Jinnah and Colonel Blimp

Although everyone says what a superb lawyer Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was, rarely does one get to read anything about the court appearances that earned him that reputation.

I remember years ago in Lahore, Safdar Mir, the great Zeno of Pakistan Times , telling me about the Quaid’s contribution to the “Indianisation” of the British-led and officered army. Though I never made the effort to look up how and where the Quaid had made his contribution, what Safdar Mir has said remained engraved in my memory.

The other day, while reading the autobiography of the late Maj. Gen. Ajit Anil “Jik” Rudra, who originally came from Lahore, served in three armies, fought in both World Wars and died in India in 1997 at the age of 93, I came upon an episode that showed that the Quaid’s reputation as a brilliant lawyer was not a Pakistani myth but a fact.

The Government of India appointed a committee of the legislature – I am not clear about the year – to study the question of Indianising the army. British officers were unabashedly racist when it came to Indian officers being posted to purely British officered units. Curiously, British officers invariably enjoyed close relationships with the men and ORs (other ranks) who served under them. The Subedar Major, for instance, used to be known as “Kala Karnail.” But when it came to officers serving with them as their equals, juniors and, especially, as their seniors, or dining with them in their all British messes, or frequenting their clubs, they found it unacceptable. Col. Ronny Datta, a retired Indian officer, told me that he had seen a sign at the front door of the once all-British Fort William Club in Calcutta that said, ‘Indians and Dogs not allowed.’

The Committee appointed to study the sensitive Indianisation question included Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Lt Rudra who had been commissioned in England during the First War and who fought gallantly in the trenches in France during one of the most brutal military campaigns of all times, was asked to appear before that Committee. He was presented to the Committee that included Pandit Motilal Nehru by one Gen. Skeen with the words, “Gentlemen, here you have a young Indian King’s Commissioned officer. He served in the ranks of the British Army during the Great War and is now serving in an Indian regiment. You have just heard his commanding officer’s opinion of him. Please ask him any questions you may have of him.”

Rudra recalls that Mr Jinnah was the first member of the Committee to address him. He began by asking a number of questions about his conditions of service, including what commands and appointments he had held. Then he said in a “more serious tone,” “Mr Rudra, I must warn you that the proceedings from now till I finish will be in camera. I want you to understand that clearly.” Rudra writes that although he did not have the foggiest idea what “in camera” meant, he replied, “Yes, sir.” Mr Jinnah then asked the Chairman of the Committee if he could send for one Colonel Pope again, a British senior officer he had obviously questioned before Rudra had been brought in. The Colonel was the commanding officer of the 4th Hyderabad Regiment, an Indianised battalion in which Thimayya (one day to become the commander-in-chief of independent India’s army) and some other Indian officers had been serving for the past two or three years.

Mr Jinnah’s opening question to Col. Pope was, “Col. Pope, in your evidence earlier you said that in your opinion, no Indian is fit to take the place of a British officer.” “Yes,” the British officer answered. The colonel then looked Rudra “full in the face and repeated those very same words.” Mr Jinnah’s next question was, “Colonel, could you please give us your reasons for holding such an adverse opinion of Indians?” Pope hesitated for a while, then said, “Well, er… for one thing Indians are not impartial in the matter of promotions. They tend to favour their own kith and kin… and that would be disastrous. Secondly, they can’t be trusted in money matters. That’s the general Indian weakness. In fact, they are totally unfit to hold the King’s Commission.”

“Thank you, Col. Pope,” Mr Jinnah said, “You have of course had instances where your Indian officers have promoted their own kith and kin overlooking more suitable personnel?” Col. Pope hesitated before replying, “Er… well, no. But I know that that’s what they would do if given half a chance.” Mr Jinnah’s response was immediate, “So, it is just prejudice – you have no concrete fact, no particular case to back up your statement.” The trap that Mr Jinnah was laying for Col. Blimp was exactly what he walked into. “I know I am right,” he replied.

Mr Jinnah then asked him calmly, “I see. Now, as regards money matters, how many cases of mishandling money by Indian officers and untrustworthy behaviour in financial dealings have you had to deal with?” Col. Pope was now fully trapped but he remained arrogant, “Well, er… there have been no actual cases. They wouldn’t dare while I am their commanding officer. But if left to themselves, they can’t be trusted.” Mr Jinnah’s response was razor sharp: “But these are merely opinions and prejudices. Can you not back them up with facts?” The Colonel remained silent and, as Rudra recalls, “he was beginning to turn a little red in the face by then.” Mr Jinnah now went for the coup de grace . “Colonel, I must ask you to be more specific. Why have you formed these opinions? You must have some reason.” Col. Pope replied, “Well, my Subedar Major holds these opinions too, He is quite definite about them.”

At this point, Mr Jinnah went for the kill, “I see, so you are merely voicing your Subedar Major’s prejudices. In that case, we might be better off asking him to appear before us instead of you. Thank you Colonel. I have nothing further to ask you.”

I suppose this was how the Quaid-i-Azam won the case for Pakistan, though had he known who was going to inherit his great legacy, he might have developed second thoughts.

Source: Khalid Hasan, The Friday Times, May 16, 2005

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