Quaid-i-Azam presides over a meeting of the transport committee in Chittagong in March 1948.
Quaid-i-Azam presides over a meeting of the transport committee in Chittagong in March 1948.

INTERNATIONAL politics in the early half of the twentieth century, marked by World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945), began to transform the political landscape of South Asia. World War I, in particular, brought with it a significant change in the British attitude.

It opened the door to self-government by giving Indians a greater share in government in return for their support in procuring men and equipment for the uncertain and perilous time of war. In the wake of the First World War, the global power structure was disturbed by the imbalances between the emerging powers, which caused polarisation and, consequently, led to the outbreak of the Second World War. This again triggered big changes by adding new variables to the political equation in colonial India. It also increased the bargaining power of leaders who demanded independence and began to oppose colonialism.

In 1942, the Japanese moved towards the frontiers of India, which caused nervousness and fear among the people. In these circumstances, the British Government sent Sir Stafford Cripps, a member of the War Cabinet, to India to negotiate with the leaders of the major political parties and seek the support of Indians for the Second World War. A plan for self-government and power to frame the future constitution was offered. Thus, the need for political dialogue increased. The war also had devastating economic consequences, which affected myriad life experiences. It caused widespread inflation and created a shortage of food, followed by famine in various parts, especially Bengal.

The post-war situation necessitated a need for realignment in the global power structure. However, a bipolar world had already started to take shape, triggering the Cold War between the USA and the Soviet Union. The influence of the British empire also rapidly declined, and it faced international pressure to recognise the right of self-determination, while colonisation was criticised. Thus, post-WWII internationalism created an opportunity for the various nations to demand self-rule based on self-determination. With the establishment of the United Nations after the war was over, the movements for independence were further encouraged by the international community.

“International politics in the early half of the twentieth century began to transform the political landscape of South Asia. Big changes were triggered by the two World Wars, which added new variables to the political equation in colonial India”

The South Asian context

South Asia’s political dynamics were shaped by an interplay of historical as well as international factors.

Though the region remained the centre of colonial power, indigenous anti-colonial movements began to assert themselves. The Pakistan Movement emerged soon after the Lahore Resolution was passed to create a sense of nationhood and set a definite goal. It was led by Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who reiterated that Muslims are a distinct nation and thus they must have a state of their own. The genesis of his argument was based on universally accepted principles of international law, which evoked the right of self-determination of a Muslim nation. Thus, he lucidly framed the problem in India as not of an intercommunal but manifestly of an international character.

Jinnah’s leadership style was characterised by his unwavering commitment, strategic vision, and pragmatism.

He possessed effective negotiation skills and expertise in the art of public diplomacy. His convincing arguments immensely contributed to the strengthening of his point of view that the transfer of power from the British to the Indian National Congress (INC) would mean compromising the genuine rights of Muslims.

He framed Muslim nationhood by describing it as a community with its own “distinctive culture and civilisation, language and literature, art and architecture, names and nomenclature, sense of value and proportion, legal laws and moral codes, customs and calendar, history and traditions, aptitudes and ambitions.” His brilliant strategy, advocacy, unusual willpower, ability to persuade and the political support of the masses made any transfer of power impossible without the consent of the All India Muslim League (AIML).

Under these circumstances, Jinnah was described as ‘an exceptionally hard man’ by J.K. Galbraith. However, to Beverley Nichols, he was the most important man in Asia to have diagnosed the Indian problem, which needed a political surgery. During his first meeting, Mountbatten also found Mr Jinnah to be the man who held the key to the whole situation.

Jinnah created a credible vision and inspired the subcontinent’s Muslims to think politically and revolt ideologically against their mistreatment under the prevailing order of society. His insight, inspiration, initiatives, and ideas of change greatly transformed the politics of colonial India. He did the right thing by maintaining the separate political existence and cultural distinctiveness of Muslims and committing himself to a cause bitterly opposed by Nehru, Gandhi, and Mountbatten. One of the chief characteristics of Jinnah’s leadership was his belief in logic and reasoning.

His belief in constitutionalism developed his image as a lifelong believer in the rule of law. Being logical, practical, and realistic in approach, he used democratic values and legal norms as factors to be weighed in his decision-making.

Jinnah’s charismatic personality was rooted in a transformational style of leadership. He inspired the masses through his thoughts and vision, and his relationship with his followers began to develop not on political bargaining but on trust and sincerity. K.B. Sayeed rightly pointed out that both US President Wilson and Jinnah had a ‘single-track mind’ that focused on the pursuit of one goal. Nevertheless, his people-centred approach enabled him to maintain balance among three strategic elements: the goal, his followers, and leadership, which he demonstrated through strong commitment and resilience during all critical situations in his life.

In the beginning, Jinnah considered the larger interests of Muslims and accommodated the interests of both communities during the Lucknow Pact. In his view, the time was to understand each other. This policy of appeasement yielded significant political gains.

For his sincere efforts, Sarojini Naidu called him the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. The Lucknow Pact was a giant leap forward for Muslim hopes in the sense that Congress conceded to Muslims a separate statutory status, which proved a watershed in Indian politics.

In 1929, Jinnah focused on the protection of the genuine rights of Muslims, as coded in his 14 Points.

Jinnah opposed the Nehru report because it did not accept a separate electorate and weightage system for minorities and envisaged a strong Centre. The points contemplated a federal constitution with a weak centre vesting residuary powers with provinces. His charter guaranteed the basic rights of Muslims and other communities. However, Congress’s antagonistic attitude towards Muslim interests led him to stand up for the rights of Muslims. During the second round table conference, Jinnah himself concluded that there was no hope of unity, mainly due to the hostile attitude of Hindus towards the Muslim community. During the third roundtable conference in 1932, the British prime minister announced the Communal Award, which was again rejected by Congress mainly because it approved a separate electorate for Muslims.

Muslim persecution under Congress rule (1937-39), formed through the elections of 1937 on the basis of the Government of India Act of 1935, was one of the key factors for the rise of Muslim nationalism. Jinnah revitalised the AIML by mitigating the deep-seated differences among its various factions and eventually become the sole representative of the Muslims of undivided India.

The AIML displayed the mesmeric political talents of its leader and began to develop itself as an organised power and strong competitor of the Congress in their political struggle. Under the leadership of Jinnah, the AIML transformed itself into a mass movement that outflanked the politics of Congress by orchestrating a demand for a separate homeland.

Working to bridge differences also proved a successful strategy. It was Jinnah’s own brilliance that led him to support Britain and the Allied powers during the Second World War. In 1946, the cabinet mission came up with the same plan for keeping India united, which was introduced by Sir Stafford Cripps in 1942. Jinnah accepted the plan because it recognised Muslims as a separate nation under the compulsory grouping of provinces. His decision was based on political wisdom accumulated through a masterly grasp of ground realities and a deep understanding of South Asian politics connected with the changing global power dynamics.

He knew that, after the winding up of World War II, the British would have little energy remaining to retain their power in India.

British correspondence published in Volume III of The Transfer of Power 1942-7 document indicates that the post-world war situation made it clear to His Majesty’s Government that the British “could not govern the whole of India for more than a year and a half” because the machinery on which their control of India depended was rapidly running down. Churchill lost control of the government to Clement Attlee and his labour party, which had already intended to leave India. Thus, Jinnah embarked upon his mission by taking calculated steps on a path that would ultimately lead to the creation of Pakistan. During his crucial seven years of struggle, he moved in a measured manner with devotion to creating a country out of British India’s shattered imperium over South Asia. And he achieved this despite huge opposition from both within and outside India. An inspiration indeed for those who wish to emulate his success.

The author is a professor and director of the Pakistan Study Centre at the University of Sindh, Jamshoro.

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