (June 2005), he wrote that ‘Gandhi was a wily politician and Jinnah remained a secularist till his death.’ He argued that partition happened because Congress refused to accept Jinnah’s ‘justifiable demands.’

Ayesha Jalal, the Pakistani professor of history at the Tufts University, USA, also wrote in the Outlook: ‘It was the Congress backed by the Hindu Mahasabha which plumped for a partition of the two main Muslim-majority provinces of India, the Punjab and Bengal, opposed by Jinnah and the League.’

Prof. Jalal must belong to the fictional school of history, dreaming Nehru and Patel conspiring with Hindu Mahasabha to achieve partition. Can anyone really believe this?

Interestingly, none of these admirers of Jinnah’s secularism mentioned, for once, the Direct Action Day, 16 August 1946, when Jinnah unleashed an unprecedented wave of communal killings in human history.

The journey towards communalism and partition

Jinnah’s conversion from a secularist to a communalist was quick and continuous. After finishing his studies in England, Jinnah returned to India in 1896. In December 1906, he joined the Congress as the personal secretary of the party president Dadabhai Naoroji.

He believed in Hindu-Muslim unity and vigorously opposed the Muslim League demand for a separate Muslim electorate as divisive, soon winning praise from the poetess Sarojini Naidu as ‘the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity.’

Four years after he entered into politics, Jinnah unwittingly took his first step towards communalism. In 1910, he contested and won the election for the central legislative assembly as a Muslim member under the newly introduced system of separate Hindu-Muslim electorates.

In 1913, he joined the Muslim League, a party whose leadership was avowedly communal and staunchly anti-Congress. Thus, within seven years of his entry into politics, a secular Jinnah has become, as Prof. Bipin Chandra put it, ‘a communal nationalist.’

Jinnah was one of the main driving forces behind the Congress-League pact of 1916. However, we must also look at the price our ‘ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity’ was demanding. He managed to persuade the Congress party, now led by Tilak, to accept a separate electorate, communal weightage and one-third representation for Muslims in the legislatures.

Pakistani sources describe Lucknow Pact as a significant milestone on the road to Pakistan. Congress acceptance of the notion of separate electorates was later interpreted as to its approval of  ‘Two-Nation Theory.’

In 1936, Jinnah himself asked: “When the Hindus accepted a separate identity for the Muslims through the Lucknow Pact in 1916, how can they now object to Pakistan?”

Interestingly, Indian historians have tried to gloss over this interpretation of the Lucknow Pact. Consequently, most Indian history textbooks describe the Lucknow Pact as a significant triumph of Hindu-Muslim unity.

Jinnah admirers believe that in 1920 he resigned from the Congress due to Gandhi’s support for the Khilafat movement to retain the Ottoman Caliph’s pre-war status. However, the real reason was his opposition to Gandhian politics of mass civil disobedience. In addition, he considered Gandhi a pseudo-religious upstart.

When Gandhi launched the non-cooperation movement in 1920, Jinnah, until now a member of both parties, walked out of the Congress, telling his friend, journalist Durga Das, that there was no place for him in Gandhi’s Congress. He said, ‘Gandhi worships the cow, and I eat it’, an argument he later repeated in many public speeches.

He continued to pay lip service to the notion of Hindu-Muslin unity. He always insisted that separation of Hindus and Muslims in a united India was needed to safeguard Muslims interests. According to Prof Chandra, Jinnah had now transformed ‘from a nationalist into communal nationalist and then into a liberal communalist.’

In the year 1930, both the Congress and the League redefined their political objectives. Congress launched civil disobedience for ‘poorn swaraj’ or complete independence. Moreover, the League’s vision was expounded by another ex-ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity poet Muhammad Iqbal, the author of Tatana-e-Hindi – ‘Saare Jahan Se Achcha Hindustan Hamara…’ Iqbal proposed that the Muslim majority provinces of Punjab, NWFP, Sindh and Balochistan should be converted into one province as a ‘self-governing unit.’ He said that it was the only way to prevent recurring Hindu-Muslim riots.

Nevertheless, the Muslim League largely remained a party of the feudal elite, and it was not growing as Jinnah would have wished. So frustrated was he that in 1931 he left Indian politics and decided to set up his legal practice in London. But then, in 1935, he moved back to Bombay.

In the 1937 elections, the League performed poorly, only getting 4.6 per cent of the Muslim votes. In contrast, Congress was able to form governments in seven of the eleven British Indian provinces.

Sadly, it was Maulana Azad, a prominent member of the Congress party, who initially blamed Nehru for the partition of India. Had Nehru agreed to give a couple of seats to the League while forming a ministry in UP in 1937, argued Maulana Azad, the League could have been pacified and renounced its separatist path.

Many Indian scholars have supported this theory. They naively believed that a substantial movement like Muslim League could be rolled back through a power-sharing arrangement in Utter Pradesh.

Meanwhile, Iqbal and Jinnah were deliberating on the future direction of the League. In 1937, Iqbal wrote eight letters to Jinnah telling him that he was the ‘only Muslim in India’ who could ‘safely guide the community through the storm.’ He advised Jinnah to turn the League ‘into a body representing the Muslim masses’ and to demand the creation of ‘a free Muslim state or states.’ Iqbal died shortly after writing these letters.

Pakistani scholar Prof. Akbar Ahmed writes, ‘Until now, Jinnah had spoken of separate electorates, minority representation, and constitutional safeguards. Now he would use Islamic symbolism to represent Pakistan. The moon of Pakistan is rising, Jinnah often said in his public meetings. He would choose the crescent for the flag of Pakistan. Something had clearly changed in the way Jinnah was looking at the world.’

Over the years, a great myth had been created that Jinnah did not ask for Pakistan. Because the word ‘Pakistan’ did not figure in the famous 1940 Lahore resolution and that the resolution was just a bargaining counter.

Let us look at the speech Jinnah made accompanying this resolution. He traced the history of ‘mutually separate’ cultural and religious traditions of Hindus and Muslims. ‘The cow that Hindus worship Muslims eat, the villains that Hindus malign, Muslims idolise and so on … The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs and literatures,’ Jinnah concluded.

During the 1940s, his tone, language and argument, while opposing Gandhi, Congress and Hindus, was brimming with anger and even abuse. The liberal communalist had now graduated to become a full-fledged Islamic fundamentalist.

In March 1940, in a speech at Aligarh Muslim University, Jinnah accused Gandhi of ‘to subjugate and vassalize the Muslims under a Hindu Raj.’  In his presidential address to the League in April 1941, Jinnah said, in a united India, ‘ Muslims will be absolutely wiped out of existence.’ He said Pakistan was essential ‘to save Islam from complete annihilation in India.

In March 1944, addressing the students of the Aligarh Muslim University, Jinnah declared: “Pakistan was born when the first Muslim landed in India in 712 A. D.” He asked the students to be prepared to shed their blood, if necessary, for achieving Pakistan.

British backing for Jinnah’s Pakistan

While preparing for ‘shedding the blood,’ Jinnah continued to negotiate with Congress. Though the British pretended to be the honest brokers, every time they put forward a proposal for the transfer of power, Jinnah’s goal of Pakistan looked nearer.

In the August Offer of 1939, the British resolved not to leave India unless the minorities approved any future constitutional arrangement. This was described as ‘communal veto.’ Indian freedom was now subjected to Jinnah’s endorsement.

In the 1945 Simla Conference, Jinnah fought for Hindu-Muslim parity in any future government. He also insisted that all the Muslim ministers would have to be nominated by the League in any interim government. Jinnah personally abused Congress president Maulana Azad by refusing to shake hands with him and calling him a ‘Congress show boy.’

During the 1946 elections, Jinnah openly used Islam to garner votes for Pakistan. ‘League meetings were often held in mosques after Friday prayers,’ writes Prof Bipin Chandra. ‘Pakistan, it was promised, would be ruled under the Sharia… The Quran was widely used as the League’s symbol, and the League’s fight with the Congress was portrayed as a fight between Islam and Kufr (infidelity).’

In 1946, the British government sent a mission of three cabinet ministers for a final rapprochement between the Congress and the League. The Cabinet Mission plan provided for a loose center controlling only defence, foreign affairs and communications. Provinces were to be divided into three groups. Group A comprised of Hindu majority provinces of UP, Bihar, CP, Orissa, Madras and Bombay. Group B included the Muslim majority Punjab, Sind and NWFP and Group C consisted of the Muslim majority Bengal and Assam. Each group was to have its own constitution. The provinces were allowed to opt-out of these groups after the first general election. After ten years, a province could ask to leave the allocated group and the union.

Initially, Congress and the League both accepted the plan. Many historians argue that Jinnah had thus abandoned the idea of Pakistan.

Let us not delude ourselves and look at the League’s acceptance document drafted by Jinnah. The League had accepted the Cabinet Mission plan with its own spin, ‘inasmuch as the basis of and the foundation of Pakistan are inherent in the Mission’s plan by virtue of the compulsory grouping.’

Even this acceptance was hastily withdrawn after Nehru pointed out that it would be the newly formed constituent assembly that would finally decide the composition of provincial groups.

Nehru was really farsighted to reject the Cabinet Mission plan. An India with a weak center and provinces hopping from one group to another was a recipe for disaster. Such an India could not have lasted for more than ten years.

That’s why Jinnah admirers blame Nehru for wrecking this final bid to save India from the partition. They argue that for Jinnah, the demand of Pakistan was just a bargaining counter and he was prepared to settle for a lot less.

Suppose the idea of Pakistan was just a bargaining counter. In that case, Jinnah comes out as a duplicitous figure instigating his followers to fight against what he called ‘the Hindu tyranny’ at one hand and negotiating power-sharing deals with the same Hindu Congress, which, according to Jinnah, was determined to ‘wipe out the existence of Muslims in India.

A few months later, he breached another boundary of sober politics. The one time advocate of constitutional propriety now espoused violence and even terror.

On 16 August 1946, Jinnah made his final bid for Pakistan by launching the Direct Action Day: “This day we bid good-bye to constitutional methods…We have forged a pistol, and we are prepared to use it.” Jinnah threatened, “We shall have India divided, or we shall have India destroyed.”

Frenzied Muslim mobs rampaged Hindu neighbourhoods in Calcutta. Ten thousand innocent lives were lost in just five days in the Great Calcutta Killings. Hindu communal groups retaliated with equal brutality. Quickly the fires of communal hatred spread from Bengal to Punjab consuming millions of lives.

After Direct Action Day, any hopes of Indian unity were buried forever. Nehru, Patel and many other Congress leaders were by now convinced that it was impossible to create a secular and democratic India as long as Jinnah and Muslim League were there and that partition, painful though it might be, was the only way ahead.

Interestingly, once Jinnah got his ‘Islamic state of Pakistan’, he made a dramatic u-turn. On 11 August 1947, in a virtual denial of his two-nation theory, he advised the Muslims in Pakistan to live peacefully with their Hindu neighbours. Pakistani’s were confused and wondered if it was not possible for them to live with Hindus in India, how could they allow Hindus to live in Pakistan. They never listened to him.

While in India Nehru government fought hard to protect Muslim lives from the frenzied Hindu and Sikh mobs, ethnic cleansing continued in Jinnah’s Pakistan. When Pakistan was born in August 1947, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians formed 26 per cent of its population. Today less than three per cent of them are left in Pakistan.

This is not ancient history buried under the multiple layers of unexcavated earth. Any honest historian with an elementary knowledge of research methods can find this evidence. If Jinnah’s admirers still think that Jinnah was not communal and was not responsible for India’s partition, what else one can say? It is history written with head and mind both deeply buried in the sand.


Dr Vijay Rana is the editor of www.indiabriefings.com and the former radio editor of BBC Hindi service. He attained his D. Phil from the University of Allahabad while studying the British proposals for the transfer of power in India.

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