Over the last six decades historians and analysts have discussed the mystery of Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s political ‘conversion’ from Indian nationalism to Pakistani separatism. It seems ironic that he was the supreme advocate of the Two-Nation Theory, the idea that Hindus and Muslims were two separate nations and could not live peacefully together. After all, at one time he was the ‘ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity’, who wanted Indians to set aside their communal differences and stand united as one nation in the fight for Indian independence from the British. Yet this same man later demanded partition, and from the moment he made the demand he always maintained that Pakistan would be a state based on ‘Islamic ideals’. The focus, therefore, has always been on Jinnah’s so-called ideological persuasion: was he a secularist or was he a communalist? Was his outward ‘conversion’ to the Two-Nation Theory matched by a genuine internal, psychological change? If it was genuine, then what kind of Islam did he follow? If it was not genuine, then did he really aim for partition at all?
I shall attempt to show that it was Jinnah’s innate sense of humanity, coupled with his experiences in the turbulent history of British India, which helped him discover his later faith in Islamic idealism. In fact, the question is less about Jinnah himself, and more about Islam and the Two-Nation Theory, both of which need to be examined from Jinnah’s particular point of view versus that of his contemporaries.
We shall examine Jinnah’s political career from the very beginning to the point of his abandonment of Indian nationalism. Two major events together altered Jinnah’s ideological perspective. The first was the Round Table Conferences of 1930-31; the second was the Indian provincial elections of 1936-7. In short, his failure to secure freedom for India as a ‘secular Muslim’ is the chief cause of his ‘conversion’.
INTER-COMMUNAL TENSION: The communal tension between Muslims and Hindus in British India has a long history dating back to the period of Muslim rule in India, which lasted almost a millennium and had come to a formal close less than 20 years before Jinnah’s birth. (Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor, lost his throne to the British in the Mutiny of 1857 – the last ditch attempt of Muslims, aided by Hindus unwilling to submit to British rule or tolerate Christian missionaries, to hang onto their power). Many Pakistani historians have analysed the growth of the Hindu-Muslim divide starting from this period, from the beginning of British Raj, which introduced secular education, bureaucracy and parliamentarianism, and then, of course, the mutual distrust between the Hindus and Muslims, as it is considered the historical basis of the Two-Nation Theory, which led to the creation of Pakistan. Here, however, it should suffice to say that some Muslim rulers were better than others. It is hardly surprising that ordinary Hindus in British India had an overall negative perception of the Muslim period. From their point of view, Muslims from Persia, Afghanistan and Central Asia had invaded and forced India to become part of the Muslim world. Some rulers had destroyed Hindu idols and temples, and had forced people to convert to Islam. Of course, other rulers treated their citizens amicably, regardless of their religion, at a time when civil equality was practically unheard of in other parts of the world. It has even been suggested that the Mughal Empire was the world’s ‘first secular state’, given that Hindus frequently had prominent positions in governance, in finance and in the military. The Muslims also brought with them philosophy, art, architecture and literature that enriched India, accounting for countless willing conversions to Islam. But this doesn’t detract from the fact of Hindu resentment towards Muslim imperialism, a feeling that was perhaps made stronger by the fact that when it finally ended, it was only succeeded by British imperial rule.
Following the 1857 Mutiny and the end of Muslim rule, Muslims isolated themselves and shunned all things that were British, including education, at the cost of their own socio-economical advancement. Muslim religious leaders issued a fatwa, or Islamic decree, to declare learning the English language as haraam (prohibited). Subsequently, very few Muslims were educated and even fewer worked in offices or had jobs in civil service. The Hindus, meanwhile, began attending universities, getting respectable jobs in offices and courts and becoming socio-economically advanced.
Nevertheless, all Indians wanted self-rule, or swaraj, whether sooner or later. This was the reason for the formation of the All India National Congress in 1885. Although many Muslims joined the Congress in the early years, the question that was to frequently haunt them was what ‘self-rule’ meant, especially later when Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) movements began to rise and assert themselves. The All India Muslim League was, thus, set up in 1906 to defend Muslim interests, and also, in view of the fact that Muslims were themselves partly to blame for their own problems, to ‘promote among the Musalmans of India feelings of loyalty to the British Government’. The Congress, meanwhile, was more openly committed to self-government, albeit within the British Empire.
SEEKING NATIONAL UNITY: Jinnah, born in 1876 in Karachi, was a staunch Indian nationalist and an advocate of a united India for many years. At the very beginning of his career, even when he was practising law full time, he strongly associated himself with the All India National Congress party and quickly became one of its brightest young stars. His mentors were non-Muslim liberal politicians such as Hindu Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Parsi Dadabhai Naoroji, and this no doubt affected his attitude towards communal relations and separate electorates, which he opposed in principle, against majority Muslim opinion of the time. Living, though, he was in British India, in which the social and intellectual divisions between Hindu and Muslim were manifest, he believed that India’s freedom would only be possible if the two communities worked together as equals.
MUSLIMS AS EQUAL: At the same time, he actively demonstrated his concern for safeguarding the interests of his own community. In his very first speech in Congress in December 1906, in which a resolution was moved on the issue of Waqf-i-ala-aulad (Muslim law dealing with inheritance and trust), he expressed his appreciation that a question affecting solely the Muslim community was being raised by the Congress. It showed, he said, that Muslims could stand ‘equally’ on the Congress platform. Jinnah voiced this sentiment again the next day at the same session: “The Mahomedan community should be treated in the same way as the Hindu community. The foundation upon which the Indian National Congress is based is that we are all equal.” Later, he also took on the Waqf issue himself, sponsoring the Musalman Waqf Validating Bill through the Viceroy’s Legislature in 1913.
It was Jinnah’s anti-imperial stance rather than an indifference to Muslim interests that explains why he refrained from joining the essentially pro-British Muslim League until 1913, some seven years after it was founded. When he did, it was because the League had brought its official rules more in line with a nationalistic programme, and that too under his personal guidance. Thereafter, it was through his membership of both parties that he worked for a political union of Hindus and Muslims.
Jinnah cemented his reputation as the ‘ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity’ in 1916, when, as president of the Muslim League, he was the chief actor in rallying the two major communities in a cooperative agreement which became known as the Lucknow Pact. Through the pact, the Congress formally recognised the right of Muslims to have ‘special’ electorates, and implicitly recognised them as being on an equal footing with Hindus. In return, the League was to support the national aims of the Congress. Jinnah thus demonstrated his respect for Muslim opinion even if he did not fully agree with it personally. From the very beginning, Jinnah made it clear that he did not think of his community as a ‘minority’, but an ‘equal’ part of the Indian body politic. This was the reason that he was not keen on separate electorates for Muslims. He did not have any particular alternative word to describe his view of the Muslim position, but in later years, he would state that his Lucknow Pact was based on the principle that the Muslims were a separate ‘entity’, whilst Congress had insisted on treating them as a ‘minority’ to be ‘governed and ruled by the Hindu majority’.
Extract from Saleena Karim’s ‘Secular Jinnah & Pakistan: What The Nation Doesn’t Know’.