A portrait the Quaid may not much like

THE shifting portrayal of Jinnah to suit the narrative at any given time has been a running streak in Pakistan’s national history. —Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives
THE shifting portrayal of Jinnah to suit the narrative at any given time has been a running streak in Pakistan’s national history. —Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives

IN the country’s chequered political history, almost every national figure has received his or her fair or unfair share of criticism and reproach, with stereotypes defining the various ‘communities’, like the politicians, the clerics, the men in uniform and so on. The only exception to this rule has been Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Even the heirs of those who were staunchly opposed to Jinnah and his politics exercise utmost caution in voicing any kind of disapproval.

Jinnah’s tall stature among both the public and the state institutions remains — and quite deservingly so — unmatched. He seems to be everyone’s ideal patriot. After all, who can be more patriotic than the founding father, right?

While Jinnah, indeed, was a remarkable man, it is interesting that while he remains above the everyday babble, every institution ‘community’ has its own iteration and depiction of what the man was and what he stood for. Jinnah’s appeal is so universal that everyone claims to own him, and, on the basis of this ‘ownership’, insists on interpreting Jinnah’s words according to one’s own worldview.

Consider, for example, the case of our political institutions. Jinnah’s portraits are present in every office, big or small, prominent or obscure. His sayings are also conspicuously portrayed in the forms of manuals, calligraphic inscriptions and even posters. For the political establishment, Jinnah’s verbal wisdom appears to be one of the most important national artefacts. Jinnah is portrayed as an absolute embodiment of the Pakistani state.

Jinnah’s appeal is so universal that everyone claims to own him, and, on the basis of this ‘ownership’, insists on interpreting Jinnah’s words according to one’s own worldview.

Since the men in uniform have also taken unto themselves the task of protecting the optical form and structure of the state, they also exercise great care to ensure that imagery and symbolism pertinent to Jinnah remains unblemished. Sites, locations, publications, structures, buildings and narratives, owned and appropriated by the establishment, therefore, portray a faultless and pristine picture of Jinnah.

All this is just as it should be, as founding fathers in other countries are also treated with the same reverence. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Turkey, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore, Dr Julius Nyerere in Tanzania, Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman in Bangladesh and several other founding figures are accorded similar respect in national and popular discourse within their home countries.

Over the past seven decades, the portrayal of Jinnah by military governments has also coincided with a particular regime’s political outlook. In the 1980s, portraits of Jinnah clad in a sherwani adorned government offices. In contrast, under the phase of enlightened moderation in the early 2000s, Jinnah was seen dressed in a crisp business suit. It was around this time that Jinnah’s portrait in which he could be seen playing with his dogs began to get some currency.

However, the most paradoxical portrayal of Jinnah was made when his image was used by Ayub Khan while contesting the presidential election against Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah. In official settings, Jinnah was often depicted as the twin elder of Ayub Khan. The Jinnah cap and the sherwani of both figures was made to look almost alike. In the pre-digital times of the 1960s, these machinations by the state were successful to some extent. Despite the fact that Miss Jinnah was the Quaid’s sister who looked after his house and ideals for many years after his death, the state attempted to champion Ayub Khan as the true political heir to Jinnah’s ideals — in other words, more capable than Jinnah’s own sister. Capable or not, these and other machinations helped Ayub Khan post an election result of his choice.

All this, however, is in stark contrast to the portrayal of Jinnah before 1947. There was an obvious clash in the politics of the pre-partition clergy and Jinnah’s All-India Muslim League (AIML), leading to a barrage of personal and professional criticism of the Quaid and his ambitions.

When Jinnah was leading the Muslim polity from the front in the 1940s, a sizable number of clerics vehemently opposed the idea of a separate homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent. Many religious scholars believed that such a move would divide the ummah and create borders. There was also a notion that once in power, after creating Pakistan, Jinnah would set out on the path of secularisation, like Mustafa Kemal Ataturk did in Turkey. There were also scholars, like the founder of Jamaat-i-Islami, Maulana Abul A’la Maududi, who was a fervent believer of the idea of pan-Islamism and the creation of a grand Muslim ummah, with whom Jinnah’s political ambitions did not sit well.

Similarly, the followers of the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Hind (JUH) painted an unfavourable picture of Jinnah and his proposed ‘scheme of Pakistan’. Maulana Hussain Ahmed Madni, who was considered one of the JUH heavyweights, often referred to the plan as a “British ploy” and its advocates (Jinnah) as “British agents”. Others in the JUH leadership also uttered very unsavoury remarks about the Quaid and his supporters.

Jinnah’s lifestyle, which was openly and entirely liberal and secular, was used to attack his person and politics. Maulana Madni expressed his views on a regular basis through newspaper articles in Asr-e-Jadid of Calcutta and Shahbaz of Lahore. Some of the core points propagated by the maulana and his affiliates were to point fingers at AIML’s relatively moderate position. The AIML’s refusal to support the JUH on certain bills, and its support of legislation opposed by the clergy were used as ammunition to target the the AIML and its leader; Jinnah.

THE shifting portrayal of Jinnah to suit the narrative at any given time has been a running streak in Pakistan’s national history. —Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives
THE shifting portrayal of Jinnah to suit the narrative at any given time has been a running streak in Pakistan’s national history. —Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives

Meanwhile, the quasi-militant Khaksaar movement of Allama Inayatullah Mashriqi also staunchly opposed Jinnah and his politics. Interestingly, Allama Mashriqi was initially a Muslim League supporter, but later parted ways; not unlike Jinnah who was a member of the Indian National Congress till 1920. When an assassination attempt was made on Jinnah in 1943, many believed the Khaksaars to be behind it. Jinnah never agreed with the approach, ideas and conduct of Allama Mashriqi and his followers as he considered their approach to be dogmatic.

Another religious outfit to oppose Jinnah and the Pakistan movement was Majlis-i-Ahrar which even staged several organised obstructions in the way of the AIML. Some very derogatory titles were invented for both Pakistan and Jinnah by the followers of this particular outfit.

Thus, as one can see, in many ways the image of Jinnah underwent a drastic transformation after 1947 when the state consciously decided to include the religious polity within its ranks.

Among other sections of society, such as the business community and women, Jinnah has always been held in the customary high esteem. Jinnah was seen as a supporter of business, investments and free enterprise, earning him the support and financial backing of the business community. This was also because Jinnah was among the most eminent legal professionals in undivided India, and many business tycoons, family-run enterprises and groups often sought his professional services. People came to him because Jinnah was a thorough gentleman, astute professional and someone with an extremely high sense of integrity and fair play.

For instance, it is believed that Jinnah was instrumental in persuading a major business family from Bombay (since renamed Mumbai) to relocate its well-established banking enterprise to Karachi. When the Reserve Bank of India did not transfer the committed funds as per the decided formula, the nascent Pakistan ran into deep financial trouble. The chief of the said banking enterprise offered a blank cheque to Jinnah which served as a life support for the financial troubles of a newly-born fledgeling country.

Besides, Parsi businessmen in Karachi or elsewhere in the country also held Jinnah in high esteem. While Jinnah’s failed marriage caused some acrimony, the community on the whole really believed in the Quaid’s leadership. His famous speech of August 11, 1947, was (and still is) often quoted on various occasions when the non-Muslim communities faced persecution or threats. For eminent Parsis, such as Ardeshir Cowasjee, Jinnah was an outstanding statesman who had a clear vision about independence and the future of the new state. He was seen as a guarantor of freedom of trade, commerce and enterprise, as well as of the rights of people irrespective of colour, caste, creed, religion or gender.

In the same vein, women also viewed Jinnah as a keen supporter of their rights and emancipation. During his stay in Britain, Jinnah had keenly followed the suffragette movement. The women in the United Kingdom struggled hard to acquire the right to vote and other basic rights through a reasonably organised struggle, which left a deep imprint on his mind. Hence, from very early on in his political career, Jinnah made the conscious choice of aligning himself with women’s issues.

He supported legislation prohibiting child marriage which was much more socially accepted and common practice back then. Jinnah was a vocal critic of these practices and did not mince words in advocating full participation of women in the national life. Many journalists and writers over the years have pointed out that Jinnah always invited his sister Fatima to accompany him on political and official engagements. He was also seen to encourage his male colleagues in the AIML to ensure the presence and participation of women in party affairs.

Begum Mohammad Ali was thus appointed to the AIML Working Committee till her death in 1944. Similarly, Begum Jahan Ara Shahnawaz accompanied M.A. Ispahani to the United States on a goodwill mission to explain the point of view of the Muslim polity in India. Young ladies, such as Ms Zeenat Haroon Rashid, who was the founding member of the Woman National Guard, were also encouraged to play their due role in the Pakistan movement.

Against such a backdrop, the state — and, indeed, the ‘communities’ — should not try to give their own twist to what Jinnah stood for and fought for. By focussing too much on the optics, even if it means putting lifeless photographs of Jinnah on office walls and in august halls, we deprive ourselves of any opportunity to fully comprehend the intellectual magic of the man that Jinnah was.

The author is an academic and researcher based in Karachi

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Updated 19 May, 2022

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