Jinnah as portrayed by Bipan Chandra - The transformation of a patriot into a secessionist

How far can a person change in 40 years? If you look at the Jinnah of 1906 and the Jinnah of 1946, you will realize that 40 years is a long enough period to turn a person from an idol of unity to a symbol of division. Read this article to know more about this topic.

At the very beginning, it is important to clarify that even among Hindus there were communal leaders like Sawarkar and Golwalkar who preached virulence in its extreme. What makes Jinnah's example unique is that he started out as a very different person from how he ended up. Perhaps the only other leader who showed this kind of transformation was Lajpat Rai (and even he did not veer towards the extreme communalism of Jinnah's variety). This makes Jinnah an interesting case study.

A hero and a villain

One thing that can be said with certainty is that Muhammad Ali Jinnah is a controversial person. In India, he is considered as the arch leader of separatism. On the other side of the border, he is revered as Quaid-e-Azam (Great Leader). The reason for this massive difference of perception is not difficult to understand – Jinnah was one of the main culprits for the partition of India and he has to bear at least one-third of the responsibility for the gruesome massacres that began from August 1946 onwards (the remaining blame to be shared between Hindu and Sikh communalists and the British administration). The hatred which Indians traditionally have had against Jinnah has almost made his name a sort of taboo.

In India's Struggle for Independence authored by Bipan Chandra et al., this taboo is countered head-on. The book is pretty old and by now it is probably on the must-read list of anyone wishing to learn about India's freedom struggle. But even now, this book has a remarkable freshness about it, as if events about which we all know are now portrayed in a whole new light. From the book, we can understand how complex Jinnah's personality was. Jinnah's development, or rather degradation, from a secular nationalist to a communal secessionist is a major subject in the 33rd chapter of the book.

The good old days

Jinnah was of Gujarati origin whose forefathers were recent converts to Islam. Like most leading politicians of that generation, he was also trained in law. After completing his education, he returned to India in 1906. This was the period when the first major Muslim communal organization, the All India Muslim League was being formed in Dhaka under the patronage of the British. Consisting almost entirely of the landlords of eastern Bengal, the party was conceived as a counterweight to the Congress. The loyalist policies of the League disgusted the young Jinnah. He made sharp attacks on the leaders of the League and due to his support to secularism and nationalism, he even earned the title 'Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity' from none other than Sarojini Naidu herself.

The Morley-Minto reforms were one of the first turning points for Jinnah. Under the 'reforms', Muslims were to be given separate electorates. In other words, Muslim voters were to vote for Muslim candidates in reserved seats. Jinnah was elected to the Central Legislative Assembly on such a reserved seat in 1913. Simultaneously, he joined the League, marking an irreversible break from his secular traditions. But he did not leave the Congress immediately (back then, Congress permitted simultaneous membership in various parties) showing that there was still a trace of the nationalist within him. Most people may not know of this, but in 1916, at the nascent stage of the Home Rule movement, when Tilak was given threats of detention by the government, it was Jinnah who fought the legal battle for Tilak. Working closely alongside Tilak, he helped in forging unity between the Congress and the League, culminating in the Lucknow Pact of 1916. Under this agreement, the Congress accepted the policy of separate electorates for Muslims and the League decided to give up its loyalist policy. During the Anti-Rowlatt protests, Jinnah was one of those who resigned from his council seat.

A parting of ways occurred in 1920 when Congress approved Gandhi's plan of a non-cooperation movement. Most moderate leaders including Jinnah left the Congress due to their inherent opposition to mass action. Remember, the dispute was regarding the strategy of protest and it had nothing to do with the secular-communal divide.

Survival strategy

After Jinnah left the Congress he faced the risk of becoming politically irrelevant. He believed that if he had to maintain his popularity among the people, he needed to do something which would be able to match the impact of the Congress mass movements. Unlike the other liberal leaders of that era, Jinnah veered more and more towards communalism. When in 1928, the Motilal Nehru-led All Party Conference formalized a plan for the Constitution of future India, Jinnah opposed it on the ground that the 'Nehru Report' opposed separate electorates. This was despite the fact that the report did have the provision of reserved seats for Muslims but from joint electorates. Jinnah, who refused to be conciliated, went ahead and formulated his famous (or rather infamous) 'Fourteen Points'. The communal demands of these 'Fourteen Points' (along with similar other matters) were later incorporated by the British in the Communal Awards of 1932. But a bit of patriotism was still left in him as was shown when he supported the boycott of the Simon Commission in 1927.

During the following years, Jinnah continued to play the dual role of a patriot and a communal leader. By this time, his followers consisted almost entirely of Muslim communal leaders. Azad, Ansari, and others had long left his company. In the elections of 1937 (under the Government of India Act, 1935) the League faced one of its worst performances. Even in the constituencies specially reserved for Muslims, the League could win only a handful of the seats. Due to its support of landlordism, the Congress in UP refused its proposal of an alliance. Unless something spectacular occurred, the League faced the very real risk of becoming a non-entity.

The final phase

That 'something spectacular' happened in 1940 when communalism finally turned into secessionism. In the vague words of the Lahore Resolution of the League, demand was made for a separate state in the north-west and the eastern portions of British India. In the coming years and months, the demand became more and more concrete and turned into a demand for 'Pakistan', a word unheard before 1933. Why did the secular nationalist Jinnah suddenly turn into a communal secessionist? The main reason as has already been stated was to maintain political relevance. Another reason was that by this time, almost all of the demands of the League, including separate electorates and the like, were agreed upon, both by the Congress and by the government. There was practically no demand which remained to be fulfilled. In this case, either the League could choose to become extinct, or clutch onto a new set of demands. As was seen, it decided to do the latter. The violence that followed next does not need to be separately described.

The need to study about Jinnah

Why should we study about Jinnah's political career? Jinnah as a controversial figure needs to be openly discussed so that we can arrive at the truth behind all the controversies. That is, after all, the duty of every conscientious historian. But studying the life of Jinnah is also important to study the nature of communalism – the virulent poison that can turn a secular patriot like Jinnah into a taboo figure. Communalism is an attractive ideology for politicians because it helps them to create an artificial issue around which the ignorant can be sufficiently rallied around. Jinnah's true nature perhaps was more liberal than the present day leaders of Pakistan (as is evident from his oft-quoted Presidential address of 11th August 1947). But once he accepted communalism as his creed, he was seated on a raging tiger. If he tried to get down from that tiger then he would be killed for sure. Maybe, after creating Pakistan, he wanted to go back to his old days of secularism. But the success of this can be gauged from the present day situation in the country he created.


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