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Smokers’ Corner: Refiguring Jinnah

November 10, 2012

Illustration by Abro

Today many Pakistanis are aware of Jinnah’s August 11, 1947, speech in which he clearly explains Pakistan to be a democratic Muslim majority country where religion has nothing to do with the business of the state.

Well-known historians have all maintained that to Jinnah the Muslims of undivided India were a separate cultural entity requiring their own homeland.

Jinnah’s desire to see this through was born from his awkwardness with the idea of a post-colonial India subjugated by the ‘Hindu-dominated’ Indian National Congress: even though the Congress was almost entirely secular.

However, there is absolutely no evidence that Jinnah’s push to carve out a separate Muslim country was made in order to construct an Islamic state.

For years Pakistanis have debated about how Jinnah went about claiming Pakistan. Was he able to think it through, or did he fail to perceive the vulnerability of his claim?

Many also believe that his claim in this respect was too open-ended. That’s why it was easily exploited by some who eventually turned it into a monolithic entity and a militaristic bastion of Islam.

It is ironic that the first Pakistani head of state to sincerely try to realise Jinnah’s concept of Pakistan was a military dictator. Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s regime (1959-69) still remains perhaps the most secular in the country’s history.

Apart from, of course, sidelining the democratic aspects of Jinnah’s concept, Ayub otherwise went about defining (through legislation) his understanding of Jinnah’s Pakistan.

To him it was about a secular Muslim majority state sustained by the genius of entrepreneurial action, a strong military, and the spirit of modernistic and progressive Islam of the likes of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Iqbal and Jinnah.

However, in a naturally pluralistic society like Pakistan with multiple ethnicities, religions and Islamic sects, if one takes out democracy from the above equation, one would get (as Ayub did) ethnic strife, religious reactionary-ism and class conflict.

The class-based and multi-ethnic commotion in this respect opened windows of opportunity for well-organised leftist groups who were not only successful in forcing Ayub out (1969), but they also eschewed the religious opposition to the Field Marshal’s government.

Left parties like the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), National Awami Party (NAP), and student groups like the National Students Federation (NSF), in the former West Pakistan, achieved this by attacking Ayub’s ‘pro-rich policies’ (state-facilitated capitalism), and, on the other hand, neutralised the Islamic fundamentalists by adding a new twist to Jinnah’s image.

For example, the PPP advocated Jinnah to be a progressive democrat whose thinking was close to the ideas of ‘Islamic socialism’ first purported (in the region) by such leaders of the Pakistan Movement, as Chaudhry Rehmat Ali, and Iqbal.

After the breakaway of East Pakistan in 1971, and the coming to power of the PPP (led by Z A. Bhutto), the authoritarian centre-right secularism of the Ayub era (and concept of Jinnah), moved towards the populist left.

But the Bhutto regime was highly mutable. Though it remained populist, it regularly shifted from left to right on an issue to issue basis.

A study of Jinnah’s quotes used on state-owned media of the period suggests a regime trying to push Jinnah as a democrat who was not secular in the western sense, but a progressive Muslim whose faith was pluralistic in essence and ‘awami’ (populist).

Such quotes, that became a mainstay just before the main 9pm news bulletin on the state-owned PTV, suddenly changed track when Bhutto was toppled in a reactionary military coup by General Ziaul Haq (July 1977).

From 1977 onwards, no more was Jinnah being bounced between Ayubian secularists and Bhutto’s Islamic Socialists. He now became the property of the ‘Islam-pasand’ (pro-Islamic state) lot.

PTV and Radio Pakistan were ordered to only use those quotes from Jinnah’s speeches that contained the word ‘Islam’.

A concentrated effort was made to remould him into a leader who conceived Pakistan as an Islamic state with a strong military.

In 1978, the order of Jinnah’s celebrated motto, ‘Unity, Faith, Discipline,’ was reshuffled to put the word ‘faith’ first instead of the middle.

Then Zia’s information ministry suddenly unearthed a diary kept by Jinnah in which he had supposedly expressed his desire to see Pakistan as a country run on Islamic laws (instead of democracy), and emphasised the political and ideological role of the military. The diary turned out to be a desperate forgery.

Also, Jinnah’s August 11 speech was expunged from the school textbooks, as if it never existed.

By the end of Zia’s dictatorship (1988), Jinnah had been turned into a pious, 20th century caliph of sorts who presided over the creation of a ‘citadel of Islam’.

However, a decade later during the self-contradictory military dictatorship of General Parvez Musharraf: who was advertising himself as an updated version of Ayub Khan: Jinnah was made to slightly shed the facial hair that Zia had hung on him. Jinnah now became an enlightened moderate.

But Jinnah’s emergence of (now) becoming a moderate Muslim, at once clashed with his more pious, quasi-Islamist image that was cultivated for more than a decade by the Zia regime. This reignited the debate about exactly who or what Jinnah really was.

Today, with Pakistan facing the deadly spectre of Islamist terrorism, growing societal conservatism, a free (and somewhat anarchic) media, an activistic judiciary and the steady resurgence of the secular Muslim intellectual: all trying to figure (or refigure) Jinnah, something unprecedented happened.

Not since the Ayub dictatorship and during the early years of Bhutto’s government has a mainstream political party openly described Jinnah as a progressive, secular Muslim. But recently the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) did just that.

Well, this means at least in Karachi, the Jinnah who wanted a progressive, secular and democratic Muslim majority country is back. And this time he’s not confronting grumpy Islamic parties, but a monster that not only considers him a heretic, but a majority of Pakistani Muslims too.