Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, is looked at with reverence in Pakistani historiography for advocating the cause of Indian Muslims, which was realized through his achievement of Pakistan. However, many controversaries surround his character as a politician and statesman. It is totally ignored that he was a sharp-witted man, a politician who demonstrated great political acumen and weaknesses alike.
This and much more, we read in Ishtiaq Ahmed’s brilliant political biography titled, Jinnah: His Successes, Failures and Role in History. Here, we witness his metamorphosis from an English-speaking advocate dressed in immaculate suits, to putting on the Northern Indian’s Muslim achkan as his dress. The circumstances that make this change happen, fill the pages of the book with anxiety, thrill and sometimes shock for the readers who are accustomed to mere hagiographies on Jinnah. The author, however, seems to be committed to the historical facts rather than the sensibilities of the readers. It is brutal and it is factual; as the speeches, statements, letters and other documents appear in a chronological order as we read on. And it actually feels like reading a thriller of which the ending is well-known, but how it all happened doesn’t allow one to put the book down, making it highly readable and revealing.
The book is structured along Jinnah’s political career in four phases: first, as an Indian nationalist, then as a Muslim communitarian; next as a Muslim nationalist; and finally, as the founder of Pakistan. The author puts across perturbing questions which the book attempts to address:
“If the Indian National Congress had categorically rejected the partition of India, would Jinnah have still been able to create Pakistan? Equally, if the British had been opposed to the partition, would Jinnah have succeeded? Even more crucially, had both Congress and the British joined forces against the demand for Pakistan, did Jinnah stand any chance of getting Pakistan? Having raised these questions, Jinnah’s leadership and skill in emerging as the supreme leader of Muslims remain ample testimony to his personal abilities and capabilities.”
For those who have tried to shy away from the nationalist politics of Jinnah when he was part of the Indian National Congress, the book provides an opportunity to meet a more realistic side of him – a politician who evolved along the trajectory of events, made mistakes and took full advantage of the situation to achieve what he strongly believed in – the idea of Pakistan.
The author argues that Jinnah’s decision to become the
all-powerful governor-general of Pakistan inadvertently weakened the parliamentary system
The alleged ‘blunders’ committed by the Congress’s provincial ministers after 1937 sped up the arrival of the point of no return – the Lahore Resolution of March 23, 1940. Who drafted this document? Was it hatched in the office of the Viceroy under the authorship of Sir Zafarullah, or by the Quaid-e-Azam himself? The competing sources are put into black and white, leaving for the readers wondering and making their own assessments.
As the story goes on, we meet Jinnah as a shrewd and astute politician, who came down strongly on his political opponents – Gandhi, Nehru and Azad. He had a great sense of timing and knew how to take full advantage of the situation for his political gains. He did not hesitate to strike a deal with the Viceroy Linlithgow for his support for Pakistan idea in lieu of recruiting Muslim soldier in the wake of World War. He even sensed the necessity to woo the US, ‘once it began economic and military aid to the British…’ This comes out in the open through his interviews with the American press, quoted at length in the book. On the other hand, as the story moves forward, Gandhi would be committing mistakes – such as his Quit India Movement – and Jinnah would not spare a stroke to outsmart his rivals. It was politics, and Jinnah knew well how to play this chess game.
‘Why did Jinnah – who, since 1940, had relentlessly demanded the partition of India to create Pakistan – accept the Cabinet Mission Plan?’ As this episode unfolds, we witness Jinnah at his best at the negotiating table – one vs. many.
Quoting extensively from March 22, 1940 onwards Jinnah’s speeches, statements and messages he demonstrates that Jinnah’s two – nation theory was deployed by him to argue that Hindus and Muslims can never constitute a cohesive and coherent nation. Rather, both were the antithesis of one another. Upon such a basis, he took an uncompromising stand on the absolute imperative of partitioning India to create Pakistan, and rejected out of hand that he was using the demand for Pakistan as a bargaining chip to achieve a power-sharing deal with the Indian National Congress.
The author shows that Jinnah vehemently condemned Communism and Communists on March 19, 1944 while the 1945 – 46 election campaign conducted by the Muslim League was laced essentially with Islamic jargon and imagery about social justice.
Regarding the Cabinet Mission Plan of May 16 revised on June 16, 1946, he shows that Jinnah accepted it grudgingly as a temporary measure while declaring that the Muslim League would invest all efforts to achieve an independent Pakistan by making it unworkable.
The author attempts to solve the riddle – the controversary – surrounding the August 11, 1947 speech of Jinnah, which liberals have used for projecting that Jinnah wanted a secular Pakistan. It is hard to ignore the logics the author presents, though one may not like to agree with him at once. This is a point in the political career of Jinnah, which the author concludes in his final analysis, which starkly conflicted with his Two Nation Theory, the communal politics based on religion that came to haunt the very idea he struggled for – the idea of Pakistan. Such ideas, once floated, do not remain in control of its creator – that is the argument at the outset of this book, and that is where it ends.
The author also argues that Jinnah’s decision to become the all-powerful governor-general of Pakistan inadvertently weakened the parliamentary system and instead perpetuated the viceregal system.
The author may at times appear to blame Jinnah for his unbending, uncompromising, fiendish attitude, however, as it is said for Milton, he was on the devil’s side without knowing it. It is ostensibly difficult for the author to hide his reverence for Jinnah, even when he is most critical about his policies and actions in his analysis of the documents that appear date-wise.
The book was published by Vanguard Books Pakistan in 2021.
The reviewer is Assistant Professor of Film at Lahore School of Economics and co-founder of A&H BioScope Productions.