In the run-up to the crucial Kairana byelection in Western Uttar Pradesh, an unnecessary controversy aimed at polarising communities has been generated over the portrait of Pakistan founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah; this picture was placed in 1938 at the Aligarh Muslim University. The issue was raised by Aligarh Lok Sabha member, Satish Gautam, in the fourth year of his tenure, and despite the fact that others in his own party have expressed themselves to the contrary, activists of the Hindu Yuva Vahini and Hinduwadi Chhatra Sangh have latched on to the demand for the removal of the portrait.

Ironically, the right wingers are replicating the same experiment that Jinnah did on India—dissecting it on the basis of religion. However, while Jinnah advocated the cause of a separate Muslim state for the furtherance of his own political ambitions, given that his chances of heading the government in Independent India were bleak, the Hindu fringe groups are agitating ahead of the polls to keep the communal pot boiling.

Jinnah was a strong votary of the Two-Nation Theory that was first propounded by Chaudhury Rahmat Ali and was subsequently philosophised by Mohammad Iqbal, one of the most distinguished poets and thinkers of the last century. However, long before Jinnah, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar had also expounded the Two-Nation thesis, but according to the interpretation provided by Dr B.R. Ambedkar to his doctrine, the Hindu ideologue was never in favour of creating a separate state, and desired the two communities to seamlessly co-exist within the framework of a United India, with a common Constitution with the adherence to the principle of one man one vote.

Jinnah, on the other hand, built his argument on the ongoing debate amongst the Muslim intelligentsia that felt insecure over the future of their community once the British exited. The British were mighty pleased, and in pursuance of their policy of ‘divide and rule’ encouraged Jinnah to press his demand since it put the Congress and its leaders in a highly embarrassing and awkward position. Jinnah’s insistence led to blood-drenched riots in several parts of the country, particularly Punjab and Bengal, which primarily bore the brunt of the Partition, and the cataclysmic and harrowing exodus of lakhs of people from both sides of the borders; boundaries were, with irrational indifference, drawn up in haste, by the British imperialists.

Unlike Jinnah, Mohammad Iqbal, who propounded his thesis, never wanted a divided India, yet was in favour of several autonomous regions to exist within the parameters of one single country. However, there were several distorted interpretations that sprung up on his views since he passed away in 1938 and thus was unable to defend his contention.

Jinnah, the pork-consuming, westernised Muslim who wore the veneer of a fundamentalist to succeed as the head of the Islamic country, sat back, allowing the British to carve out Pakistan. He, though, continually kept multiple times changing his stand on the division of the country. Paradoxically, he is revered in our neighbouring nation as the Quaid-e-Azam, which in Urdu means the Great Leader. His name is synonymous with a communal mindset, so far as India and Indians are concerned, and therefore, even a mere reference to him triggers feelings of contempt.

It is in this backdrop that the BJP MP highlighted the presence of his portrait in the AMU premises and as a consequence, TV channels went overboard in insisting on its removal. Those who described the matter as insignificant and an integral part of history were projected as anti-national and pro-Pakistan. Evidently, the manufactured hysteria will have ramifications in the byelections and is part of a well thought out strategy to keep the divisive cauldron simmering in sensitive areas. It is important to note that the Kairana Lok Sabha constituency has a sizable Muslim electorate, which in all likelihood will vote against the ruling party. Therefore, the only hope the BJP has of retaining the seat is by polarising the communities and the Jinnah portrait issue is one definite one ploy in this direction.

Undoubtedly, Jinnah was an adversary of the Congress, and there is clear clarity amongst the followers of the grand old party regarding his role in history. However, within the saffron brigade there is only abhorrence for him, and this primarily was the reason for the BJP’s architect and senior most active leader, Lal Krishna Advani, losing the plot to acquire his ultimate political aspiration. In 2005, during his visit to Karachi, when acting on the erroneous advice of some of his aides, Advani visited Jinnah’s mausoleum, and described him as a leader who had espoused the cause of secularism within Pakistan; this single act proved to be his undoing. By eulogising Jinnah, Advani wrote his political obituary on that day itself, and over the years his contribution to the consolidation of the BJP as a political force in this country came to naught.

It is the call of the AMU authorities to take an appropriate decision on this matter. Simultaneously, Sangh activists should be asked whether they would next demand the banning of Sare Jahan Se Achha Hindustan Hamara, since it was penned by Iqbal, the spiritual father of Pakistan. Or whether Jinnah’s relatives, who live in this country, should be told to wind up their business in India, and set home across the border. Between us.

Replies to “Jinnah’s portrait: A landscape in polarising politics”

  1. Whatever be the merit of the article for its sobriety, the fact remains that Jinnah was also responsible for the Direct Action, for his absolute refusal to make any concession to Mahatma Gandhi during the September 1946 dialogue during which he insisted on the unbridgeable chasm which separates the Muslim from the Hindu community. Furthermore the irreducible distinction between his Kaum and the Mahatma’s was sealed with more than a million killed and the displacement of about 15 million people. Jinnah was explicit in telling the Mahatma that Pakistan should have the right to wage war against India and he did sponsor the first war against his former country. To placate those who still think that Jinnah deserves to have his portrait at the AMU, a portrait of Mir Jaffar too could be placed beside it.

  2. very balanced and well thought article. i read no such article in any other newspaper where they present story of both sides.

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