Why Jinnah-Tilak comradeship is relevant for peace between Pakistan and India

Both Tilak and Jinnah, if they were alive today, would have been deeply distressed at the current state of India-Pakistan ties.
Published August 1, 2020

India-Pakistan relations have once again entered a dark tunnel, with not even a flicker of light to give us hope that we are approaching its end. Within India, a Hindu supremacist government has been systematically moving towards the goal of converting plural and secular India into a 'Hindu Rashtra' (Hindu Nation). Our Muslim brethren, to whom the 'Indian Rashtra' belongs as much as it does to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and others, have never felt more insecure and despondent since the birth of Free India in 1947 as they do now.

History tells us that Hindu-Muslim discord and India-Pakistan hostility are inter-connected. Indeed, India’s blood-soaked partition in 1947, and the establishment of Pakistan as a separate "Muslim Nation", was the culmination of the failure of our anti-British struggle to find a common and acceptable constitutional framework, which could accommodate the concerns and aspirations of the two major communities that resided in this ancient land for centuries.

Lokamanya Tilak at his work desk.
Lokamanya Tilak at his work desk.

But history also tells us that wise and valorous efforts were made by farsighted leaders belonging to both communities for reconciliation of differences and construction of a future of amicable co-existence. It is by revisiting their inspiring legacies and learning the right lessons from those chapters of history that we can find pathways to Hindu-Muslim amity and India-Pakistan good-neighbourliness.

One such important chapter presents the tale of a close comradeship between Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920). August 1 marks the death centenary of Tilak, who was the tallest Congress leader before the advent of the Mahatma Gandhi era. In the history of India’s freedom movement, we see two milestones when Hindu-Muslim cooperation reached its zenith. One was the 1857 War of Independence, when Hindus and Muslims fought shoulder-to-shoulder — from Peshawar to Dhaka — against the rapacious rule of the East India Company. The other was the Lucknow Pact between the Congress and the Muslim League in December 1916. The principal architects of this pact were Tilak and Jinnah. Had the spirit of that pact endured, the outcome of the freedom struggle would have been different — and better.

Such was Tilak’s standing in India’s political life that Edwin Samuel Montagu, British Secretary of State for India between 1917 and 1922, said, "Tilak is at the moment probably the most powerful man in India". Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol, a British journalist who passionately defended the British empire, and had maliciously attacked Tilak, had called him the "father of Indian unrest".

Caption as translated from Marathi script shown in the photograph: Lokmanya Tilak (centre), Mahatma Gandhi (standing, in white turban) and Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah (to Tilak’s right, in a western suit) at a public meeting in Bombay's Shantaram Chawl. — Source: An illustrated biography of Tilak by Lokmanya Tilak Vichar Manch, Pune.
Caption as translated from Marathi script shown in the photograph: Lokmanya Tilak (centre), Mahatma Gandhi (standing, in white turban) and Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah (to Tilak’s right, in a western suit) at a public meeting in Bombay's Shantaram Chawl. — Source: An illustrated biography of Tilak by Lokmanya Tilak Vichar Manch, Pune.

Tilak breathed his last, after a brief illness, in Bombay on August 1, 1920. He was 64. The funeral at Chowpatty Beach was attended by over a million people. Among the pall-bearers were Gandhi, Nehru and Shaukat Ali, a prominent leader of the Khilafat Movement. Gandhi wrote in his newspaper *Young India*: "A giant among men has fallen. The voice of the lion is hushed... he knew no religion but love of his country.…he had an iron will, which he used for his country. His life was an open book. His private life was spotlessly clean. No man preached the gospel of swaraj (freedom) with the consistency and the insistence of the Lokamanya (an honorific which means 'a leader respected by the people')."

In a heartfelt tribute, Jinnah wrote: "Mr Tilak rendered yeoman services to the country and played a very important part in bringing about the Hindu-Moslem unity, which ultimately resulted in the Lucknow Pact in 1916."

An authentic account of Jinnah’s admiration for Tilak has been penned by Mohammedali Currim Chagla, the great jurist who served as chief justice of the Bombay High Court from 1948 to 1958. As a young lawyer, Chagla worked in the chamber of Jinnah, whom he idolised. Under Jinnah’s influence, he became a member of the Muslim League but quit the party after it started espousing the cause of Pakistan as a separate Muslim nation. Tilak was his childhood hero. This is what Chagla wrote in his autobiography Roses in December: “During my long association with Jinnah, I found that he always showed the greatest respect and regard for Tilak. Two persons in public life for whom Jinnah showed the greatest respect were [Gopal Krishna] Gokhale and Tilak. … [T]he regard Jinnah had for Tilak was reciprocated by Tilak."

When the lion roared: "Freedom is my birth right, and I shall have it"

Tilak was born on July 23, 1856 in the coastal town of Ratnagiri in the Konkan region of Maharashtra. Konkan, incidentally, had close contacts with Karachi in pre-Partition times. He studied in Pune, where he co-founded Fergusson College, one of India's most prestigious educational institutions. He became a renowned scholar in law, mathematics and Sanskrit. Later in his life, he wrote one of the most admired treatises on the Hindu scripture, Bhagavad Gita, extolling Karma Yoga or the philosophy of action for a noble cause. However, his passion was politics. To popularise his mission for India’s complete independence from British rule, he established two newspapers, Kesari (in Marathi, the native language of Maharashtra) and Mahratta (in English), which soon earned him the ire of the colonial administration.

The second half of the 19th century was an extremely difficult period in the freedom struggle. The defeat suffered by the uprising in 1857, and the bloody reprisals unleashed in its aftermath by the British, had created utter disillusionment that continued for many decades. The founding of the Indian National Congress in Bombay in 1885, and of the All India Muslim League in Dhaka in 1906, were natural responses of a freedom-loving nation that was trying to find its political voice. However, the voice was still weak and subdued. This is when Tilak began to quicken the growth of nationalist consciousness. Nehru, who was then a student in England, writes in his autobiography: "From 1907 onwards for several years India was seething with unrest and trouble. For the first time, since the Revolt of 1857, India was showing fight and not submitting tamely to foreign rule...Almost all of us were Tilakites or Extremists, as the new party was called in India".

Historians credit Gandhi with transforming the Congress into a mass movement. No doubt, he did so on a nationwide scale. But none can deny that Gandhi followed up, and greatly expanded, on the mass-oriented political work that Tilak had begun. Tilak's two arrests by the British on charges of sedition — first in 1897, when he was jailed for 18 months, and, especially, later in 1908, when he was sent to Mandalay in Burma for six years of rigorous imprisonment — galvanised the nation in an unprecedented manner (Jinnah successfully defended Tilak in the latter’s third sedition trial in 1916). Tilak’s banishment to Burma provoked the first ever political strike by the working class; the textile workers of Bombay (Hindus of all castes as well as Muslims) struck work for six days, one day for every year of the sentence.

Roaring like a lion in the Bombay High Court, Tilak asserted, "Swaraj is my birth right, and I shall have it". When the judge asked him if he had anything to say before the sentence was pronounced, he audaciously replied: "All I wish to say is that in spite of the verdict of the jury, I maintain my innocence. There are higher powers that rule the destiny of men and nations. It may be the will of providence that the cause I represent may prosper by suffering than by remaining free." These inspiring words were subsequently etched in a marble plaque in court room no. 46 in Bombay High Court, where he was tried.

The plaque with Tilak's words, in courtroom no. 46 at the Bombay High Court.
The plaque with Tilak's words, in courtroom no. 46 at the Bombay High Court.

Condemning Tilak’s imprisonment, Vladimir Lenin, who would lead the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917, wrote, "The infamous sentence pronounced by the British jackals on the Indian democrat Tilak…this revenge against a democrat by the lackeys of the money-bags evoked street demonstrations and a strike in Bombay. In India, too, the proletariat has already developed to conscious political mass struggle — and, that being the case, the Russian-style British regime in India is doomed!"

Among Tilak's countless admirers was Maulana Hasrat Mohani, an eminent freedom fighter and Urdu poet, who coined the slogan Inquilab Zindabad ("long live the revolution"). After Tilak’s imprisonment in 1908, he wrote a ghazal in praise of Lokamanya. Here are a few lines from it translated in English.

O Tilak, o pride of patriotism
The knower, the follower, the believer and articulator of righteousness
The foundation of openly expressed freedom rests on you
The assembly of sincerity and loyalty is illuminated by you
You were the fiesta to hear O Son of India
Imprisonment in the service of India
Your being became the beacon light of freedom
Otherwise our friends were shackled in slavery
You have cast such a spell of self-respect
With one stroke, it cancelled all rituals of flattery
The free Hasrat prides himself on following you
May the Great God keep you for long.

In his book Jinnah and Tilak — Comrades in the Freedom Struggle, prolific scholar A G Noorani quotes Kanji Dwarkadas, a close Hindu friend of Jinnah in Bombay: "The two great political centres in Bombay at that time were Sardar Grih (a modest guest house in which Tilak lived in a single room) and Jinnah's chambers in the High Court. All political roads led to these two places for organisation, consultation and decision."

Sardar Grih Guest House in Mumbai where Tilak lived — and died. The Indian government's apathy towards the legacy of Lokmanya Tilak can be seen here. — Photo by writer
Sardar Grih Guest House in Mumbai where Tilak lived — and died. The Indian government's apathy towards the legacy of Lokmanya Tilak can be seen here. — Photo by writer

Cover of A G Noorani's book *Jinnah and Tilak — Comrades in the Freedom Struggle.*
Cover of A G Noorani's book Jinnah and Tilak — Comrades in the Freedom Struggle.

Sardar Grih was in close vicinity of Anjuman-i-Islam, the oldest Muslim educational institution in India founded in 1874, a year before the establishment of the Aligarh Muslim University by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. Its founder was Badruddin Tyabji (1844-1906), a great patriot who was president of the Indian National Congress at its third session in Madras (1897). As a judge of the Bombay High Court, he was known for his courage and impartiality, as became clear in his granting bail to Tilak in a sedition case in 1897 after it had been rejected thrice by others. Tyabji, unlike Sir Syed, urged Muslims to join the Congress so that the interests of Muslims and Hindus could be advanced jointly. Incidentally, Jinnah, who held the same view, regarded Tyabji as his mentor, and once told him that there was "nothing that I shall follow more readily than your advice".

A portrait of Tilak in his room on the 4th floor at Sardar Grih in Mumbai. — Photo by writer
A portrait of Tilak in his room on the 4th floor at Sardar Grih in Mumbai. — Photo by writer

Was Tilak anti-Muslim? No he wasn't

All great historical personalities have been victims of falsification of history in some way or the other. This is also true about Tilak, who has been accused by some of being a "Hindu nationalist" and, therefore, "anti-Muslim". In support of this criticism, it is cited that he introduced "Hindu revivalism" into the national movement by popularising the festivals associated with Ganesh (a Hindu deity) and Shivaji (a Maratha warrior-king). The fact is he did so to mobilise the people in the freedom movement and what his critics conveniently ignore is that he also participated in Muharram processions with his Muslim compatriots in Pune, just as many Muslims took part in Ganesh and Shivaji festivities.

It is true that in his earlier writings, Tilak flayed what he regarded as the fanaticism of Muslim invaders. But Tilak’s views on Indian Muslims changed in the course of the freedom struggle, and he became convinced that unity between Hindu and Muslim communities was absolutely necessary for India's liberation and future progress. He affirmed that Indian nationalism is "composite" — meaning that it has equal place for Hindus and Muslims. Tilak wrote in Kesari: "When Hindus and Muslims jointly ask for Swarajya from a common platform, the British bureaucracy has to realise that its days are numbered."

Here is some proof that Muslims of the time saw him as an Indian nationalist and not as a Hindu nationalist. When the British government arrested and imprisoned Tilak in a sedition case in 1897, his friends in Calcutta collected 16,000 rupees for his defence. Out of this, 7,000 rupees were donated by a Muslim-owned business firm Hirjee Ahmaed & Hajee Hossain Hajee Abdel. What Hajee Abdel wrote in the donation's covering letter is revealing. "The moment the Government arrested him, Mr Tilak ceased to be a leader of the Hindu community. He is now above all castes, creeds, and religions. He is going to be prosecuted for his fight for India, the common motherland of the Muslims and Hindus."

Tilak in a Muharram procession in Pune in 1892. He can be seen in the centre near the bottom of the picture.
Tilak in a Muharram procession in Pune in 1892. He can be seen in the centre near the bottom of the picture.

Both Shaukat Ali and his brother Mohammed Ali Jauhar held Tilak in high esteem because of his bold support to Muslim concerns, including his sympathy for their anti-imperialist Khilafat cause. Shaukat Ali even said: "I would like to mention again for the hundredth time that both Mohammed Ali and myself belonged to, and still belong to, Lokamanya Tilak’s political party." Furthermore, the mother of Ali brothers, Abadi Bano Begum, popularly known as 'Bi Amma', was also a Tilak supporter. She addressed meetings urging people to donate to the Tilak Swaraj Fund, which Gandhi had created in Tilak’s memory.

Those were truly sunny days for Hindu-Muslim fraternity. Recall this — when, some days after his cremation in Bombay, Tilak’s ashes were brought to his native city Pune by a special train, the procession stopped near a mosque and the people honoured their beloved leader with the slogan "Hindu-Muslim ekta ki jai".

Jinnah as a votary of Muslim-Hindu unity

Similar views on the need for Hindu-Muslim solidarity for national liberation were held by Jinnah, who was the most promising young lawyer and nationalist Muslim politician in India in the first two decades of the last century. Remarkably, he was an active member, simultaneously, of both the Congress and the Muslim League. He had joined the Congress in 1896, when he returned from England to Bombay to start his law practice. In 1906, he attended the Calcutta session as secretary to Dadabhai Naoroji, the 'Grand Old Man' of India’s freedom struggle, who was then president of Congress. He would take membership of the Muslim League much later, in 1913. Jinnah viewed himself as a bridge between the two Indian parties pursuing the common goal of national independence. Gokhale, his mentor and a leader of the 'moderate' faction of Congress (Tilak was a leader of the 'militant' wing of Congress), had described Jinnah as "an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity". Jinnah himself had expressed the desire to become "the Muslim Gokhale".

Predictably, this confluence of views brought the leaders of India’s two main political streams into a close association, whose historic outcome was the Lucknow Pact in December 1916. More by design than by coincidence, the annual sessions of the Congress and the Muslim League took place around the same time in the city that was one of the nerve centres of the 1857 War of Independence. Here, the two parties agreed on separate representation for Muslims and gave due weightage to their representation, higher than their percentage in population would warrant, in the imperial/provincial legislatures where they were in a minority. Applying the same principle, the pact also increased the representation of non-Muslims and suitably reduced the representation of Muslims in the Muslim-majority provinces, like Punjab and Bengal. It conceded to the Muslims one-third of the seats in the Imperial Legislative Council. Furthermore, it introduced another safeguard to reassure both communities. No proposal that affected any one community could be passed in legislatures if three-fourths of that community’s representatives were opposed to it.

Influential Hindu leaders of the Congress, such as Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, B S Moonje and Tej Bahadur Sapru, opposed Tilak, saying he had surrendered to the Muslims by conceding the 'anti-national and anti-democratic' system of separate electorates. Yet, Tilak stood his ground and staked his all for the Hindu-Muslim settlement. Addressing over 2,000 delegates in the open session, and using words that only a leader with enormous conviction and self-confidence can, Tilak said: "It has been said that we, Hindus, have yielded too much. The concession that has been made to our Muhammadan brethren in the Legislative Council is really nothing too much. In proportion to the concession that had been made to the Moslems, their enthusiasm and warm-hearted support is surely greater. I urge the audience to give effect actively to the resolution adopted by the Congress."

Tilak addressing a meeting at Shantaram Chawl, Bombay, in 1917. M A Jinnah can be seen, in black jacket, to his right.
Tilak addressing a meeting at Shantaram Chawl, Bombay, in 1917. M A Jinnah can be seen, in black jacket, to his right.

Explaining his stand further, Tilak remarked: "As a Hindu I have no objection to making this concession. We cannot rise from our present intolerable condition without the aid of the Muslims." Tilak’s stand was that the "triangular" fight among Hindus, Muslims and the British should be reduced to a "two-way" fight between the British and the common front of Hindus and Muslims. And for bringing about this fundamental change, he was prepared to show that Hindus were willing to be magnanimous towards their Muslim brethren, who, after all, were fellow Indians.

Jinnah echoed Tilak’s thoughts and sentiments. In his speech at the Muslim League session in Lucknow, he described himself as "a staunch Congressman" who had "no love for sectarian cries". In November 1917, addressing a public meeting in Bombay’s Shantaram Chawl in Tilak’s presence, he said: "My message to the Musalmans is to join hands with your Hindu brethren. My message to the Hindus is to lift your backward brother up." Jinnah strongly believed in the idea of a "union of the two great communities in India". He regarded it a necessity for the Hindus and Muslims "to combine in one harmonious union for the common good".

Tilak-Jinnah Pact — why its spirit should be resurrected

It is one of the great tragedies of India’s freedom movement that the spirit of Hindu-Muslim unity, and Congress-Muslim League cooperation, did not last the test of subsequent developments. One reason for this is that Tilak did not live long enough to give a practical shape to its contents. Jinnah on the other hand was finding himself sidelined in the Congress party. His hopes of Hindu leaders in the Congress willing to share power with Muslims and the Muslim League in a self-governing India started fading. And they received a body blow when Nehru, who was then the Congress president, refused to share power with the Muslim League after the Congress swept the elections to the provincial legislature in UP in 1937. Thereafter, there was little trust left between the two parties. And the growing mistrust, and little cooperation, between the two ultimately led to the Partition in 1947.

This happened because Tilak’s prescient endeavor to transform the "triangular" fight — Hindu vs. British, Muslim vs. British and Hindu vs. Muslim — into a direct two-way fight between a Hindu-Muslim joint front against the British, which he had accomplished in Lucknow in 1916, came unstuck after his demise. The fight once again became "triangular" with cataclysmic consequences.

The Lucknow Pact is now a part of history, forgotten in both India and Pakistan. But the question is: does the spirit of the pact still have any relevance? The answer, most certainly, is, yes it does. The specific provisions of the pact are no longer relevant. But its basic motivational principle — namely, that the two main communities of India should not only peacefully and cooperatively coexist but also show the readiness to compromise should the need arise — is valid even today.

Both Tilak and Jinnah, if they were alive today, would have been deeply distressed at the current state of India-Pakistan relations and also at the inter-religious disharmony in our two countries. In particular, neither India nor Pakistan is showing any magnanimity, any constructive understanding, and any inclination to compromise in dealing with contentious bilateral issues. Let us be honest: can the dispute over Kashmir ever be resolved through bilateral negotiations without mutual trust, without an attitude of give-and-take, and without a commitment to justice and fairness? Are India and Pakistan to regard each other as permanent enemies?

Another question to ponder is has Indian nationalism ceased to be "composite", as Tilak had believed it to be, after Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014? Is the concept of, and demand for, India as a 'Hindu Rashtra' consistent with Tilak’s vision of India?

If we ponder over these questions, we will begin to realise that the essential spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation demonstrated by Tilak and Jinnah alone can help in the fruition of two all-important challenges before us today: Hindu-Muslim harmonisation and India-Pakistan normalisation.