Muhammad Ali Jinnah
Muhammad Ali Jinnah | Graphic by Arindam Mukherjee | ThePrint
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ThePrint remembers Pakistan’s founder and ‘Quaid-e-Azam’ (father of the nation) Muhammad Ali Jinnah on his 142nd birth anniversary.

New Delhi: 25 December is the birth anniversary of three important modern-day personalities in the sub-continent — late Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the country’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

While Vajpayee and Sharif, currently in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail following his conviction for corruption, emerged on the political horizon after Partition, Jinnah, the brain behind Partition, was a contemporary of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and was a frontline leader of the Congress till he was nudged out by the ‘Hindu” leadership.

Much before he advocated for a Muslim Pakistan, Jinnah was viewed as the one trying to bring Hindus and Muslims together.

In fact, freedom fighter Gopal Krishna Gokhale once said of Jinnah: “He is the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity.”

Partition was Jinnah’s way of ensuring the safety of the subcontinent’s Muslims. Ironical, considering that he was often in the cross-hairs of the conservatives among the Muslim community for being married to a non-Muslim, a pork-eater and a lover of liquor.

Even though he is often criticised for being the single biggest reason behind Partition, not many know that after Pakistan was formed, Jinnah wanted it to be a country for all religions.

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In an address to the constituent assembly of Pakistan on 11 August, Jinnah said: “You are free, free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this state of Pakistan.

“You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state.” Jinnah continually emphasised equal citizenship for all Pakistanis irrespective of their religion or ethnicity.”


Also read: The week hasn’t been kind to Jinnah’s legacy – neither in India nor in Pakistan


Early years

Jinnah was born on 25 December 1876 in Karachi. His father Jinnahbhai Poonja was a prosperous merchant. Jinnah was a member of the Khoja caste — Hindus who converted to Islam several centuries ago and followed the Aga Khan.

In 1887, Jinnah went to Sind Madrasat al-Islam (present-day Sindh Madressatul Islam University) in Karachi. He later attended the Christian Missionary Society High School and completed his graduation from the University of Bombay.

He was sent to Britain to learn business but Jinnah had made up his mind to pursue law. Jinnah married at a young age before moving to Britain. He joined the legal society of Lincoln’s Inn and in 1895, at the young age of 19 was called to the bar.

Always interested in the politics of British India, Jinnah campaigned for Parsi leader Dadabhai Naoroji when the latter ran for a seat in the British Parliament — his campaign paid off and Naoroji became the first Indian to be a part of the House of Commons.

On his return to Karachi in 1896, Jinnah found his father’s business in tatters, something that helped him choose law as a career.

He married Parsi millionaire Sir Dinshaw Petit’s daughter Rattenbai, his second marriage, which, didn’t last long. The couple had one daughter, Dina, who is the mother of prominent Indian businessman Nusli Wadia of the Bombay Dyeing fame.

Entry into politics

Jinnah entered politics by participating in the 1906 session of the Indian National Congress at Calcutta. In 1910, he was elected to the Imperial Legislative Council.

He was influenced by the ideology of Gokhale and aspired to become a “Muslim Gokhale”. He was seen as part of the moderates among the Congress leaders.

In the early years of the 20th century, there was a growing notion among the Muslim population of British India to preserve their separate identity. Jinnah channelised that to emerge as the voice of the Indian Muslims. However, he joined the All India Muslim League (AIML), formed in 1906 to safeguard Muslim interests, in 1913.

He also joined Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s Home Rule League and became president of its Bombay branch.

During World War I, Jinnah, alongside other moderates, supported the participation of Indian troops to support Britain. He believed that India would be given political freedom, in lieu of supporting Britain in the war, which proved to be a fallacy.

His final split with the Congress happened in 1920 after the Non-Cooperation Movement.

Best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity

During his early political career, he admired British political institutions and helped in developing a sense of nationalism among people.

Jinnah played a major role in trying to bring the Hindu and Muslim community together in their quest for freedom from British rule.

But after the drubbing the Muslim League received in the 1937 provincial elections — failing to form the government in any of the provinces — Jinnah realised he had to take a re-look at his strategy in order to get out the shadows of the Congress.

In 1925, Viceroy Lord Reading offered a knighthood to Jinnah. His response: “I prefer to be plain Mr Jinnah.”


Also read: The man who played a role in the politics of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh


Creation of Pakistan

Jinnah was of the view that the interest of the Muslim population can be safeguarded in a Muslim homeland within the Indian subcontinent.

He used the Muslim League as an instrument to convey to the Muslim population need for a new nation.

On 23 March 1940, at its Lahore session, the Muslim League adopted the Lahore
resolution to form a new Muslim state — Pakistan. The resolution called for the creation of an “independent state” for Muslims in British India.

Jinnah, in his speech at Lahore, said: “Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs and literary traditions. They neither intermarry nor eat together, and indeed they belong to two different civilisations that are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions.”

In the 1946 Punjab provincial elections, the All India Muslim League won a total of 73 seats while Congress managed to win just 51 seats. The league also did well in the two other Muslim majority regions as well. In Bengal, it won 113 of the total 230 seats while in Sindh it managed 27 out of 60 seats.

The results of assembly elections bolstered the party’s demand to carve out a Muslim nation in the Indian subcontinent.

In the summer of 1946, communal riots broke out between Hindus and Muslims in Calcutta which quickly spread to several parts in eastern India. Partition was seen as the only solution to ensure Hindus and Muslims could live peacefully.

After the arrival of the last viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, with an ultimatum from the British government to grant India independence, Jinnah got his separate country.

He became the first governor-general of the newly created Pakistan while Liaquat Ali Khan served as the first Prime Minister.

However, the ‘Quaid-e-Azam’ didn’t live long to lead his newly-formed country. He died on 11 September 1948, felled by a bout of tuberculosis.

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