The embodiment of integrity, incorruptibility and morality

Jinnah and her sister Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah (left) were among the finest of human beings on the planet.
Jinnah and her sister Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah (left) were among the finest of human beings on the planet.

WILLIAM Shakespeare wrote in Richard II that the “purest treasure mortal times afford is spotless reputation; that away, men are but gilded loam or painted clay”. Sentiments and conduct put together represent character, which develops not in solitude but in the full current of life and living. “It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues,” wrote Abigail Adams in a letter to John Quincy Adams.

Slice his entire life, and you find nothing but a flawless character that Mohammad Ali Jinnah had beyond doubt. Character is what we are; reputation is what others think we are. Both traits, he possessed in abundance and in their fullness. He possessed a placid exterior and persona. Since he stood tall with nobility of purpose, he fell for nothing less than his objective. His character was of steel; resolute and non-malleable.

The nightingale of India, Sarojini Devi Naido, in her impressions about Jinnah remembered him thus: “But the true criterion of his greatness lies not in the range and variety of his knowledge and experience, but in the faultless perception and flawless refinement of his subtle mind and spirit … in a lofty singleness of purpose and the lasting charm of a character animated by a brave conception of duty and an austere and lovely code of private honour and public integrity.”

At no point of his life, there was any episode or incident where the two concepts of private honour and public integrity stood disturbed by either his word, action or even thought.

The Quaid surely gave to the ‘abstract virtue’ of uprightness ‘a concrete splendour’ with his impeccable everyday manifestations of what character and honour mean, and what it takes to avoid compromising an inch of personal integrity.

He was a millionaire who had not inherited wealth, but had earned it with distinction. Even in the 1930s he was a leading lawyer in London. This is a distinction that neither Jawaharlal Nehru nor Mahatma Gandhi had. He stood taller. He spoke impeccable English and he was always dressed superbly, and, in doing so, he spent only what he earned. He never faltered in his financial dealings and uprightness.

There can be common traits in any type of leadership, but all leaders also necessarily must have their own unique skills that must remain in alignment with their own journey and destination. Attributes may be common, but the timing of using any of the traits is extremely important. The windows of opportunity, open and shut at a certain time in one’s life. Jinnah was cognizant of this aspect, and, hence, knew that the objective had to be achieved in a very short time.

The Latin word ‘destinare’ has the commonality of meaning from where the words destiny and destination are derived. Destiny is destination and vice versa. We identify the destiny, and then give to it a life-long commitment in order to reach the destination.

The journey to the creation of Pakistan had no parallels in history, and Jinnah had to carve out his own path, and then to lead a caravan down that path. His march was unrelenting and he kept the masses galvanised with his impeccable character.

Jinnah was a man possessed, inspired by his cause. In doing so, he did not let his otherwise dominant ego come in the way – the destination or the calling was, to him, beyond himself. The sense of purpose made his effort for him both motivating and meaningful.

Jinnah’s vision for a separate homeland appealed to the Muslims of the subcontinent. He was aware of the power that stems from the masses once they are engaged. Jinnah created the chaos of the moment for the ultimate good.

Blessed with an amazing foresight, he knew that possibilities emerge in the most unexpected ways. No length of protracted negotiations could make him renounce his ambition to carve out a Muslim state from within the subcontinent. Jinnah possessed self-confidence and intellect that had no match. His ambitions were linked with the dreams of the Muslims of India. He was not into the game for personal fame or distinction.

When Jinnah decided to part company with the Indian National Congress, he did so not to seek attention. His pride in his integrity was not for posturing. Jinnah later hewed the way for the Muslims of India and his clarity about his objective was visible in all his speeches and actions.

He did not permit his conviction to outweigh his strong sense of moral courage and personal integrity. The entire leadership and the people of the whole region recognised Jinnah as a man who was straightforward, honest and dedicated. The most prominent trait in his repertoire of leadership skills was his unimpeachable sense of integrity.

Post-independence, once returning from office he noticed in the veranda of the Flag Staff House a rocking chair that he had not seen before. He asked his staff about the chair and was told that it had been purchased at the request of his sister, Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah. He headed straight to his study and wrote a cheque in the name of the federal treasury for a rather princely sum of Rs3 as the cost of the chair.

To achieve this scale on the integrity axis requires the will to do what seems to be generally beyond most of us. It was Jinnah who taught us through everyday manifestations what character and integrity mean, and what it takes to avoid compromising an inch of personal integrity.

Jinnah’s mind was a workshop that had no rest, holidays or stoppages. He believed in hard work and expected the same from those around him. He was impatient to time-wasting activities. Self-accountability being his closest aide, he trained himself assiduously to keep a very high standard of propriety and professional integrity.

While in public, Jinnah displayed no emotion, no anxieties. His persona was devoid of excitement and the absence of fear was simply stark. Many writers and biographers have talked of the man’s iron control over himself. His public and private lives serve as an epitome of virtues and a grand paragon of grace. His incorruptibility was matched equally with total lack of malice or ill-will towards others. He could be against a ‘thought’, but never the ‘person’. He was not bitter, rude, crude or even arsenically humorous, taunting or sarcastic in his remarks, rebuttals or rebuffs.

Jinnah ruthlessly defended his personal space and with equal willingness put to public scrutiny his uncompromising sense of integrity. Honour to him was most important. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could derail his character and strong sense of dependability. His life is a complete story of non-negotiability over aspects of fair dealings and justice. In many speeches and statements, he warned his countrymen about the perils of corruption, bribery, nepotism and favouritism. He neither took favours, nor gave favours; his impartiality remained singularly dominant in his actions.

For his amazing disposition, Jinnah earned acknowledgment even from his detractors. Dr Syed Hussain, a nationalist Muslim leader, publicly remarked: “Though I am opposed to Pakistan, I must say that Mr Jinnah is the only man in public life whose public record is incorruptible … He has not gained anything from the British. He is not that kind of a man … He had not accepted from the British benefit or title although Mr Gandhi did accept from Britain after the Boer war. The Muslim masses know … Jinnah is the only man who is not in need of money and who has no lust for power.”

Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, who served briefly as part of the bodyguard contingent of Jinnah till 1948, recording his impressions in the Jinnah Anthology, had a tale to narrate. Stanley Wolpert’s book on Jinnah was withheld for distribution by the authorities in Pakistan. He (Stanley) was dismayed because he had refused to acquiesce to the request by the authorities to amend and alter some portions of his book. Sahibzada recorded Stanley’s conversation with him in the following words: “During the course of his researches for writing Jinnah of Pakistan, he had lived so closely with the subject of his biography that some of the matchless traits of the Quaid’s personality had ‘rubbed off on him’. He could never betray that integrity which had enhanced his own strength of character as a person.” Recalling the Quaid’s personality, Sahibzada ended his tribute thus: “… a luminous image suffused by integrity. Indeed, he gave to that abstract virtue a concrete splendour”.

Leadership demands capabilities of foreseeing events as they unfold, and thence be able to skilfully navigate through the currents and have the grit to refuse being overwhelmed by them. In 75 years of the nation’s murky and muddied history, we have lost that abstract virtue that was so visible in the Quaid’s personality and now lies permanently interred in the vault of forgotten values.

What Lee Kuan Yew, the great statesman of Singapore, said at the Shanghai Forum in 2005 and China and Chinese is just as applicable to Pakistan and Pakistanis. “It is vital that the younger generation of Chinese [Pakistanis] who have only lived during a period of peace and growth in China [Pakistan] and have no experience in China’s [Pakistan’s] tumultuous past are made aware of the mistakes China [Pakistan] made as a result of hubris … They [Pakistanis] have to be inbred with the right values and attributes to meet the future with humility and responsibility.” Any takers? Look around. Don’t be surprised if you find none.

Noted Indian journalist Karan Thapar was right when he wrote this in his book Sunday Sentiments (2006): “Sadly, Mr Jinnah died more than 50 years ago and no founder has left his nation more bereft. Had he lived, Pakistan might have acquired an identity it could have confidence in. His death ensured that it stumbled … without once finding anchor in any of the shifting positions it tried to adopt.”

As a nation, we may be an embarrassment to the soul and legacy of Jinnah. He must be disappointed with us and he will surely have multiple reasons for his disappointment. Our politicians and masses have done great disservice to this great man by being in violation of his fundamental principles of uprightness and incorruptibility. Even worse, we continue to do that every single day.

History will judge Jinnah as one of the rarest politicians and statesmen who neither stooped nor bent backwards. He pursued his goal with his head held high. Jinnah will remain in history not just as the man who carved out against all odds a new country; history will also remember him for his unflinching integrity.

The writer is a Senior Banker & Freelance Contributor.

Published in the Quaid’s Day supplement, Dawn, December 25, 2022.

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