Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Pakistan's Founder Jinnah: Tragic Hero

Lately I have been reading several books about Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and I must say that this man is one of the most intriguing political figures I have ever encountered. It is easy to romanticise the lives of great political characters such as Attaturk, Castro, and Ho Chi Minh who also excelled as men of action. Jinnah, on the other hand, was primarily a barrister and all his battles were waged with words.

Some years ago, the former Foreign Minister of India and a member of India’s largest Hindu nationalist party, Mr Jaswant Singh, wrote a book about Jinnah which caused a storm in his country. Mr Singh the Hindu was in awe of his Muslim foe, and as a result of his book lionising Jinnah, he was declared a traitor to the nation and expelled from his party. The freedom of speech is clearly not valued in “the world’s largest democracy.”

The factors that brought about the creation of Pakistan were many. It would of course be an over-simplification to suggest that the partititon of India was solely a product of the British propensity to divide-and-rule which also gave us other explosive binaries such as Eire-Ulster, Israel-Palestine, and Iraq-Kuwait. In addition to this we also need to take into account the machinations of the subcontinental bourgeosie and the gentry: these were people who willed the creation of a separate Muslim homeland because they feared being quashed by the financial prowess of the Hindu majority in a united India. Hence their demand for a separate Muslim homeland rested on the desire to guard their economic interests rather than pure nationalist fervour. Interestingly, all the major religious movements of the Indian subcontinent were vehemently opposed to the creation of Pakistan.

One of the ideological foundation stones of Pakistan is the truly bizarre two-nation theory, engendered in the mind of a third-rate thinker known as Mohammad Iqbal. Strangely, this individual did not realise that in making religion the main criterion of nationhood, the right to separate homeland would also have to be extended to the Christians, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists of India, but the provincial thinker that he was, he never dwelt on the implications of his theory. But here it is worth emphasising that the recourse to the two-nation theory as one of the ideological pillars of Pakistan is more than anything else a post factum justification for the creation of this country that should perhaps never have come into being.

If we consider the process that culminated in the creation of Pakistan, there are certain contradictions that should become apparent to us all. Jinnah did his utmost to persuade the princely states of what is today known Rajasthan to accede to Pakistan. This is a region with a Hindu majority. Furthermore, once Pakistan had been created, Jinnah reminded his countrymen that one’s creed must remain strictly a private affair:

“In due course of time, Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in a religious sense because that is the personal faith of an individual, but in apolitical sense as citizens of one state."

Given that Jinnah was also willing to include predominantly Hindu regions in his nation-state, the primary causes of the creation of this country were of a non-religious nature. We have already
mentioned the factors of the British inclination to divide-and-rule and the economic interests of the Muslim bourgeoisie and gentry. The third important factor that must be taken into account is the personality of this highly gifted man.

According to one apocryphal story popular amongst Hindus, Jinnah, whose ancestors were Hindus of the Lohana caste, wished to revert to Hinduism, but he was rebuffed by the Brahmins. Jinnah took offence and avenged himself on the Hindus by creating Pakistan. Although this story is almost certainly a fabrication, it is also true in the sense that offers us a correct appraisal of his personality as a reactive man.

The dialectics that we can discern in the life of Jinnah is also present in the lives of many amongst us. We set out on a specific path intending to traverse it to its very end, but certain unforeseen and insurmountable obstacles or personal tragedies force us to pursue the contrary path with doubled determination. These are ingredients that can easily be seen in the life of Jinnah. His personal tragedy was the death of his young wife, and by all accounts he was deeply affected by the loss; this was a personal tragedy that also hardened him as a man. As for the obstacle that completely changed his political outlook, we must point to Gandhi’s deliberate utilisation of religion as a political tool. Jinnah, a staunch secularist, was infuriated by Gandhi’s religious oratory, and once Gandhi had set out on the path of the politics of religious identity, Jinnah was compelled by the circumstances do the same – and he did it much better than Gandhi.

One last factor that truly matters is that of personal ambition. There are two kinds of ambition worth dwelling on in this regard: on one the hand there is the kind of ambition that has solely private gain in sight, whereas on the other hand there is the kind of ambition that never loses sight of the common good. Even Ignatius Loyola insisted that the members of his order must aspire to great deeds for the greater glory of god; in other words, being ambitious in such a way that one benefits others than oneself is a virtuous act in conformity with the teachings of Christ. Jinnah was probably well aware that his being Muslim would prevent him from assuming the leadership of a party that was predominantly Hindu. Only by pursuing the politics of religious identity could he reach the summit. He did reach the summit, and his vanity certainly played a large part in this regard. To what extent his actions benefitted the subcontinental Muslims remains a moot point. Even so, the following words of Jinnah’s biographer contain no exaggeration whatsoever:

“Few individuals significantly alter the course of history. Fewer still modify the map of the world. Hardly anyone can be credited with creating a nation-state. Mohammad Ali Jinnah did all three.”

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