Muhammad Ali Jinnah
File photo | Muhammad Ali Jinnah | Commons
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Jinnah’s record as a legislator and a lawyer showed a trenchant secular commitment to the idea that a legislature could and ought to overrule all social evils emanating out of religious practices. He believed that religious differences and disputes were exploited by the British to turn Hindus and Muslims against each other. Jinnah’s concerns were constitutional, and he exhibited an evolved understanding of how democracy ought to evolve in the subcontinent. He was among the first to state clearly that judicial and executive branches should be separated. In his evidence before the Royal Commission on Civil Service, he refused to suggest any special reservations for Muslims. The Commission asked very specific questions, which need to be considered. 

First, the Commission asked: ‘Would a Hindu who got a few more marks than an educated and influential Mohammedan make an efficient administrator in a Mohammedan district than a Mohammedan would?’ Jinnah’s answer was rude and abrupt: ‘As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as a Mohammedan district. There may be districts where there are a large number of Mohammedans but there is no Mohammedan district.’ This statement stands in strange juxtaposition to the career of Muslim India’s Quaid-i-Azam as the sole spokesman for Muslims.

Also read: Jinnah felt Pakistani & Indian soldiers would fight side by side against invaders

The Royal Commission asked: ‘Do you think a Hindu who had got a few more marks than an educated and influential Mohammedan would make a better and more efficient administrator when he was in-charge of a population that was largely Mohammedan?’ Jinnah’s reply is extraordinary when considered that this man would one day be denounced as a communal monster: ‘If I may say so with great respect that the question involves more than one question. If you first put all these questions, supposing a Mohammedan gets a few marks less than a Hindu, should he be passed over. My answer would be that he should be passed over certainly because that is the test I lay down, a competitive test. Then you would say, although in principle the answer is with certainty that he should be passed over, having regard to the fact that you may have a district where you have a majority of people who are Mussalmans, would you not therefore select a man who has got less marks, it may be few and who happens to be a Mussalman? I say in that case you will doing the greatest injustice to that Hindu.’

In a similar vein, he did not turn his back to genuine concerns of his community, often playing the bridge between Muslims and Hindus. In 1912, Jinnah could still bring together Hindus and Muslims on one platform to take up a purely Muslim international cause, such as the preservation of the Ottoman Empire, urging the British to continue friendly and peaceful relations with that one international symbol of Muslim sovereignty. While Jinnah had been regularly invited to Muslim League meetings as early as 1910, he did not join the Muslim League till October 1913. Much of this had to do with his deep and abiding mistrust of the pro-British Muslim elites who dominated the organization and were often at odds with him in the Council. It was only when Muslim League, earlier avowedly pro-British in its inclination, altered its constitution and changed its goal to self government that Jinnah could finally be persuaded to join it. Even so, he made his membership of the League conditional, saying that his commitment to the Muslim League would only continue so long as it did not hamper in any way his commitment to the ‘larger national cause to which his life was committed’.

Also read: Indian liberals & Hindutva supporters, stop dragging Jinnah into Citizenship Bill debates

Thus, in 1913, Jinnah was the member of both the Congress and the Muslim League. Congress circles rejoiced at having gained an important avenue into the Muslim League, which they had thought was working at cross purposes to their goal earlier. It was a curtain raiser to Jinnah’s greatest triumph in that earlier period, the Lucknow Pact, earning him the memorable title of the Best Ambassador of Hindu–Muslim Unity, but, paradoxically, was Jinnah’s first step to what he would go down in history for, the creation of Pakistan and Partition of British India. In 1913, though it still was in the nascent stage, an ambitious young Jinnah may well have imagined that he would lead both the Congress and the Muslim League together to triumph over the British rulers by achieving self rule for his countrymen, Hindus, Muslims and Parsis alike. 

His immediate future would add to that optimism. Then would come the tragedy, followed by a parting of the ways and the eventual tragic and violent separation that would both deify and vilify him as the great hero and villain in this subcontinent. 

This excerpt from Jinnah: A Life by Yasser Latif Hamdani has been published with permission from Macmillan.

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