Not the Voice of the Creator

Published in the Express Tribune – cover photo by Lahore Museum Archives

Some said it was a miracle Muhammad Ali Jinnah lived at all. And when he passed away, the New York Times obituary read, ‘It is not clear who will replace him, or indeed if he can be replaced.’ Over half a century later, those words have taken on a damp accuracy.

To be sure, all countries make myths out of their creators. The Americans adore their founding fathers: Donald Trump won the White House promising to bring back a vanished America. In Germany, Adenauer will forever be the measuring stick, and for a China that has shed his shadow but kept his party, Mao still beams down on Tiananmen Square.

Others try it backwards, recasting the founders in their own image. As Siddharta Deb put it in the New Republic, ‘the new face of India is the anti-Gandhi.’ That doesn’t stop Modi from co-opting Mohandas (whom he wrongly called Mohanlal at Madison Square Garden). Even as statues of Savarkar and Shivaji spring up across India, Modi knows not to stray far from the Mahatma his own RSS murdered.

But quite the opposite is happening here across the border. Each 25 December, while our Urdu channels celebrate Mr. Jinnah with awesome inaccuracy, parts of the English press hem and haw. This endless quest for ‘Jinnah’s Pakistan’, they say, is misplaced: Pakistanis need to stop trudging through the sepia of the ‘40s. They need to stop deifying the Quaid. And they need to stop setting his words in stone – after all, the man said everything to everyone.

Some of this is valid: Mr. Jinnah is an elusive figure at the best of times. But once the rumblings start, we get treated to a whole barrage of inconsistencies. First, the politics: he was the greatest supporter of Hindu-Muslim unity, then wanted a separate state altogether. Second, religion: he said the people were free to choose mosque or temple; elsewhere, he called Pakistan ‘a laboratory for Islam’. Third, personality: ranged against gracious Gandhis and slick Nehrus, the Quaid is described in Western tomes as cold, haughty, and humorless.

So where do we turn? Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who modelled himself after the Quaid in many respects, once said, ‘Consistency is a virtue of small minds.’ (ZAB attributed this to Locke, though he was actually mangling Emerson).

Yet one need not resort to glibness: dive deep enough, and there are answers for everything the Quaid said and did, and the complete picture is quite remarkable.

Mr. Jinnah’s shift from union to independence was a voyage of discovery: slow, sad, and heartfelt. In the words of the diplomat-historian S. M. Burke, ‘The decisive reason why Jinnah became a member of the Congress party was that the three persons who dominated Congress at that time were his political mentors (Naoroji, Pherozeshah Mehta and Gokhale).’ He was all for Hindu-Muslim unity, but the death of Gokhale, coupled with the ugly majoritarianism of Congress rule, forced him to reject union. In any event, Mr. Jinnah proved correct: in the India of today, babies called Taimur are threatened with death – less because Tamerlane himself was a wicked warlord, than the Sanghi anxiety that a Hindu woman should conceive with a Muslim man.

To turn to the religion aspect – that you can cherry-pick from ‘both sides of Jinnah’ – the long and short of it is you can’t. The other side is a sea of quotes that are either completely bogus (‘Pakistan shall be a laboratory for Islam’) or taken out of context. Read enough Jinnah, and one realizes there is no other side. ‘Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State,’ he said, ‘to be ruled by priests with a divine mission.’ His 11 August speech, beyond those famous four lines, even warns against a situation resembling the sectarian rift between Catholics and Protestants. At every step of the way, the Quaid wanted a progressive, prosperous, pro-women Pakistan, and thought Islam the most tolerant of faiths – and yes, a belief in both is possible without one’s head exploding.

Then there’s the charming revisionist take from some of our historians: that Mr. Jinnah was actually a gifted poker player who never quite wanted a separate state. Pakistan was actually a ‘bargaining chip’, they say, and the Quaid bluffed his way to founding the world’s single-largest Muslim country. What he really wanted was more rights for the Muslims, in a loose federation with India.

If this sounds absurd, it’s because it is. While neither rich enough nor coherent enough to explain the creation of a country out of thin air, this theory also contradicts the vast amount of evidence that establishes otherwise. In speech after speech, Mr. Jinnah denied he had ever been bargaining for anything, a charge first levelled by indifferent British bureaucrats. When asked about it at a press conference in 1942 – to give just one example of many – Mr. Jinnah replied, ‘If you start by asking for sixteen annas, there is room for bargaining…Hindu India has got three-fourths of India in its pocket and it is Hindu India which is bargaining to see if it can get the remaining one-fourth for itself and diddle us out of it.’

He slammed rumours of a loose Indian federation a year later at the Muslim League presidential address in Delhi:

We are opposed to any scheme, nor can we agree to any proposal, which has for its basis any conception or idea of a central government – federal or confederal – for it is bound to lead in the long run to the emasculation of the entire Muslim nation, economically, socially, educationally, culturally, and politically and to the establishment of the Hindu majority raj in this subcontinent.

Therefore, remove from your mind any idea of some form of such loose federation. There is no such thing as loose federation. Where there is a central government and provincial governments they will go on tightening, tightening and tightening until you are pulverised with regard to your powers as units.

Lastly, the characterization: that Mr. Jinnah was a cold intriguer that cheated the idea of India. This is necessary face-saving – as Nirad C. Chaudhuri, that great, contested man of letters, wrote in Thy Hand, Great Anarch!, ‘Jinnah is the only man who came out with success and honour from the ignoble end of the British Empire in India. He never made a secret of what he wanted, never prevaricated, never compromised, and yet succeeded in inflicting unmitigated defeat on the British Government and the Indian National Congress. He achieved something which not even he could have believed to be within reach in 1946.’

And that’s really the whole point. Why 200 million people worry for what a 140-year-old man would think, is because it is integral to the idea of Pakistan. The American Revolution would have happened without Washington, there was a China ages before Mao, and the jury’s still out on whether Gandhi slowed down independence or speeded it up.

But without Jinnah, there is no Pakistan. This was a one-man project as audacious as it was unrealizable. Yet the Quaid brought it to realization.

In the otherwise skeptical English press, this was best understood by Ardeshir Cowasjee (who lends this column its title), ‘No set of documents exists which spell out “the ideology of Pakistan”,’ Mr. Cowasjee wrote in 2000, ‘however, it would be absolutely logical to assume that the ideology should rightly spring from what our sole statesman envisaged for the country he created and, more accurately, from what he wrote and said.’

It is no exaggeration to say that Pakistan finds itself in dire straits because it ignored both. At other times, our leaders looked at Jinnah and saw themselves. To hail the Quaid was to deny the Mahatma; to affirm Pakistan was to reject India. ‘The Hindus have always humiliated us,’ President Bhutto told an interviewer in 1972. ‘Our religions,’ he said, ‘go too deep into our souls.’

The words of an army officer, who had escorted the last train of refugees from Babina in 1947, were as revealing: ‘I saw no greenery, only the mutilated bodies of men and women lying along the rail line.’ When Captain Zia-ul-Haq finally made it to Lahore, ‘I realised, we were bathed in blood, but at last we were free…This was Pakistan.’

Thus Mr. Jinnah’s own ‘unity, faith, discipline’ was reordered ‘faith, unity, discipline’ under civilians; his Saville Row suits gave way to somber sherwanis under the junta. Even under prime ministers and presidents too young to have witnessed the horrors of Partition, Mr. Jinnah’s straitjacket stayed on.

Put at its simplest, wanting what the Quaid wanted was just too hard, so why try at all? Mr. Jinnah said in his 1938 address that he wished Pakistan and India ‘settle down as friends and neighbors like Canada and (the) United States’ – we raised our kids on Ghori and Ghaznavi instead.

Mr. Jinnah was ‘sure that (our constitution) will be of a democratic type’. We saw our generals upend the constitution, and our judges unravel democracy.

Mr. Jinnah railed against corruption and stopped tea from being served at cabinet meetings. Today, our entire political class has been damned by the Panama Papers, and the press calls it a waste of time.

Doubtless, this is not the voice of the creator, but it can be. Lest we forget, the Quaid also remains this relevant because none of his successors brought us an alternative vision worth half of his. China can claim a Deng after Mao; the American experiment cites its Lincolns and Roosevelts (and now, appallingly, its Kennedys and Reagans). When their historians stop thrashing one another, India too will agree it had great men after Gandhi.

But Pakistan only has Jinnah – no one else ever came close. Those urging we ‘turn the page’ should know that we never read that page in the first place, and that there are no other pages to turn to.

Happy birthday sir. May we find the Pakistan you were looking for.

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