Jinnah, Mohammed Ali
Jinnah, Mohammed Ali 1876-1948
Mohammed Ali Jinnah was born in 1876 in Karachi, then a small port town on the western coast of British India. A bright and ambitious young boy, he soon found his way to London and joined Lincoln’s Inn, one of the best-known legal institutions in England. Jinnah acquired many things from British culture, perhaps most important of all, a sense of respect for the law.
On returning to India, Jinnah set up practice in Bombay and soon made a mark on society as a prominent leader. He became a passionate nationalist for the freedom of India and for unity between the two major communities of South Asia—Hindus and Muslims. He was called the “ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity” by Gopal Krishna Gokhale (1866–1915), the distinguished Hindu leader. In 1918 Jinnah fell in love with and married Ruttie, who was half his age, and they had one child, a daughter called Dina.
In the 1920s the politics of India was changing dramatically. Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948) and Jawaharlal Nehru (1889–1964) emerged as superstars to lead the Indian National Congress. The main Muslim party, the Muslim League, could not field anyone of their stature. Uncomfortable with what he saw as the emergence of communal politics, Jinnah was finding it difficult to place himself.
When Ruttie died in 1929, Jinnah left India to practice law in London. In the meantime, the Muslims of India became alarmed at the growth of what they saw as Hindu communalism in politics and the vulnerability of Muslims. Several delegations visited Jinnah and asked him to return to India and lead the Muslims.
Jinnah was persuaded to return and by the late 1930s galvanized the Muslims into a political force. He changed the way he dressed and even his arguments to reflect a more Islamic identity. In a historic Muslim League session in 1940 in Lahore, Jinnah introduced the idea of Pakistan, a defined political entity for the Muslims of India. Jinnah then led a full-scale campaign to create Pakistan in the face of vigorous opposition from the Indian National Congress and, initially, from the British.
In August 1947 Pakistan was carved out of the Muslim dominated areas of the northwest of India and the province of Bengal in the east. Although Jinnah had warned against it, Lord Louis Mountbatten (1900–1979), the viceroy, ensured that the two major provinces of India, the Punjab and Bengal, were cut in half. This division plunged the subcontinent into a bloodbath as some fifteen million people escaped communal rioting to migrate to the new homelands—Hindus and Sikhs escaping from Pakistan to India, and Muslims from India going to Pakistan. It is estimated that about two million people died in the communal frenzy that summer.
Jinnah became the first governor-general of the independent state of Pakistan, which was then the largest Muslim nation on earth. But the moment of triumph was darkened for Jinnah by the scale of the death and destruction. Depicted as a cold and formal man, Jinnah could not control his emotions at the scale of the tragedies unfolding around him. In speech after speech, he talked of the “harrowing accounts of the terrible happenings” and his “deep distress and heavy heart.” Fatima Jinnah, his sister and constant companion, wrote of Jinnah’s emotional condition in the last months of his life. “As he discussed with me these mass killings at the breakfast table, his eyes were often moist with tears. The sufferings of Muslim refugees that trekked from India into Pakistan, which to them had been the Promised Land, depressed him” (Jinnah 1987, p. 11).
In the midst of the chaos, Jinnah set up an entirely new government based in Karachi. His first two speeches to the Constituent Assembly in August that year clearly outlined his vision of a modern Muslim state: while inspired by the principles of Islam, the rights of everyone were to be respected. Jinnah specifically mentioned the freedom that non-Muslims would enjoy in Pakistan. He condemned nepotism and corruption in the strongest terms.
Already ill, Jinnah was now physically and emotionally exhausted. He spent several months in Ziarat, a hill station in Baluchistan, in the hope of recovering his health. In September 1948 Jinnah died in Karachi.
Pakistanis saw Jinnah as a leader who gave them their own homeland against impossible odds, and they called him the Quaid-e-Azam, or the great leader. Alan Campbell Johnson (1913–1998), a key official of Lord Mountbatten, described Jinnah thus: “Here indeed is Pakistan’s King Emperor, Archbishop of Canterbury, Speaker and Prime Minister concentrated into one formidable Quaid-e-Azam” (Mitchell 1997). Jinnah’s grand mausoleum in Karachi is a main attraction for foreigners and Pakistanis alike.
With the triumph of Jinnah’s life, there were also great tragedies that still haunt South Asia. One of these is the unresolved dispute over the large and important state of Kashmir. Pakistan has advocated that a plebiscite be held so that Kashmiris can decide their own fate. Its mainly Muslim population and contiguous territory to Pakistan have led Pakistanis to believe that Kashmir should have become part of Pakistan in 1947. However, its Hindu ruler opted for India. Pakistanis suspected that the friendship between the Mountbattens and Nehru, the first prime minister of India, was responsible for this injustice. Three wars have been fought between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, and now that both countries are nuclear powers, the region has been described by President Bill Clinton as the most dangerous place in the world.
Jinnah’s life shows the importance of personal relationships in politics. While Jinnah was comfortable dealing with such contemporaries as Gandhi and Motilal Nehru (1861–1931), father of Jawaharlal, there was little rapport between him and the Mountbattens or their friend Jawaharlal Nehru. They, in turn, saw him as a figure from the past and spoke unkindly of him. Jinnah’s relationship with B. R. Ambedkar (1891–1956), the leader of the Dalit—or those once called the “untouchable” caste—is surprisingly neglected. Jinnah and Ambedkar came to represent the two important minority groups of India—the Muslims and the Dalit. Both were suspicious of Gandhi’s identification with mainstream Hinduism and warned against Ram Raj, or the rule of upper-caste Hindus who used Lord Ram as a symbol of Hindu revivalism. Ambedkar was supportive of the idea of Pakistan, but he did point out the problems its creation would pose for Hindus and Muslims in general. While Jinnah appreciated Ambedkar’s criticism of Hinduism, he was also aware of Ambedkar’s vitriolic criticism of some of the social practices of Indian Muslims. The tactical alliance between the Muslims and the Dalit that could have altered the shape of Indian politics thus never took place.
Considering the scale of his achievement, it is not surprising that Jinnah remains a subject of discussion and debate. Historians continue to interpret his position on the creation of Pakistan. For some, the Pakistan movement was the logical outcome of the politics and social ideas of the first half of the twentieth century (Ahmed 1997; Wolpert 1984, 2006). Others have argued that Jinnah was using the demand for Pakistan as a bargaining chip to improve the position of the Muslim minority in India (Jalal 1985). Jinnah would have thus resolved the contradiction between a demand for a separate Muslim state and the need for a strategy that would safeguard the interests of all Indian Muslims. No one, however, can deny that Jinnah did what few have done in history: almost single-handedly, he created a nation.
SEE ALSO Ambedkar, B. R.; Caste; Caste, Anthropology of; Decolonization; Gandhi, Mohandas K.; Islam, Shia and Sunni; Muslims; Nation-State; Nehru, Jawaharlal; Partition; Secession
Ahmed, Akbar S. 1997. Jinnah, Pakistan, and Islamic Identity: The Search for Saladin. London: Routledge.
Jalal, Ayesha. 1985. The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League, and the Demand for Pakistan. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
Jinnah, Fatima. 1987. My Brother. Karachi: Quaid-i-Azam Academy.
Mitchell, Christopher. 1997. Mr. Jinnah, the Making of Pakistan. London: Café Productions.
Akbar S. Ahmed
Jinnah, Mohammed Ali
David Anthony Washbrook