Indian Bigotry on Jinnah: A Response From History

Agitated politicians and opinion-makers in India have pulled out their traditional ‘charge sheet’ against the Father of the Pakistani Nation. From across the political divide many have criticized BJP President L. K Advani for praising Quaid-i-Azam (leader of the Nation) Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s secular vision. They have accused Advani for praising a communalist who was responsible for the bloody breakup of India. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu broke ranks. He endorsed Advani’s statements on Jinnah, called him a "freedom fighter" and said, "The country has to accept that."

Undoubtedly this Indian reaction to Advani’s praise of the Quaid flows from a collective Indian attachment to historical misrepresentation where it comes to Jinnah. Independent India needed a ‘villain’ to explain the partition of India. Jinnah was the natural choice. Yet historical facts, as told by even non-Pakistani historians, point out that the responsibility for the break-up lay elsewhere.

The circumstance that led to the creation of Pakistan was politics not religion. The parochial and inflexible politics of the Congress disabled the "ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity," as Jinnah was known within the National Congress.

The first major political blunder was committed in 1928. The Nehru Report prepared in 1928 by the Nehru Committee with Nehru as its member, was a turning point for the Muslims. The Committee rejected the Muslim demand that they be given one-third representation in the Central Legislature though their population was only 25, to ensure that no measure was passed by the Legislature against the interest of Muslims.

Jinnah was even prepared to accept joint electorates if the demand for one-third representation was accepted. The Congress only held out verbal assurances to Jinnah. He has sought concrete Constitutional guarantees.

The Congress and Muslim League alliance cracked after the British Parliament adopted the Government of India Act in 1935. The Act established a federal system that granted substantial autonomy to eleven provinces, of which Muslims comprised the majority in four: Bengal, Punjab, Sind and the North-West Frontier Province. When the first elections were held in 1937, Congress got majorities in six provinces and became the biggest single party in Assam. The Muslim League, because of factional disputes did badly at the polls in four Muslim-majority provinces. It proposed to form Congress-League coalitions in the provinces where it had did well as a strong second. The Congress instead offered the Leaguers to merge into the Congress.

The Congress justified its rejection of the Muslim demand for power-sharing by denying the reality that there were differences between Hindus and Muslims. Reality belies the Indian notion of Muslims and Hindus being ‘one’ community. H. V. Hodgson in his book The Great Divide maintained there was a natural divide that existed. He wrote, "It is not possible to divide and rule unless the ruled are ready to be divided. The British may have used the Hindu-Muslim rivalry for their own advantage, but they did not invent it. They did not write the annals of Indian history, nor prescribe the conflicting customs of her communities, nor foment the murderous riots that periodically flared between Hindus and Muslims in her villages and cities-¦"

Congress leadership simplistically if not deliberately overlooked the question of political rights for the Muslims. In 1939 Gandhi wrote to a Muslim correspondent, "Why is India not one nation? Was it not one during, say, the Moghul period? Is India composed of two nations?" The answer simply was no. Until the British arrived India was not a single nation State, it was never administered as a united country under the control of a centralized State. This changed after the British. It was in this context of the beginnings of a Western State and Constitutional rule in India, especially after the British exit, that Jinnah had sought Muslim political representation. Social co-existence that Gandhi wanted would have been possible by the Hindu majority granting rights to the Muslim minority.

The Congress’s non-accommodating policy on Muslim political rights contrasted with the Congress-League Lucknow Pact of 1916. The Pact conceded that the Muslims of India should be given one-third representation in the central government and that there should be separate electorates for all the communities until a community demanded for joint electorates. This Pact became the basis for the 1919 Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms. This was the first acknowledgement of the Muslims as a separate community with distinct political rights within a United India.

But with time the Congress leadership erroneously believed the Muslim League would be weakened as would the Muslim resolve for political rights. And that it could be ignored as a representative political force. This changed Congress policy caused the end of Congress-League unity and ultimately the creation of Pakistan.

The rise of a Muslim political consciousness was directly linked to the denial by the Congress of political rights to the Muslims. The results of the 1945 central legislative assembly proved Jinnah’s hold on the masses. In Muslim constituencies the League got 86.6 per cent of the votes to the Congress’ 91.3 percent in non-Muslim areas.

Nehru’s secularism, built on denial of minority rights, in fact sowed the seeds for communal politics. The Congress was not keen on a partnership with the Muslims. It sought their absorption. Penderel Moon, the Indian Civil Servant wrote in Divide and Quit, "In other words Congress was prepared to share the throne only with Muslims who consented to merge themselves in a predominantly Hindu organization. They offered the League not partnership but absorption. This proved to be a fatal error-“the prime cause of the creation of Pakistan-“but in the circumstances it was a very natural one."

However as Moon argues the decision of a victorious Congressional politics, to not share power with another party the Muslim League could be defended as "perfectly natural" in the tradition of parliamentary politics. This natural behavior instilled in the Muslims of India, indeed in their leader, the fear of how far this "perfectly natural" behavior would go in denying to the large chunk of Indian Muslims their religious, cultural and economic rights.

Jinnah, the leader swarmed by Muslims who were a hundred years behind in mind and material of the astute and robust Hindu nationalism that Ram Mohan Roy had led, then rose, as the accomplished historian Ayesha Jalal aptly writes to become the Sole Spokesman for the Muslims of India. Combining his inflexible political conviction with the sheer power of Constitutionalism Jinnah was going to pilot his people to a safe and secure landing, either within united India or in an independent homeland.

For the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity after World War I ,it had been clearly demonstrated that unless Muslims asserted their own ways (rights?) Indian politics will bear the stamp of Hinduism alone. In Invention of Pakistan (World Policy Journal Spring 2003) Karl E. Meyer writes" Indeed, his rift with Gandhi after World War I stemmed in part from the Mahatma’s turning to satyagraha, or nonviolent resistance, using Hindu doctrine to energize mass support and adopting his universally recognized trademarks, the dhoti and spinning wheel."

Hence Jinnah had sought public space through political rights for Muslim assertion as well. But first within an undivided India as Sunil Khilnani, an Indian born historian recalls in his book The Idea of India. Khilnani writes, "Jinnah saw the Muslims as forming a single community, or ‘nation,’ but he envisaged an existence for them alongside a ‘Hindu nation’ within a united, confederal India. The core of his disagreement with Congress concerned the structure of the future state. Jinnah was determined to prevent the creation of a unitary central state with procedures of political representation that threatened to put it in the hands of a numerically dominant religious community." He adds, "As such, this was a perfectly secular ambition." Congress’s refusal to accommodate this legitimate demand pushed the creation of Pakistan.

Indian justification for attacking Quaid includes their allegation that Quaid conspired with the British to divide India. Facts tell another story. It was indeed Nehru who colluded with Viceroy Mountbatten to tamper with the work of the Boundary Commission. Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a distinguished British barrister, was its chairman. Radcliff having destroyed his own confidential records ensured the controversy went around in circles. Finally as Karl E. Meyer writes in the Invention of Pakistan it was only in 1992 when Christopher Beaumont, Radcliffe’s former aide provided to the Daily Telegraph a memorandum he had prepared earlier on the Commission’s deliberations.

In his memorandum that he had already entrusted to All Souls College at Oxford Beaumont confirmed, as Meyers writes, "that frontiers had been secretly redrawn to Pakistan’s disadvantage. The most important reversal involved Ferozepore, an area of some four hundred square miles, important because its canal headwaters controlled the irrigation system in the princely state of Bikaner. Forewarned by a leak of Ferozepore’s award to Pakistan, Nehru joined with the Maharajah of Bikaner in appealing to the viceroy. After a private lunch with Mountbatten-“Radcliffe’s second and last meeting with the viceroy-“the chairman bowed to pressure and altered the Punjab line. "This episode reflects great discredit on Mountbatten and Nehru," Beaumont’s memorandum concluded, "and less on Radcliffe."

As for Jinnah, the Indian Nirad Chaudhuri in the second volume of his autobiography Thy Hand, Great Anarch, wrote ""I must set down at this point that Jinnah is the only man who came out with success and honor from the ignoble end of the British Empire in India. He never made a secret of what he wanted, never prevaricated, never compromised, and yet succeeded in inflicting unmitigated defeat on the British Government and the Indian National Congress. He achieved something which not even he could have believed to be within reach in 1946."

Other Indian Scholars like the former Advocate-General of Maharashtra, Mr. Seervai, exonerate Jinnah and hold mainly the Indian National Congress responsible for it. In his book Partition of India: Legend and Reality HM Seervai maintains that "It is a little unfortunate that those who assail Jinnah for destroying the unity of India do not ask how it was that a man who wanted a nationalist solution till as late as 1938, when he was 61 years of age, suddenly became a ‘communalist’."

Pakistan’s violent birth did not embitter the unbending Quaid. Even after the bloodletting divide he stood by his principles. As his August 11, 1947 address to Pakistan’s constituent assembly demonstrated.

Indian passions flowing from distorted historiography notwithstanding, Quaid was as tall a man as history has ever carried. His penetrating vision had room for both a united India but he simultaneously foresaw the dangers of unrelenting Congress-led Hindu domination. Congress confirmed his fears. Jinnah knew parting was inevitable.

But the ‘morning after’ the parting, as Jinnah had envisaged went sour. He had wanted tolerance and harmony within and outside. Yet it fell prey to man-made circumstances created within and outside of Pakistan. Within, it was insecurity, mutilation of political processes and military-bureaucratic control of State institutions that led us away from Quaid’s ideals.

For India meanwhile someday its intellectuals may feel secure enough to produce a revisionist historiography. For facts they wont have to reach out too far. They are blowing in the winds of South Asia. As Advani himself discovered. But for now he has been checkmated. Pakistan after all came to terms with, the Indian role notwithstanding, and its own mistakes in what lead to the creation of Bangladesh. For the Indians there is some learning to be done.