Ridiculing Jinnah

The combined intellectual output of our latter day “public intellectuals” would not be a piddling subsection of what Jinnah’s output was. 

Ridiculing Jinnah

There is a section of Pakistan’s self-proclaimed self-styled “public intellectuals” who revel in denigrating and ridiculing Jinnah. Unlike Turkey which makes ridicule of Kemal Ataturk a criminal offence, Pakistan does not criminalise ridicule of Jinnah, nor would Jinnah, who was a champion of freedom of speech and expression throughout his political career and as a lawyer, ever stand for a law that proscribes speech. 

Therefore those of us who have read Jinnah carefully must forbear and at best shake our heads in amusement. Still it is important to respond to some of their more outrageous and at times down right vicious claims. 

The most hilarious of these claims is that Jinnah was not a visionary or an intellectual because “he did not write a research paper”.  Perhaps they can enlighten us as to how many research papers, college essays, books and articles George Washington or Kemal Ataturk wrote, but as far as Jinnah is concerned, there are a few thousand legislative instruments, policy speeches, and even articles and letters to the editor that make up his collected works. 

Jinnah’s work as a legislator was of immense importance to the Indian subcontinent. In many ways Jinnah could be considered the father of the Indian Supreme Court as well as the Indian military academy in Dhera Dhun. Jinnah’s legislative contributions touched almost every facet of Indian life. He was instrumental in the passing of the Child Marriages restraint act. Jinnah’s interventions were instrumental in getting a law passed to allow inter-communal marriages in India. He was a passionate advocate for universal education in India. He spoke at length about criminal law amendments as well as economic matters including the Indianization of the economy.  

Jinnah’s efforts in pushing back the British bureaucracy and carving out the legislative space for Indian parliamentarians were matchless. Much of this is documented in a volume edited by the late I A Rehman called “Jinnah As A Parliamentarian”.  Jinnah freely admitted that he was not a scholar of Islam or Hinduism in several of his speeches. His intellectual moorings lay in the western political history and philosophy of which he was an avid reader and observer. As Stanley Wolpert writes, Jinnah could quote Edmund Burke better than anyone else in India, including the British. 

As a teenager in the UK, Jinnah divided his time between the visitor’s gallery at the House of Commons and the famed Reading Room of the British museum. Naturally then his references were often to the Magna Carta and British parliamentary history for which he faced ridicule from Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar and other cultural relativists.  Jinnah’s speeches are peppered with quotes from Morley, Burke and other British philosophers and he could probably quote Shakespeare better than any other politician of his time, Indian or British. Jinnah’s love for the Bard was legendary going back to his thespian days at the London stage. 

So we can forgive Jinnah for not writing a book or a research paper.  As a full time lawyer, board chairman for newspapers like the Bombay Chronicle and a full time member of the Indian legislature, he just not have the luxury of time that others like Nehru, Gandhi and Iqbal had. The latter three were failed lawyers and had hardly any legislative work to their credit. 

However to say that Jinnah did not leave a cogent and clear set of ideas is simply indicative of the fact that these “public intellectuals” have not bothered to pick up the Collected Works of Mahomed Ali Jinnah which span dozens of volumes. In addition to Jinnah’s legislative contributions are his contributions as a lawyer.  

Dr Rohit De, a professor of Legal History at Yale University, has written in depth about Jinnah’s contributions as a lawyer in his paper “Jinnah’s legal career” which details his work representing dissidents like Tilak and fighting against sedition laws as well as his unstinted fight for freedom of the press and freedom of speech. Jinnah’s contributions to Indian jurisprudence as a lawyer rival those of Clarence Darrow in the US.  

Whether our self proclaimed “public intellectuals” care to admit it or not,  Jinnah was not only an intellectual giant but more than that supremely a man of action as a lawyer, legislator and a politician. This is something that all unbiased and neutral observers of his life and career admit. The combined intellectual output of our latter day “public intellectuals” would not be a piddling subsection of what Jinnah’s output was. 

Second such outrageous claim now finding currency amongst our impressionable and often iodine deficient youth is that Jinnah was a tool in the hands of the British. Jinnah was the last person who could be suspected of being the tool in the hands of the British. Jinnah’s biggest opponent and rival, Nehru writes in his book “Discovery of India” that Jinnah’s greatest quality was that he was entirely “without the lure of office”. On this I will leave the final word to Dr B R Ambedkar – no admirer of Jinnah and often his blistering critic- who writes:

“Mr Jinnah, who represents this ideological transformation, can never be suspected of being a tool in the hands of the British even by the worst of his enemies… It is doubtful if there is a politician in India to whom the adjective incorruptible can be more fittingly applied. Any one who knows what his relations with the British government have been, will admit that he has always been their critic, if indeed, he has not been their adversary. No one can buy him. For it must be said to his credit that he has never been a soldier of fortune" ((Pakistan and Partition of India; 1946; page 323) 

At one point the British even contemplated exiling Jinnah to Burma in 1918 but they just could not pin him down.        Jinnah was the most vociferous critic of the British but methods were constitutional.  He fought the battle for India’s self government in the legislature and the courts of law. His enemies like Lord Willingdon just could not find sufficient cause to exile him despite extreme annoyance with him and they admitted as much in their correspondence.  It spoke to his political style. Jinnah was no rabble-rouser or agitator like Savarkar or Gandhi who would be bundled off to Kala Pani.  

However when push came to shove, it was Jinnah, not Gandhi or Nehru, who spoke out in the Indian legislature for Bhagat Singh and his rights as a prisoner. His speech on the occasion sums up his attitude towards the British. 

“Sir, can you imagine a more horrible form of torture than a hunger strike? If, rightly or wrongly, these men are inflicting this punishment on themselves, and thereby you are unconvinced, is that any reason why you should ask us to abandon one of the cardinal principles of criminal jurisprudence?

It’s not everybody who can go starving to death. If these young men pursue this course, and I am sorry to hear that one of them died, what will happen? Well, you know perfectly well that these men are determined to die? It is not a joke. I ask the hon’ble law member to realise that it is not everybody who can go on starving himself to death. Try it for a little while and you will see… The man who goes on a hunger strike has a soul. He is moved by the soul and he believes in the justice of his cause, he is not an ordinary criminal who is guilty of coldblooded sordid wretched crime.   Rightly or wrongly, youth today in India is stirred up, and you cannot, when you have 300-odd millions of people, who cannot prevent such crimes being committed, however, much you may deplore them and however much you may say they are misguided. It is this system, this damnable system of government which is resented by people. You may be cold-blooded logician. I am a patient cool-headed man and can calmly go on making speeches here, persuading and influencing the treasury. I rebench. But remember there are thousands of young men outside. This is not the only country where these actions are resorted to. It has happened in other countries, not youth, but grey bearded men had committed serious offences, moved by patriotic impulses.”

To accuse such a man of being a tool in the hands of the British flies in the face of reality. Like Ambedkar said, not even Jinnah’s worst enemies ever accused him of being a tool in the hands of the British. Jinnah is like the Banyan tree of Pakistani identity. Increasingly there is an effort to cut this tree down by people who want to hurt Pakistan. 

A section of Pakistani “intelligentsia” is going along with it willingly. On a long enough timeline however the truth will win out. Pakistanis will ultimately hark back to Jinnah and recast themselves in his mould, to become the progressive and inclusive nation that he envisaged.  It is not a question of if but when. 

Yasser Latif Hamdani is a barrister at law and the author of the book Jinnah; A Life.