Evolution of Jinnah’s politics

MOST historians and biographers of Jinnah divide the latter’s political career into three main phases. Remarkably though, each one of them, considered distinct in terms of his political orientation and public policy, merged into the next.

The first phase (1904-20) of Jinnah’s political career was coterminous with the period of his deep involvement with the Congress. Then began the second phase which retained the major thrust of his earlier phase in terms of policy concerns and ultimate goals, but in which his erstwhile involvement with the Congress transformed into collaboration at critical junctures on certain issues on which the Congress’s stance was compatible with his own.

This middle phase during which he seemingly sailed in two boats finally ended in 1937, marking the beginning of his mounting decade-long confrontation with the Congress. This third phase spanned the momentous decade of 1937-47. There was, of course, yet another phase — as founder of the new nation — but it was all too brief and troubled.

Nurtured in the cosmopolitan and mercantile atmosphere of Bombay, Jinnah, during the first phase, was not, much different from Badruddin Tyabji (1844-1906), past president of the Congress, with whom he was also closely associated in the Bombay Presidency Association, the province’s foremost political body. Like Tyabji, Jinnah, if only because of his background and of the milieu of the centre of his activity, was largely oblivious of the objective realities of the Muslim situation and of the problems and thought-currents of Muslim India’s mainstream.

Later, however, his membership of the Imperial Legislative Council since 1910 gradually brought about a profound change. It brought him closer to Muslim problems and to the main centres of Muslim opinion in northern India — to Nadwa, to Aligarh, and, above all, to the Muslim League.

The gradual change in his perception of Muslim problems finally led him to recognise that the Muslims had special interests and particular needs which had to be catered to, if they were not to be left far behind in the national struggle.

Thus, began his tilt in favour of separate electorates, conceded earlier in the Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909, and led him to counsel his Hindu brethren in October 1916 that “the question is no more open to further discussion or argument as it has been a mandate of the community”, and that “the demand for separate electorates is not a matter of policy but a matter of necessity to the Mahomedans”.

From 1910 onwards, Jinnah had also begun attending the Muslim League Council meetings and sessions as a special invitee, and participating fully in its deliberations.

The three dominant strands in the first phase of Jinnah’s political career were: (i) a firm belief in a united Indian nation, with Hindus and Muslims being co-sharers in the future Indian dispensation; (ii) working for Indian freedom through Hindu-Muslim unity; and (iii) working for unity in Muslim ranks through strengthening the Muslim League.

These strands continued in the second phase as well. But with the years their position came to be reversed in his scale of priorities, as the Congress’s ultimate objectives underwent a radical change under the influence of Hindu extremists, as exemplified at the All Parties National Convention deliberations on the Nehru Report in December 1928. Here the Muslim demand for federalism, designed to ensure the substance of power to them in their majority provinces, was countered by Hindu insistence on a unitary form of a highly centralised government, with majoritarianism as the basic premise and principle which, for that precise reason, envisaged all power to the Hindu-dominated centre and only marginal powers to the provinces.

Jinnah’s quest for Hindu-Muslim unity, through a national pact, however, continued all through the second phase, and even in the initial years of the third one, ending finally about 1937-38.

In the meantime, Jinnah’s efforts for Muslim unity became increasingly pronounced with the years, becoming a passion with him towards the closing of the second phase. And even as the third phase crystallised, this passion turned into his most magnificent obsession, with himself becoming the supreme symbol of Muslim unity.

National freedom for both Hindus and Muslims continued to be the supreme goal, but the means adopted to achieve it underwent a dramatic change. If it could not be achieved through Hindu-Muslim unity, it must be achieved through Hindu-Muslim separation; if not secured through a composite Hindu-Muslim nationalism, it must be done through separate Hindu and Muslim nationalisms; if not through a united India, then through partition.

In either case, the ultimate objective was to ensure equitable political power for Muslims. If Muslims, to use Penderel Moon’s telling phrase, could not share 'the throne' with the Hindus as equals in Delhi, then they must have a 'throne' to themselves in their majority areas. Thus, a study of Jinnah’s political career shows that 'distinct as they are … each of … [the] main phases merged into the next, and the transitions between them are as important as contents of each in assessing Jinnah’s life-span. Indeed it is imperative for an understanding of him to recognise the continuity of his political progression.'

The clue to his transformation from the 'ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity' to the fiercest protagonist of Hindu-Muslim separation, therefore, lay to quote Hodson, the author of the most authoritative British account of the Great Divide, 'not in any sudden illumination or volte face, but in a long process of reinterpretation of basic concepts in the light of changing circumstances and revelations of facts.'

However, the most basic concept remained unalloyed and constant: that of ensuring equitable power for Muslims in the subcontinent. And when he failed to secure that in a multi-nation country, he devised a viable, permanent Muslim platform in ‘Pakistan’.

Viewed thus, the Pakistan demand represented an extension of Jinnah’s post-1937 posture, and its concretisation into a viable political platform. No wonder, he increasingly became identified in the Muslim mind with the concept of a charismatic community, one which answered their need for endowing and sanctifying their sense of community with a sense of power. This explains why he became their Quaid-i-Azam even before the launching of the Pakistan demand in March 1940.

The writer, HEC Distinguished National Professor, has recently edited Unesco’s History of Humanity, vol. VI, and co-edited 'In quest of Jinnah', the only oral history on Pakistan’s founding father.

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