Jinnah: A Life
By Yasser Latif Hamdani
A result of what the author calls his “Jinnah obsession”, Yasser Latif Hamdani’s Jinnah: A Life breaks new ground in the meagre literature Pakistanis have written about their country’s founder. He was a man whose uncanny strategic brilliance, combined with razor-sharp intelligence, flabbergasted enemies and friends alike and made possible what was considered impossible — Pakistan.
Hamdani’s book takes us on a journey along all the well-known landmarks in Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s life: the Lucknow Pact of 1916 that made him ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity, his indifference to the Khilafat movement, his gradual disillusionment with Congress policies, the retreat to London, the return to India, the hostility of the religious right, the Lahore Resolution of 1940, the stunning success of the Direct Action call, the brilliant navigation through the Cabinet Mission’s constitutional and political traps, and the final victory.
The author surprises us, too, with opinions that are sometimes shocking, such as his rejection of what most historians consider Jinnah’s greatest achievement when, on June 3, 1947, “Jinnah nodded” to viceroy of India Louis Mountbatten’s scheme. Hamdani writes that the “so-called triumph of [Jinnah’s] life, the crowning glory of his political career, if his biographers and historians are to be believed, was thus imposed on him through an act of bullying on the part of Mountbatten.”
Also, Hamdani holds Jinnah responsible for the Kashmir imbroglio, because of his purported failure to mobilise the army. The author thinks Jinnah didn’t wish to involve himself in military affairs and, therefore, asked then prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan to get in touch with army chief Gen Douglas Gracey.
While other biographies of the Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah exist, a new book stands out with regard to three issues and for bringing on the record certain previously unrecorded historical facts
However, despite such daring and controversial assertions, the author does full justice to the greatness to which Jinnah was entitled, especially the astonishing political and constitutional genius he displayed to make his opponents’ deadly moves boomerang on them.
While there are other biographies such as Jinnah, Creator of Pakistan by New Zealander Hector Bolitho and Jinnah of Pakistan by the American Stanley Wolpert, Hamdani’s book stands out with regard to three issues.
One, the conspiracies hatched by the Congress government in the then North-Western Frontier Province [now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa] as the referendum neared, the brazen attempts to involve Russia and Afghanistan in the potentially explosive atmosphere, the illegal use of state powers to distribute arms and monies to partisans and the fatwas [religious edicts] against the Pakistan movement by the ulema led by Haji Mirzali Khan Wazir, known as the fanatic Faqir of Ipi.
Ultimately, Jinnah triumphed, but the details Hamdani gives have remained largely unknown. I give him full credit for recording these mortifying facts for history.
Two, the extensive account, spread over 50 pages, of the Cabinet Mission’s plan negotiations and the details of the proposals and counterproposals on which hinged the fate of the Subcontinent.
Three, the truth, as Hamdani sees it, with regard to the highly emotive shibboleth “Pakistan Ka Matlab Kia” [What is the Meaning of Pakistan]. There is no doubt that with this, Hamdani will have earned the undying hostility of the powerful Matlab lobby.
The Quaid was surprised when he saw people discovering a conflict between Islam and democracy. Speaking at a Karachi Bar Association meeting, he said: “Why this nervousness that the future constitution of Pakistan is going to be in conflict with the Sharia laws? Islamic principles are as applicable to life now as they were 1,300 years ago.”
However, post-Independence, the issue was clinched at a Muslim League meeting on Dec 15, 1947, when Jinnah said Pakistan was indeed a Muslim state, that even the United Nations recognised it as such, but that his country was not going to be an ecclesiastical state which discriminated among its citizens.
A party worker interrupted him then, saying, “But Quaid-i-Azam, we have been promising people Pakistan ka matlab kia, la ilaha il-Allah [What is the meaning of Pakistan? There is no god except Allah].”
Jinnah’s reply was forthright: “Neither the Muslim League Working Committee nor I have ever passed a resolution [called] Pakistan ka matlab kia — you may have used it to catch a few votes.”
Hamdani follows this with his own claim: “At no point under his presidency did the Muslim League ever pass a resolution calling for an Islamic state. This is a significant fact which punctures the idea that Pakistan was founded in the name of Islam.”
Hamdani’s book also includes some of the most famous quotes by non-Muslim League leaders about Jinnah. One comment is from Blitz, a Parsi-owned, pro-Congress weekly. Congress leaders had told Viceroy Archibald Wavell that the Muslim League had no mass appeal because it was led by nawabs and feudals, and the call for Direct Action would fail.
However, the call was a stunning success, making Blitz state: “[We] wish that a diplomat and strategist of Jinnah’s proven calibre were at the helm of the Indian National Congress. There is no denying the fact that, by his latest masterstroke of diplomacy, Jinnah has outbid, outwitted and outmanoeuvred the British and Congress.”
That even as a teenager he should catch the attention of people who were neither his relatives, nor even Indian, testifies to the charisma Jinnah seems to radiate. There was something in his personality that attracted attention — his very face, the way he spoke and dressed and his sangfroid. No wonder he caught a foreigner’s attention when he was just 15 years old and the person told his father, Jinnahbhai Poonja, that the boy should be sent to Britain for education.
That he “influenced” his interlocutors would be an understatement; he floored them with the force of his arguments and logic. As prime minister of the United Kingdom during the Second World War, Winston Churchill paid no attention to India. He was there — as he used to say to his cabinet colleagues with irritation — to win the war and seemed indifferent to India’s political volcano about to spew fire.
In fact, he was so callous that he sent Wavell — whom he considered “a contemptible, self-seeking advertiser”, according to Victoria Schofield’s book Wavell: Soldier and Statesman — to go to India and face giants such as Jinnah and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. All Churchill told his India hands repeatedly was not to annoy Jinnah, because there were Muslim soldiers in the British army.
After the war, Churchill had Jinnah as his guest at his estate. What Jinnah told him then is not available, but Churchill’s attitude changed. Speaking at the UK’s House of Commons, Churchill denounced the idea of a Hindu-majority rule and said it was wrong to consider Jinnah a representative of a minority. Churchill now said that Muslims in India numbered 90 million and the Muslim League — which meant Jinnah — represented a majority.
One cannot but note with regret the attitude of the Deoband and Ahrar groups, for history must be shocked by the depths to which they stooped. As Hamdani tells us, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind issued a statement saying Sikh leader Master Tara Singh had written to the British government about money which some Muslim governments were giving to Jinnah to promote the Pakistan movement. However, the denial came from Singh himself, who said he had written no such letter and the claim was “absolutely false.”
Jinnah: A Life is an excellent biography and history of the epic battle for Pakistan, and Hamdani acquits himself well. However, a second edition should have some corrections: one, Hyderabad State wasn’t the size of Belgium (approximately 30,000 square kilometres). With an area of 212,187 sq km, Hyderabad was the size of England and Scotland combined. Two, the index must be sorted out. Churchill and Junagadh aren’t there and many page numbers are missing in the case of Kashmir.
The reviewer is Dawn’s External Ombudsman and an author
Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, August 14th, 2022