In a recently published article on ThePrint, Ibn Khaldun Bharati, in response to my earlier argument in these columns on Imran Khan’s Islamisation of Pakistan, sermonises how being irreligious is not the same as being secular. He then goes on to make the extraordinary claim that M.K. Gandhi was secular. At no point did I argue in my article that religiosity had any link to secularism or communalism. Nor did I speak of Mahomed Ali Jinnah’s dietary habits to prove my case. So, the entire premise of Bharati’s article was misconceived and thus, a straw man fallacy.
I know that facts do not sit well with those who buy into nationalist mythology, but it may be stated again for their reference that it was Jinnah, not Gandhi, who was the only politician to be called the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity by leaders such as Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and Sarojini Naidu. This, again, had nothing to do with Jinnah’s dietary habits.
The question is how a man so passionately dedicated to the cause of a united India for most of his political life turned against it in the last seven years of his life. He did so because his efforts to unite Hindus and Muslims were repeatedly rebuffed by the ‘secular’ Gandhi and his protégé, Jawaharlal Nehru. Jinnah’s whole effort was aimed at securing the political and economic rights of the Muslim minority in British India. It was a purely political issue. There was always room for settlement. Even after the demand for Pakistan was put forward, the Cabinet Mission Plan would have secured a united India.
And Jinnah agreed to it. The Muslim League endorsed it.
But Nehru and Gandhi torpedoed it because they were consumed with the mad idea of ‘all or nothing’. India — a diverse, multilayered society — needed a consociational solution and a consensus-based constitution. The Cabinet Mission Plan would have delivered that, but for the Congress, it was much better to divide the country than agree to a weaker centre.
Corrupt academic integrity
Prof. Ishtiaq Ahmed, whom Khaldun Bharati relies upon, has his own axe to wield against Jinnah and Pakistan. He is ideologically affiliated with the Right-wing Majlis-e-Ahrar-e-Islam, which had opposed the creation of Pakistan and called it ‘Kafiristan’ — the land of the infidels. His book, titled Jinnah: His Successes, Failures and Role in History, contains no archival material whatsoever for it to be considered academically honest. At one point, he even describes the fundamentalist Majlis-e-Ahrar-Islam as a ‘liberal’ Muslim party. Those who are familiar with the history of the party, given its bigoted sectarian propaganda against Ahmadis and Shias, can fully appreciate the irony of this canard.
The explanation given by Ishtiaq Ahmed for Jinnah’s 11 August 1947 speech can hardly be taken seriously. The latter was delivering a key policy statement in the constituent assembly. To say that it was aimed at the Indian leadership is just an extraordinary flight of the imagination.
Not a ‘Medina State’
In any case, it was neither the first nor the last time Jinnah spoke of an inclusive democratic State based on equality of citizenship. There are more than a few dozen occasions, both before Independence and after, where Jinnah stated very clearly that every citizen of Pakistan shall be equal and that “Pakistan shall not be a theocracy to be run by priests with a divine mission”. Jinnah envisioned – and he said as much – Pakistan to be a modern, yet Muslim-majority State taking its inspiration partly from Kemal Ataturk’s Turkey.
As I pointed out in my original article, the opposition to Jinnah within the Muslim community primarily came from the religious clergy, and his support came from the modernist Muslim classes. One of the key supporters of the Muslim League during the Pakistan Movement was the Communist Party of India. It was a Muslim League Communist, Daniyal Latifi, who wrote the party’s manifesto. Latifi was famously Shah Bano’s lawyer later.
When Pakistan was created, Jinnah appointed Jogendra Nath Mandal, a Scheduled Caste Hindu as Pakistan’s first Law Minister. This would hardly be the case if he had imagined an exclusive Islamic theocracy, which he ruled out again and again. To drive the point home, he got a Hindu Urdu poet, Jagan Nath Azad, to write Pakistan’s national anthem — a point that is often swept under the carpet by ideologues in the country. Deny as ideologues in India and Pakistan may, the evidence seems to point towards the genesis of the latter as an inclusive democratic State.
Bharati’s article deliberately misquotes Jinnah’s speech delivered before the Karachi Bar Association on 25 January 1948. What Jinnah said was that Islam was not opposed to equality and democracy, and therefore, a democratic State was not in conflict with sharia. This is very different from the colour given to the speech by Bharati. His second claim is based on the so-called letter to Hassan al-Banna when there was no such thing. The only message that Jinnah sent to al-Banna is part of his papers and in that, he regrets that he cannot associate himself with al-Banna’s so-called Pakistan Association. There is nothing in it about the ‘Medinan utopia,’ often falsely attributed to Jinnah’s idea of Pakistan. It can be easily verified from his papers. Better to look up the letter yourself instead of relying on Ishtiaq Ahmed’s book.
As for Gandhi being secular, it was he who brought religion into politics very deliberately with his appeals to ‘Ram Rajya’ during the Non-Cooperation Movement and support for the religious Khilafat Movement.
Jinnah had warned against this blatant use of religion by Gandhi. His view was that religion in a divided society would never lead to unity. But Gandhi’s concerns were other-worldly. He wanted to support the Khilafat Movement – as he put it — to convince the ‘Musalman to spare the cow’. In between all of this, he dropped the ball when he stated, “I am a Hindu, and therefore, a true Indian,” make what you may of that statement. Gandhi’s brand of Indian nationalism was based on Hindu majoritarianism and exceptionalism.
Then there was the caste angle. In an article he wrote for Young India, Gandhi called the caste system humanity’s ‘natural organisation’. He was nothing if not a Hindu, and it played a direct part in his politics. What we see in Narendra Modi’s India is a logical continuation of the use of religion by the Father of the Nation.
Herein lies the difference. Pakistan’s Islamisation is a departure from Jinnah’s aims to create a modern Muslim-majority republic. Hindutva is coded into the Indian nationalist DNA. Dr B. R. Ambedkar was an anomaly, and he had himself predicted India’s descent into a majoritarian morass. What you call Modi’s India today is the culmination of Gandhi’s religiosity — and that was not secular by any stretch of the imagination.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is an advocate of the high courts of Pakistan and his biography of Jinnah will be published by Pan Macmillan India soon. Views are personal.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)