Hoodbhoy’s Pakistan - Conflicting Viewpoints On Jinnah

Hoodbhoy’s Pakistan - Conflicting Viewpoints On Jinnah

Pakistani physicist and activist, Pervez Hoodbhoy recently published a book – Pakistan: Origins, Identity and Future. Hindutvists have railed against him for creating a false equivalence between Islamism and Hindutva. However, this book is aimed at the average Pakistani that is caught between a rent seeking establishment and reactionary Islamist groups. These Pakistanis have experienced some upward social mobility through education or migration. They find their country in economic turmoil, without a properly functioning democracy, the exacerbating impact of climate change, and a neighbour that exercises its muscle as the 5th largest economy. Access to the internet has allowed such Pakistanis democratic access to question ideological narratives. And Hoodbhoy’s book facilitates them to do just that.

Hoodbhoy shows a strong grasp of the academic literature including Ali Usman Qasmi’s work on Ahmadis, on the Muslims against the Muslim League, Rosita Armitage’s work on the Pakistani Top 1%, and Ayesha Siddiqa’s work on the military complex. That he has read extensively is evident. However, his is one narrative on the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent.

He rejects Ayesha Jalal’s thesis that Jinnah was after safeguards for the Muslim minority of the Indian subcontinent and that he used partition as a bargaining chip. He quotes Carl Sagan that “extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence” (p. 149). Moreover, he does not engage with Jaswant Singh’s thesis that Nehru’s centralization policy was responsible for the partition and that Jinnah was unduly demonized. The engagement with Yasser Latif Hamdani’s book, Jinnah: A Life, is also conspicuously absent.

The Conflicting Viewpoints of Hoodbhoy and Hamdani

As such, he makes several statements on Jinnah, which conflict with those made by Yasser Latif Hamdani. A snapshot of these differences is as follows.

Hoodbhoy states that “Jinnah was a Khoja Isna-Ashari Shia Muslim, not a Khoja Ismaili Shia Muslim” (p. 151). On the other hand, Hamdani shows that Jinnah was from a family of Khoja Ismailis that were excommunicated by Aga Khan III (pp. 7-9).

Hoodbhoy states that “Jinnah went back on his guarantee of an independent Kalat state” and that Baluchistan was “forcibly made to accede to Pakistan” (p. 14). Hamdani, on the other hand, states that the Khan of Kalat was in constant touch with Jinnah, assured him of his support, and regretted reneging on his word later in life, as evident from a recorded testimony (p. 231).

Hoodbhoy refers to Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan as against communal politics and adds that Jinnah “had him spirited off to prison” (pp. 13, 186). However, Hamdani states that the Frontier referendum was run fairly, that Khan’s brother issued armed licenses, and that his son led the Zalmai Pakhtoon in systematic violence (pp. 228-229).

Hoodbhoy states that the first Kashmir war was “initiated by Jinnah in 1947” (p. 331). Again, Hamdani states that Jinnah was not aware of the tribal invasion of Kashmir, as mentioned by Alastair Lamb, Sorraya Khurshid, and George Cunningham. He references Fatima Jinnah saying that Jinnah thought of the invasion as a “thoughtless step” taken in a “crude” manner. Additionally, Hamdani states that Jinnah lost Kashmir by not mobilizing the army against the Maharaja of Kashmir and that when he tried to assert himself, he was dissuaded by the English general (pp. 253-255).

Hoodbhoy states that Jinnah did not forbid the use of the slogan – Pakistan ka matlab kya (what does Pakistan mean) (p. 268). However, Hamdani quotes Jinnah reprimanding a worker that “Neither the Muslim League Working Committee nor I have ever passed a resolution [called] “Pakistan ka matlab kya” – you may have used it to catch a few votes” (p. 247).

Hoodbhoy adds that Jinnah’s call for Direct Action Day “sparked riots leaving thousands dead (p. 269). However, Hamdani states that Jinnah was against revolutionary methods of direct action and emphasized “peaceful hartal” in a “disciplined manner” (pp. 98, 205). He references that in the violence that ensued, Muslims had sticks but Hindus and Sikh hordes transported by “buses and taxis” were armed with “swords, iron bars, and firearms”.

Hoodbhoy refers to Jinnah’s “aversion to communism” and quotes him on warning the communists to stay away from Muslims (pp. 243-244). However, based on Hamdani’s work, Jinnah invited young leftists to counterbalance the power of Nawabs and landlords. He transformed the Muslim League from a party of Nawabs and knights to anti-imperialist struggle. Communists like Daniyal Latifi, who was trained by Jinnah, authored a most progressive manifesto for the Punjab Muslim League (pp. 189-190).

Hoodbhoy states that while Jinnah rejected theocracy, he sometimes “called for an Islamic state and sometimes a Muslim state” (p. 139). However, the words “Islamic and Muslim” must be understood as how these words were understood by Jinnah and Sir Syed in those times and not through the prism of Maududi’s political Islam. Jinnah’s reference to Islam was qualified with democracy, equality, fair play, social justice, and brotherhood. His reference to Shariat was about personal law. Moreover, his intention and ambition were to be the “protector general of the Hindus” and the “Muslim Gokhale” (pp. 17, 35, 126, 249-250).

Hoodbhoy states that Jinnah consolidated power by making himself governor-general, by controlling the executive cabinet, and by having the power to amend the constitution (pp. 140-141). However, Hamdani writes that a Pakistani governor-general could not dismiss the legislature, that Jinnah chose the position instead of prime minister to remain a neutral arbiter and to block the ambition of the Viceroy, and that he refused to be the president of the Muslim League as governor-general (pp. 223, 235, 248, 267). This is far from the “power hungry” caricature.

Hoodbhoy states that Jinnah never repeated the contents of his August 11 speech at any other time (p. 144). However, this shows that he takes an atomistic approach to understanding Jinnah from a clip here or a text there. To truly understand a personality or an issue, all texts must be consolidated, and a holistic view must be taken. Indeed, Hamdani writes that “Jinnah would repeat this message many times in several of his speeches and pronouncements” (p. 231)

Finally, Hoodbhoy repeats urban legends like Jinnah won Pakistan “with the help of his secretary and typewriter” (p. 140), that he endorsed tit for tat “hostage bargaining” (p. 6), and that the “movement for Pakistan was built upon exclusion” (p. 420). Such assertions do not belong in a serious academic study.

TNT starts with Hindutvists

Despite conflicting statements on Jinnah, Hoodbhoy shows that the Two Nation Theory (TNT) emerged from Hindutvists like Lala Lajpat Rai way before Iqbal’s Allahabad address and Jinnah’s Lahore Resolution. He shows that Rai proposed a division of India with a complete Hindu Muslim transfer of population. On the other hand, the likes of Savarkar and Golwalkar wanted an “Akhand Bharat” where Muslims could live as second-class citizens. Such Hindutvists shared more in common with Islamists like Maududi who justified the jizya tax on non-Muslims. Maududi conceded that Muslims in India could be subjected to the discriminatory laws of Manu (p. 290).

Hindutvists and Islamists were no match for Nehru and Jinnah respectively. However, in the absence of such stalwart leaders it was only a matter of time when purity politics would infiltrate state institutions. And this is what Pakistan experienced through the Islamisation process of the 1980s under General Zia and what India is experiencing since the 2010s under Modi’s BJP. As such, the partition of 1947 cannot be attributed to Hindutvist and Islamist fanaticism. If anything, conservative Muslim groups were bitterly opposed to Jinnah and the Muslim League.

Hoodbhoy recognises the legitimate fears of upper-class Muslims, the ashrafiyya, in the move towards Partition. Economic changes had rendered this class vulnerable in a Hindu dominated India. They lobbied for separate electorates for representation. He states that they were more concerned about protecting their privileges and interests than about the concerns of the common Muslim. This is especially true in the case of Bengali Muslims that were racially caricatured by upper class Muslims like Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (p. 205).

However, Hoodbhoy also shows that Bengali Muslims were amongst the first to support Pakistan to escape exploitative Hindu landlords and money lenders. Thus, even after the mistreatment they received from Pakistan, they created a separate country instead of amalgamating with India. He claims that the separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan exposes the Two Nation Theory as “factually false after 1971” (p. 16). However, it vindicates Jinnah who, based on Hamdani’s work, supported the Suhrawardy-Bose plan for an independent and United Bengal (p. 217).

Hoodbhoy states that Jinnah did not have a plan on whether Pakistan would be a federation (p. 142). However, the first of Jinnah’s 14 points reads that “the form of the future constitution shall be federal with residuary powers vested in the provinces”. The second reads that “a uniform measure of autonomy shall be granted to all provinces”. It is this federal approach with provincial autonomy in contrast to the centralized approach in current India and Pakistan, that would help address the issues of Kashmir and Baluchistan.

Hoodbhoy concedes that without partition either Muslims would have been stronger with access to better education or that Muslims would have been embroiled in civil strife on a much larger scale than what is being witnessed in BJPs’ India today. However, such analyses can only be done in retrospect, and he states that it is pointless to question the existence of Pakistan or Israel after they have been established.

Hoodbhoy’s strongest arguments

Hoodbhoy is at his strongest when he elaborates on the exploitation of the average Pakistani by the establishment and the political elite. He states the perks enjoyed by those who receive acres of land and shift overseas post retirement. He questions the misuse of religion by political leaders over the years. This includes Bhutto’s “Islamic bomb”, Zia’s “Nizam e Mustafa” and Khan’s “Riyasat e Medina”.

More significantly, he mentions the establishment’s use of multiple militant groups to achieve strategic objectives in Kashmir (LeT, JeM) and to check Pakistani civilian leaders (TLP). There is an intricate web of such groups, some of which have turned against the establishment (TTP). No wonder, critics put down Pakistan as a hub of terrorism.


Overall, given the challenges of climate change and exacerbating inequality, Hoodbhoy calls for redistributing resources through land reforms, decentralising and devolving power to provinces, establishing civilian rule with equal rights for all the citizens of Pakistan, ending the obsession with Kashmir, and confining the army to the barracks.

To conclude, while Hoodbhoy’s prescriptions are noteworthy, his message would find broader acceptance if he adopted the framing of Jinnah’s Pakistan. This is because Pakistanis revere their founding father. This reverence echoes from veteran actor Talat Hussain in Jinnah (1998): “I bless you with all my heart. Allah blesses you. Pakistan Zindabad. Quaid e Azam Zindabad”.