Jinnah and violence

26 Jan 2020

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Jinnah never resorted to violence even when he stood against his fiercest political rivals.
Jinnah never resorted to violence even when he stood against his fiercest political rivals.

THE coupling of the Quaid’s name with a malevolent noun is done deliberately – to jar the senses like a mild electric shock. Only to highlight how the two words are antithetical to each other. The unnatural juxtaposition becomes urgently relevant after the bizarre episode on December 11, 2019, when a mob of lawyers vandalised and rampaged through the Punjab Institute of Cardiology in Lahore to settle scores with doctors. At least three patients in intensive care died and several were injured.

Even in heaven, Barrister M.A. Jinnah must surely have felt a hellish pain. Occurring exactly two weeks before his birth anniversary, the episode also became a marker to map the dark depths to which some — fortunately not all — fellow citizens have descended in the 71 years since the Quaid’s demise.

The verbal contortions and semantics of some senior lawyers attempting to explain or defend the December 11 incident would be — or are — hilarious, if they were not also outrageous. Merely in order to be seen in solidarity with their fellow practitioners and perhaps apprehensive of the negative consequences for the respect that they presently enjoy in their fraternity, the senior denizens who, otherwise, preach ceaselessly on the sanctity of the law and the Constitution have been recorded making incredibly equivocal explanations to condone hooligans masquerading as advocates. To top it all, lawyers went on strike in sympathy for the marauders — to inconvenience thousands of innocent citizens.

A brilliant, peace-prone lawyer

The Quaid was a brilliant lawyer. A substantive part of his brilliance was shaped by his conviction that the mind should and could always have supremacy over muscle, that rationality in words and decency in actions are always superior to emotional ranting and physical aggression.

As early as in 1907 in the Surat session of the Congress when moderates and extremists allowed their disagreements to lead to assaults and injuries, Mr. Jinnah condemned such behaviour and stressed that politics must be seen as a gentleman’s game.

Almost four decades later, in protest against Viceroy Wavell’s decision to ask the Congress Party to form an Interim Government without also inviting the Muslim League, Mr. Jinnah declared August 16, 1946, as ‘Direct Action Day’. Alas, this declaration which involved the convening of peaceful public meetings in Calcutta and in other locations including some in Bihar to which thousands of Muslims were proceeding along with women and children were subjected to fatal violence by extremist mobs of Hindus and Sikhs. In three days of carnage, anywhere between 5,000 to 20,000 people perished in Calcutta and in Bihar. Mr. Jinnah reeled in horror at the killings and destruction that took place in Calcutta and elsewhere. He condemned the gruesome use of force against a purely political struggle for Muslim rights.

It is worth reproducing his strong opposition to seeking revenge even for massacres — when on December 11, 2019, the lust for revenge for only being allegedly insulted led to shameful mayhem. Mr. Jinnah said: “I know that the Mussalmans have suffered heavily and are suffering… I condemn brutality in any shape or form, but the Bihar tragedy has no parallel or precedent in the record of cold-blooded butchery of the Muslim minority in various parts of the country committed by the Hindu community.

“While I can quite understand that there is grave provocation and deep resentment among the Mussalmans of India, I wish to caution them that retaliation or vengeance in the Muslim-majority provinces for what has happened in Bihar, and is happening in other parts of India, will be a terrible catastrophe and a blunder on our part, both morally and politically, and we shall be only playing into the hands of our enemies.

“If you really want to achieve Pakistan, I pray to God that Muslim honour should not be sullied by inhuman, degrading and brutal happenings of the kind that have taken place in Bihar. We should not sink low in the scales of civilisation, morality and humanity…. If the Mussalmans lose their balance and give vent to the spirit of vengeance and retaliation, and prove false to the highest code of morality and teachings of our great religion Islam, you will not only lose the title to the claim of Pakistan but also it will start a most vicious circle of bloodshed and cruelty, which will at once put off the day of our freedom, and we shall only be helping to prolong the period of our slavery and bondage…”

Even as objective conditions dramatically changed from the start of the 20th century through to about 40 years later, the Quaid’s abhorrence of violence remained a consistent, categorical commitment.

Composure as camouflage

So deep-rooted was his antipathy to physical expressions of power or passion that he was considered to be “cold” and “unfeeling”. Yet, as the closely-observed and widely documented record of his life shows, that steel-like demeanour guarded an unseen yet authentic, sensitive sensibility. So private and so careful was he about his sensitivity to both the unseen and the visible dimensions of human relationships is the fact that only once in his entire public life did his eyes moisten and shed tears when his beloved young wife Rutti was being laid to eternal rest. He was also devastated by the orgy of communal violence unleashed just before, during and soon after August 14, 1947, as a result of Viceroy Mountbatten’s unforgivable haste in arbitrarily imposing a 10-week timeframe for the creation of two new independent nation states that inevitably required migration of millions of people in conditions of panic, hysteria and frenzy.

Moral, not muscle, power

Mr. Jinnah believed that the force of moral and ethical power would prevail over material and imperial strength. He confronted adversaries who vastly outnumbered his own supporters and resources with the pure, pristine power of concepts, facts, arguments, persuasive articulation and, most of all, sterling qualities of character and courage which did not need even an iota of physical force to press his case for Pakistan. So scrupulously did he believe in the sanctity of law, of the written texts that codify desirable and acceptable norms of behaviour that the colonial British Government simply could not find a legal basis to send him to jail!

The British were not the only ones who would have liked to see him fettered and restricted to prison. He had many ill-wishers in the Congress, the Hindu Mahasabha, RSS and elsewhere. Yet his unwavering reliance on the sublime strength of the mind alone, accompanied by his profound respect for the law prevented his incarceration. Without detracting from the sacrifices of personal freedom rendered by his opponents who were imprisoned by the British eg. Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru etc, the Quaid resisted the temptation to become a political martyr through temporary imprisonment because of his insightful observance of the law and his unwillingness to obtain an aura through an arrest.

Restraint even in targeted attack:

His own hypothetical arrest — or the actual arrest of an individual who wanted to assassinate him. On July 26, 1943, a man named Rafiq Sabir Mazangavi, misguidedly or intentionally inspired by the Khaksar Movement led by Allama Mashriqi, attempted to kill Mr. Jinnah at his Malabar residence in Bombay. The unsuccessful assassination attempt came soon after the Khaksars had more or less aligned themselves with Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress by urging Mr. Jinnah to set aside his reservations and meet with the Congress leader.

Averting with his own hand the knife attack by his intended assassin and despite suffering a cut to his wrist and barely escaping a cut to his neck that could have proved fatal, Mr. Jinnah immediately demonstrated his mature and prescient appreciation of the potential fall-out from the news of this attempted killing. He apprehended that the report could incite violent reactions by his supporters and Muslim League activists around the region.

He sent out an urgent appeal to all those concerned about the attack on him to refrain from violence, to remain peaceful and respect the law. About four months later, before the trial of the accused concluded in November 1943, addressing the Memon Chamber of Commerce in Bombay in October 1943, he stated: “Grave political issues cannot be settled by the cult of the knife, nor by gangsterism. There are parties and parties but differences between them could not be dissolved by attacks on party leaders. Nor could political views be altered by threats of violence. The issues involved were too grave to warrant change from the course chalked out and which (we) mean to pursue… the League could neither be disrupted nor destroyed. Even if the League leaders be killed, the League itself could not be killed.”

Though directly and personally the survivor of a targeted violent attack, Mr. Jinnah abstained from any verbal retaliation or accusation against the Khaksars and their extremist leadership. Neither did he cast insinuations on Congress leaders even though there had clearly been a strong, covert Congress influence on the public words and actions of the Khaksar leadership. In a tribute most apt to Mr. Jinnah’s qualities of decency and integrity, the judge presiding at the trial of the accused made the following observation about Mr. Jinnah: “…I must say that in all my experience, I have never seen more obviously a witness of truth than Mr. Jinnah.”

A truly non-violent personality:

One of the several ironies that mark how the world perceived the principal figures of his time is the fact that his contemporary, Mahatma Gandhi, is universally recognised as the epitome of non-violence. For the most part, rightly so. Mr. Jinnah did not go to the necessary lengths required to cultivate the image of a person profoundly devoted to peaceful means of interaction, expression and progress. Without advocating the use of force to overcome the British occupation of South Asia, without ever using a lethal weapon even to symbolically fire into the open air, Mr. Jinnah transformed the map of the world and created a unique new nation-state –– entirely through peaceful means.

The Quaid’s attitude to violence did not represent weakness or lack of will or lack of courage or an abject passivity or an apathetic helplessness. When he knew that right was might he was willing to use force. Just as violence can be justified only in self-defence in the face of life-threatening actions by another, or in the prospect of potential injury-imparting threats or actions.

Shocked by the blatant deployment of the Indian Army in October 1947 into Srinagar to seize Jammu & Kashmir, Mr. Jinnah (unsuccessfully) ordered the then British C-in-C of the Pakistan Army, General Gracey, to send Pakistani troops into Kashmir. General Gracey politely drew the Quaid’s attention to the fact that it would not be tenable for British Army officers then serving in the Pakistan Army to become combatants with their fellow British Army officers then serving in the Indian Army. Even in this awkward situation, Mr. Jinnah reluctantly accepted the rationale as a reflection of his respect for reason and reasonableness, rather than an insistence on the use of force.

A comprehensive commitment:

The values of non-violence shaped Mr. Jinnah’s actions in a comprehensive and sustained manner from early youth to his demise. In his personal life, including his troubled relationship with his wife who craved his company but who was starved of it, who was far younger than him but utterly devoted to him, torn between his desire for family time and privacy and the pursuit of political goals and the persistent pressures of public duties and his legal practice, Mr. Jinnah remained extremely temperate and proper in all his interactions. Be they with spouse, sister and other relations.

In his professional work, in the chamber and in the courts, with clients, with opposing counsels, with magistrates and judges, his conduct was impeccable. In the different and difficult phases of his political evolution and struggle, from membership of the Congress to his dual membership of both the Congress and the Muslim League, through his resignation from the Congress and his single-minded dedication to the Muslim League, all through the phase of temporary disillusionment when he adjourned to London and was then persuaded by Allama Iqbal to return in 1933 and resume leadership, in the content and tone of his discourse, whether addressing his own colleagues or his critics, speaking to the Press or at public meetings, Mr. Jinnah personified civility and propriety.

Fittingly, soon after becoming the Head-of-State, addressing messages to overseas countries, when, as Governor-General, he stressed the commitment of the new state to building stability for a world that had just emerged from the destruction and bloodshed of World War II, Mr. Jinnah emphasised the commitment to peace, harmony and non-violence.

The meaning of violence:

With the images of lawyers brandishing guns in a hospital and rampaging through wards in which seriously-ill human beings were barely clinging to life makes one ponder as to what does violence represent? Seen from the perspective of the Quaid’s life, on the visible and obvious level, violence is a breakdown of order, coherence and the compact that brings together human beings with the spoken or unspoken understanding that each will respect the physical dignity of the other, that each will not take an action that, in any way, adversely affects or threatens the normalcy and well-being of the other.

But equally, perhaps on a subliminal level, violence represents a repulsive regression to the primitive phases of the human species, so early and infant that the human species had not acquired even the fundamental consciousness of each person’s inescapable dependence upon another person –– for companionship, for help in securing food and nourishment, for reproduction, for shared protection against more dominant species. By descent to the most primeval level, violence is the ultimate expression of selfishness, of total and callous disregard for another human being, of only recognising one’s own impulses and instincts. Thus, violence negates the very basis of family and fraternity, of community and society, of culture, country and civilisation.

Repent and resolve:

Both the vandals of December 11, 2019 and their apologists demean, by their actions and their expostulations, far more than their profession as well as the father of the nation. However strong was the provocation from doctors gloating over insults to lawyers, there is nothing to condone the carefully pre-meditated and crudely executed attacks on the hospital and on human beings. Whether seen as a violation of one of the three ideals espoused in the Quaid’s formulation of: “Unity, Faith, Discipline” or seen as a betrayal of values adopted on a global scale as expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948, the torrid spectacle enacted in the very city where the Lahore Resolution was adopted in 1940 poses a challenge to the legal and judicial communities, as also to our nation as a whole.

Not to forget the scope for mischief and mob mentality which can be exploited by the misuse of social media. By the recorded gloating of an exultant doctor mocking lawyers swiftly going viral to spread the virus of revenge and violence. Surely we need to find ways to prevent incendiary or self-indulgent content from being instantly circulated — with terrible results.

All involved, as also protagonists of social media and freedom of speech need to reflect upon the implications and appropriate actions required, singly and collectively in the times ahead ­— to ensure that the Lahore episode becomes the last such abominable event of our history. To you Mr. Jinnah, up there in heaven: be rest assured that the overwhelming majority of the citizens of this beautiful country you created, continue to hold you in the highest regard and strive to live up to the ideals you epitomised.

The writer is the author of “What is Pakistaniat?” and a former Senator and Federal Minister. www.javedjabbar.net.