Whenever I am asked, ‘Who was the most successful pre-1947 Indian politician?’ my answer is ‘M.A. Jinnah.’
The date of the birth of Mohammed Ali Jinnah remains something of a mystery. In the register of his school, in Karachi, the date given is 20 October 1875. M.A. Jinnah always maintained that he was born on Christmas Day in 1876.
Why am I writing about Jinnah? Yesterday, I finished reading, Jinnah: His Successes, Failures and Role in History. The volume is 808 pages long. The author is Ishtiaq Ahmed, who is currently professor emeritus of political science at Stockholm University.
Whenever I am asked, “Who was the most successful pre-1947 Indian politician?”, my answer is “M.A. Jinnah.”
Jinnah was a brilliant lawyer, before becoming an astute and brilliant politician.
Almost all his life he lived in Bombay. By the age of 35 he was a millionaire. He lived in a palatial house in Malabar Hill. He married late in life. His wife came from an eminent Parsi family. The marriage was not a happy one.
Jinnah at one time was called the “ambassador” of Hindu-Muslim Unity”, by no less a person than Sarojini Naidu. He was member of the newly founded Muslim League and also of Congress. When Gandhiji finally returned to India from South Africa in January 1915, Jinnah warmly welcomed him.
By 1920 Gandhiji had become the Congress supremo. Jinnah did not participated in the non-cooperation movement. He was for achieving India’s independence through constitutional means.
He finally left the Congress in 1928. Feeling politically frustrated, he left for London in 1930. He bought a house in the upper class part of London, Hampstead, was driven by an English chauffeur in his master’s Rolls Royce. Jinnah’s law practice flourished. He apparently made a lot of money.
The Muslim League was rudderless, an elitist party of Muslim talukdars and rich landowners. On the pleading of Liaquat Ali Khan and other leaders, Jinnah was persuaded to return to India. This he did in 1935. Single-handedly he converted the Muslim League into a mass organisation.
The Congress did not take him too seriously. Major political misjudgement. In the 1937 provincial elections, the performance of the Muslim League was dismal. The Congress did exceptionally well and formed governments in six out of eleven provinces.
In 1938-39, the Congress faced serious internal problem. The Mahatma and Subhas Chandra Bose did not get on. Eventually Gandhi had his way.
Gandhiji launched the Quit India movement on 8 August 1942. On the 9th he and all members of the Congress Working Committee were arrested. The Mahatma for once got it wrong. The Quit India movement lasted for seven to eight months and was brutally suppressed by the Viceroy. The political field was now at Jinnah’s hands.
From 1942 to 1947, the Muslim League became a major factor in India’s politics.
The Muslims were not a minority but a nation, was Jinnah’s unbeatable slogan. India had to be divided. It was on 14-15 August 1947. Hence, the India Freedom Movement ended in partial failure. Nehru himself conceded this.
M.A. Jinnah did not spend even a day in jail, did not face a lathi charge nor took part in a political hartal. By 1946, he abandoned constitutionalism and resorted to Direct Action. Recall the Calcutta killings. Almost single-handedly (the British behind the curtains did help him) he created Pakistan. Steadfast bigotry and communalism succeeded. Millions of innocent lives were lost when India was partitioned.
Was Jinnah a great man? In many ways he was. He created a nation. However, he could be disagreeably petty. When Gandhiji was assassinated Jinnah issued the following incredible and graceless statement: “Whatever our political differences, he was one of the greatest men produced by the Hindu community, and a leader who commanded their universal confidence and respect.
“I wish to express my sorrow, and sincerely sympathize with the great Hindu Community and his family in their bereavement at this momentous, historical and critical juncture so soon after the birth of freedom and freedom of Hindustan and Pakistan.
“The loss to the Dominion of India is irreparable, and it will be very difficult to fill the vacuum created by the passing away of such a great man at this moment.”
But deeply moving and sincere homage was paid to Gandhiji in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, by the East Bengal Premier, Khawaja Nizamuddin, Mian Mumtaz Daulatana, Premier of Punjab, M.A. Khuhro, Premier of Sind.
M.A. Jinnah heard the tributes to Gandhiji. Finally he stood up and to some extent made up for atrocious earlier statement. “I have heard the deep expression of sorrow and grief and I associate myself with the tributes that have been paid to this great man and his greatness. He died in the discharge of duty in which he was engaged. He was man of principles and when he believed that it was his duty he took it up and performed it. His tragic death, however, much as we may deplore and condemn it, was a noble death for he died in the discharge of the duty in which he believed. I will convey the message as desired by you, Mr Prime Minister, to the Indian peoples in due course.”