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Published in the 1-15 July 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition


Jinnah – how much secular, how much communal

By Asghar Ali Engineer

The Milli Gazette Online

Shri L.K.Advani’s recent statements about Jinnah describing him as secular leader has raised a storm of controversy about him in India and large number of people are writing and expressing their opinion about him. It is quite natural. Jinnah, at best, would remain controversial figure in India for a long time to come. Advani’s statement came as a shock not only to the Sangh Parivar but also to any secularists. Advani and his parivar had always reviled Jinnah and hence the shock.

It is difficult to guess why Advani said what he did in Karachi. Did he become sentimental in his ‘home town’? Was he overwhelmed by the reception and hospitality he got in Pakistan as he and his Parivar had always demonised Pakistan? Or was he trying, as some politically aware people think, to project his image as a moderate now after his tryst with extremism? And if so why his temptation for moderation? One surmise is that he is eying prime ministership of India if ever NDA comes back to power again as Vajpayee is too old to be in the prime ministerial chair again. 

However, it could also be a genuine change of heart. One cannot rule out that possibility also. Advani had joined the RSS when he was in Karachi and hence espoused communal ideology based on hatred of Muslims and much more on hatred of Muslim League and its leaders. Ideology always creates certain simplistic beliefs and divides the world in black and white ignoring all in between shades. 

Ideology often becomes blinkers and makes its believer ignore complex realities and tread the straight path of ideology and hence she/he becomes victim of her/his own ideological beliefs. Advani, as believer in Hindutva ideology could be no exception to it. But when one comes face to face with reality and experiences something contrary to ones ideology, one could be easily shaken and change ones view. It is difficult to say whether Advani had changed his views genuinely in the light of his experiences in Pakistan. However, I am inclined to think there is an element of genuineness in Advani’s changed view of Jinnah.

One thing is sure that Advani did not retract his statement back home in India. He stuck to his guns. Usual politicians take recourse to having been misquoted by the media, he did not take any such plea. But under intense pressure from the Parivar he only partly retracted saying he did not say Jinnah was secular but that Jinnah’s concept of state was. No one can deny Jinnah’s speech on 11th August 1947 in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. In that respect Advani cannot be faulted. Also it is a fact that Jinnah was described as ‘ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity by Sarojini Naidu after Jinnah helped forge Lucknow Pact between the Congress and Muslim League in 1916. Here too Advani cannot be faulted.

But the question is did Advani not know all this before he went to Karachi? If he did, why he kept on demonising Jinnah along with his political Parivar? Why did he make such statement only after going to Pakistan? The only possibility is that either he is now trying to project his image as moderate or since the RSS has demanded his resignation and he has agreed to resign from the BJP presidentship at the end of 2005 he now wishes to go down in history as a changed man. Anyway after he resigns as president of the BJP he may not have politically crucial role to play in the Sangh politics.

Having said this another important question is how to characterise Jinnah? Was he communal or secular. One columnist has suggested Jinnah was “pseudo-communal” and more westernised than an authentic Muslim. It is very difficult to honestly assess Jinnah in India. His name arouses strong emotions as he is seen as solely responsible for dividing the country. It is not only the Sangh parivar which condemns Jinnah and his role but even the Indian secularists see him as culprit, if not communal, for dividing India.

MN Roy, a noted rationalist intellectual and activist wrote, “Mohammed Ali Jinnah was the most maligned and misunderstood man. That experience made him bitter and it was very largely butt of spitefulness that he pursued an object, the attainment of which placed him in the most difficult position. Jinnah was not an idealist in the sense of being a visionary; he was a practical man possessed of great shrewdness as well as of more than average intelligence.”

And for Pakistanis he is everything father and founder of the nation. He is beyond any criticism. In fact Jinnah to Pakistanis is what Mahatma Gandhi is to Indians or perhaps combination of Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru. One cannot think of Pakistan without Jinnah. Pakistan would not have come into existence without him. Though this is true but question is was Jinnah solely responsible for creation of Pakistan? Was Pakistan more an accident of history that outcome of a pre-planned operation long cherished by Jinnah? There is no evidence to show that operation Pakistan was pre-planned and long cherished dream of Jinnah. 

Jinnah began as nationalist and was active supporter of Congress nationalism. He was liberal and was described as ‘Muslim Gokhale’. He had joined Congress and went to Muslim League on his own conditions and brought them together through the Lucknow Pact in 1916. In Jinnah’s life 1928 was a crucial year when the Nehru Committee turned down his demand for 33% seats of Muslims in Parliament. It is again debatable whether his demand was justified and whether such a demand could be met in any political democracy. Maulana Azad himself rejected this demand in the AICC session when Nehru Committee report was discussed there.

Second turning point was 1937 elections in which the Muslim League lost heavily and the Congress went back on promise to take two League ministers in the U.P. cabinet. For Jinnah it was great betrayal. It was final break off from the Congress in a way though not the ultimate one. The ultimate break off point came in 1946 when Nehru made a statement that changes in the Cabinet Mission Plan could not be ruled out. After 1946 elections the Congress and Muslim League had formed a composite government. Thus one cannot say that even after passing the two nation theory resolution Jinnah had made up his mind for Pakistan.

All available evidence shows that even after the resolution of 1940 Indian unity could have been saved, if a satisfactory power-sharing arrangement could have been worked out. It would be very difficult to maintain that Jinnah alone was responsible for creation of Pakistan, much less Pakistan being long cherished dream of Jinnah. And how can one ignore the ignoble role of British imperialism in partitioning of the country.

Partition was not only culmination of the British divide and rule policy but also result of definite political design to bring about partition of the country. United India would have strengthened socialist camp led by Soviet Union and would have posed a great challenge to imperialist powers both in China which was heading towards communist revolution but also in the Middle East which was rich in oil resources.

Thus an honest assessment of Jinnah would require taking into account various complex forces in operation then in south, south east and west Asia. Jinnah, for all these and various other reasons, cannot fit into any neat political category – communal or secular. He was secular, if seen in his social and personal context. He was far from religious fanatic as the Sangh Parivar would like to project him. He hardly ever subscribed to any religious dogmas. He was far more closer to Nehru in this respect. He was struggling for Muslim and not Islamic politics. He wanted ‘Muslim homeland’ rather than an Islamic state. He was more of an advocate fighting his case than a mass leader or a visionary.

It is true the result of his politics was partition of the country and hence he is dubbed as communalist. But as we have seen despite his ‘two nation’ theory he was not really wanting a separate state of Pakistan but a power-sharing arrangement which did not work out to his satisfaction. There is some evidence to show that for him partition was more of a temporary affair than a permanent division. He wanted to spend his last days in Mumbai where he had built a house for himself and he greatly cared for it so much so that he requested Nehru not to let it to any commoner but to some foreigner or to some royal house. The correspondence to this effect between Nehru and Jinnah is on record for anyone to see. 

The Indian Muslims also have grievance against him. He left them in the lurch. All Muslims did not agree with his partition project. In fact only the elite Muslims of U.P. and Bihar fell for him. Muslim majority areas were indifferent to him and to Muslim League politics and so were poor and lower class Muslims for whom Pakistan project brought no benefit, political or economic. The Jamiat-ul-Ulama –e-Hind was also totally opposed to creation of Pakistan.

Thus Jinnah will remain highly controversial in Indian subcontinent evoking great admiration for some and total condemnation by others. This is inevitable. Here are very few who would take a balanced view keeping all the factors into account. Neither uncritical adulation nor total condemnation of Jinnah would do. A critical evaluation is highly necessary. Perhaps more time might be needed for this. Half a century may not be enough on history’s time scale.

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