IS Mohammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan and a much-maligned man, alone to be damned for the partition of India? As the author of this well researched book pointes out, partition “should rank among the ten greatest tragedies in the history of man, an egregious folly and a blunder of great and lasting consequence”. Further the author, AG Noorani, a lawyer and a distinguished scholar remarks: “it is the tallest leaders on both sides who were directly responsible for the tragedy and for the miseries which the people on both sides of the divide suffered in consequence”. And he further adds: “Criticism of their policies and conduct is not very welcome, but it is necessary if we are to profit by experience”. That remains the basis, the very foundation of this excellent study.
Jinnah was a complicated man. So much has been written about him in recent times but one has yet to come across a psychiatric study of this controversial character. Here was a man who held Gokhale and Bal Gangadhar Tilak in the highest regard, a lawyer who dared to defend the Lokamanya in the days of the British rule. Noorani says: “Nothing conveys the depth of Jinnah’s friendship with Tilak better than the eulogy which the unemotional Jinnah delivered at a meeting held to condole Tilak’s death on August 1, 1920”. Originally he was opposed to the idea of separate electorates. He once said: “Hindus and Mohammadans, united and firm, the voice of three hundred millions of people will produce a force which no power on earth can resist”. At a meeting in Bombay in November 1917, he said: “My message to the Mussalmans is to join hands with your Hindu brethren. My message to Hindus is to lift your backward brothers up”.
Such a Jinnah once existed. It was such a man that was finally transformed into an anti-Congress ogre, a man who would stop at nothing to set up a separate Muslim state and get transformed into a communal monster. How did this happen? That is the theme of this remarkable study. The title is misleading. The book covers the “forgotten friendship” between Tilak and Jinnah, but basically the theme covered is much wider such as: what went into sharpening of the divide between Hindus and Muslims, Jinnah and the Congress and just as importantly between Jinnah and Jawaharlal Nehru? What role did the British play in deepening Congress-Muslim League differences?
What, over the years did Jinnah feel about Civil Disobedience, boycott of government schools, the Quit India Movement etc? to answer some of these questions Noorani quotes many objective observers of the Indian political scene in the thirties and forties like Sir Chimanlal Setalwad. Quoting them Noorani says: “Jinnah was not exactly a picture of joy when Pakistan was established. Events had overwhelmed him and his miscalculations, rash as they were, diverted to a course he could not have imagined. His style foiled his policies”. Some have claimed that Jinnah’s disillusionment with the Congress started when he was boo-ed out of the Congress session held in Nagpur in 1920. Noorani insists that “the jeers at the Nagour session would have embittered him most. They did not affect him”.
At another point Noorani says Jinnah “bore no bitterness after the Nagpur session and twice travelled to Ahmedabad to hold talks with Gandhi…” once in December 1921. Jinnah even moved a resolution at a meeting of the All India Muslim League in 1924.
Noorani provides some answers. But here one must enter a caveat. One, that Noorani goes too far in saying Congress abhorred sharing of power with the League in a United India quoting Nehru as saying that Jinnah had “no real place in the country”. That is patently not true. There was, of course, a clash of personalities which, given the circumstances, was inevitable. Noorani says that Jinnah was en expellee, not an exile, but then Jinnah asked for it. Noorani insists that Jinnah was brilliant, that Jinnah was secular, that Jinnah was this and Jinnah was that, but Jinnah gave as much offence to Gandhi and Nehru and the Congress than was acceptable.
This is as good a study of Jinnah as any that has been written in the past, except that Noorani shows little understanding of the emotional situation in India in the thirties that made Gandhi and Nehru what they were. Gandhi, Nehru, Patel were as much victims of their times as was Jinnah. Each reflected the time in which he lived and cannot be blamed. By all means defend Jinnah, but the damage he did in the final anlysis is unforgiveable. His ego not only damned him but it destroyed India and has kept up Hindu-Muslim tension alive for over six decades. Jinnah stands condemned. Noorani quotes Gibbon as saying of Belisarius that “his imperfections flowed from the contagion of the times” comparing Jinnah with Belisarius. No excuse, that. Jinnah has the blood of millions on his hands which he cannot wipe off. Sad, but true. The usefulness of the book is enhanced by appendices running into 200 pages, and very useful and significant appendices they make. But one question remains: why was the book published in Pakistan and not in India? What was OUP afraid of?