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Quaid’s political disposition

Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah is the most powerful national symbol in Pakistan and he is viewed as the embodiment of the spirit of Pakistan. His birthday is celebrated with much enthusiasm. All this is important but there is a need to go beyond holding seminars, special programmes and publication of articles. We can go beyond the ceremonies on the occasion of Jinnah’s birth anniversary by assigning a priority to undertaking a thorough study of his personality, political career, and vision of Pakistan in a dispassionate manner.

This may not be possible without divorcing the study of Jinnah from the current polemical debates about him against the backdrop of the growing political polarisation in Pakistan. The competing political and societal groups interpret his life and sayings to suit their current political needs rather than trying to understand him and his political disposition in the political context of his time.

It is possible to undertake a detailed study of Jinnah’s politics and his political thought process because important documents of his time are now available for study and analysis. The cabinet division of the federal government has published several volumes of “Jinnah Papers” that contain his speeches and statements and valuable information on him. The Quaid-i-Azam Academy, Karachi, has published Muslim League document and important original material on Jinnah. The third original source for studying Jinnah is the British Government’s publication of the partition document.

There are numerous books published on Jinnah over the years. However, the works of four authors break new grounds and show the direction for new research and analysis. They are Shariful Mujahid, Ayesha Jalal, Stanley Wolpert and Sikandar Hayat. Shariful Mujahid’s book is heavily documented that can be helpful to new researchers. He studies Jinnah with reference to various political concepts and draws comparisons with other leaders. Ayesha Jalal adopts the revisionist approach promoted primarily by some Cambridge-based historians. It is a strong study in terms of data and reference material, although many conventional historians may be reluctant to endorse her interpretation of Jinnah’s politics. Stanley Wolpert provides an easy-to-read biographical study of Jinnah’s life, career and political ideas. It is a comprehensive study based on books, documents and interviews. Sikander Hayat makes an insightful study of Jinnah with reference to the notions of leadership and charisma. He argues persuasively that Jinnah was a charismatic leader. The papers presented in the Jinnah Conference organised by the government of Pakistan in 1976 also contained useful information and analysis of Jinnah.

The study of Jinnah on the basis on the above mentioned documents and books shows that there has been much distortion of Jinnah’s politics and statements in the 1980s and the 1990s. This tradition of interpreting Jinnah to suit the political exigencies of a specific time or ruler continues to persist, although it has weakened.

There were persistent efforts to reinterpret Jinnah during the years of General Zia-ul-Haq’s military government (1977-88) in order to create justification for his policy of Islamization of Pakistani state and society on orthodox and fundamentalist lines. This policy was supported by a large number of religious leaders. New meanings were given to Jinnah’s statements or these were quoted out of context.

The political and religious circles associated with the military regime of General Zia-ul-Haq argued that Pakistan was created for Islam as articulated by them. They quoted only those statements of Jinnah that employed Islamic symbols and idioms. The Islamic symbols and idioms in Jinnah were not interpreted the way a person of Jinnah’s liberal democratic orientations and British legal background would view them. Rather these political and religious circles attributed their own meaning to Jinnah’s discourse on Islam to justify their politico-religious demands. Jinnah’s emphasis in his speeches and statements on modern concept of state, civil and political rights and equal citizenship were ignored. His address to the constituent assembly on August 11, 1947 was rejected because it maintained that the state must adopt a non-partisan disposition towards all religions and gave categorical assurances to religious minorities for equal citizenship.

Maulana Abdul Sattar Niazi said in 1987 that Jinnah told him in 1941 that he wanted to set up a “Caliphate” system in Pakistan. Raja Zafarul Haq, a federal minister in General Zia-ul-Haq’s cabinet and currently senior leader of the PMLN, said in May 1984 that Jinnah was opposed to party-based elections because he thought that such elections “would prove unsuccessful.”

Several articles and books published in the late 1980s and the 1990s that claimed that Jinnah wanted to replicate the Islamic order of the earliest days of Islam. One writer claimed that he returned to India in 1934 to create an Islamic state. The historical fact is that on his return from England in 1934 Jinnah still hoped that the Muslim identity, rights and interests could be protected in a federal system in India. The Muslim League did not think of reviewing the concept of federation for the future of the Muslims before 1938 when the Sindh Muslim League passed a resolution on this subject.

The people who opposed the transformation of Pakistan into a religious-Islamic state by the Zia regime projected Jinnah as a secular leader. He was portrayed as a typical British gentleman who advocated secularism for Pakistan. He is said to have used the term “Islamic Socialism” twice. Jinnah’s secular orientations were traced back to his address to the constituent assembly on August 11, 1947. They ignored references to Islamic principles and teachings as sources of guidance in his statements and speeches before and after his August 11 address.

Religious orthodoxy as pursued by the government of General Zia-ul-Haq and as demanded by a section of Islamic clergy was alien to Jinnah’s mindset. He could be described as what was popularly known in first three decades of independence as a liberal and modernist Muslim who recognised the impact of Muslim heritage and history on Muslim mindset and employed these for the Muslim political identity formation and their mobilisation for the establishment of a separate state.

Separate homeland: The Muslim League articulated a new nationalism that challenged the Congress Party nationalism based on one nation, one country and secularism. The alternate nationalism of the Muslim League had to have a foundation and rationale different from the Congress nationalism it wanted to challenge. Jinnah could not demand a separate homeland on the basis of a purely secular nationalism because it was being advocated by the Congress Party.

Islamic idiom and symbols began to surface prominently in the discourse of the Muslim League and Jinnah in the post-1934 period, especially after 1937, when he began to work towards reviving the Muslim League as a mass political party. He recognised the relevance of Islamic teachings and principles, Islamic history and Muslim nostalgia for Muslim rule in India and a distinctive socio-cultural Muslim identity for political identity formation of the Muslims of British India in the post-1934 period.

The greatest achievement of Jinnah was that he transformed the socio-cultural identity of the Muslim community into nationhood and led the political movement for securing a separate homeland for protection and advancement of Muslim historical and cultural identity, rights and interests. His struggle for the establishment of Pakistan was political rather than religious. He did not argue that a separate homeland was needed because Islam was in danger in united India. His case for Pakistan aimed at creating a secure homeland for the Muslims of British India in order to ensure that their identity, rights and interests were protected against the threat of being overwhelmed in a united India.

Jinnah’s struggle for the rights and interests of the Muslims began with the demand of constitutional safeguards and guarantees for them in British India. He also supported federalism with autonomy for the provinces because he hoped that the Muslims would be free to manage their political and societal affairs in Muslim majority provinces. He also supported adequate legal and constitutional guarantees for non-Muslims in Muslim majority provinces and for Muslims in non-Muslim majority provinces.

What brought about a major shift in the politics of the Muslim League was the experience of Muslims in the Congress ruled provinces under provincial autonomy in 1937-39. The Muslims were alienated from these ministries primarily because of their educational and cultural policies and a conscious effort to exclude them from governmental processes and the adoption of a discriminatory approach to ignore the Muslims for government jobs.

The Muslim League leaders came to the conclusion that the federal political system would not protect their identity, rights and interests. This led them to think of an alternate course of political action that was formally announced in March 1940 that demanded a separate homeland for the Muslims as a nation distinct from non-Muslims living in British India. This demand was fully articulated by 1946.

The Muslim League and Jinnah invoked Islam and talked of seeking guidance from its teaching and principles but he never talked of setting up a religious state. Jinnah stood for a modern democratic state system that derived ethical inspirations from the teachings and principles of Islam. He never argued that the Sharia will be the constitution of Pakistan. He viewed it as a source of law and guidance but the constitution was to be framed by the constituent assembly.

The idea of a religious state, religious orthodoxy and religious extremism had no space in Jinnah’s mindset and political discourse. His emphasis was on the Islamic teachings of equality, social justice and the rule of law rather than the establishment of a purely Islamic legal system emphasising regulative, punitive and extractive aspects.

Jinnah’s political discourse could be described as a mid-way house between a puritanical religious state and a totally secular system. The state, in Jinnah’s formulations, was to be based on modern notions of representative rule, good governance, socio-economic justice and equality of citizenship irrespective of religion, caste, ethnicity and region. He however did not reject the inspirational role of the teachings and principles of Islam for the state and society in a Muslim majority state.

(The writer is an independent political and defence analyst. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of the newspaper.)

Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi, "Quaid’s political disposition," Business recorder. 2013-12-25.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political reforms , Political leaders , Politicians , Leadership , Quaid-i-Azam , Paksitan