DAWN The Review, Sep 2001
Jinnah and Gandhi:
a politically incorrect appraisal
Jinnah remains a very charismatic figure from the political scene of the British India. Nearly six feet tall, impeccably dressed and beaming with will power, he appears rather like a character from an Ayn Rand novel. “History, beyond that written by his own people, would never accord Mohammed Ali Jinnah the high place his achievements merited,” write the authors of Freedom At Midnight. To an admirer of Jinnah, this statement comes like a jolt in the rib. The convoluted wit of this remark is reminiscent of Mr. Tooheey, the propagandist in the novel Fountainhead, who is a natural-born enemy to any form of human greatness. In fact, this is what Jinnah has suffered from: a generation of world-class intellectuals who were averse to will power, individualism and the right of a human being to look up at the heavens and claim that he decides his own destiny. This is precisely what Jinnah was all about.
It is said that when he was about ten year old, he got fed up with the school and asked his father to let him work at his shop. That was granted, but a few days later the kid realized that being young and uneducated, the only jobs he could perform were of a menial nature. “I want to go back to the school,” he declared. His father saw a good opportunity to teach some humility to his otherwise stubborn son. So he explained to him that there were two ways of learning in life: either you learn from the advice of those who have experience, or you learn the hard way, through your own mistakes. “The second option sounds so much better to me,” replied the ten-year-old Jinnah.
The story of Jinnah’s eventual journey to London, his obtaining a barrister’s certificate and his return to Karachi is quite well-known. Also well-known is the fact that for the first few years in Bombay, where he had migrated for practicing law, he faced a difficult life. Sometimes he would have to walk his way to the Court, because he didn’t have the money to pay the fare. A most characteristic remark from him came when he was offered a secure job for two hundred rupees a month. He refused, saying, “I want to earn that much in a day. Actually, more.” A few years later, he was the most successful lawyer in Bombay, charging a king’s ransom from his clients, and holding hefty shares in major Bombay industries. “I swear upon my life, and upon my love for it, that I shall never live for another man nor ask another man to live for me,” seemed to be his motto, if we may be permitted to borrow a line from another Ayn Rand book.
After making a substantial amount of wealth to take care of his other needs, Jinnah entered politics. By the middle of the second decade of the 20th Century, he was arguably the most talked about politician of the country. With the engineering of the Lucknow Pact between the Congress and the Muslim League, he became known as “the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity.”
Jinnah has aptly been described as the last of the Victorians. To understand Jinnah, we must understand that he was a product of the great wave of rationalism and romantic imagination that thrived during the Nineteenth Century. Socially, he was a true representative of the Bombay middle class, of the young men who had imbibed modern education and thought that if only they could speak logic to the people, they would be listened. To this handful of educated Indians, politics seemed an extension of rationalism. In vain had Sir Syed warned them that where the masses are lacking in civilization, they pull their leaders down to their own levels rather than getting influenced by them. This came true around the 1920’s, and if we could understand the happenings of those days from a rational perspective, we could understand a lot more about the British India than is commonly understood.
The politics in the British India, until the 1920’s, was not divided on the communal lines but rather on the lines of philosophy. There were the so-called “moderate” politicians like Gokhale and Jinnah, who believed that India could attain freedom from the British through parliamentary means. In that they were following the thoughts of such political philosophers as John Stuart Mill. Against them were the so-called “extremists,” such as Baal Gangadhar Tilak, who didn’t believe in parliamentary measures as such. The tactics used by the extremists, or allegedly used by them, included terrorism against the state, planting bombs and calling for strikes. These two groups of leaders did not differ from each other on the issue of religion, as much as they differed on the basis of their approach towards life.
With the arrival of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on the Indian political scene, the extremists gained a giant amongst their ranks. Gandhi was perhaps the most profound political genius India had produced since the days of Chanakya. He combined the inexhaustible energies of a politician, a reformer, a sage and had the temperament of a martyr. He preached non-violence, and the idea itself was fantastic: violence is an evil, and therefore it eats up those who perform it. The victim should endure violence without even feeling a desire for revenge, and then the evil will eat up the oppressor more quickly. This was an idea that went straight to the heart. But there was the rub. How would you know what is your limit of tolerance before you throw yourself into a battle in which you have promised not to raise your sword in your defense? What if the oppressor doesn’t grow weak?
Spiritual ideas are appealing, and they have their own utility. But they cannot replace the ordinary law of the land, or the manifesto of a genuine political party. What Gandhi attempted was to lead the people, not by telling them where they were headed, but rather by urging them to trust in him. Quite often, Gandhi’s sole justification for a plan of action was that his my inner light had guided him that way. This was abhorable to Jinnah. How can one person’s inner light guide someone else?
Things came to a head in 1920, when Gandhi launched his scheme of non-cooperation with the rulers. Based on the idea of non-violence (or Satyagraha), he proposed a scheme of ousting the British from India by refusing to use the British goods and refusing to have anything to do with the state-owned institutions – which meant, boycott of postal services, boycott of courts and resigning from the government jobs. A crowd of more than 14,500 people, which included both the Hindus and the Muslims, applauded Gandhi in the historic session of the Indian National Congress at Nagpur. Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar and his brother Shaukat Ali, who had launched the Khilafat Movement against the British rulers, stood among the most passionate supporters of Gandhi. Jinnah, alone, stood up to oppose Gandhi, and “mounted the platform with an ease suggestive of self-confidence and conviction of the man,” as the Times of India reported the next day. As he began to pour out his logic, he was hauled down by the crowd with cries of “shame, shame.” Muhammad Ali Jauhar and Shaukat Ali called him names, and the crowd followed. But Jinnah went on undeterred. “At the moment the destinies of the country are in the hands of two men,” he said. “And one of them is Gandhi. Therefore, standing on this platform, knowing as I do that he commands the majority in this assembly, I appeal to him to pause, to cry halt before it is too late.” But it was already too late for Jinnah. The concoction of religion, laxity and politics offered to the masses by Gandhi and the Ali brothers, had already woken up the worst instincts in the crowd. The age of mass hysteria had started.
On his way back to Bombay, Jinnah was harassed at each railway station where his train stopped. The Ali Brothers, traveling by the same train, would jump out of their carriage and direct the crowd to the first class carriage. All they had to say was, “Here is the man who has opposed Gandhi!” The crowd didn’t ask why, they didn’t want to know what were his arguments, they would just shout outside the cabin, and call all sorts of names to Jinnah.
The Non-Cooperation Movement went its full-swing and so did the Khilafat Movement. The Ali Brothers even elicited fatwas from religious leaders to the effect that it was the religious duty of the Muslims to follow Gandhi’s plans. Merely two year later, the non-violent activists of the Non-Cooperation Movement rounded up twenty-two Indian policemen who had refused to resign from their jobs, and burnt them alive inside their own police station. Gandhi at once declared that God has told him that the time is not ripe for the non-cooperation movement. The Ali Brothers, how ever, refused to withdraw. The Khilafat Movement went on for another two years.
However, during those turbulent years of the early 1920’s, the Indian extremist politics attained its largest victory against everything that the rationalists like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Ram Mohan Roy had gained in the last one hundred years. Soon, there was a rift between the Muslims and the Hindus, while Jinnah watched helplessly from a secluded corner of the Indian politics. The age of rationalism to which he belonged, had gone by. It took him another fifteen years before he could grasp the limelight of the political stage again. This time, however, in a different role.
Much has been written about the partition of India, and the bloodshed that went with it. Most authors have tried to find its roots in the communal hatred. But the deeper question is: where are the roots of communal hatred itself? Perhaps in the breakdown of reason.
A little before the fateful Nagpur Session, Gandhi had written to Jinnah, asking him to “share in the new life that has opened up before the country…” Refusing flatly, Jinnah had written back: “I am afraid I cannot accept them… People generally are desperate all over the country and your extreme programme has for the moment struck the imagination mostly of the inexperienced youth and the ignorant and the illiterate. All this means complete disorganization and chaos.”
This was the parting of the ways, which eventually resulted in a great divide. In the political context, Jinnah and Gandhi do not represent leaders of two different religions; they represent proponents of two different approaches to life. It is not ironic that twenty-seven years later, when Jinnah founded a country on the basis of the religious identity of a people, he still considered it appropriate to inaugurate it with a reminder to the voice of reason: “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State,” The Quaid-e-Azam said on the inauguration of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on 11 August, 1947. “Now, I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state.”
To understand Jinnah, we must understand that he was a product of the great wave of rationalism and romantic imagination that thrived during the Nineteenth Century.