IN a country where the name and the face of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah is ubiquitous — on currency notes, stamps, portraits on office walls, media — is the title of this reflection at all pertinent? The personality is so widely visible and continuously accessible that, in one way or another, he is present in everyone’s life, from collective memory to individual mind, in virtually every pocket, but, more importantly, in virtually every heart. So why should someone with such a pervasive presence require ‘saving’? Perhaps the proliferation of his persona is precisely the reason why the core of his real persona needs to be retrieved and protected.
To map the path of our search, seven threats can be identified. Each of them represents the paradox of how the massive popularity of a deceased human being enhances the vulnerability of his identity to the diverse impacts of time and history.
Killing Me Softly: Ironically, the first danger that Mr Jinnah faces comes from the ceremonial expression of abundant affection for him. One is reminded of the name of a song that says it all so well: ‘Killing me softly’. The fixed, predictable regularity for the formality of homage objectifies and freezes him on national and landmark days.
The ceremonial dimension is intrinsic to the act of honouring beliefs, persons and ideas which communities and nations hold dear and indispensable. Yet, where ceremony highlights principal features, ‘ceremoniality’ often obscures other characteristics that are awkward or inconvenient to recall or revive on the record. Though special reports, like the one in hand, fulfill a vital function of providing information and insights, the harsh fact is that such reports are the least read sections of a newspaper because the readers tend to assume that they already know what is likely to have been written and has been published about a figure they think they know so well.
Making Him A Deity: The second danger is in a neck-to-neck race with the first. Deification. To a considerable extent, this has already taken place. Without becoming a heretical deity, Mr. Jinnah has received unrivalled adulation. This depth of adoration is made all the more notable because it began before the creation of Pakistan. The admiration for him swelled and inspired tens of millions even as he combated the ravages of disease for the 13 months in which he was able to live in the independent country. Unlike some other countries where the foundation of independence was shared in equal, or in varying measures between two or three leaders, in the case of Pakistan there was a phenomenal singularity of leadership. Such dominance by one individual alone did not detract from the valued support rendered by several of his colleagues, most prominent of whom was Quaid-i-Millat Liaquat Ali Khan. But the Quaid-i-Azam was regarded by all — even by some of his worst detractors — as being in a class of his own.
Justly deserved profound respect brings with it the pleasures as well as, more disturbingly, the perils of mythification; the congenital twin of deification. The figure becomes so supreme as to assume perfection. While such a condition should certainly remain an ideal for all human beings, it is sobering to remember that, after all, we are talking of mortal beings. While there is a view of Mr Jinnah’s role that dissents from deification, convictions about him and attitudes to his role are overwhelmingly reverential.
The core of Jinnah’s personality needs to be retrieved and protected in the face of multiple threats emerging from the diverse impacts of time and history.
And this is exactly the danger that he should be protected from. Instead of putting him on a pedestal, he needs to be seen as the First among equals; Pakistan’s First and Foremost citizen: unshakable in his determination, deliberately ignoring, if not concealing the devastating impact of his illness in order to protect the people of a fragile, awkwardly-constructed new nation-state from further insecurity, and facing death with unflinching dignity.
Saving Him Physically: A brief diversion beckons. Because the episode was about the attempt to physically save the Quaid — as distinct from now when we consider saving him for future history, one should periodically re-read the slim but revealing book With the Quaid-i-Azam in his Last Days (OUP; 2011), by his physician Lt-Col Dr Ilahi Bakhsh, to realise afresh how heroic and human he was to the very end.
It is another tragedy altogether with regard to how a quasi-deity had to endure rudimentary disregard by those who should have shown far greater responsibility for his comfort during his last journey and on his last day of life.
Even though senior government functionaries had visited him in Ziarat in the last week of July and early August, 1948, and were aware of the extremely fragile condition of the Quaid, and even though they and others knew that he was being rushed to Karachi by special aircraft in the afternoon of September 11, not a single cabinet member was present at the Mauripur Airport to receive him on arrival. His military secretary greeted him. The discourtesy then becomes nightmarishly bizarre when the ambulance supposedly meant to speed him to the Governor-General’s House has an engine failure after covering only about four miles of the 10-mile distance.
As the ambulance did not display the flag of the Governor-General, trucks and cars passing the stranded vehicle did not stop. Nor could his doctor risk transferring a rapidly weakening Mr Jinnah to a new vehicle. By the time another ambulance arrived and the group managed to reach the destination, it had taken almost two hours to get from the airport to his residence. And all this while, there was no sign of any government figure around. This inexplicable and inexcusable failure to ensure personal presence when the Head of the State — leave alone a quasi-deity — was virtually at death’s door remains a shoddy mystery.
Did this tragic finale have any connection to certain aspects of the Quaid’s views about how some of his closest political colleagues were acting in the last few weeks of his life? The potency of this question becomes greater when one notes a portion of the forthright, fluently well-written Preface to the 3rd edition of the book cited earlier.
M. Nasir Ilahi, one of the sons of Lt-Col. Dr. Ilahi Bakhsh, writing on behalf of his six siblings and of himself, states: “It should be noted here that, based on information available to Dr. Ilahi Bakhsh’s eldest son, M. Humayun, there was an initial version of this book which the author had submitted to the Pakistan government for review (as he was a government employee), but which regrettably does not exist any longer. The author was required to delete certain passages from the book as they were considered to be politically inappropriate and sensitive.
“Essentially, these included, inter alia, information based on the author’s close personal relationship with the Quaid, which suggested that the patient was unhappy after some difficult meetings with his close political allies who he felt were departing from the cardinal concepts of the state of Pakistan that he had begun to visualise. These concepts, included in some of the Quaid’s important speeches of the time, emphasised the guiding principles of equality, justice and fair play for all the citizens of the new state. It is believed that the author took the view that the Quaid’s reaction to these emerging political differences, and his possible perceptions about the lack of support for them, may have been one of the factors that contributed to the onset of the Quaid’s depressed state.” The depression acutely aggravated his physical condition.
Limited Learning: The third threat that the Quaid faces arises partly from becoming an idol. This element can be described as ‘limited learning’. As he is introduced to new generations of Pakistanis in the pre-packaged condition of a supreme leader, virtually without any flaw to his character or his capacity, most citizens are deprived of learning about the totality of his personality which comprised contradictory features, as is true of every human being.
Seen from one possibly extreme perspective, Mr Jinnah found it easier to be the Father of a Nation than to be the father of his own single child, his daughter Dina. He married a beautiful, far younger Zoroastrian named Ruttie. She was passionately in love with him and sacrificed almost all her personal and religious relationships in order to become the sometimes unavoidably neglected wife of an extraordinarily busy barrister and political leader. Her health deteriorated badly and she died forlorn. It is reliably reported that the only time Mr Jinnah was seen to shed a tear was at Rutti’s funeral in 1929. Years later, he was unwilling to accept his daughter’s decision to marry a Zoroastrian.
To cite this intensely personal and private experience as an example of some of the contradictions that the Quaid possessed is not to trivialise this third danger of limited learning. Because, in public life as well, despite being motivated solely by the requirements of state stability and the public interest, Mr Jinnah committed errors of judgement, such as being unwilling to give Bengali, the mother tongue of the majority of Pakistanis at that time, equivalent status with Urdu as a state language. The reasons he gave were not disrespectful of the Bengali language, but they were not justifiable; at least in hindsight.
There were also a few other occasions where he demonstrated an authoritarian rather than a democratic streak. By acknowledging the reality of these aspects of his character, the third danger posed by limited learning about him will be significantly reduced — without diminishing the high respect that he richly deserves.
Willful Distortion: Willfull distortion of the Quaid’s rationale for the creation of Pakistan is the fourth danger. Misrepresentation of the origins for the demand for Pakistan has been assiduously practised and propagated — most actively by political leaders in India and by Indian academia and media. One favourite thesis advanced to malign the originality of the idea of Pakistan and to devalue it is to promote the falsehood that Pakistan is merely the outcome of a secret — or not-so-secret — grand design by the colonial British power to divide and rule, to pit Muslims against Hindus.
Through this tinted, tainted lens the propagators completely glide over the emergence of the Hindu Rashtra elements in the second half of the 19th century, as expressed then, and in later organisational forms, such as the Arya Samaj, Hindu Mahasabha and, further on, through the RSS, and other such forums.
Instead of recognising the reality of the distinctness of Muslim identity and the dilemma that crystallised after the end of the Mughal dynasty in 1857, the questioning of the genesis for the concept of Pakistan is crudely simplified into a colonial plot. Numerous documents indisputably prove that the British regarded the demand for Pakistan to be inimical to their interests. For example, on the very day that the Lahore Resolution was formally adopted on March 24, 1940, Viceroy Lord Linlithgow addressed a letter to Lord Zetland, Secretary of State for India in London. He wrote: “I do not attach too much importance to Jinnah’s demand for the carving out of India into an infinite number of so-called ‘Dominions’. The demand is ‘extreme’ and ‘preposterous’.”
On April 18, 1940, the Secretary of State wrote to the Viceroy to say: “... I doubt very much if a cleavage between the Muslims and the Hindus as fundamental as that contemplated by the present leaders of the All-India Muslim League would prove to be to our advantage. The Hindus have no particular affiliations outside India. Whereas the call of Islam transcends the bounds of the country. It may have lost some of its force as a result of the abolition of the Caliphate by Mustafa Kamal Pasha, but it still has a very considerable appeal, as witnessed, for example, by Jinnah’s insistence for our giving an undertaking that Indian troops should never be employed against any Muslim State and the solicitude which he has constantly expressed for the Arabs or Palestine ...”
Leopold Amery, who succeeded Lord Zetland and served from May 1940 to July 1945, was even more hostile to the prospects of Pakistan. He wrote to the Viceroy on January 25, 1941: “Jinnah and his Pakistanis are beginning to be almost more of a menace (than the Congress) and (seem) to have lost all sense of realities ... if there is to be a Pakistan, (sic) Kashmir will obviously will have to belong to it and Hyderabad will obviously belong to Hindu India ...” Linlithgow warned Mr Jinnah that “... both Britain and the Viceroy are dedicated to the vision of a united India.”
The second last Viceroy, Lord Wavell, was personally averse to Mr Jinnah and said that the latter was unreasonably “unyielding” on the demand for Pakistan. In fact, he preferred to see Khizar Hayat Khan in Punjab as the “best leader of the Muslims in India” and he was categorical enough to say that the very concept for a Muslim homeland meant that, “Pakistan was nonsense”.
Even up to August 1945, he strived to prove that Mr Jinnah’s ideas had a crudity which should be exposed, as noted by Professor Dr Sikandar Hayat in his book The Charismatic Leader (OUP; 2008/2018). The subsequent events leading up to August 14, 1947, speak for themselves to contradict the falsehood promoted through a willful distortion of the Quaid’s vision.
Intellectual Autopsies and ‘Quaidism’: In marking the fifth danger, it is apt to formulate the threat as ‘ill-founded intellectual autopsies’ that are periodically conducted in India and in the West on the justification for Pakistan and the role of Mr Jinnah. Sadly, and without doubting the sincerity of their intent, or questioning their goodwill for their own country, there are some individuals within Pakistan, as also some Pakistanis living overseas, who have succumbed to this dubious practice of dissecting history to purportedly discover a fatal flaw in the idea of Pakistan.
This school of thought evokes the image of a surgeon who opens up a body not with a scalpel to heal, but actually holding a tumour in order to implant it into a living organism and then raise the alarm about finding a malady that simply cannot be treated.
In a way, this approach is the equivalent of the ‘Orientalism’ so well analysed by Edward Said when he exposed through his book by the same name of how Western scholarship has systematically disfigured the core realities of the East and the non-Western parts of the world. This equivalent could be termed ‘Quaidism’.
Claiming to be only guided by facts and evidence, by balanced interpretation, espousing the idiom and terminologies used most prominently by the West, ‘Quaidism’ becomes a process by which the Quaid’s words and actions, particularly those rendered on dates divided by some distances, as being proof of confusion and incoherence, of lack of clarity and consistency in defining the ideological basis for the new nation-state.
When such ‘Quaidism’ is pronounced at public events, such as literature festivals, there is even applause by listeners — on the one hand showing how liberal and open-minded is the environment in a country portrayed as being intolerant and extremist; and, on the other, a disturbing reflection of how selective quotation and a pre-determined bias become acceptable in the subtle as well as explicit attempt to demolish the authenticity of Mr Jinnah’s vision and work.
One manifestation of how some sections of academia in Pakistan are either unwitting or willing parts of this disfigurement of memory and history is the content and tone of questions that I periodically receive in written or in verbal form from graduate and postgraduate students with regard to the rationale for Pakistan, the factors relevant to 1971, and the obstinate resilience of our nation-state on defiant display even today in 2020. The slant in such questions exudes an unmistakable, unpleasant aroma of presumptions and prejudices instilled into them by some of their teachers. The questions mirror attitudes already so well set that any answers to questions which do not meet pre-set expectations of the questioner will not be absorbed.
Sheer Ignorance: There is also the danger — the sixth — that comes from sheer ignorance of the Quaid’s rounded-off reality, which is somewhat different from the ‘willful distortion’. This condition of apathy about acquiring all available information about the Quaid, about continuing research, interpretation and re-interpretation — particularly outside the academia — is actually quite appalling.
Laziness is possibly one reason. Attention Deficit Disorder is another, especially so in an era when pictorial and audio literacy, as in WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok et al., have overtaken print literacy. Books — the best repositories of authenticated knowledge and thoughtful reflection — are approaching the status of classical music; respected but neglected through anti-social distancing. Fortunately, crowds at book fairs and literature festivals promise to preserve the irreducible value of reading books.
Lack of Candour: The seventh and the final threat to the true role of the Quaid arises from the failures of citizens and leadership to enable respectful yet candid re-visitation to all aspects of the origins of Pakistan. As importantly also, a revisit to all — repeat all — the factors and conditions, political and military, that led to the tragedy of 1971: without reducing the blatant role of India which actually commenced in 1947 and about which the Quaid cautioned the nation in March 1948 during his address on the language issue in Dhaka.
Then, to continue analysis of the volatile but resolute rebuilding of Pakistan, reasserting the validity of the Two-Nation theory and re-enforcing the priceless value of Mr Jinnah’s role in gifting us this treasure called Pakistan. Such re-visitation requires expression in curriculum at school, college, university levels, in public discourse, in literature and in the media.
When a reflection like this begins with a question, it is, as usual, apt to conclude with another question. Is saving the Quaid relevant to saving Pakistan itself — from the shameful misdemeanours that some, not all, not the huge majority — have perpetrated in the past, and which they continue to inflict today?
The writer is an author, and a former senator and federal minister.