When Jaswant Singh’s book Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence was published last year, among other things, it brought the question of Partition and the role of Mohammad Ali Jinnah into focus again. But the image of Jinnah is changing in India and in Pakistan for different reasons. Post-Partition, the history of the freedom movement in both countries was written from the Congress or the Muslim League perspective. In India, the image of Jinnah was that of a communalist leader responsible for the vivisection of the subcontinent. He was accused of being a stubborn leader who refused to re-adjust his demands and insisted on the acceptance of his terms. On the contrary,
Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru emerged as leaders who negotiated and made attempts to compromise with him.
This image of Jinnah persisted in traditional Indian historiography until the 1980s. However, some historians have raised their voices against it and presented Jinnah differently. One important study is that of Delhi University’s Ajeet Jawed, whose book Jinnah: Secular and Nationalist made an attempt to rehabilitate him as a staunch Indian nationalist. The Australian historian Jan Byrant Wells, in his Ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity: Jinnah’s Early Politics, argues that throughout his political career, Jinnah remained a nationalist and anti-imperialist and there is no difference between his early or later periods of political life.
In Pakistan, too, the image of Jinnah is changing with political changes in the country. In the traditional portrayal, his secular and nationalist image isn’t highlighted. He has been reduced to being only a Muslim leader who struggled for the rights of Indian Muslims and created a new country for them to follow their religious teachings freely in. As the character of Pakistan became Islamic, it needed not a secular founding father but a staunchly religious man. So, stories of his religious devotion are fabricated and circulated. Stray references to religion are taken out from his speeches to prove that he wanted a welfare state based on Islamic principles. His official portrait shows him in a sherwani and cap, not in western attire, smoking a cigar.
This picture was challenged by some scholars and politicians who argued that he was against theocracy and in favour of a modern secular state. There are some circles that reject Jinnah as a competent leader and accuse him of committing political mistakes — such as his authoritarian role as governor general to dissolve the North West Frontier Provincial assembly, his act of presiding over the cabinet meetings and keeping aside the prime minister, and his dismissal of the chief minister of Sindh. As the political situation in Pakistan deteriorates, Jinnah’s image is also undergoing a distortion in which he’s blamed for leaving the country in the hands of incompetent leaders. The result is that in Pakistan, there are now two portraits of Jinnah: one, of the founder of the State based on the two-nation theory and an anti-India policy; two, of a secular Jinnah, not generally welcomed except in small circles of liberal Pakistanis.
As for Partition, while a majority of scholars have no doubt written about its legitimacy, there are only a few voices determined to question it. Rubina Saigol in Knowledge and Identity challenges the concept of two nations, the very basis of the creation of Pakistan. Jaswant Singh’s book is important in this context. In India, with this change of image, Jinnah is no longer exclusively blamed for the Partition; Nehru and Patel share the responsibility. A secular Jinnah suits Pakistan, now under the grip of religious extremism, trying to get out of it through a new system based on pluralism.
Mubarak Ali is the author of Pakistan: In Search of Identity, and former Professor of History, Sindh University.
The views expressed by the author are personal