Echoing Jinnah’s vision for religious minorities

Asif Aqeel wonders if Pakistan would have existed had Jinnah gone to Aligarh University

Echoing Jinnah’s vision for religious minorities
In February 2007, late parliamentarian MP Bhandara tabled a constitutional amendment bill in the National Assembly to include Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s speech of Aug 11, 1947 in the Constitution. Earlier, in 2004, Bhandara had tabled a resolution to include the speech in curricula at all levels. Late Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti got August 11 approved as the Minority Day in 2009 and now many celebrate it as “Equality Day”. This year the Sindh government has included the “speech in its entirety in the school curriculum”.

What is so amazing about the speech that religious minorities yearn for its inclusion in curricula? If we read this speech along with Mr. Jinnah’s presidential address at the All-India Muslim League in Delhi from April 1943, the Aligarh Muslim University address in 1941, and his press conference in New Delhi from July 14, 1947 we can derive Quaid’s vision for religious minorities.

There are seven principles that are indirectly related to religious minorities:

Complete equality of humankind


Social justice

Parliamentary sovereignty

National unity

Fair play and equity

Freedom and liberty

Then there are seven principles that directly related:

Non-Muslims will be treated like brothers and sisters

Religious minorities must be protected and safeguarded to the fullest extent

Minorities will be treated with justice, equality, fair play, toleration and even with generosity

Caste discrimination will not be practiced

Minorities will be equal citizens in every respect

Minorities will not just have representation but “hand in government”

No questioning of their loyalty to the country (by default they will be considered loyal)

But then the question arises: why only religious minorities? Basil Nabi Malik in his article “Jinnah and the religious right” writes that the “religious right” “browbeated (sic) the state into relinquishing its secular tendencies in favour of a theocratic state.” But this should include the All India Muslim League leadership that had inherited its political philosophy from Aligarh Muslim University and was in control of Pakistan in 1947.

Muhammadan Educational Conference, founded by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, gave birth to the All India Muslim League in 1906. John Keay believes that the League was mainly created for “landed and commercial Muslim interests” who also demanded that “any future reforms should include separate electorate for Muslims” because of their “contribution to the defence of the empire.” It is obvious from the fact that Aligarh Muslim University banned admission to low caste Muslims.

Jinnah addressing the Constituent Assembly
Jinnah addressing the Constituent Assembly

What is so amazing about the speech that religious minorities yearn for its inclusion in curricula?

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was not troubled by the British rule. He was more apprehensive about who would rule India if the British ever decided to quit. In his 1883 speech, he raised this question, “Now suppose that all the English … were to leave India . . . then who would be the rulers of India?” When Hindu leaders in Benares demanded to replace Urdu with Hindi, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan got convinced that the two communities would never “join wholeheartedly in anything.”

On the contrary, Mr. Jinnah, who joined the Muslim League in 1913, believed in Hindu-Muslim unity, constitutionalism, democracy, equality and social justice. Because of his efforts the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League “held common meetings in Bombay” and signed the Lucknow Pact in 1916. This is precisely why he was given the title of “Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity”.

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan

"If Jinnah had gone to Aligarh his belief in parting Muslims and Hindus might have developed earlier"

As a member of the Imperial Legislative Council, Mr. Jinnah in Ahmedabad (April, 1916) called Hindus as “brethren”. The same year he advised Muslim League members in an annual meeting that our attitude towards Hindus “should be of goodwill and brotherly feelings.”

Hector Bolitho believes that “If Mohammed Ali Jinnah had gone to Aligarh, in 1892, instead of venturing across the seas to England, and Lincoln’s Inn, his belief in the parting of the Muslims and Hindus might have developed much earlier.”

Mr. Jinnah’s dream of Hindu-Muslim unity shattered after Gandhi and Congress’s appealed for “freedom from all ties with Britain” in 1920 while Mr. Jinnah spoke for “constitutional methods” and “responsible” government. Having found no support in the Congress, he left politics and went to England.

Liaquat Ali Khan
Liaquat Ali Khan

After being convinced by the Muslim League leadership, he then returned to India, where he still desired Hindu-Muslim unity. In a Muslim League Council meeting in April 1934, Jinnah said, “Nothing will give me greater happiness than to bring about complete co-operation and friendship between Hindus and Muslims.”

In 1937 general elections, the League received less than 5 percent of the total vote after which Congress totally disregarded the Muslim League. Then Mr. Jinnah based his politics on Muslim identity. Hassan Askari Rizvi believes Mr. Jinnah appealed to religion “as an instrument of instrument of identity formation and political mobilization for the Muslims of South Asia”

Talking to Alighar students, Mr. Jinnah said, “… if for uplifting the social, economic and political standards of the Mussalmans of India, I am branded as a communalist … I am proud to be a communalist.”

Shahbaz Bhatti
Shahbaz Bhatti

Although Mr. Jinnah was using communal diction, he was also appealing to universal political ideals. In London, on December 14, 1946, Mr. Jinnah said, “Democracy is in the blood of Musalmans, who look upon complete equality of manhood … [and] believe in fraternity, equality and liberty.”

Martin Lau on the Islamic notions used by Mr. Jinnah says: “Though the protection of minorities occupies a central place in his public pronouncements, Governor-General Jinnah also made frequent references to Islam. These occur principally in three contexts: democracy, national unity, and social justice.” Similar to this, Stanley Wolpert in the Daily Dawn wrote, “‘Equality, justice and fair play to everybody’ were the ideals on which Quaid-i-Azam M.A. Jinnah expected Pakistani democracy to be built.”

This use of universal ideals was equally appealing to religious minorities. On Mr. Jinnah’s 64th birthday, celebrated on December 25, 1940, Rao Bahadur M.C. Rajah, a Hindu leader of untouchable classes said in his address that “I admire Mr Jinnah and feel grateful to him because, in advocating the cause of the Muslims, he is championing the claims of all classes who stand the danger of being crushed under the steam roller of a [caste-] Hindu majority.”


One, Mr. L. Lobo, wrote to Mr. Jinnah on 18 March 1947 from Bombay: “We shall not consent to remain serfs of Hindu dictators … Pakistan is the only defence against any designs of the Congress aimed at the destruction of the Muslims and Minorities…. Pakistan is our destiny.”

During partition, the Christians “demanded that whole of Punjab be included in Pakistan” and all three Christian members of the Punjab Legislative Assembly – Dewan Bahadur S.P. Singha, C.E. Gibbon and Fazal Elahi – voted in line with the Muslim League policy.

S. P. Singha also appeared before the Punjab Boundary Commission (held from Jul 21 to July 31, 1947) and stated that Christians would like to “be taken into account as one of the ‘other factors’ in making your decision … our people have been living with the Muslims for a long time and they have become Muslimised more or less in culture and outlook.”

Similarly, C.E. Gibbon, the founder president of Anglo-Indian Association of Pakistan (also deputy speaker of the National Assembly of Pakistan), informed the commission that “Speaking on behalf of my community … The Anglo-Indians are happy to be in Pakistan. They regard Lahore and the West Punjab as their homeland.”

Once Pakistan was made, Mr. Jinnah returned to his 1916 position of Hindu-Muslim unity and constitutionalism. Among many other things, Mr. Jinnah in his August 11, 1947 speech before the Constituent Assembly, stated: “You will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus, and Muslims would 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.”

Soon after Quaid-e-Azam’s sad demise in September 1948, the political ideals that had attracted religious minorities were made subject to the religious interpretation. The Objectives Resolution submitted in the assembly by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan on March 12, 1949, stated: “The principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam ....”

Liaquat Ali Khan, a graduate from Aligarh Muslim University, defended the resolution saying that “the state shall exercise all its powers and authority through the chosen representatives … This naturally eliminates any danger of the establishment of a theocracy.”

But non-Muslim members felt deceived. Sris Chandra Chattopadhyaya, a non-Muslim member of the assembly said: “… we had an idea that the constitution would be based on the eternal principles of equality, democracy, and social justice. We thought that religion and politics would not be mixed up. That was the declaration of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in this House.”

Still another assembly member, Bhupendra Kumar Datta, said: “I feel – I have every reason to believe – that were this Resolution to come before this House within the lifetime of the great creator of Pakistan, the Quaid-e-Azam, it would not have come in its present shape.”

Mushirul Hasan in his article “Nationalist and Separatist Trends in Aligarh, 1915–47” notes strong separatist influences in the Muslim League. Mr. Jinnah had presented the challenge to the Pakistani nation that the equality and social justice which Muslims had been denied by the Congress, the same would be given to religious minorities, esp. Hindus, in Pakistan but Aligarh’s elitist and separatist trends did not let Quaid’s vision succeed. And today religious minorities are making efforts that the founding father’s speech be heard in power corridors.