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Quaid’s commitment to democratic norms

During his long political career, spanning some forty-four years (1904-48), Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah donned several roles. But whatever the mantle he donned, the Quaid stood steadfast by certain well-defined principles. Since these principles are inspired by an element of universal truth, transcending both time and place, they are relevant to contemporary Pakistan as well. Indeed they may well serve as a beacon to guide us to the destiny the founding founder had consecrated the newly born nation to.

What, then, are the core principles he had believed in and stood for? First, he stood for clean, honest and untainted politics. Even after had established himself at the bar, he would not enter politics until he had saved “enough” so that he did not have to live off politics. To him, politics was not meant to amass power and pelf, but as a means to serve the community and the country. He spent his personal funds to finance his political activities, including travel, boarding and lodging. And, in his day, politics had not become “the last refuge of scoundrels”, nor the scourge of the masses, nor a metaphor for corruption galore.

Even as governor-general, he set an example of prudence and austerity. Ispahani tells us that he cancelled the orders for a Lincoln (car) and for an aircraft because Pakistan could not afford to pay for them. For the same reason, he would not have a lift installed in the Governor General House, despite his age. More surprising, he would see that the lights were put off before he himself retired to his bedroom.

Second, he believed in democratic ideals, in a democratic approach, in a democratic dispensation. He stood for political toleration, for an honest difference of opinion, and for observing the rules of the game. At the Allahabad session (1942), for instance, he allowed the Working Committee and Council members to speak out their minds, even if it be against him. And Maulana Hasrat Mohani exercised that right to the hilt.

Linked to that approach was his insistence on presenting himself for election as

President every year by the all India Muslim League Council on nomination by the Provincial Leagues. Likewise, he laid down for separation of offices between the party and the government. Once he became Governor General, he resigned from the Pakistan Muslim League, which came into being upon the bifurcation of the AIML. Subsequently, despite the PML’s urgings, he stoutly refused to be an exception and set up a bad precedent.

Third, the Quaid stood for consensual politics and for the participation of the masses. Although the Lahore Resolution was passed on 23rd March 1940, he did not make it the supreme objective of the Muslim League till he found that it represented the will of the Muslim nation. Again, about Muslim India’s yearning and aspirations, even at the height of the struggle for Pakistan, he would say: “We want the verdict of the electorate, such as it is constituted, of Muslims, whether they want Pakistan or whether they want to live here as an abject minority under the Hindu Raj. . ” A week earlier he had asserted, “…if the Muslim verdict is against Pakistan. I will stand down” (Quetta, October 10, 1945).

Fourth, the Quaid believed that the battle for freedom, and, by the same token, the battle for reform and social change, should be fought on the floor of the Assembly rather than in the streets, but he also felt that the government should practice democratic norms, observe rules of the game, and should abstain from taking recourse to draconian measures which may push the opposition to the wall. That is why he resigned from the Imperial Council on the adoption of the Rowlatt Bill (1919).

Fifth, the Quaid believed that the legislature, the judiciary and the Press along with the executive constitute the four pillars of the state. He believed in the autonomy of the legislature, the judiciary and of the Press. He considered the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan to be a completely “sovereign body”. By the same token, the National Assembly in present-day Pakistan should be the supreme legislative body. In 1948 a provincial government wanted the Quaid’s consent for an ordinance a few days before the legislature was due to meet. He refused, saying that it would tantamount to bypassing the legislature.

Sixth, the Quaid believed in the sanctity of the vote, and always exhorted his audience to exercise their right of vote the way they liked, but with caution and on the basis of principles they believed in. During the critical elections of 1945-46, he said, “Your votes in favour of the Muslim League candidates are not for… individuals but… for Pakistan.”

But even in those elections he spurned with high disdain offers of opponents to withdraw for a consideration. When, for instance, Abdur Rahman Siddiqui brought in an offer from Hasan Ispahani’s opponent in Calcutta to withdraw on payment (merely) of his deposit money of Rs 250, Jinnah said, “Pay money? Indirectly bribe a candidate to withdraw? No, never. Tell him at once that his offer is rejected. Hasan will fight him.”

Likewise, during the crucial Sindh elections in December 1946, when he was approached for sanctioning a further sum of Rs 50,000 for the campaign, the Quaid told G. Allana “in a firm tone”; “But remember one thing. I don’t want you to pay a single rupee to any voter as bribe to vote for us… I prefer defeat to winning election by adopting dishonest and corrupt means,” (The present day politicians who swear by him, perhaps, as a routine exercise, would do well to remember the Quaid’s obiter dicta on the purchase of legislators, candidates and voters, indeed on present-day lotaism.)

All through his life the Quaid stood for the freedom of the Press. On many an occasion in the Indian Central Legislature he pleaded the cause of Press freedom. Thus, on September 19, 1918 he called upon the government to “protect those journalists who are doing their duty and are serving both the public and the government by criticising the government freely, independently, honestly which is an education for any government.” During the Pakistan struggle he had often called for counsel, advice, even criticism: “If 1 go wrong or, for that matter, the League goes wrong in any direction or in its policy or programme, I want you to criticise it openly as its friends…”, he told the Muslim Journalists Convention in Bombay in March 1947. This means that he believed in freedom with responsibility.

The Quaid believed in the supremacy of the law and condemned the abridgement of constitutional and civic rights. He believed that “no man should lose his liberty or be deprived of his liberty without a judicial trial in accordance with the accepted rules of evidence and procedure”; he stood for extending powers to the judiciary instead of to the executive, and for a separation between these two pillars of the state.

The Quaid believed in moderation, gradualism, constitutionalism and consensual politics. He believed in building up a consensus over an issue, step by step, rather than imposing a decision through a fiat. Controversies should be resolved through debate and discussion in the assembly chamber, rather than through violence in the streets, through sheer muscle power. He believed in democracy, not mobocracy. Like Disraeli, he believed in educating the masses, the masters in a democracy, not in pandering to their preferences and prejudices. He would like the political discourse anchored on durable principles, not on the momentary whims and fancies of the audience. He abhorred demagogy and rhetoric to advance personal and political agendas. He frowned upon oligarchy and feudalism, and stood for an egalitarian society, for the emancipation of the downtrodden, for a fair wage, ameliorative measures and justice to both the industrial labour and the famished peasantry, and for the welfare of the masses. He called for the emancipation of women, for conceding them their due rights, and for taking them along, side by side, with men, in all spheres of national life.

He stood for an “Islamic democracy”, with equal rights for one and all, whatever his race, colour, religion or language. “I am sure”, he declared in his broadcast to the people of USA in February 1948, “that it [the constitution of Pakistan] will be of a democratic type, embodying the essential principles of Islam… It has taught equality of man, justice and fair play to everybody.” At the same time, he ruled out theocracy and any role for the clergy. Thus, he stood for the positive face of Islam. He stood for the pluralist face of Islam. He stood for the constructive and progressive face of Islam.

Of course, he also stood for the “Muslim ideology…, which” he hoped, “others will share”. But it is an ideology that others – ie, non-Muslims – would share with us by their own volition, and not something that is imposed on them by a “brute” majority. And in his response to Lord Mountbatten on August 14, 1947, he invoked the Medinite model to emphasise that Pakistan would routinely and religiously follow “the humane and great principles” preached by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) in the treatment of one and all, without any distinction of race, religion and colour. And, in his August 11 address, he consecrated Pakistan to the concept of a united, integrated nationhood, assuring one and all of equal citizenship, equal rights, equal privileges and equal responsibilities.

Translated into the present context, his pronouncements would mean something like this: “Work for Pakistan’s security in an uncertain world, for political stability, economic buoyancy, educational advancement, cultural enrichment, emancipation of the weak, the marginalized and the underprivileged segments of the population, and for the creation of a just, egalitarian, tolerant, and self-propelling social order and polity”.

This is the enduring legacy that the Quaid has bequeathed us for all time to come, and to it we should remain steadfast. Owning it afresh would recreate “Jinnah’s Pakistan”, for which there has been a snowballing demand over the past few years.

(The writer, HEC Distinguished National Professor, has recently co-edited Unesco’s History of humanity, Vol. VI, and The Jinnah Anthology and edited In Quest of Jinnah (2007), the only oral history on Pakistan’s founding father)

Professor Sharif Al Mujahid, "Quaid’s commitment to democratic norms," Business recorder. 2015-09-11.
Keywords: Political science , Issues , Political leaders , Political activities , Political corruption , Judicial statistics , Democracy , Budget , Quaid-i-Azam , Pakistan , USA