This article explores the reasons behind the paradigm shift in Jinnah’s thinking, from an embodied symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity to a different trajectory, mapping out his views and advocacy for a separate homeland.
One of the most intriguing questions in the Muslim freedom movement in British India is the transformation of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the ‘Ambassador of Unity’ – Hindu-Muslim unity – to a leader demanding separation/partition of India and the creation of Pakistan. In 1916, Jinnah helped the All-India Muslim League, which he had joined in 1913, and the Indian National Congress, which he had joined earlier in 1906, sign a comprehensive constitutional scheme in Lucknow to secure the interests of both Muslims and Hindus, including the settlement of the most contentious issue of separate electorates for the Muslims in the legislative bodies. This scheme demonstrated that it was possible for Muslim and Hindu leaders (represented by the Congress) to reach ‘an amicable settlement of Hindu-Muslim constitutional and political problems’. Jinnah was declared not only the ‘ambassador’’ but, indeed, ‘an embodied symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity’. His contemporary, Sarojini Naidu, a poet-politician even published some of his speeches under the title of, ‘Mohomed Ali Jinnah: An Ambassador of Unity’ (1917).
Though the Muslims lived with the Hindus side by side in cities and villages, there was little interaction between the two communities. Social ties were almost nonexistent. The Hindu caste system neither encouraged nor promoted natural ties of the neighborhood or locality.
On March 22, 1940, Jinnah, President of the Muslim League now, stood up before its most represented session in Lahore, attended by thousands of Muslims from all over India and declared that: ‘The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, literatures. They... belong to two different civilisations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. Their aspects on life, and of life are, different... To yoke together two such nations [sic] under a single state, one as a numerical minority and the other as a majority, must lead to growing discontent, and final destruction of any fabric that may be so built up for the government of such a state’. On March 23, the League came to an agreement and, on 24th, adopted a resolution stating that “the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority, as in the North-Western and Eastern Zones of India, should be grouped to constitute ‘Independent States’ in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign”. This was the beginning of the end of united India. In a speech during the 1945-46 elections, which the League ultimately won by an overwhelming majority by securing 460 out of 533 Muslim seats, Jinnah emphatically stated that ‘Our demand of Pakistan is clear. The areas in which Muslims are numerically in majority should be grouped to constitute an independent state...’ The subsequent Muslim League Legislator’s Convention in April 1946 went on to further elaborate: “The zones comprising Bengal and Assam in the North-East and the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sind and Baluchistan in the North-West of India, namely Pakistan zones where the Muslims are in a dominant majority be constituted into a sovereign independent State...”
Unlike the claims of some British authorities, and indeed Ayesha Jalal in her study, Pakistan was a firm demand of Jinnah, charismatic leader of the Muslims now. It was not a ‘bargaining counter’, to strike a better deal in the ensuing constitutional struggle. As Stanley Wolpert reckoned, Jinnah had ‘lowered the final curtain on any prospects for a single united independent India... There was no turning back. The ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity had totally transformed himself into Pakistan’s great leader’. But the question, a critical question was, why? Why Jinnah, a proponent of Hindu-Muslim unity for so long and indeed an Indian ‘nationalist’ made such a paradigm shift in his thinking and approach to the communal-constitutional problem of India and decided to demand a separate nation-state of Pakistan? I will try to explain, though very briefly, some of the factors accounting for his transformation as such. These factors are discussed one by one distinctly, though almost all of them interact and overlap with each other to some extent.
All that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, its leader, could promise in return at the Round Table Conference in London in 1931 was that, ‘the residuary powers shall vest in the federating units, unless on further examination, it is found to be against the best interests of India’. Jinnah and the Muslims were not amused, leaving them no choice but to escape the stranglehold of the Hindu centre through a demand for a separate state.
Divergent, Irreconcilable Hindu-Muslim Interests. Muslims, as a distinct religio-cultural group, obviously, had separate interests. They followed Islam, sharply different from Hinduism, the religion of the Hindu majority community. Though the Muslims lived with the Hindus side by side in cities and villages, there was little interaction between the two communities. Social ties were almost nonexistent. The Hindu caste system neither encouraged nor promoted natural ties of the neighborhood or locality. Both Hindus and Muslims had their own culture, traditions and norms, indeed a way of life. They could not be reconciled through ages in spite of the best efforts of some Muslim rulers in the past, such as through the so-called ‘synthesis’ initiated by Emperor Akbar. The sociocultural units remained isolated and indeed became hostile to each other after the fall of the Mughal Empire and the advent of the British. They became an acute source of conflict during the British rule. On top of it, the system of representative government introduced by the British made the Muslims a ‘minority’ community and for good. Their interests were dubbed communal interests and thus, irreconcilable with national interests. Jinnah, of course, was not willing to allow these so-called national interests to develop at the expense of particular Muslim interests. Thus, in an article he wrote for the Time and Tide Magazine of London on January 19, 1940, he made it clear that ‘while Muslim League irrevocably opposed to any federal objective which must necessarily result in a majority communal rule under the guise of democracy and Parliamentary System of Government’. But the ‘majority communal rule’ could not be saved or avoided because of the system of representative government itself. It was but inevitable.
The Inherently Biased System of the Representative Government. The British introduced the system of representative government in India with much reluctance. In fact Lord Curzon, taking part in a debate on the Indian Councils Bill of 1892, had firmly ruled out the idea of representative institutions in India. He insisted that ‘the idea of representation was alien to the Indian mind’. In addition, and more importantly, the British rulers realized well the nature and intensity of socio-religious differences between the Muslims and Hindus. In their estimate, it was ‘not a mere difference of articles of faith. It is a difference in life, in tradition, in history, in all the social things as well as articles of belief that constitute a community’. It was precisely this realization that made them grant separate electorates to the Muslims under the Act of 1909.
However, the Hindu community was not prepared to accept this constitutional safeguard for the Muslims in a system of government based on numbers and thus bound to be inherently biased against them. Initially, Jinnah too – as an ardent nationalist – was opposed to separate electorates. But he soon felt that the Muslims have ‘certain special interests and certain particular needs which must be catered to if they were not left behind in the greater cause of Hindu-Muslim unity and growth of Indian nationalism’. But while the Congress, representing the Hindu majority, accepted it in 1916, they reneged as soon as India began to receive the first measure of transfer of power, under the Act of 1919, i.e., restrained responsibility to govern the provinces. The (Motilal) Nehru Report of 1928 ‘repudiated the principle of separate electorates’ and indeed called for ‘joint mixed-electorates’ in the country. Jinnah did his utmost to persuade the Congress (and Hindu Mahasabha) to help ‘seven crores of Mussalmans to march along with us in the struggle for freedom’ but to no avail. Jinnah then came up with his ‘Fourteen Points’, insisting not only on separate electorates, but significantly with a forceful demand for a ‘federal constitution, with residuary powers vested in the provinces’ to help Muslim-majority provinces secure themselves against the inevitable Hindu domination at the centre. All that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, its leader, could promise in return at the Round Table Conference in London in 1931 was that, ‘the residuary powers shall vest in the federating units, unless on further examination, it is found to be against the best interests of India’. Jinnah and the Muslims were not amused, leaving them with no choice but to escape the stranglehold of the Hindu centre through a demand for a separate state. This choice became all the more a necessity for the Muslims after experiencing the distressful Congress rule of the provinces in 1397-39, firsthand.
Wolpert summed up Gandhi and Nehru’s behaviour and its impact upon Jinnah: ‘Congress’ insults, stupidity, negligence, venality, genuine and imagined anti-Muslim feelings, fatigue, frustration, fears, doubts, hopes, shattered dreams, passions turned to ashes, pride – all contributed to the change in Jinnah. He would not go softly, or silently, into that dark night’.
The Experience of Congress Rule in the Provinces, 1937-39. Jinnah fought the 1936-37 elections on a conciliatory note with the Congress, hoping to revive the spirit of the Lucknow Pact of 1916 in the common cause of India’s freedom. But then, Jawaharlal Nehru, the newly elected President of the Congress, was in no mood. He even refused to recognize the Muslim League as a political party, let alone a party representing the Muslims. In a haughty manner, he declared that ‘there are only two political forces in India – the [British] Government and the Congress – and others must line up’. Jinnah could not believe it. He retorted: ‘I refuse to line up with the Congress. I refuse to accept this proposition. There is a third party in this country and that is Muslim India.” Nehru remained adamant and followed up his rhetoric with instructions to all provincial Congress committees that, ‘with other groups we can form no alliances’. The League, which had won 29 out of 64 seats in the UP (United Provinces) Assembly, at the insistence of its local leaders, was hoping to form a coalition government with the Congress there. This short-sighted, pompous approach on part of Nehru proved not only costly for the Congress but, indeed, for Indian unity. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who was deeply involved in the affairs of the UP, described this development as ‘a most unfortunate development’ for it not only gave the ‘League in the UP a new lease of life’ but, more importantly, in the whole of India. In fact, he maintained that: ‘...It was from the UP that the League was reorganized. Mr. Jinnah took full advantage of the situation and started an offensive which ultimately led to Pakistan’. On top of it, the Congress rule itself, with its Wardha Scheme of Education, Vande Mataram, and all other Hinduizing tendencies of the government, showed to the Muslims that the ‘Hindu Raj’ had arrived well before the British left India – a peep into the future. Jinnah tried to involve Gandhi. All he could get was a disdainful attitude, like that of Nehru: ‘In your speeches I miss the old nationalist.... Are you still the same Mr. Jinnah? If you are, in spite of your speeches, I shall accept your word’. This attitude of Gandhi and Nehru indeed forced Jinnah to break completely from the Congress and its creed, the so-called Indian ‘nationalism’.
Although Muslim separatism, as a political phenomenon, was deep-rooted in the history of India, it assumed a special shape and form during the British rule, making the Muslims a ‘minority community’ and at the receiving end of their system of representation, based on numbers first and foremost.
The Indifferent, Hostile Attitude of Congress Leadership – Gandhi and Nehru. Jinnah was at the peak of his early political career in 1916 as Gandhi arrived in India from South Africa in 1915, and eventually entered politics ‘through the good offices of Gokhale’. As one analyst remarked, Jinnah was then ‘the only leader who wielded influence in both communities’ – Hindus and Muslims. Jawaharlal Nehru was a novice in politics. However, Gandhi’s role in the Khilafat-non-cooperation movement in 1920 changed everything. Jinnah, a constitutionalist, opposed to the non-cooperation methods, stayed out of the movement and thus lost his ground in politics. His loss demonstrated that ‘there was no place within the Congress for a politician of Jinnah’s type’, a constitutionalist and then a Muslim. Jinnah left the party for good to concentrate on the Muslim League and its role and relevance in the years ahead. In 1924, he was elected as President of the revived League. He tried his best to find a modus vivendi with the Congress leadership through the Delhi Muslim Proposal (1927), only to find a counter proposal in the form of the Nehru Report. A compulsive nationalist that he was, he tried amending the report to reconcile Muslim interests but did not succeed. His belief in ‘the possibility of unity and his ability to bring it about was seriously shaken’. He tried the ‘Fourteen Points’, but, again, to no avail. He even tried the Round Table Conference in London, but the sole representative of the Congress in its 1931 session, Gandhi, was not interested. Indeed, he ‘proved to be the chief wrecker of the conference’. After his self-imposed exile in London in 1931-35, Jinnah returned to India and approached the Congress leadership once again for the settlement of Hindu-Muslim problem to secure freedom for India, especially after the 1936-37 elections. But, again, as mentioned earlier, Nehru remained indifferent and hostile. He spurned the hand of the League in coalition-building in the UP. He refused to accommodate Jinnah and the League at a very critical phase in Indian history.
In fact, as A. G. Noorani observed, Nehru’s ‘behaviour’ towards Jinnah was ‘unworthy’ of a political leader of that stature. As he explained: ‘It was an intense, irrational dislike of Jinnah, bordering on hate. It existed even in the early thirties when Jinnah was universally hailed as an Indian nationalist’. Gandhi was no different in his behavior, though subtle. He would be condescending: ‘I do not mind your opposition to the Congress... If you succeed you will free the country from communal incubus, and, in my humble opinion, give a lead to the Muslims and others for which you will deserve the gratitude not only of the Muslims but of all other communities [including Hindus]’; No wonder, as Wolpert summed up Gandhi and Nehru’s behaviour and its impact upon Jinnah: ‘Congress’ insults, stupidity, negligence, venality, genuine and imagined anti-Muslim feelings, fatigue, frustration, fears, doubts, hopes, shattered dreams, passions turned to ashes, pride – all contributed to the change in Jinnah. He would not go softly, or silently, into that dark night’. And he did not have to go. The Muslim separatist political movement was waiting for him.
Leadership of the Muslim Separatist Political Movement. Although Muslim separatism, as a political phenomenon was deeply rooted in the history of India, it assumed a special shape and form during the British rule, making the Muslims a ‘minority community’ and at the receiving end of their system of representation, based on numbers first and foremost. In this sense it institutionalized separatism, with Muslims always struggling to secure their particular interests in the system. Though Jinnah initially opposed the separatist approach, insisting that ‘Mohammadan community should be treated in the same way as the Hindu community, and not differently’, he eventually realized by 1940, given his long experience in politics and especially of dealing with the Congress and its leadership, that ‘there are in India two nations’ – Muslims and Hindus. Muslims were a separate nation. The Muslims wished to ‘develop to the fullest our spiritual, cultural, economic, social and political life in a way that we think best and in consonance with our ideals and according to the genius of our people’. Jinnah went on to join, indeed lead, the Muslim separatist political movement initiated by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and subsequently developed at the hands of a host of political leaders, the Aga Khan, Syed Ameer Ali, Maulana Mohamed Ali and Allama Muhammad Iqbal, to secure and promote Muslim interests (the subject of my recent study, A Leadership Odyssey, 2021). He now realized that Congress was a ‘Hindu organization, dedicated to the establishment of Hindu Raj in India’, that ‘Hindustan is for Hindus’, and that the so-called Indian nationalism was, for all practical purposes, ‘Hindu nationalism’. There was no place for the Muslims. They had to seek a separate goal and destiny.
In this political transformation, apart from his own personal experiences, Jinnah was helped by Allama Iqbal who suggested that, ‘A separate Federation of Muslim provinces... is the only course by which we can... save Muslims from the domination of non-Muslims’. Jinnah’s acceptance and conversion to this separatist creed and demand for the separate state of Pakistan proved ‘a turning point not only in his own political career, but in the history of India’. A transformed Jinnah went on to transform India, partition it, and thus helped create the separate state of Pakistan.
The writer is Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at FC College University, Lahore. He is the author of the award-wining book, The Charismatic Leader: Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the Creation of Pakistan (OUP, 2008, 2014/2018) and the more recent, A Leadership Odyssey: Muslim Separatism and the Achievement of the Separate State of Pakistan (OUP, 2021).
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