Jinnah was neither secular nor liberal

Responding to the Muhammad Ali Jinnah portrait controversy in the Aligarh Muslim University, exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen tweeted: “…one of Dhaka University’s student hostels was named after Jinnah. But after the liberation of Bangladesh, the name ‘Jinnah Hall’ was scrapped and changed to ‘Masterda Surya Sen Hall’.” Yes, Bangladesh, a Muslim majority country, immediately after its Liberation from Pakistan had done away with all its connections with Jinnah and Pakistan. Nobody raised any eyebrows. But, in India, there is a section represented by Islamist-Left-liberal intelligentsia that still wants to hold on to Jinnah and his legacy notwithstanding the fact that he had inflicted the most painful wound on the body of Mother India.

There is an effort to whitewash Jinnah’s sins by Left-liberal intellectuals, who was the author of Partition which resulted in the massacre of millions. Jinnah is called Quaid-i-Azam (the founder of the nation) by Pakistanis. They are well-placed to adore and revere him. But in post-Partition India, his eulogisation is criminal and condemnable, given the genocide he caused due to his actions. Earlier, in pursuit of his demand, he had called upon Muslim League hooligans on August 16, 1946 to carry out ‘Direct Action’ that saw massacre of thousands of Hindus on the streets of Calcutta.

Those who argue that Jinnah was secular and liberal on the basis of his speech on August 11, 1947 in which he said in Pakistan, the state will have nothing to do with matters of the faith were missing the wood for the trees. “… you will find that in course of time (in Pakistan) Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims; not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”

But soon after the speech was made, there was an attempt to play it down by the Pakistani establishment. Many scholars argue that a close look at his full speech and his later utterances will reveal that he was not arguing for a “secular, democratic and modern Pakistan” as some Left-liberal scholars want us to believe. His close aides in the Muslim League censored the speech and they did not allow it to be printed in its original form, because the League had a vision of an Islamic state governed by Sharia for Pakistan.

A leader should not be gauged on the basis of one isolated speech he made at one point during his political career but on basis of the overall impact his actions have caused on the humanity. Jinnah used religion to grab political power. He was not averse to using violence to achieve that.

Pakistani author Saleena Karim, in her book Secular Jinnah & Pakistan: What the Nation doesn’t Know, reproduces an interview that Jinnah gave to Reuters on May 21, 1947. In the interview, Jinnah says: “But the Government of Pakistan can only be a popular representative and democratic form of government. Its parliament, and cabinet responsible to the parliament, will both be finally responsible to the electorate and the people in general without any distinction of caste, creed or sect, which will be the final deciding factor with regard to the policy and programme of the government that may be adopted from time to time.”

According to Saleena Karim, Jinnah “instead of calling the proposed Pakistan a ‘modem democratic state’ says only that it will have a “democratic form” of government. Critiquing the book, Khaled Ahmed writes in the Pakistani daily The Express Tribune: “She thinks it contains a presumed reference to a non-secular state. One could also conclude from this that people may democratically decide to have a non-secular Islamic state with a Sharia.”

Jinnah’s commitment to democratic principles is also questionable. On the question of selection of lingua franca for the newly created State, he literally pushed Urdu — which used to be spoken by only less than 10 per cent of the people then — down the throats of Bengalis who were the largest ethnic group had created schism in the society, which, along with other factors, contributed to the creation of Bangladesh.

Jinnah’s Two-Nation theory started crumbling even before his demise. At the time of Partition, a majority of the Muslims, including some who voted for Pakistan, chose to stay back in India. Moreover, the proponents of a separate nationhood believed that Islam would subsume all other differences among Muslims. But the complexities were far deeper than they had envisaged and they threatened to tear apart the nascent state.

Jinnah’s decision to impose Urdu had triggered widespread protests and demonstrations. Around the same time, several sectarian movements were taking shape in Pakistan. Muslim League leaders in erstwhile East Bengal had also started rebelling against the ill-treatment meted out to them by the Punjabi-dominated bureaucracy and Army. To counter Bengali sub-nationalism, Jinnah ordered that the Bengali script, which was similar to Sanskrit or Hindi, should be replaced with Arabic script.  However, Jinnah had to shelve the project due to opposition from Bengalis.

Many people wonder how come someone like Jinnah who used to eat pork, drink alcohol, didn’t know how to offer namaz become a leader of Muslims in the sub-continent. Even today, a section of the Muslim community in India sees in him an icon. Reason: as Tarek Fatah, Pakistani-origin author, rightly said: …the Muslim identity of the 20th & 21st century is not based on whether one follows Islam or not, but how much one hates Hindus, Jews, Christians and Atheists. Jinnah is loved by many Indian Muslims of UP bcoz he represents hatred of Hindus without saying so (sic).”