Introductory passage is provided by this website and may not represent the views of the archived document's author.

Search the Republic of Rumi


Father & Daughter: A Political Autobiography

Jahan Ara Shahnawaz (1896-1979) was one of the earliest female parliamentarians of South Asia. She participated in the Round Table Conferences held in London in the early 1930's for the formulation of a constitution for India, participated in the Pakistan Movement from the platform of the All India Muslim League, and was appointed to the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan after the creation of the new country.

The following extract is from her autobiography Father & Daughter is an insider's account of the steering of the Objectives Resolution (adopted by the Constituent Assembly on March 12). The account is a little confusing because Jahanara fails to mention that the Basic Principles Committee for formulating outlines of the new constitution came into being on the same day when the Resolution was passed by the Constituent Assembly. Hence, the discussions in the Committee, mentioned in the following passage, must have been in connection with the adoption of the Resolution by the Committee while the Assembly had already adopted the Resolution.

From Chapter 4, 'The Constituent Assembly and Democracy'

Father & Daughter -- a political autobiography

Jahan Ara Shahnawaz

Oxford University Press, Karachi

We were in Karachi for meetings when I learnt that a Board of Ulema had been set up for consultation about an Islamic constitution and suddenly, as members of the Basic Principles Committee, we received a so-called Objectives Resolution which was to be proposed in the Committee…

While I had the Objectives Resolution in my hand, I thought of my long talk with Mr Jinnah about the new constitution. Constitutional lawyers in the Cabinet had advised Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan to have preambles of this type, with constitutional guarantees for every word, something sacred and precious, and one had to think twice before putting down such things in black and white. Did not the phrase 'an Islamic State' include all this and much more? I was perturbed and upset and went to see the Prime Minister. I told him of my talk with Mr Jinnah about the constitution and asked him whether he had any access to the papers left behind by Mr. Jinnah or not. If so, it would be the greatest national service to have a copy of the constitution on which, Jinnah told me, he had been working for fifteen months. He replied: 'Begum Shah Nawaz, you know that I have never had any access to Quaid's [Jinnah] papers.' I saw Miss Fatima Jinnah the very next day, told her of my whole talk with her brother and requested her to let the nation have a copy of the constitution framed by him, if such a document existed in his papers I appealed to her that mistakes were bound to be committed in the new constitution if Jinnah's ideas were not placed before the Constituent Assembly, but she did not reply. She was a reserved person, but under the cold exterior there was plenty of warmth. I used to open my heart to her many times after Jinnah's demise and she was always kind and ready to listen to what I had to tell her. But she was not prepared to face the Government or take up cudgels on any important issue, until towards the end of her life.

A Board of Ulema was appointed to advise the Constituent Assembly. This, when Jinnah had said that there was no room for the maulvis in the Muslim League, a saying repeated by Fatima Jinnah in her talks. A board of the best constitutional lawyers of the country, yes, but not of the ulema. People said that Liaquat had no base, therefore he was trying to ally himself with the orthodox section and with the vested interests in the country.

We received the Objectives Resolution and I was very upset. How could the Court interpret and adjudicate a resolution of this type, was something beyond one's comprehension. Who had advised Prime Minister Liaquat Ali to have a preamble of this type? I could not understand how constitutional lawyers like Zafrullah and Nishtar had agreed to it or helped to frame it.
To base a constitution on such a resolution when every word would have to be legislated was something unthinkable.

Ghulam Muhammad, the Finance Minister, convened a meeting of the members of the Basic Principles Committee and seventeen of us, including Firoz Khan Noon and Mumtaz Daultana, met and discussed the question at length. It was unanimously decided to oppose it. The next morning Chaudhri Nazir Ahmad and Dr Malik, members of the Assembly, came to see me and advised me not to oppose the Resolution. I said that I had to do it, as I believed conscientiously that it should not be passed and it was also going against Jinnah's ideas. They told me that Liaquat wanted it to be passed, but I refused. When the meeting was held, imagine my surprise that I was the only one opposing it, while all the others just kept quiet. I looked at Firoz and Mumtaz, who had been so strongly against it. I had to face Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani alone. I pointed out that such objectives were our ideals and would remain so, but these should not and could not form a preamble to the Constitution. When legislation was framed, how would the courts interpret the working and act upon it? I threw light on every aspect of the question, and fought tooth and nail against it. What made me most depressed was that those who were the loudest in opposing it in the private meeting called by Ghulam Muhammad should keep dumb. If this was going to be the case in framing the constitution, God help our nation. I was fighting a battle in the interests of my nation and mine was the only dissenting voice recorded. Some of the leaders, while noisily voicing their sentiments at dinner parties, social gatherings, and private meetings, did not have the courage to say anything about them in the meetings of the Basic Principles Committee; their lips were sealed. I returned from one of the meetings in sheer disgust. Where were the leaders that I had worked with, personalities who knew how to give the lead in the interests of the nation, even if they did have to stand alone? Did leadership mean only to be the yes-men and henchmen of those in power? I was happy to find that Bengal had greater political consciousness and courage than the majority of members from the West.

Source: Father & Daughter -- a political autobiography
By Jahan Ara Shahnawaz (1971/2002). Oxford University Press, Karachi

Back to Top

Search the Republic of Rumi
Page Hits | Visitors BACK | HOME | CONTACT