The picture on the wall

By Mahreen Khan

It is the faded, framed print on the wall, sometimes hanging slightly lopsided, the paper mottled by a combination of humidity and apathy. Flanked by newer, glossier, airbrushed portraits of less worthy incumbents, most passersby scarcely notice the iconic image of a leader who altered the course of world history and put Pakistan on the map. Quaid- i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, has been confined within the plastic portrait that adorns every government institution, his life seldom examined, its wisdom untapped and the principles of his politics unapplied.

Perhaps this is due to the depersonalised, unimaginative way in which youngsters are taught the history of this nation. My own knowledge of Quaid-i-Azam centred on the respectful epithet “father of the nation”— a routine fact of general knowledge, devoid of any personal resonance or understanding until Stanley Wolpert’s Jinnah of Pakistan captured my attention. Ironically, it took an American professor to first pen such an authoritative, captivating and incisively written biography which, for me and millions of others, transformed a distant, dutiful respect for the “portrait Quaid” into genuinely heartfelt admiration for the real life Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Wolpert’s work charts Mr Jinnah’s life with academic rigour. Mr Jinnah’s illustrious advocacy, his superior wit, unrivalled intellect and razor-sharp acumen were legendary. More than equal to the challenge of duelling with the defeated yet duplicitous British imperialists and the wily leaders of India’s Hindu majority, Mr Jinnah’s superior political strategy and outstanding legal prowess deserves examination, not just for well-informed Pakistanis but for anyone who wishes to dissect a supremely successful political campaign — the formation of a mass political movement and a new nation.

On a personal level, even his political opponents respected Mr Jinnah as a man of integrity. Archives show Mr Jinnah’s hand-written receipt for an eight aana donation to the All India Muslim League, a testament to his exactitude. As governor-general of Pakistan, he was even more frugal with state funds especially when they pertained to his person, even restricting the serving of tea at meetings so as not to burden the state budget. Compare this to the profligacy of the Presidency and the prime minister house, with lavish foreign visits complete with Harrods shopping excursions and bloated entourages all freeloading at the taxpayer’s expense. As for integrity, the current political crop occupy the opposite end of the moral spectrum to Mr Jinnah.

Many will protest that using comparisons with Mr Jinnah’s standards of probity are useless in the current age where weapons of mass corruption are used flagrantly. However, confining homage to Quaid-i-Azam to hanging a picture on the wall is like keeping the Holy Quran respectfully on a high shelf unopened, unread and unexamined. It is not just a pitiful disservice but a larceny of the invaluable legacy that belongs to each one of us — the wisdom that lies in a meaningful examination of his life, a reflection which yields inspiration as well as instruction. By acknowledging his outstanding leadership and character only to relegate them as an unattainable gold standards for today’s political pygmies, is an insidious cop-out. Integrity is not a genetic trait or some ethereal quality imbued upon the chosen few. It is founded on basic core values and constructed with consistently honest behaviour in one’s personal and political life. Mr Jinnah’s integrity is reflected in the choices he made — choices available to us all and to our political representatives, who may never be comparable to Mr Jinnah but should at the least be held accountable to aspire to his example.

It is a travesty that Mr Jinnah’s estimable qualities as an historic political figure and his remarkable achievements have been diluted in our students’ minds by antiquated textbooks, rote learning and dutiful replications of outmoded Communist-style school essays on his greatness. Mr Jinnah’s political achievement remains momentous, indelible and unprecedented. His personality, character, intellect and integrity are unassailable to this day. Mr Jinnah’s historical persona needs no embellishment, nor embroidery through hagiography. It is not a mark of patriotism to hold Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah in high esteem — it is a natural corollary of any dispassionate analysis of a man who, in Professor Wolpert’s words, is “one of history’s most remarkable, tenacious, enigmatic figures.”

Published in The Express Tribune, December 25th, 2010.

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