Jinnah and political discourse in Pakistan

Sunday, June 29th, 2014 11:01:14 by



There is an increased invocation of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in political discourse in Pakistan. In addition to political leaders and societal activists, many religious leaders and parties talk about Jinnah while projecting the political and social order they wish to establish.

When Dr Tahirul Qadri used to address press conferences or give interviews to TV channels from Canada, Jinnah’s portrait could be seen in the background. Even some Jamaat-e-Islami leaders talk positively about him. The leader of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (reincarnation of the Sipah-e-Sahaba) recently invoked the Quaid in support of his demand for establishing an Islamic political system in Pakistan. On March 23, 2014, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa staged a street march in Lahore for reaffirming commitment to Pakistan and the Islamic political system.

The increased use of a commonly shared historical icon should promote political harmony and consensus-building on the nature and direction of Pakistan’s present and future politico-economic and social arrangements. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Pakistan’s social and political order is facing greater fragmentation and, at times, it appears that Pakistan might become an increasingly unmanageable society.

Jinnah is not necessarily invoked in popular political discourse to understand what he stood for and why and how he began to employ Islamic symbols and principles to articulate a nationalism to counter the Congress party nationalism’s based on secularism and a single nation in India. There is no desire to know what he meant when he emphasised the Islamic idiom in the post-1934 period. He also talked of a modern democratic state system, constitutional rule and equal citizenship irrespective of religious or any other considerations.

Today, Jinnah’s legacy is often pursued to strengthen partisan political agendas. Those who wish to dominate the present and want to give respectability to their partisan views of state and society often attempt to rewrite history in order to justify what they are currently doing in the political and cultural domains. Therefore, those advocating a conservative, Islam-based religious state system only talk of Jinnah’s Islamic discourse and give their own preferred meanings to the idioms and terms used by him. Those advocating a secular system mention those statements of Jinnah that serve their current political agenda.

However, it is a matter of great satisfaction that there have also been efforts to undertake a sober and non-partisan understanding of Jinnah. Well-researched and scholarly articles and books have appeared since the centenary celebrations of Jinnah in 1976. This has contributed to a comprehensive understanding of Jinnah’s personality, political orientations and political career, especially since 1934 when he returned from England, revitalised the All-India Muslim League and led the demand for a separate homeland for the Muslims of British India. These writings have relied on official documents, personal papers of the leaders, the Muslim League’s records, memoirs of Jinnah’s contemporaries and writings on Jinnah and the Partition.

The wrings of Shariful Mujahid, Ayesha Jalal, Stanley Wolpert, Waheeduzzaman — to name a few accomplished works — offer a comprehensive view of Jinnah, covering his personality, role and leadership in the freedom movement. These writers place his leadership in a broader academic context of the study of freedom movements, leadership and the nation-building processes.

A recent publication, The Charismatic Leader: Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the Creation of Pakistan by Dr Sikandar Hayat (OUP, 2014), is an updated edition of the book published in 2008. It not only maintains the strong theoretical framework of the earlier edition, but also adds discussion on some issues that are part of the current discourse on the Pakistan Movement and the role of Jinnah.

The central theme of the book is the notion of charisma while studying the leadership of Jinnah. The author pulls together all the major theoretical writings on charisma in the social sciences and combines it with a dispassionate, analytical and documented study of the political career of Jinnah to describe him as a charismatic leader for the Muslims of British India who had complete faith in him for securing their identity, rights and interests. By establishing Pakistan as a homeland for the Muslims of British India, Jinnah changed the course of history and left a strong imprint on it. The author focuses mainly on the post-1934 period to analyse how Jinnah’s charisma was established, surpassing the attributes of charisma as articulated by Max Weber, Edward Shills, David Apter, Dankwart Rustow and others.

The evolution of the political identity of the Muslims that became the basis for movement for a separate homeland can be fully understood from the discussion in the book on the six phases of Hindu-Muslim relations and the evolution of the Muslim political struggle in British India (pp.135-146). This needs to be coupled with the analysis of Jinnah’s political transition from a champion of Hindu-Muslim unity to an ardent advocate of Muslims’ identity, rights and interests and the demand for a separate homeland (pp.88-109, 258-262).

The discussion of the political context and the text of the Lahore Resolution, March 1940, (pp.273-283) is instructive for those who often get bogged down in polemical debates on this issue for justifying current partisan political agendas. The author discusses the British opposition to the making of Pakistan, rejecting the arguments of many Indian writers that the creation of Pakistan was a British conspiracy to weaken an independent India. The fast moving political developments in 1946-47 have been dealt with some detail in an easy-to-understand narrative of how and why the All-India Muslim League accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan and then walked out on it. This also includes its decision to join the interim government in October 1946.

Jinnah is a national symbol whose relevance has increased over time. There is a need to pursue a non-partisan and research-based understanding of the development of Jinnah’s political orientations, his politics and the changes therein and how he articulated an alternative nationalism to the Congress-led secular, one-nation nationalism.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 30th, 2014.

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