A look at Jinnah from the 'displaced' Indian Muslim perspective
Separated at Birth?
Jinnah and the Indian Muslim
by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, September 8, 2009
There is another 9/11. As his body was laid to rest, he was blamed for the death of 600,000 people and uprooting 14 million. 61 years later, many more people have been killed and uprooted only because a part of the land was divided. Those who stayed put and did not move have been emotionally pulled out of their roots in an attempt to claim a heritage that was always theirs.
It is about land, land as birth-giver. Mohammed Ali Jinnah may be in the news for secularism, and it means several things to different people, but for those of us who have to live with acquired hatred know that you cannot blame or credit one individual with creation. For, creations evolve and destruct with time. They outlive the person’s ideology.
Pakistanis are suspect everywhere they go. They have to carry the baggage of the two-nation theory more than Indians. They are happy to get accolades from Indian politicians who have their own axe to grind and conveniently forget to mention that Jinnah had expressed fears of Hindu domination and these have not been unfounded.
So, why does India not figure among the list of failed states and Pakistan does? There are two reasons. Pakistan is a unified Islamic polity and therefore an easy and recognisable target. India, with its diversity, has the advantage to camouflage its internal diaspora. Where in the world would people kill their own to retain a cultural heritage? It keeps happening in India. The Taliban in Pakistan is a more recent phenomenon.
It is of greater value for the lay person to understand why Jinnah has become a synonym for the Partition. My search for this began after a tiff with a Pakistani, my cousin, a blood relative. She spoke up for the man who made her country and I was critical. It was superficial, for we had no understanding then. It was also a microcosm of our attempts at being different, something that continues to plague the two countries.
How different are we? That question is asked as a result of insecurity. Pakistan is insecure of being seen as too Indian and India is afraid that the lost land has left its residue in the form of the largest minority that would not be considered a minority, given the numbers.
Indian Muslim intellectuals have refused to look truth in the eye. Dr. Rafiq Zakaria had accused Jinnah of destroying Hindu-Muslim unity. “From 1937 onwards, Jinnah changed his tactics and began setting the Hindus against the Muslims. Never in India’s history has even the worst Muslim ruler alienated Hindus from Muslims as Jinnah has done.”
India had several communal riots before that. Before the Mughals, Muslim rulers, as others, were concentrated in principalities. India has never been a nation in the cohesive sense. It is a continent and continues to live with such regional and parochial disparities. Therefore, Dr. Zakaria’s implication that Jinnah’s actions caused the eventual division of the Muslim community into three segments – Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian Muslims – is simplistic and untrue. The Indian Muslim is culturally different in every state, and a tribal in Baluchistan cannot claim much affinity with a mohajir in Karachi or a Punjabi in Lahore. With Bangladesh, there were strong linguistic and regional concerns. None of these countries are at peace within themselves even today.
Jinnah’s failure is the failure of a man who tried to change himself to alter history. Such superimpositions tarnish idealism and do not even work as opportunism.
When I met a freedom fighter 15 years ago, a man who had braved British wrath and urinated on the Union Jack, he clammed up. “He was a senior person, I would not like to speak on the subject.” I had encountered many such walls and am therefore both gratified and amused to see the expose of the ‘enigma’ being flashed around these days.
In a dingy old building sat Minoo Masani, a veteran socialist leader. Recollecting his student days and his visits to Jinnah’s house, he had said, “Jinnah had no use for the Muslim League and he denounced its leaders as ‘those dadhiwallas’ (bearded guys).”
Iqbal Chagla, well-known advocate and son of Justice M.C.Chagla, who on returning from Oxford in the early 20s joined Jinnah’s chambers and was an associate both in law and politics, believed that the founder of Pakistan, “was a bad Muslim, he did everything that the Quran proscribes.”
15 years ago these details were in musty shelves only brought out by historians who wrote them and read them. As I sat listening, Jinnah became more real. And fallible. An incident bears repetition. When he and M.C. Chagla were campaigning for a municipal election, they stopped for some tea and Jinnah ordered ham sandwiches. A venerable bearded Muslim entered the restaurant with his grandson and was promptly invited to join in. The little boy was eyeing the sandwiches. “My father debated whether he should save Jinnah’s soul or his elections, and he opted for the latter, handing over a sandwich to the child,” recalled Iqbal Chagla.
However, he did start attending Friday prayers. His PR people made sure to address the Hindus as kafirs, infidels. Sir Stafford Cripps was disgusted: “When I find a person getting louder and more violent in his denunciation of his opponents, I get the feeling that he is beginning to recognise that the extreme case for which he stands is becoming desperate.”
Lord Mountbatten thought Jinnah was a “psychopathic case” suffering from “megalomania in its worst form”.
“The real megalomaniac was Nehru, a Stalinist,” Masani had fumed. “Jinnah would have made a far better PM.” This view was contested by Asgharali Engineer, head of the Institute of Islamic Studies and a reformist-activist. “True, Nehru had a weakness for the prime ministership but Jinnah cannot compare. Nehru stood by secularism not as a convenience but out of conviction. Anyway, the issue was not of who became PM but of the devolution of power. How is it that no one questions why an Islamic scholar like Maulana Azad did not accept Partition? Jinnah did not know the A-B-C of Islam but we must remember the demand was not regarding whether people would be permitted to practice their religion, it was to see that on a secular basis the rights of the minorities were protected. You cannot simply arouse the masses on the basis of religion. People have their own interests in mind. He was quite secular.”
This is borne out by Chagla’s recollection of how Jinnah felt that intermarriage was the best way to promote communal harmony. He said so to Dinshaw Petit, topping it with the question, “Now may I marry your daughter?” He did, but Petit did not have anything to do with him thereafter. Rati, Jinnah’s Parsi wife was the only one who wielded any influence over him.
Iqbal Chagla was told by his father about this scene at a conference. “There, in the midst of all the people, she entered the room dressed in leopard print slacks and sat swinging her legs. Then she interrupted the meeting saying, ‘Jeh, we are getting late!’ She brought out the human streak in him. When she died there were tears in his eyes. Otherwise, my father used to say, he was not a very humane person. As his junior when my father was on the brink of starvation for eight years, he never got any help from Jinnah. Yet he always said he was a bad lawyer but a very good advocate.”
This would be borne out by the Muslim League’s nitpicking regarding the use of the Devnagari or the Persian script when less than 10 per cent Indians knew how to read.
This legalistic attitude made Jinnah a loner. The British did not like him. Indian leaders did not like him. And there was no Pakistan until then. What ultimately got created was an idea expunged.
It was simply a case of No Exit for him.