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Opposites attract

Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Ramkrishna Dalmia were as different as chalk and cheese. Yet, their friendship could have minimised the horrific consequences of partition, writes Vidya Nidhi Dalmia.

india Updated: Nov 14, 2007 16:09 IST

The most unlikely people sometimes become the thickest of friends. Muhammad Ali Jinnah — British-educated lawyer and politician, leader of the Muslim League, a pukka non-vegetarian, a man who enjoyed his drinks and expensive cigars, the archetypal Brown Sahib. My father Ramkrishna Dalmia — home-grown industrialist and founder of Dalmia Jain Enterprises, a devout Hindu, a no-onion-no-garlic, no tea-no-coffee vegetarian, a teetotaller, a sprinkler of Ganga jal if a Muslim entered the home. Yet, these two men got along like a house on fire. Maybe, opposites do attract. They both were the closest of the closest friends, one can imagine whereas in religious beliefs they were at 180 degree apart. That Dalmia and Jinnah could be bum-chums was astounding to most people. Their friendship could have prevented Partition, or at the very least, minimised the consequences.

During the visit of the Cabinet Mission to India in 1946, when all else failed, my father pressed Jinnah to settle matters on the basis of full autonomy for the provinces and only three subjects — communications, defence and foreign affairs — remaining with the Centre. He urged Jinnah to meet and attempt a solution with Nehru for the last time. Jinnah was sceptical but agreed on the condition that any meeting would take place at my father’s house. Thereafter, in a lengthy meeting with Rajendra Prasad at our Akbar Road home and a telephone conversation with Sardar Patel, my father urged them to arrange a meeting at any cost. The BBC announced that ‘a wealthy Indian merchant’ was attempting an amicable settlement between the leaders of the Congress and the Muslim League. But Jinnah’s hunches were correct. The meeting was declined and a statement issued the next morning that no significance need be attached to Dalmia’s negotiations. Jinnah was the first to phone: “Look at your own people’s mentality,” he lamented.

Yet, my father remained confident of the influence he exercised over his friend. When Partition was inevitable, he convinced Jinnah that the two new governments should themselves organise an exchange of population to provide safe passage for people who wished to migrate to the other side. Unfortunately, this effort too came to nought as Sardar Patel and other leaders didn’t agree. Their argument — that no institutionalised movement of peoples was necessary, that there was no compulsion to move, and that the Hindus of Pakistan were their kith and kin, whom they would protect even if that meant sacrificing their own lives — was laudable, but specious.

When Jinnah sold his 10 Aurangzeb Road house in Delhi (now the residence of the Dutch ambassador), he ‘chose’ Dalmia as its next occupant. His good friend promptly brought down the green-and-white banner of the Muslim League and replaced it with his own — of his Society for the Prevention of Cow Slaughter: the Flag of the Sacred Cow. He then immediately had a shuddhi done and a griha-pravesh havan. But Jinnah didn’t mind. Much rather his friend, a man he trusted and relied on, living in the house, than Nehru or any of the others who coveted the place.

My father paid Jinnah Rs 3 lakh for the house. My parents, however, lived in it for no more than a few days. Nehru’s government, ever reluctant to let the magnificent property slip out of its grasp, lost no time in issuing a notice of requisition. The house was ‘required’ by the government for use by Health Minister Rajkumari Amrit Kaur. In danger of losing the house for a pittance, my father sold it with some difficulty to the Dutch government.

Jinnah travelled as far as Dalmianagar in Bihar to be with my father in his industrial township. In Delhi, he was a frequent visitor to our Akbar Road home. My father had high regard for Jinnah as a superb lawyer, orator and conversationalist. Jinnah was always present at parties thrown by my father.

Once Jinnah asked my father to accompany him to Karachi, where my father owned a cement factory, known as Dalmia Cement Factory for a public gathering. When my father asked if he would be allowed to speak freely and frankly, Jinnah didn’t repeat the offer. Another time, my father threw a huge ‘Party of Princes’ at the Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai, to bring together the quarrelling Jinnah and the Maharaja of Jamnagar (now in Gujarat).

My father minced no words when talking to Jinnah. He accused Jinnah of being selfish and ambitious in wanting Pakistan and of leaving the Congress because he couldn’t be its chief. “You care only for yourself and you want to become a monarch, like the Caliph of Turkey, in independent Pakistan,” he accused his friend. “Look, Dalmia” Jinnah retorted, “at least give me credit that I have brought together all the Jee-Hazoors, Characterless and Nawabs who earlier served no one but the British to serve their own country.”

Jinnah told my father about the time he had just returned from England in 1935 that he wanted to meet Gandhi. Gandhi declined the meeting saying “I pray for light but see no light.” Jinnah was insulted by this slight. That was when he decided to start an unyielding agitation against the Congress.

My father regarded Jinnah as intrinsically indifferent to religion and thus totally secular. He viewed Jinnah’s posturing as political. He knew Jinnah to be incorruptible, highly dignified, intelligent and had great respect for his personal integrity. Jinnah never asked my father for any sort of donation or help, something on which my father found him so different from the other leaders of the time.

My father believed that the leaders in Pakistan soon forgot Jinnah’s true ideals especially his teachings to establish Pakistan as a truly secular nation. At the time of Jinnah’s death, my father regretted that Pakistan’s founder did not get the due respect, he deserved and his ideals were soon forgotten for which he fought his whole life. My father says that he had not seen a upright, straight forward, honest and intelligent person as Jinnah in his whole life and Nehru and other Congress leaders were not even close to his level of intelligence.