In business, one is often told that it might make sense to take a negotiating stance which is at odds with one’s beliefs and convictions regarding what is right and what is wrong. The life of MA Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, shows this might actually be a very bad idea. In order to manoeuvre himself into a politically advantageous position, Jinnah abandoned his convictions and died, a decade later, regretting it. Faisal CK, an Under Secretary in the Government of Kerala, explains in his piece how Jinnah effectively (and ironically) lost his worldview in order to get ahead in Indian politics.
We begin by learning that the young Jinnah was a staunch liberal: “Jinnah was the defence counsel of freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak in a case of sedition, which he won against the British government in 1916. Jinnah’s first speech in the Imperial Legislative Assembly was in favour of MK Gandhi’s struggle for racial justice in South Africa. Congress leader and freedom fighter Gopal Krishna Gokhale had predicted that Jinnah would be an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity and Jinnah had responded saying that he would like to be a “Muslim Gokhale”.
Author Yasser Latif Hamdani writes in Jinnah: A Life: “Jinnah had joined AIML [All India Muslim League] with the specific purpose to wrest it from the clutches of the landed aristocracy and men like the Aga Khan, whom he considered as a British collaborator. Jinnah at this time was entirely unsympathetic to the ideas of Muslim exceptionalism.”
Jinnah brokered the Lucknow Pact of 1916 between the All India Muslim League and the Indian National Congress aimed at Hindu-Muslim unity. He opposed the Khilafat movement – a pan-Islamic movement that began in 1919 to preserve the authority of the Ottaman sultan as the caliph of Islam – and as a liberal, he stood up for constitutional methods…”
In fact, in 1918 Jinnah married the Parsi lady who was the love of his life much to the chagrin of the orthodox elite: “Jinnah’s chivalrous romance, cutting across religious lines, highlighted the liberal worldview he held in his personal and social life. Jinnah was 40 years old, a successful barrister and a rising star in the Indian political firmament, when he fell in love with 16-year-old Rattanbai “Ruttie” Petit, the daughter of Jinnah’s friend and client, the fabulously rich Parsi baronet Sir Dinshaw Petit.
When she turned 18, they got married in 1918 despite Sir Petit’s antipathy to the alliance. Rattanbai and Jinnah were ostracised by their communities. “He gave up Islam for the sake of a Kafirah/Is he the Quaid-e-Azam (great leader) or the Kafir-e-Azam [great kafir]?” asked his orthodox, fanatic critics. But the liberal Jinnah was unfazed.”
And then famously in 1940 Jinnah turned communal with consequences which still reverberate across the sub-continent: “After the Lahore Resolution of the Muslim League in 1940 for the establishment of Pakistan, Jinnah did a volte face from his secular politics. Many historians believe that Jinnah had demanded the creation of Pakistan as a pressure tactic, but it turned into Frankenstein’s monster.”
The question of why a staunch liberal laid the foundations of a communal movement and theocratic nation have been researched by numerous historians. Nisid Hajari says in his book ‘Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition’ (2015) that Mahatma Gandhi’s massification of Indian politics i.e. drawing into the political movement ordinary people (outside of the Mumbai elite amongst whom Jinnah felt comfortable) alienate Jinnah and put Jinnah’s political career at risk. We quote from Hajari’s book: “Under Gandhi’s influence a new, less august crowd dominated Congress meetings – middle-class and lower-middle-class men and women, clad in saris and kurtas and sitting on the ground cross-legged rather than in chairs. Jinnah still got upset when his bearer laid out the wrong cufflinks for him.
He no longer fit in. Jinnah did not disappear from the political scene, but as Gandhi’s Congress grew larger and larger, the League leader was pushed further and further to the margins. He became what he had never wanted to be – a purely Muslim politician, reduced to petitioning for concessions for his community. By the end of the 1920s, the League had begun to break up into factions, and Jinnah’s influence had become negligible.”
By the end of the 1920s Jinnah’s now estranged wife Ruttie died – she committed suicide says her daughter – and Jinnah found himself loveless and politically marginalised by Mahatma Gandhi’s supremely effective mass mobilisation campaign. He actually ended up moving back to London in the early 1930s where he told friends that his political career had reached a dead end. That trip to London seems to be the turning point for as Faisal says the reinvented Jinnah: “… struck a Faustian bargain with communalism – an agreement that forced him to abandon his social values and moral principles for political power. This bargain marred India’s national movement as well as its potential to have grown as an Asian giant. Jinnah’s life ended in tragedy,”
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