Jogendra Nath Mandal has the distinction of representing the Muslim League as minister in the 1946 pre-partition political setup of India.
Later, he presided over the historic session of the Constituent Assembly on 11th August 1947, where Mohammed Ali Jinnah was sworn in as the first Governor-General of Pakistan.
Jinnah trusted Mandal – who belonged to the lowest tier of the Hindu religious hierarchy – the Untouchables or Dalits – for his vision and righteousness.
Years earlier, Gandhi had tried to replace the word Dalit by ‘Harijans’ or the children of the Hindu god Hari. The euphemism was later considered condescending by the community in question.
Dr B. R. Ambedkar, the principal architect of the constitution of India and himself a Dalit, had accused Gandhi of deceiving the Untouchables.
He believed that Gandhi was using tactics to keep them tied to Hinduism. Later, Ambedkar and his 3,000 followers converted to Buddhism.
Renowned historian Mubarak Ali says that long after Partition, the Untouchables chose to be called ‘Dalits’ or the oppressed.
To this day, the social and financial conditions of the Dalits, in both India and Pakistan, have not changed much. However, these people – having been oppressed for centuries – are now fighting for their rights.
Coming back to my topic, Jogendra Nath Mandal not only held important law positions before Partition, but also became the first Law and Labour Minister of Pakistan.
In the newly formed country, Hindus had now become a minority. On 11th August 1947 when Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was to be sworn in as the first Governor General, he wanted Mandal, a Hindu member of the Assembly, to preside over the session.
Jinnah’s decision reflected his desire to bring religious minorities into the mainstream.
Ahmed Saleem, on page 104 of his book ‘Pakistan aur Aqliatien’ (Pakistan and Minorities), discusses this episode in history:
“The fact that one of the minority members was elected to preside over the session hints at the progressive attitude of the new state, and it augurs well for the future. Pakistan itself was brought into existence by the unrelenting efforts of a minority of the Indian Subcontinent.
“I would like to point out that people, from not only from Pakistan and India but all over the world, are taking notes of the business of the Constituent Assembly. The Muslims of the Subcontinent wanted a separate homeland for themselves. Now, the world wants to see whether they would treat their minorities generously.
“The Muslim League leaders, particularly Quaid-i-Azam, have assured minorities of not only justice and tolerance but also of generosity. The minorities, too, are duty-bound to honour their allegiance to the state and work responsibly for national building."
After the 1946 elections, an interim government was setup under the British Raj. Both Congress and the Muslim League had to nominate their representatives to function as ministers in the government.
Muslim League named Jogendra Nath Mandal, besides others.
For a political party that championed the Muslim cause, it was quite unusual to nominate a scheduled caste Hindu as its minister Zahid Chaudhry writes on page 47 of ‘Pakistan Kee Siasi Tareekh’ (Pakistan’s political history); (vol. 2):
“Leave aside the fire that [Muslim] League’s decision to include an ‘Untouchable’ in the government drew from the Congress Leaders. A greater trouble was caused to the Labour government in London, which feared that an angry Congress would walk away from the government that was yet to be formed. Consequently, Lord Pethick-Lawrence wrote to [Governor-General] Lord Wavell, ‘We may encounter a situation in which Congress refuses to stay in the interim government, saying that an Untouchable cannot be a Muslim League representative.’
“On 15th October, Wavell sent the five nominations of the League to London for the King’s approval. Pethick-Lawrence replied to him, ‘I truly believe that the royal consent cannot be granted unless you declare these names to Nehru. There is a possibility that Congress will take issue with the nomination of an Untouchable, and withdraw from the government. At this stage, the King should not be dragged into this issue.’”
In March 1949, Mandal supported the Objective Resolution – the same resolution that today continues to generate political debates in Pakistan where the progressives believe that it has been exploited to transform Jinnah’s ‘secular Pakistan’ into a ‘religious state’.
He later helped the government counteract the political power of the Hindu minority when he successfully campaigned for a separate electorate for the Untouchables.
In return he was booted out of office as government minister. It left him dejected. His situation can best be explained by a Sindhi proverb, “Jini laey moasi, sey kandi nah thia” (You have died for them, but they won’t bother to attend your funeral).
Soon after Pakistan came into being, the manipulative bureaucracy of the country began to position itself to usurp power. Its first target was non-Muslim politicians and officials with any perceptible authority.
To turf them out of the corridors of power, the bureaucracy underhandedly created doubts about their patriotism.
It was a warning to the Hindus and other minorities – that their support for the government made no difference, and that they were simply no longer welcome in Pakistan.
For all the pain he went through, little did Mandal know that soon he will have to leave the land he had chosen to call home.
When a resolution was tabled in the Constituent Assembly to award the title of ‘Quaid-i-Azam’ or The Great Leader to Jinnah, almost all of the minority members opposed it, but Mandal threw his weight behind the resolution. On Jinnah’s death, he said,
Fate has ruthlessly taken Quaid-i-Azam from us at a time when he was most needed.
Not long after Jinnah passed away, Mandal migrated to India. What made him take that step? Ahmed Salim writes in his book:
“Pakistan’s first Law Minister and the leader of the ‘Untouchables’ Jogandra Nath Mandal had been a tried and tested supporter of the government. He was a hero for the oppressed.
“In 1940 after being elected to Calcutta Municipal Corporation, he proved particularly helpful to the Muslim population. He cooperated with the [Bengal] governments of A. K. Fazalul Haq and Khawaja Nazimuddin (1943-45) and served Muslim League (in 1946-47) when Quaid-i-Azam had to nominate five ministers for the interim government. Quaid-i-Azam wanted to nominate Mandal from Muslim League. By accepting Quaid-i-Azam’s offer, Mandal countered a similar move by Congress, which had nominated Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.
“After the 3rd June 1947 announcement, Sylhet District was to vote in a plebiscite to join either Pakistan or remain in Assam [the state that was to become part of India]. The Hindus and the Muslims of the district equalled each other in terms of population. However, there were a large number of Untouchables, whose vote could sway the poll to either side.
Following the instructions from Quaid-i-Azam, Mr Mandal arrived in Sylhet to influence the opinion of the Untouchables; when he departed from Sylhet it had voted to join Pakistan.”
After the Partition, the bureaucrats in Pakistan had started making inroads into politics. Those who questioned their policies, irrespective of religious or social background, were not tolerated. Thus began a campaign to undermine every righteous individual in politics.
Mandal, too, fell prey to such ploys. Pir Ali Mohammed Rashidi states in his book Rodaad-i-Chaman (A Garden’s Tale):
“Late Chaudhry Mohammad Ali had spent a major portion of his life in the service of the British Raj when he arrived in Pakistan from Delhi. As Secretary-General of the Cabinet Secretariat, he quickly garnered fame as the ‘architect’ and leader of the Pakistani bureaucracy. He was still a cabinet secretary – even though in the years to come he was to be appointed Finance Secretary, Finance Minister, and Prime Minster – when one day it dawned on him that Mandal was not a genuine patriot. Such a deduction implied that Chaudhry Sahib had eyes more trained than that of Jinnah to evaluate a person’s character and faithfulness.
“Consequently, he tried to keep many cabinet documents away from the Law Minister. It was too much for Mandal. His pride was hurt. Hitherto, he had lived as a self reliant man, who knew his self-worth. Before becoming a minister, he had offered huge sacrifices and as a Hindu, swum against the tide to support our Quaid in the Pakistan Movement.
“How could he possibly pocket the insult from a cabinet secretary, who had taken it upon himself to judge a Hindu minister for his political character and loyalty to his country? Mandal quit as minister and went back to Calcutta to spend the rest of his life being taunted by Hindus.”
Mandal’s support for Muslim League, his sacrifices for Pakistan, and his love for Muslims cannot be discredited. His ill-treatment at the hands of a bureaucrat is a dark chapter in our history.
In Pakistan, there still exist many Jogendras who have exhausted their energies in vain to prove that they are as patriotic as everyone else.
Do we need another Jinnah to take cognisance of the services rendered by our minorities?
Translated by Arif Anjum from the original in Urdu here.
The article was first published in November, 2015.