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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 39, September 18, 2010

Unity to Partition: A Sad Saga of the Subcontinent

Monday 20 September 2010, by Ajeet Jawed


September 11 happened to be the sixtysecond death anniversary of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the architect and founder of Pakistan. We are belatedly carrying the following article while remembering him.

September 11 marked the death anniversary of M.A. Jinnah, the Father of the nation of Pakistan, which came into existence on August 14, 1947. In 1937 the Muslim League, under Jinnah’s leadership, had declared the complete independence of India as its goal and had also expressed its willingness to work with all other political parties to end the foreign domination but within less than three years it demanded a separate homeland for the Muslims by dividing India.

The demand for a separate state was the outcome of the failure of the ML to have a settlement with the Congress after the provincial elections held in 1937 under the Act of 1935. The Congress got an unexpected huge success at the polls and refused to share power with the League as per its pre-election understanding with the latter. Pandit Nehru, the President of the Congress, declared that there were only two parties, the British and Congress, and the rest should line up. ‘There is a third party and I refuse to line up,’ shot back Jinnah, the President of the League. Instead of fighting together against the British, the Congress and Muslim League fought each other and this led to the break-up of the subcontinent.

Jinnah characterised the Congress as a Hindu party, its leaders as Hindu leaders working for the establishment of Hindu Raj in independent India. Ironically, Jinnah himself had been a former Congressman and was proud to be so. He had worked as an activist in the election of the veteran Congress leader, Dadabhai Naoroji, who had contested and won a seat in the British House of Commons. Jinnah aspired to be like Dadabhai and on his return to India from England he joined the Congress in 1904. In 1905, he opposed the partition of Bengal, the formation of the ML in 1906, the separate electorates in 1909 and 1910, the reservation of seats for the Muslims in the local bodies. He was against unconditional support to the British in the First World War, led the Home Rule movement and demanded swaraj as a price for cooperation in the war. He had joined the Muslim League on the advice of his political guru, Gokhale, in London in 1909 when he was holidaying there with the latter. His aim was to rescue it from the influence of the pro-British elements and bring it closer to the Congress. By 1913, the League declared swaraj as its goal.

Jinnah highly respected Tilak and the latter re-entered the Congress after nine years along with his party in December 1915 in the Bombay Provincial Congress session presided over by Jinnah. The two worked out a scheme and in 1916 the Congress and Muslim League joined hands to fight unitedly against the British under the Lucknow Pact. Jinnah’s efforts for unity were praised even by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, a staunch Hindu leader. Sarojini Naidu called him an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity and wrote poems lauding his patriotism. In 1918, Jinnah’s bust was placed in the Bombay Town Hall by the Congress. He along with Rabindranath Tagore, bitterly criticised and condemned the British for the Jallianwala Bagh incident calling it a ‘butchery’, and resigned his seat in the Central Legislative Assembly in protest against the Rowllat Bills. He was the topmost leader of the Congress along with Motilal and C.R. Das. However, he found himself a misfit in the Gandhi-led Congress. He was against the Gandhian philosophy and the Gandhian way of winning swaraj. Mixing religion with politics, Jinnah believed, would lead to disaster and disintegrate India. He appealed to Gandhiji not to bring the Khilafat issue on the national agenda as it was not only a religious issue but had nothing to do with Indian swaraj. Gandhi disagreed with Jinnah and Jinnah left the Congress in 1920. However, Jinnah remained a nationalist and a secularist and declined to accept any title or favour from the British authorities. He used to call himself an Indian first and Muslim afterwards and refused to work exclusively for his community. In the Central Legislature he organised in 1923 a secular party, called the Independent Party, consisting of members belonging to different religions. He cooperated with the Swaraj Party and the two together in the Legislature created difficulties for the government. He was not averse to come back to the Congress but, as per the rules set by Gandhi, a member had to spin and wear khadi which Jinnah abhorred.

The failure of the Non-Cooperation Movement had widened the gulf between the two communities and communalism became the major issue. Jinnah condemned the communalists of both the communities and made continuous efforts for unity. He was for joint electorates and wanted the Muslims to give up this advantage; but in return he sought some safeguards for the Muslims. The Congress had accepted his proposals in 1927. However, in the Nehru Committee Report joint electorates was included but not the safe-guards for the Muslims to which it had earlier agreed. The hardliners in the Muslim League were against shedding separate electorates and opposed any compromise on the issue. Jinnah’s insistence on unity with the Congress had caused a split in the Muslim League. His failures not only weakened his position as a leader but also made him a laughing stock in the eyes of the League members. He was hurt, humiliated but did not give up hope.

At the Second Round Table Conference held in London he renewed his efforts for unity between the two organisations but again failed. He opposed the separation of Burma from India and rebuffed Rahmat Ali who sought his support for his scheme of Pakistan. United India was his dream and he made constant efforts in that direction. He asked the Congress to show the same spirit which they had shown to the Dalits by signing a pact with Dr Ambedkar. He wrote letters to Gandhi one after another during the years 1937 to 1939 for settlement of the communal issue but Gandhi ignored him. His continuous failures strengthened the hardliners and they sought separation as settlement with the Congress was not possible. Jinnah dissuaded the movers of the partition resolution in 1938 and 1939. In January 1940 he made another effort to persuade the Congress to accept him as the sole spokesman of the Muslims. ‘That is all I seek,’ he told Durga Das, a journalist friend. He took further offence when the Congress elected Azad as its President for the annual session in March 1940 at Ramgarh to demonstrate to the world that Jinnah was not the sole spokesman of the Muslims.

THE Lahore resolution demanding Pakistan in March 1940 was not drafted by him. The resolution was kept vague and many top leaders of the League revealed secretly that the demand was merely to scare the Congress and bring it to the negotiating table. Instead of sensing the gravity of the situation and settling with the League, the Congress stated in its resolution in 1940 that it would not force any unwilling section to remain in the Indian Union.

The problem remained unresolved and the stalemate continued. Jinnah was not serious about Pakistan and had not worked on it even in 1946. The members of the Cabinet Mission, who interviewed him and other important leaders of the League, had the same impression. Jinnah officially withdrew the demand of Pakistan and had accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan for a united India. Initially the Congress too had accepted the plan but when Pandit Nehru became the President of the Congress, he in his first press conference stated that the Congress was not bound by the plan and that sealed the fate of a united India. For Jinnah, Pakistan was a bargaining counter. His house at Bombay’s Malabar Hills was being rebuilt during the war years. His private papers reveal that even in early 1947 he was thinking of buying property in Bombay and Simla. His wife’s grave was in India and his only daughter, Dina, had refused to go with him. He was unhappy when under the Mountbatten Award Pakistan was conceded.

He disliked Mountbatten and turned down his proposal of having the same Governor-General for both India and Pakistan. He himself became the Governor-General of Pakistan and tried to build the new nation on his cherished principles of secularism and democracy. He engaged a Hindu to write the national song of Pakistan, appointed Jogendranath Mandal to preside over the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan and also as the first Law Minister in his Cabinet. He asked M.S.M. Sarma, editor of the Daily Gazette of Karachi, to continue the publication of the paper. He also told his industrialist friend, who had his enterprises in Karachi, to stay on in Pakistan and carry on business from there. He assured the Hindus and Sikhs that Pakistan would not be a theocratic state and the minorities would be given their due share in the governance of Pakistan. In the inaugural session of the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947 Jinnah himself discarded the two-nation theory. He said:

You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in the state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state.

These guidelines set by Jinnah for the Constitution of Pakistan created a furore among the fundamentalists. They wanted to make Pakistan an Islamic state. They had tolerated Jinnah in India, had allowed his wife to be present in the Muslim League’s meetings in ultra-modern dresses, had ignored Jinnah when the latter did not join them in offering namaz during the sessions of the League and living a life contrary to Islamic principles, but in Pakistan he was not allowed to have that freedom. Many of the papers did not publish that portion of his speech which was related to making Pakistan a secular and democratic country.

In order to strengthen his position vis-à-vis the non-secular elements, he contacted and sought the help of ex-Congressmen like Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Khaliquzamam. On December 15, 1947 Jinnah made a violent effort to convert the ML into a non-communal organisation but failed. He was checked at every move of his and not allowed to take independent decisions. Humiliations, hurt and dejections had made him leave the Congress, never to join it again. But he suffered the same treatment at the hands of the leaders of the country of his own creation. He was cursed by the Muslims in India and in Pakistan the Muslim refugees from India cursed him for the hardships they had to face. They burnt the effigy of Jinnah, demonstrated against him and even made attempts to kill him. The fanatics found in him a great hurdle in making the new nation a theoretic state.

JINNAH was sick, sad and unhappy in Pakistan. He could not ensure safety even to his friends in Pakistan. Jogendranath Mandal, M.S.M. Sarma, editor of the Daily Gazette of Karachi, and Dalmia, his industrialist friend, had to leave Pakistan. Jinnah too wanted to come back to India. He spoke about it to Sri Prakasa, the first Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan. The orthodox environment suffocated his liberal spirit and he died on September 11, 1948. The Muslim fanatics felt relieved. Maulana Maudoodi, the leader of Jamat-i-Islami, refused to lead the funeral prayers for Jinnah. Instead, he held a thanks-giving prayer and celebrated that day as a day of rejoicing.

Jinnah was sad in the state of his own creation. Later Jawaharlal Nehru and Patel repented to have agreed to the partition. Gandhi had lost his life. But by causing division among themselves they helped the prince charming, Mountbatten, to succeed; and he perpetuated the divide by drawing boundaries and, after ensuring the future interests of the British in both the dominions, happily left the subcontinent. This was the tragedy of our leaders and the subcontinent.

Dr (Mrs) Ajeet Jawed is an Associate Professor, Satyawati College, University of Delhi.

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