Kashmir: Story of a portrait

Views from Srinagar

Dr. Javid Iqbal

THE demand of some Hindutva acolytes to remove Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s portrait from the quarters of Aligarh Muslim University students union is devoid of sanity. Removing a portrait adorning the gallery of union offices cannot erase the role that Jinnah played in subcontinental politics. As to how the role he played is perceived by individuals or a group of them forming an organization—political or otherwise falls in a different context. Across the subcontinental divide, there are masses calling him the Messiah—providing penances to their ills, while some condemn his role for dividing a nation. Whatever the parameters of contention, he strides across pages of history, holding a memory that cannot be erased. He is there to stay, forever.
As the British after Second World War found it tough to sustain an empire, the contention amongst successors of power intensified. Leaders like Gandhi, Jinnah, Nehru, Maulana Azad and Patel were in the forefront of the new power dispensing that was to emerge, after two hindered years of British rule. Jinnah had started his political innings at the turn of the preceding century on a secular plank. He was a great believer in Hindu-Muslim unity. However, inspired by his political mentor—Gopal Kishan Gokhle, he believed, it could be worked out only by a power sharing agreement. After Gokhle’s death in 1915, he did his best to persuade his agenda. In 1916, mainly due to his efforts, he was able to work-out a consensus between various forces. It resulted in Lucknow pact. The nightingale of India – Sarojni Naidu called him, ‘Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity’. However, the promising start made could not hold. During twenties of the preceding century, Jinnah came up with various power sharing propositions, the consensus evaded him.
Mohammad Ali Jinnah was a great believer in constitutional mechanism to solve political issues in chambers meant for such an approach. Mahatma Gandhi on the other hand had faith in mass involvement to push for self-rule, which later turned into a voice for total independence. The two eminent leaders differed from day one. Some of Gandhi’s followers like CR Das and Pandit Moti Lal Nehru like Quaid-e-Azam placed their faith in constitutional chambers. However, Mahatma Gandhi and his brand of politics held the upper hand, where the role of constitutionalists was diminishing by the day. Jinnah’s plea for power sharing mechanism had few takers.
Exasperated, Jinnah left India to settle in England in early thirties. He continued with what came to him best—practising law and its advocacy. A man of refined tastes, immaculately attired, from Bombay to London, he made a mark in the bar, and was respected by the bench. His sojourn in London was as successful as in Bombay. He was rich by any standard, riches reflected positively on his refinement. Practice of law however could not totally detach him from love of politics and public service. Appeals by Sir Mohammad Iqbal and Liaquat Ali Khan lured him back to the Indian political scene, nevertheless with a difference. He would still try for an accommodation with the majority community, but was not averse to chalk out a separate course, if the need be.
1937 provincial election proved to be a setback, as Congress was on ascendance, except in Bengal. In Muslim majority Punjab, Unionist party—amalgamate of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs held the ace. Jinnah offered the helping hand to congress. He was rebutted and rebuffed. Congress ministries performed far below the expectations, and Muslims had a feeling of marginalization. The ministries however resigned on the plea of British Raj failing to provide enough powers for governance. The resignation of provincial congress ministries was treated as deliverance by the Muslim League. Jinnah didn’t look back; his popularity was touching new heights. In the Indian elections that followed Second World War, Muslim League scored impressive wins. Jinnah had established himself as a leader, with whom the British and the Congress could not, but negotiate. He became Quaid-e-Azam—the great leader. Even Mahatma Gandhi addressed him as Quai-e-Azam.
As Pethick Lawrence led British Cabinet mission started parleys, Jinnah was not beyond working for Indian confederation with effective power sharing and fair weightage for the provinces. Initially Congress concurred, raising hopes that India after all might stay united. However Nehru and Patel were for a strong federation with a greater weightage in power sharing for the union. On July, the 10th, 1946 Nehru was reported as having said in Bombay of revisiting the cabinet mission plan in constituent assembly—words to that effect if not the exact quote. Jinnah was quick to renew his demand for Pakistan. India was divided and Pakistan created. Jinnah put his stamp on subcontinental history as the creator of the new nation.
Seventy years down the historical trail, as we look back over decades after partition, there is remorse that though constitutionally secular, Indian democracy has had a majoritarian hue, where minorities face marginalization. Various commissions, including the much quoted Rajinder Sachar report have borne out the stark reality. In his May, the 6th 2018 column in ‘Times of India’ Aakar Patel quotes disturbing figures to denote the marginalization. Aakar Patel notes, ‘’It was reported some time ago that of the 1,386 members of the legislative assembly from our ruling party nationwide, four were Muslims’’. The columnist calls it political apartheid, deliberate and cruel, and he says it is real and hurtful. It is indeed a sad commentary on the state of affairs—doesn’t it vindicate Jinnah—there are many who could ask?
—Courtesy: Greater Kashmir.
[Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survivalThe author Dr Javid Iqbal is a famous writer and historian based in Srinagar]

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