By Syed Ubaidur Rahman
The latest fist fights between right-wing Hindu activists and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) students over a portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah has once again brought to fore the fault-lines running deep within the Indian society. Along with Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and many other renowned personalities, Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s portrait has been gracing the AMU Students Union Hall for the last eighty years.
The latest controversy was stoked by the BJP MP, Satish Gautam, who tried to question the patriotism of Aligarh Muslim University claiming the presence of the portrait proves AMU is harbouring anti-national elements.
This claim is simply laughable and shows the desperation of the Sangh Parivar to seek political mileage from a dead issue. In the run up to general election 2019, the saffron outfits are on the hunt for electoral issues, and the controversy over Jinnah’s portrait couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment.
Who was Jinnah?
Jinnah was without doubt a great lawyer and a shrewd politician. In his early years, he was a nationalist to the core and rose to become an important figure in the Indian National Congress. He had a roaring practice and many top future lawyers worked under him. One of those was MC Chagla – a nationalist Indian to the core – who honed his legal practice under the very tough disciplinarian that Jinnah was.
Jinnah, who was not much into politics earlier, first joined the Congress in the year 1904, when he attended the Congress’s twentieth annual meeting, in Bombay in December of that year. The man who later went on to lay the foundation of a separate Muslim nation was amazingly the part of the moderate faction in the nationalist party, where he and like-minded people favoured Hindu–Muslim unity and demanded self rule in the country.
Initially, he was completely opposed to the Muslim League and the idea of separate electorates for Muslims. When many Muslim leaders met in Dhaka under the leadership of Agha Khan to form the Muslim League, Jinnah openly opposed the move. A desperate Aga Khan later wrote it was “freakishly ironic” that Jinnah would oppose the formation of a party he would later lead and “came out in bitter hostility toward all that I and my friends had done … He said that our principle of separate electorates was dividing the nation against itself.”
Why Ulama opposed Jinnah?
The opposition to Jinnah didn’t come from well-educated westernised Muslims. He was challenged by the Muslim clergy, particularly the Ulama of Deoband, who were not just against the partition of the country, but also the idea of the two-nation theory. The scholars of Deoband realised at a very early stage the designs of a politically cunning Jinnah, who was trying to sell the idea of two-nation theory to the Muslims of the Subcontinent.
In response to the Muslim League leaders’ campaign to shame the Muslims, who opposed the two-nation theory and who wanted to remain in an undivided India, Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani wrote:
“You write that I have joined the Hindus and you are stunned by that. Why do you get affected by such propaganda? Muslims have been together with the Hindus since they moved to Hindustan. And I have been with them since I was born. I was born and raised here. If two people live together in the same country, same city, they will share lot of things with each other. Till the time there are Muslims in India, they will be together with the Hindus. In the bazaars, in homes, in railways, trams, in buses, lorries, in stations, colleges, post offices, jails, police stations, courts, councils, assemblies, hotels, etc. You tell me where and when we don’t meet them or are not together with them? You are a zamindar. Are not your tenants Hindus? You are a trader; don’t you buy and sell from Hindus? You are a lawyer; don’t you have Hindu clients? You are in a district or municipal board; won’t you be dealing with Hindus? Who is not with the Hindus? All ten crore Muslims of India are guilty then of being with the Hindus.”
Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha created discord in India
Muslim League’s genesis lies in the divisive agenda. From the very beginning, they demanded separate electorates for Muslims. Jinnah, who initially was opposed to the idea, later fell for it. He went on to score his first political victory by being elected as Bombay’s Muslim representative on the Imperial Legislative Council. He was a compromise candidate and emerged victorious when two older, better-known Muslims fighting for same post remained deadlocked, without anyone managing victory.
Both the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha were trying to divide the Muslims and Hindus as two separate poles without any meeting ground. This was a complete break from the past in a country where both the communities lived side by side in complete harmony. Hindu Mahasabha, in order to stoke anti-Muslim feelings among caste Hindus and scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, engineered riots in different parts of North India. This proved beneficial for the Hindu Mahasabha in two distinct ways: it brought a large number of SCs and STs into mainstream Hinduism and created animosity among the adherents of the two religions.
This was a Godsend for the Muslim League as it was already trying to put forward its agenda by claiming that Muslims and Hindus are two distinct people and cannot remain together. So both the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League served the purpose of each other by engineering riots and creating division and animosity for each other.
Jinnah, a divisive figure
There is no denying that despite his secular upbringing and the fact that he was a non-practising Muslim – he ate pork and consumed alcohol – Jinnah was a divisive figure. A shrewd politician, he used the religious sentiments to bisect a nation that had remained together for hundreds of centuries. There is no justification for his portrait to grace a place where the portraits of Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and a host of other nationalist leaders adorn the walls.
Rafiq Zakaria, in his book The Man Who Divided India — An Insight into Jinnah’s Leadership and its Aftermath sums it up in his inimitable style. Zakaria says: “No one can of course blame Jinnah alone for the animosity that existed between the Hindus and the Muslims before Partition, but was division of the country the only solution? No other Muslim leader before him had ever suggested such a disastrous remedy. Why did he go to this extent? Was it the result of a deep-rooted conviction on his part or was it because of a certain vindictiveness, which blinded him to the consequences of the terrible alternative he so doggedly pursued? In the evening of his life when transfer of power from the British to the Indians became inevitable, Jinnah turned his wrath on his Hindu compatriots in the Congress on the spurious grounds that the Hindus were the real enemies of the Muslims. He worked up a religious frenzy among his community warning them that after the British left, they would be reduced to being slaves of the Hindus.”
Need more be said on the matter?
[Syed Ubaidur Rahman is a New Delhi based writer and commentator. He has written several books on Muslims and Islam in India including Understanding Muslim Leadership in India. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org]