Quaid-e-Azam M.A. Jinnah: A Guardian of Minorities

 Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah with representatives of minorities

The role of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in the annals of Indo-Pakistan has variously been interpreted implying a variety of perspectives which have earned him a good deal of prestigious titles like the Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity, as a strategist, etc. A survey of literature, however, reveals that Jinnah’s vision regarding minority rights and his struggle and strategies to safeguard their interests perhaps is the most ignored perspective. Jinnah’s vision about minority’s place in the institutional frame of the Imperial Government in British India and later in the Sovereign State of Pakistan rather becomes more important in the context of growing discontent among religious minorities of Pakistan.1 This situation has earned a scientific inquiry of Jinnah’s vision in this regard since his whole political career seems to be a struggle for minority rights, especially the Muslims.

The Muslim community in the Indian subcontinent during the colonial era constituted the largest minority. About 25% of the total population, the Muslim community, had spread throughout the country. However, their population was distributed as such that they formed majority in five provinces, whereas the Hindus commanded clear majority in seven out of twelve provinces.2 The Muslims being a religious and political minority had distinct interests, which were not shared by the dominant community of the Hindus. Thus, it had necessitated additional constitutional and legal protection of the Muslims against the Hindus.

The first set of demands of the Muslim community for its constitutional and legal safeguards was manifested in the Simla Deputation of 1906. The address presented by them before the Governor General of India stated explicit terms: it cannot be denied that we Mohammadans are a distinct community with additional interests of our own which are not shared by other communities, and these have hitherto suffered from the fact that they have not been adequately represented…they have often been treated as though they were inappreciably small political factors…..3

Therefore, in the Simla Deputation the Muslims demanded separate electorates, weightage in all elected bodies and adequate share in government services, etc.4 In the then circumstances, the separate electorates, in view of the Muslim leaders, was perhaps the best-suited mode of representation for them. Alone in this way, they thought, they could preserve their rights and play greater role in political participation, otherwise the Muslim community might have merged into the Hindu majority. The demands of separate electorates was, however, accepted by the Government and consequently incorporated in the Act of 19095, since most of the Muslim leaders had consensus on these demands. Muhammad Ali Jinnah throughout his political career had been taking various positions to safeguards the rights of Muslims as a distinct minority. These divergent positions appear very important to interpret. In the beginning of his political career, he was a vehement opponent of the principle of separate electorates, in the sessions of All India Muslim League in 1910 in Allahabad, for instance, he had disapproved the extensions of separate electorates to the local bodies.6 Later, in the All-India Muslim League session in 1913 in Agra, Jinnah only expressed his apprehension that if the Muslims demanded the principle of separate electorates for the local bodies, they would not get their substance but a mere shadow.7 However, with the passage of time Jinnah’s stance regarding the issued started undergoing a shift. Later on he was convinced that the separate electorates could possibly be the only remedy for the problems of Muslim minorities. The reasons behind it were probably the consensus separate electorates, and his own experience with the Congress and the Imperial Government. He had, therefore, argued in 1916 that this demand of Muslims was not negotiable as separate electorates was a matter of necessity for them.8 In the coming years, Jinnah came to play a more decisive role in national politics as an upholder of the Muslims cause. The Congress-League, Pact of Lucknow (1916) was the result of Jinnah’s efforts towards a rapprochement between the Hindus and the Muslims. Jinnah not only convinced the Congress leaders to accept the Muslim demands regarding the separate electorates and weightage, but also successfully persuaded them to extend other concessions to the Muslims.9

The Government of India Act (1919) not only retained separate electorates for the Muslims10 but also gave them weightage in Muslim minority provinces of the Punjab and Bengal. As later event proved, weightage in the minority provinces11 was not of much use to the Muslims, whereas the loss of majorities in two provinces cost them much. As they knew from the highsigh, the Muslim leaders including Jinnah changed their stance and in the Muslim League session of May 1924 at Lahore demanded that representation in any elected bodies should not be as such that would reduce a majority to minority or even to an equality. Morever, it was also demanded at this occasion that it should be open to any community at any time to abandon separate electorates in favour of joint electorates.12 Later on in Delhi Muslims Proposals in March 1927, Jinnah had offered to surrender the Muslim demand of separate electorates on certain condition like giving them weightage, one-third representation of Muslims in Central legislative Assembly, etc.13 This shows another shift in Jinnah’s position in order to earn a favourable bargain for the Muslims.

A lot many instance can be cited which establish Jinnah’s untiring efforts for the protection of minorities. Owing to constraints of time and space for the paper, it appears appropriate to come to Jinnah’s attitude towards minorities in Pakistan. Shortly before the independence, at a Press Conference on July 14, 1947 in New Delhi, Jinnah as Governor-General-designate of Pakistan, had assured the minorities that their religion, faith, life, property and culture would be protected in the future State of Pakistan. They all, he added, would be the citizens of Pakistan having equal rights and privileges. He also asked the minorities to be loyal to the state. Answering a question, he said that the actual question of safeguards for them could only be dealt with by the Constituent Assembly. Answering another question regarding his choice of minorities staying in Pakistan or population exchange, he stated that he could not order them because it was for them to decide.14 Similarly, on the occasion of his elections as first President of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947 at Karachi he said in his presidential address that the minorities in the State of Pakistan would be having equal rights, privileges and obligations like the majority. Addressing the minorities, he stated regarding their religious freedom. You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.15 He added that in Pakistan, Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslim would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense,…but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”16

After the inspection of Pakistan, M.A. Jinnah prudently adopted a policy of tolerance towards the minorities. As he knew that a considerable population was left in both countries—India and Pakistan—as a minorities,’ which had not migrated, he repeatedly assured the minorities of protection of their rights in the country. Jinnah asked both the Hindus and the Muslims to forget all past bitterness especially generated in the wake of partition holocaust and make a fresh start as two independent Sovereign States of India and Pakistan.17 He repeatedly affirmed the minorities that they would get a fair treatment in Pakistan. He stated on many occasions that they had nothing to fear as long as they fulfilled their duties and obligations as loyal citizens of the country.18 On various occasions, Jinnah told the minorities that his government was pursuing a policy to create a sense of security and confidence in the non-Muslim minorities.19

Quaid-e-Azam with the Minorities Quaid-e-Azam with the Minorities

In order to achieve harmony and integration, Jinnah asked the minorities to co-operate with the Government and its branches whole-heartedly.20 In his view, the Muslims could win over their co-operation by giving fair and generous treatment to them.21Regarding the constitutional rights of the minorities, Jinnah guaranteed them that their every interest would be represented in the Legislative Assembly.22

Addressing the Parsi community of Sindh on one occasion, Jinnah affirmed that he Government had been making sincere efforts to allay the fears and suspicions of the minorities. He commented: Pakistan provide an ample field for the outlet of their genius particularly in the realm of trade, commerce and industry and they should come forward and play their role as true citizens [of Pakistan].23 On a similar occasions, M.A. Jinnah giving reassurance to the deputation of the Scheduled Castes Federation said that his government stood by its earlier declaration regarding the minority rights. However, he asked some time to make the efforts for giving effect to those declarations. He gave the assurance that since the scheduled castes had been downtrodden for centuries, they deserved more help than any other community. I have always advocated your cause and I shall continue to do so, Jinnah further added.24

Apart from his concern for the minorities living in Pakistan, Jinnah was also painfully aware of the Muslim minorities left behind in India. On thanks-giving occasions like Eid, he invariably referred to the services of the Muslims of minority provinces of British India gratefully. Remembering the Muslim minorities in India on the occasion of first Eid-ul-Fitr after independence, he paid homage to the unforgettable services rendered by them for the cause of Pakistan. Our hearts go out to them, said Jinnah, and we shall consider no effort too great to help them and secure their well being….”25Similarly, on the occasion of first Eid-ul-Azha after Independence of Pakistan, Jinnah recalled his Muslim brethren in India who were being victimised and oppressed.26

It seems quite pertinent here to briefly recall the disturbance and chaos that had spread in certain parts of India few months before the partition. These had soon turned into undeclared civil war in few areas like some districts in the Punjab, which continued even after the independence. Although Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims all had taken part in the disturbances, the Muslims were more to lose.27 These brutal hours of plight and catastrophe could not deter Jinnah from his ideal of communal peace and harmony. On hearing the plights of the Muslims in India he was greatly shocked. He deeply sympathized with them and stated that his government was straining every nerve to do all that it could, and was in constant communication with the Indian Government. He hoped that the Delhi authorities would take immediate steps to redress the grievances of the Muslims of India.28 On one such occasion he even warned the Congress Government in India: This gangsterism, I hope, will be put down ruthlessly by the India Government, otherwise they will forfeit their claim to be a civilized Government.29 Jinnah urged the Government of India to stop the process of victimisation of Muslims, otherwise, it could ruin both the States. He advised the Muslims minorities of India to give their unflinching loyalty to the Indian State.30

It seems that Jinnah was so much eager to solve the problems of minorities that he could go to any extent for it. It must be remembered that Jinnah had repeatedly tried to dissuade both the Hindus and the Muslims in two-States from migration. But on knowing the gravity of the victimisation resulting in mass extermination of the people, especially the Muslims, he declared:

If the ultimate solution of the minority problems is to be mass exchange of population, let it be taken up at the Government plane; it should not be left to be sorted out by blood-thirsty elements.31 In addition, he also extended his advice to the Muslim minorities in India to reorganize themselves under the right leadership, which could give them a correct lead and befittingly safeguard their interests.32

On many occasions Jinnah reminded the Indian Government of its sacred and honourable undertaking given at the Lahore Conference on August 29, 1947. In this declaration both the Congress and the Muslim League had pledged that both States –India and Pakistan—would give their minorities a fair deal. It was agreed upon that the religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights of the minorities would be safeguarded in consultation with them. Jinnah emphasized repeatedly that the Indian Government keeping in view its earlier commitment must check the atrocities being perpetrated on the Muslim minorities in the country.33 He assured that the Government of Pakistan was undertaking every possible step to fulfil its pledge. However, he hoped the same from the Indian Government as well.34

Jinnah on becoming apprised of retaliation offered by Afridi tribesmen of the Khyber condemned it in strong words. While denouncing their action, he pronounced that it was most unwise on the part of a majority to resort to retaliation or take revenge for the maltreatment meted out to its co-religionists. Jinnah reminded them: Apart from such action being contrary to Islamic teachings, it is also not in our interest to do so, and such action will serve no useful purpose as a relief of those Musalmans who happen to be minorities in Hindustan or elsewhere in this sub-continent.35 Similarly, when news of retaliation from the North-West Frontier Province and Balochistan were reported, M.A. Jinnah in order to allay the fears of minorities living in Pakistan assured them that the troubles were not the outcome of any premeditated plan. It was the result of people’s reaction to tales of horror brought by refugees from East Punjab.36 Giving his opinion about the people who had, in Jinnah’s words, sought solace in revenge, he stated: it was definitely against our policy and contrary to our expressed instructions to our people that there should be no retaliation. Whatever has happened cannot be justified.” 37 A few days later on another occasion, he impressed upon the Muslims that despite any provocation there should be no retaliation since it was a duty of every Muslim.38 When the Indian Government was giving excuses for maltreatment of the Muslims in India at the hands of the Hindus and Sikhs, Jinnah refrained as far as possible from apportioning blame between the Hindus as a community or the Muslims as a community…. But he made it clear that he deplored and condemned without reserve the horrible deeds of killing and destruction that have taken place irrespective of their place of occurrence or origin.39 Addressing a rally in Lahore only five days later, he reminded the Muslims:

The tenets of Islam enjoin on every Musalmans to give protection to his neighbours and to the minorities regardless of caste and creed. Despite the treatment, which is being meted out to the Muslim minorities in India, we must make it a matter of our prestige and honour to safeguard the lives of the minority communities and to create a sense of security among them. I would like to impress upon every Musalman…. to exercise restraint….40

Hector Bolitho, the biographer of Jinnah, writes that Jinnah was never generous with tears. However, he had only twice seen him weeping. One of these two occasions was when Jinnah toured the riot-affected encampment of Hindus in Karachi in January 1948.41 Fully sympathising with them, Jinnah assured to take the severest possible measures against the offenders…(who) shall be dealt with sternly and ruthlessly.42
While comparing the protection of minorities in India and Pakistan Jinnah assured the non-Muslim minorities of Pakistan that they were being far better treated than their counterparts in India. At a public meeting at Dacca in March 1948, Jinnah referring to the acts of retaliation in Pakistan said:

Any impartial observer will agree with me that throughout these troubles the minorities were looked after and protected in Pakisan better than anywhere else in India…the minorities not only here in Dacca but throughout Pakistan and more secure, more safe than anywhere else.43

Jinnah not only verbally promised the protection of minorities but also made personal efforts to give them a sense of security in Pakistan. He tried his best to dissuade them from migrating to India. In a broadcast speech from Radio Pakistan, Jinnah had said:

I find that the provincial Governments have repeatedly given assurances and have at times taken whatever steps were possible for the protection and well-being of the minority community and have done their best to dissuade them from leaving their ancestral homes in East Bengal for an unknown fate in the Indian Union.44

It was probably one of the last speeches of Jinnah in which he referred to the problems of minorities and again guaranteed them secure future in the State of Pakistan.

After having revisited Jinnah’s speeches and strategies now it is possible to arrive at some generalisations which seem useful for devising any policy for the minorities. Since Jinnah was very adaptable regarding the issue of safeguards for minorities interests and rights, first thing which can be inferred is that the minorities must be given the choice of selecting from various modalities for political participation. In other words, the mode of minorities political participation must be placed at their disposal. No State should impose its will or arbitrary decision on its minorities. Consultation with and participation from the minorities should be a pre-requisite for any decision-making, which may affect the minority communities. They should be allowed to take most of their decisions themselves specially those pertaining to their exclusive activities. Secondly, Jinnah had recognised the equal status of minorities in Pakistan in terms of privileges, rights, and freedom like the majority. But this status was conditioned with certain obligations on the part of the minorities, which were enjoined upon the majority as well. Thirdly, Jinnah impressed upon the majority of Pakistan that they should also take care of the minorities since it is binding on every Muslim to do so. Moreover, Islam, in his view, had also guaranteed adequate rights and protection to the minorities. Thus Jinnah used both perspectives, i.e. Islamic and modern concept of civil rights, in order to make the minorities feel secure and confident in the State of Pakistan. It amply reflects that he was out to protect minorities by appealing to people even having divergent worldviews in order to convince them.

Jinnah never blamed any community, Hindus or Muslims for any communal riots or unlawful activities. In fact what he meant was that due to criminal activities of few individuals whole community cannot be held responsible. It can also be inferred that people indulging in such nefarious activities must be dealt with sternly and ruthlessly. Keeping in view Jinnah’s reminder to the minorities one may deduce that the minorities living in any State must not only demand their rights but also try to fulfil their obligations towards the State.

Notes and References
  1. The sporadic clashes between various religious minorities and Muslim majority particularly between Christians and Muslims, for instance, violent clashes at Shantinagar in 1997 and the recent protest suicide of Bishop Dr. Joseph in May 1998 against the discriminatory laws, which minorities perceive adversely affect them.
  2. It must be remembered here that the two provinces of Sindh and Orissa were created by the Government of India Act 1935.
  3. Jamil-ud-din Ahmad, Early Phase of Muslim Political Movement, (Lahore Publishers United), 1969, p.75.
  4. For details of the address and demands see Latif Ahmad Sherwani (ed.), Pakistan in the Making, (Karachi: Quaid-i-Azam Academy), 1987, pp. 170-77.
  5. A.B. Keith, A Constitutional History of India (1600-1935), (London: Methuen), 1969, p. 229.
  6. Sharif al Mujahid, Jinnah’s Rise to Muslim Leadership (1906-40) in Ahmad Hassan Dani (ed.), World Scholars on Quaid-I-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, (Islamabad: Quaid-I-Azam University), 1979, p. 405)
  7. Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada (ed.), Foundation of Pakistan, Vol. 1 (Karachi: National Publishing House), 1969, p.316.
  8. For details see Sharif al Mujahid, op.cit., p. 406.
  9. For details of Lucknow Pact see Pirzada, op.cit., p. 362-91.
  10. Keith op.cit., p. 245.
  11. For Details of weight age see table showing the Muslims representation in seven Hindu majority provinces, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Pakistan or the Partition of India, (Lahore: Book Traders), nd., p. 246.
  12. Pirzada, op.cit., pp. 578-9.
  13. Sherwani, op.cit., pp. 402-4. For details see David Page, Prelude to Partition: The Indian Muslims and the Imperial System of Control (1920-1932), (Karachi: Oxford), 1987, pp. 144-150.
  14. Quaid-I-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah: Speeches and Statements as Governor-General of Pakistan (1947-48), (Islamabad: Government of Pakistan), 1989, pp. 26-28.
  15. Ibid., p. 46.
  16. Ibid., p. 47.
  17. Jinnah's statement on the eve of his departure from New Delhi, August 7, 1947, ibid., p. 39.
  18. Jinnah’s message to the nation, August 15, 1947, ibid., p. 56. Also see pp. 78, 82, 131, 180, 188.
  19. Interview of Jinnah to a correspondent of Reuter, October 25, 1947, ibid., p.84. Also see pp. 95, 211.
  20. Jinnah’s statement in reply to a deputation of the Hindu members of the East Bengal Legislative Assembly, March 22, 1948, ibid., p. 186.
  21. Statements of Jinnah on October 11, 1947, ibid., p. 74.
  22. Jinnah replying to a question in press conference at Sibi, February 15, 1948, ibid., p. 146.
  23. Jinnah’s address on February 3, 1948, ibid pp. 131-2.
  24. Ibid., p. 188.
  25. Jinnah’s message to the nation on Eid-ul-Fitr. August 18, 1947, ibid., p. 58.
  26. For details see Jinnah’s message to the nation on Eid-ul-Azha, October 24, 1947, ibid., pp. 79-80.
  27. For details see Sharif at Mujahid, Quaid-I-Azam Jinnah: Studies in interpretation, (Karachi: Quaid-I-Azam Academy), 1981, pp. 220-221.
  28. For details see Jinnah’s statement on September 15, 1947, Speeches and Statements, op.cit., pp. 68-9.
  29. ibid. p. 85.
  30. ibid. pp. 77-8.
  31. Ibid., p 78.
  32. Ibid., Also see Jinnah’s interview to Reuter correspondent, October 25, 1947, p., 85.
  33. For details see ibid., p. 87. Also see pp. 78.
  34. Jinnah’s broadcast speech from Radio Pakistan, Lahore on October 30, 1947, ibid., pp. 97-99.
  35. Jinnah’s statement in reply to a message from Afridi tribesmen, September 17, 1947, ibid., p. 70.
  36. Ibid., p. 77.
  37. Ibid.
  38. Ibid., p. 88.
  39. Ibid., pp. 87-88.
  40. Ibid., p. 95.
  41. Hector Bolitho, Jinnah: Creator of Pakistan, (London: John Murray), 1954, p.95.
  42. Jinnah’s message to refugees, January 9, 1948,. Speeches and Statements, op.cit., p. 119.
  43. Ibid., p. 177.
  44. Jinnah’s speech in Dacca on March 28, 1948, ibid., p.211.

Source: Salman Humayun & Tanvir Anjum

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