UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Muhammad Ali Jinnah
Quaid-i-Azam (Great Leader)

Muhammad Ali Jinnah's aristocratic English lifestyle, Victorian manners, and secular outlook rendered him a most unlikely leader of India's Muslims. Cold, introverted and domineering, he led them to separate statehood, creating history, and in Saad R. Khairi's apt phrase, "altering geography".

The Muslim League was founded in 1906 as the All-India Muslim League to protect the interests of Muslims in British India and to counter the political growth of the Indian National Congress, founded in 1885. Islam was the basis for the creation and the unification of a separate state, but it was not expected to serve as the model of government. Mohammad Ali Jinnah made his commitment to secularism in Pakistan clear in his inaugural address when he said, "You will find that in the course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State." This vision of a Muslim majority state in which religious minorities would share equally in its development came into question shortly after independence.

For Muslims it was important both to gain a place in all- India politics and to retain their Muslim identity, objectives that required varying responses according to circumstances, as the example of Mohammad Ali Jinnah illustrates. Muhammad Ali Jinnah was born on 25 December 1876 at Vazeer Mansion in Karachi [today in Sindh Province], was the first of seven children of Jinnahbhai, a prosperous merchant. Jinnah made up his mind to become a barrister, and in 1892 he left for England. In 1895, at the age of 19, he was called to the bar in London. When Jinnah returned to Karachi in 1896, he found that his father's business had suffered losses and that he now had to depend on himself. He decided to start his legal practice in Bombay, but it took him years of work to establish himself as a lawyer. It was nearly 10 years later that he turned toward active politics.

The stern, unflappable Jinnah rarely displayed any emotion in public. Although born into a Khoja (from khwaja or 'noble') family who were disciples of the Ismaili Aga Khan, Jinnah moved towards the Sunni sect early in life.

Jinnah began his career as an enthusiastic liberal in Congress on returning to India. Jinnah first entered politics by participating in the 1906 Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress, the party that called for dominion status and later for independence for India. Four years later he was elected to the Imperial Legislative Council -- the beginning of a long and distinguished parliamentary career. In 1913 he joined the Muslim League, which had been shocked by the 1911 annulment of the partition of Bengal into cooperating with Congress to make demands on the British. Jinnah continued his membership in Congress until 1919. During this dual membership period, he was described by a leading Congress spokesperson as the "ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity."

India's important contributions to the efforts of the British Empire in World War I stimulated further demands by Indians and further response from the British. Congress and the Muslim League met in joint session in December 1916. Under the leadership of Jinnah and Pandit Motilal Nehru (father of Jawalharlal Nehru), unity was preached and a proposal for constitutional reform was made that included the concept of separate electorates. The resulting Congress-Muslim League Pact (often referred to as the Lucknow Pact) was a sincere effort to compromise. Congress accepted the separate electorates demanded by the Muslim League, and the Muslim League joined with Congress in demanding self-government. The pact was expected to lead to permanent and constitutional united action.

Meanwhile, a new force in Indian politics had appeared in the person of Mohandas K. Gandhi. Both the Home Rule League and the Indian National Congress had come under his sway. Opposed to Gandhi's Non-co-operation Movement and his essentially Hindu approach to politics, Jinnah left both the League and the Congress in 1920. During the 1920s the Muslim League, and with it Jinnah, had been overshadowed by the Congress and the religiously oriented Muslim Khilafat committee.

Events in the late 1920s and 1930s led Muslims to begin to think that their destiny might be in a separate state, a concept that developed into the demand for partition. Motilal Nehru convened an "all-party" conference in 1929 to suggest changes that would lead to independence when the British took up the report of the Simon Commission. The majority of the delegates demanded the end of the system of separate electorates. Jinnah, in turn, put forward fifteen points that would satisfy Muslim interests--in particular, the retention of separate electorates or the creation of "safeguards" to prevent a Hindu-controlled legislature. Jinnah's proposals were rejected, and from then on cooperation between Hindus and Muslims in the independence movement was rare.

In 1929, while Jinnah was vainly attempting to make sense of the uncertain political landscape, his wife Ruttie died. Jinnah felt the loss grievously, and he moved to London, England. From 1930 to 1935 he remained in London, devoting himself to practice before the Privy Council. In 1934 Jinnah returned to the leadership of the Muslim League after a period of residence in London, but found it divided and without a sense of mission. He set about restoring a sense of purpose to Muslims, and he emphasized the Two Nations Theory. By the late 1930s, Jinnah was convinced of the need for a unifying issue among Muslims, and Pakistan was the obvious answer.

The elections of 1937 proved to be a turning poin. The Congress obtained an absolute majority in six provinces, and the Muslim League did not do particularly well. The Congress decided not to include the League in the formation of exclusive all-Congress provincial governments. Jinnah had originally been dubious about the practicability of Pakistan, an idea that Sir Muhammad Iqbal had propounded to the Muslim League conference of 1930; but he became convinced that a Muslim homeland on the Indian subcontinent was the only way of safeguarding Muslim interests. It was not so much religious persecution that he feared so much, as the exclusion of Muslims from all prospects of advancement within India when power became vested in the close-knit structure of Hindu social organisation.

In March 1940 after laborious attempts at Hindu-Muslim unity failed, Jinnah proposed the idea of an independent nation for the Muslims of India in areas where Muslims were numerically in majority. He was then given the title of Quaid-i-Azam (supreme leader) by the Muslims of India. At its annual session in Lahore on March 23, 1940, the Muslim League resolved that the areas of Muslim majority in northwestern and eastern India should be grouped together to constitute independent states--autonomous and sovereign--and that any independence plan without this provision was unacceptable to Muslims. Federation was rejected. The Lahore Resolution was often referred to as the "Pakistan Resolution"; however, the word Pakistan did not appear in it.

In August 1942, Gandhi launched the "Quit India Movement" against the British. Jinnah condemned the movement. The government retaliated by arresting about 60,000 individuals and outlawing Congress. Communal riots increased. Talks between Jinnah and Gandhi in 1944 proved as futile as negotiations between Gandhi and the viceroy.

Jinnah's wealth, made legally as a lawyer and investor, gave him an independence which in turn enabled him to speak his mind. Jinnah's lifestyle resembled that of the upper-class English professional. Jinnah prided himself on his appearance. He was said never to wear the same silk tie twice and had about 200 hand-tailored suits in his wardrobe. His clothes made him one of the best-dressed men in the world. Tall and stately, thin to the point of emaciation, somewhat formal and fastidious, and a little aloof and imperious of manner, the calm hauteur of his accustomed reserve was not for everyone. Lord Willingdon, Viceroy of India in 1931-6, did not take to Jinnah, and even the gruff but kindly Lord Wavell, Viceroy in 1943-7, was made to feel uncomfortable by Jinnah. The last Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, could not cope with what he regarded as Jinnah's arrogance and haughtiness.

Jinnah's fine clothes helped to conceal the fact that he was in poor physical health. From 1938 onwards he was complaining of 'the tremendous strain' on his 'nerves and physical endurance'. From then on he regularly fell ill, yet that was carefuIly hidden from the public. He remained unwell for much of the first half of 1945.

Congress and the Muslim League emerged from the 1946 elections as the two dominant parties, although the Muslim League again was unable to capture a majority of the Muslim seats in the North-West Frontier Province. When the viceroy proceeded to form an interim government without the Muslim League, Jinnah called for demonstrations, or "Direct Action," on August 16, 1946. Communal rioting broke out on an unprecedented scale, especially in Bengal and Bihar.

In February 1947, Lord Mountbatten was appointed viceroy with specific instructions to arrange for a transfer of power by June 1948. Mountbatten assessed the situation and became convinced that Congress was willing to accept partition as the price for independence, that Jinnah would accept a smaller Pakistan than the one he demanded (that is, all of Punjab and Bengal), and that Sikhs would learn to accept a division of Punjab.

On August 14, 1947, Pakistan and India achieved independence. Jinnah the first governor general of the Dominion of Pakistan. At independence Pakistan was governed by the Government of India Act of 1935 as amended by the authority of the India Independence Act of 1947. The amended act provided at the center for a governor general (as successor to the British viceroy) as head of state and for a Constituent Assembly with two separate functions -- to prepare a constitution and to be a federal legislature until the constitution came into effect.

As governor general, Jinnah assumed the ceremonial functions of head of state while taking on effective power as head of government, dominating his prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan (the Quaid-i-Millet, or Leader of the Nation). To these roles, he added the leadership of the Muslim League and the office of president of the Constituent Assembly.

At the outset the structure of governor general and parliamentary legislature took on singular characteristics tailored to the personality, prestige, and unique position occupied by Jinnah, Pakistan's first governor general. At independence, he was the supreme authority, the founder of the state, and the chief political leader. As head of the All-India Muslim League, in 1940 he mobilized the political effort that in just seven years won Pakistan's independence. His ultimate authority came not from military power, not from the support of the bureaucracy, and not from constitutional prerogatives but from the political support of the people. In these circumstances, Jinnah chose to unite in himself the functions of head of state and the power of chief executive and party boss. In addition to his position as governor general, he was elected president of the Constituent Assembly.

Nearly all the historical writings on Jinnah are of the opinion that Jinnah was seriously ill during the last years of his life. This was perhaps the best-kept secret of Partition. Jinnah gave no public indication of this reality continuing with his usual ration of Cigars, and attributing his cough to bronchitis. Lord Wavell's diary talks of this, giving testimony to the fact that British were well informed about the illness of Jinnah. However, Mountbatten later confessed that had he known of the gravity of Jinnah's illness he would have delayed matters until Jinnah was dead; there would have been no Pakistan.

For several years before his death there was a constant tug-of-war between his physicians and Jinnah. They warmed him to take long intervals of rest and short hours of hard work, but he did exactly the opposite, knowing fully well the risk he was running. His punishing work scheduleand heavy smoking -- fifty cigarettes a day of his favourite brand, Craven A -- had taken their toll [Charles de Gaulle is often said to have been smoking up to 2 packs of plain-tipped Craven A cigarettes a day while he was in London during WWII as the leader of "Free France"]. The nature of his ailment remains unclear. Some sources state that Jinnah died of well-disguised tuberculosis. One source reports that Jinnah's doctor in Bombay Dr JAL Patel had diagnosed the problem in June 1946. Others state that Jinnah died of lung cancer, while others state he suffered from both diseases.

With the death of the revered Quaid-i-Azam (Great Leader) Mohammad Ali Jinnah on 11 September 1948, only thirteen months after independence, the nation was dealt a severe blow. Jinnah's role in the creation of Pakistan had been so dominant that it has been observed that he had neither peers nor associates, only lieutenants and aides.

When Jinnah died, the prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, and the cabinet assumed increased power, in more traditional roles, and Khwaja Nazimuddin, as the new governor general, became a more traditional, nonpolitical head of state. Liaquat, however, found it difficult to establish his political authority. For the office of governor general to be held by an active party politician who continued as political leader was an innovation. Initially, the arrangement may have seemed necessary to preserve national unity after independence and to facilitate the work of the new government. Whether the transfer of effective power to Liaquat while Jinnah was still alive might have created a precedent for future political stability in Pakistan is a moot point. Liaquat's assassination, three years later in October 1951, was the catalyst for a series of constitutional and political crises that over the years seemed almost endemic.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:39:52 ZULU