IN his character, personality, integrity, intellect and actions, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah represented expressions of extremism which were –– and are –– worthy of emulation by all Pakistanis. Extremism is conventionally associated with irrationality, imbalance, vitriol and violence. Mr Jinnah’s extremism was the antithesis of those manifestations. His was a progressive, visionary extremism rooted in peace and non-violence, in civility and decency, in respect for all others, including those who strongly opposed his views.
The title of this reflection on the 145th anniversary of his birth was shaped by the extreme degradation of behaviour in Sialkot earlier this month. Though the mob tarnished the country’s name and its people throughout the world, comfort and strength have to be drawn from the fact that they neither represent the overwhelming majority of 220 million Pakistanis nor do they have anything to do with the values practised by their country’s founding father.
EXTREMISM OF GRIT: To distance the nation and its great leader from that sordid spectacle is not to attempt an evasion of acknowledgment that the virus of bigotry and the imbecility of zealotry thrive in certain segments of society. It is also not an attempt to ignore the harsh fact that some sections of both civil and military leadership have often retreated in the face of fanatics instead of confronting them with grit regardless of the cost that the State might have to pay to remain credible and effective.
Mr Jinnah’s extremism was both credible and effective. Its foundation was so ingrained in his corpuscles that it extended and fortified itself like a natural, enduring extrapolation of his own being.
Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had a progressive, visionary streak of extremism rooted in non-violence, civility and respect for even the most diehard of his opponents.
SUSTAINING 180-DEGREE CHANGES: The capacity to go to almost the end-length of a given condition or subject was so powerful that it survived even in instances where Mr Jinnah was obliged to change direction by 180 degrees. From being hailed as the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity, as reflected by the Lucknow Pact of 1916, he became the prime exponent and the pivotal implementer of the Two-Nation Theory which blessed us with the reality of Pakistan.
But even as he advocated the truth that Muslims and Hindus are distinct, separate nations despite living in the same region for hundreds of years, this emphasis on the individuality of a nation never exuded hate for the other.
In his personal deportment, he was fastidious to a fault, to a personal extreme of selecting with discerning care his clothes, shoes and hats which adorned his bony, chiselled, handsome face and form. In an always elegant style, he seemed to be a quintessential South Asian version of a well-bred upper middle-class Englishman. Yet, by October 1937 at the crucial session of the Muslim League held coincidentally in Lucknow 21 years after the Lucknow Pact, he discarded his Western attire to adopt a thoroughly eastern and specifically Muslim style of dress. He wanted his appearance to now embody and reflect his proudly Muslim identity in visual, cultural as well as political terms.
BREAKING TABOOS WITHOUT VIOLENCE: In his personal preferences and habits, in diet and cuisine, be it cigars or pets, be it privacy enforced even as he became a figure of mass adulation, Mr Jinnah practised a particularity that was specific to him alone.
In the most intense personal emotional relationship of his entire life, that of his love for Rutti, a woman 24 years younger than himself and from a different religion and ethnicity, Mr Jinnah –– and the young lady –– defied tradition, broke taboos and entered into a marriage that began with the thrill of defiance, but eventually ended in a tragedy of despair and her premature death, largely brought on by the depression she sank into due to his prolonged absences from their home to pursue his political mission and legal profession.
Though it was Mahatma Gandhi who deliberately cultivated the image of the “naked fakir” and preached non-violence to the extent that his unfortunate assassination at the hands of an RSS bigot sealed his image of being a pacifist, it was Mr Jinnah who was meticulously conscious of respecting the law, of abiding by all constitutional principles and norms, of using only the mind and the pen and the voice to present a persuasive case, whether this be in a courtroom or in the heat and dust of a political movement.
So deeply committed was the Quaid to the discipline of civilised conduct and to the maintenance of order that, despite his outspoken opposition to some of the worst excesses of British colonial laws, such as the Rowlatt Act that allowed for the draconian expulsion from the country of persons convicted for sedition, he ensured that he never broke the law –– which is why he never had to go to jail. Yet, he gained as much or even more admiration for his struggle than those who secured popular sympathy for having been imprisoned.
Except for his call for Direct Action Day in August 1946 when unanticipated horrific communal clashes occurred in Bengal and Bihar, Mr Jinnah always refrained from promoting physical disorder as a strategy to achieve political goals.
FOR THE BRITISH, AN ‘EXTREMIST’: It was ironic that the very same British colonialists whose unjust policies and laws were clinically analysed and exposed by Mr Jinnah’s use of logic and references to universal principles of justice saw him as a potent threat long before he became the leader of the separatist movement for Pakistan.
As so accurately and coherently narrated by Sikandar Hayat in his book A Leadership Odyssey: Muslim Separatism and the Achievement of the Separate State of Pakistan (OUP, 2021), in the period immediately after June 1917 when Mr Jinnah became a Member of the Home Rule League, the British took note of the Memorandum of Nineteen which he had signed to demand that the youth who were being asked to fight for the British in World War I had the right to participate in policy-making and decisions that affected their lives in South Asia. Government documents described him as an “extremist” and an “agitator” who must be closely monitored by the government.
Disillusioned by the disunity among Muslims and the barely-concealed Hinduness of the Congress, which claimed to be secular, Mr Jinnah took the extreme step of self-exile in the United Kingdom in the early 1930s, even purchasing property in London that hinted at long-term plans to remain there indefinitely.
He continued to be a close observer of events and trends back home and engaged in productive legal practice in London. But when Allama Iqbal and others reached out to him to return and assume the supreme leadership, he was ready to revisit his previous decision.
Undeterred by the setbacks suffered by the Muslim League in the 1937 elections, Mr Jinnah introduced major internal organisational reforms within the Muslim League structure to create unprecedented units and networks at the local, district levels in order to engage the Muslim masses and initiate a new momentum.
A FLEXIBLE EXTREMISM: If the tenacity of his position on the demand for Pakistan remained consistent onward of March 1940, there was also a willingness to adjust and to attempt alternative options even in 1946.
The Muslim League’s willingness to participate in the Cabinet Mission Plan’s proposed structure of groupings of provinces into three zones with a choice available after 10 years for Muslim-majority provinces to opt out of the structure reflected the refreshing attribute of reasonableness and pragmatism that Mr Jinnah possessed, a quality that some did not associate with his rigid, uncompromising stand for a sovereign Pakistan.
As late as May 1947 when Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy proposed a united, independent, sovereign Bengal, it was Mr Jinnah who promptly endorsed this relatively radical new proposal as an eloquent indicator of his open-mindedness and ability to accept an entirely different concept from what dominated the mainstream discourse. It was the Congress and the British that strongly opposed an independent united Bengal because it would have given the Muslim majority the right to rule the Hindu minority.
A CRITICAL MISJUDGEMENT: The fact that after Mr Jinnah achieved the miracle of Pakistan, he went on to adopt an extremist position on the issue of what would be the state language of Pakistan is possibly the most negative expression of his extremism.
Based on the reality that even though the Bengali language was, and is, a rich, resonant language, it is spoken only in Bengal whereas Urdu, in contrast, despite being the mother tongue of only a small percentage in the area that constituted West Pakistan, was spoken broadly brought him to the decision that Urdu would be the sole state language.
Though he did stress that Bengali could be used at the provincial level as an official language, he insisted that there could be only one state language which would be Urdu alone. This would prove to be a gross and extreme misjudgement of the importance and sensitivity associated with the language issue.
After he made this announcement in Dhaka in March 1948 , it took eight prolonged years before the 1956 Constitution gave equal status to Bengali and Urdu as the two state languages. But the damage had been done, and Bengali East Pakistanis had been profoundly shocked by the disregard for their language, especially because they were the majority of the new nation-state’s population.
As Mr Jinnah cautioned his audience at the time, India, for its part, lost no time in stoking grievance and tension in East Pakistan against West Pakistan on the language issue – while, just a while earlier, it had continued to oppose the very creation of Pakistan and had no sympathy for the people of East Pakistan.
This major lapse into a regressive extremist position evokes the metaphor of a critical mistake in cricket even by a champion. Mr Jinnah was like a triple centurion of a batsman not just once, but twice. Stanley Wolpert aptly said that Mr Jinnah almost uniquely altered the course of history, changed the world’s map and created a new nation-state. It should also be remembered that he overcame three formidable adversaries: the British, the Congress and several fellow Muslim leaders and organisations, some of whom derided him with the monicker of Kafir-i-Azam. Yet, being human, just as a triumphant batsman is capable of misjudging an inswinger, Mr Jinnah did not comprehend the implications of the language issue.
A BENEVOLENT EXTREMISM: When viewed holistically, with multiple positives and only one or perhaps only a handful of negatives, the extremism of Mr Jinnah contained concern and compassion, not cruelty and callousness. His adoption of strong political positions combined with the readiness to be pragmatic ensured that extremism never became excess.
Jinnah the Extremist exemplified how extremism in the context of personal values and actions, in the pursuit of social justice and political emancipation, in the practice of tolerance and respect for diversity can serve as an abiding source for transformative, rather than destructive change.
The writer’s most recent book is ‘But, Prime Minister’. He is also a film-maker and a former Senator and Federal Minister.