An analysis of “Jinnah: His Successes, Failures and Role in History” by Ishtiaq Ahmed

Through the book, Ahmed puts forward arguments outlining the primary causes attributed to Jinnah’s success and recognition as a leader in the buildup to the partition. One of the primary arguments that Ahmed focuses extensively on is the idea that the initial lack of success of the Quit India Movement was a pivotal step in recognising the All India Muslim League by the British. The campaign, Ahmed suggests, was an “unrealistic endeavour” put forth by Gandhi, who believed that mass action and civil disobedience would pressure the British into leaving India. The initiative, however, as predicted by several leaders within the Congress, opposition parties such as the RSS and the Indian communists was almost entirely unsuccessful owing to the sheer power of “state might” to quash rebellions. More importantly, Ahmed asserts that the movement resulted in the mass arrest of Congress leaders of varying stature in India, finally giving the Muslim League a chance for recognition by the British. Jinnah lost little time in expressing his condemnation for the movement, notably stating that the movement was “dangerous” and pointing out that encouraging the British to leave at the time would encourage the “sacrifice of all other interests, particularly those of Muslim India”. In expressing his staunch views against the movement, the British looked favourably upon Jinnah as an ally. 

Further building on the idea of British support for the AIML, Ahmed makes the bold assertion that British support gave Jinnah the confidence to see through the partition plan and the two-nation theory to the finish line. During the time, Jinnah was a vocal supporter of the British War effort; on several occasions, he publicly voiced his opposition to Congress’ quit India demand while providing the British with unequivocal backing and support during the war. To illustrate with a quote cited in Ahmed’s book, “when Jinnah met W.W. Chapman, from the International News Service of America, he told him that if the Muslims were given guarantees that in the post-war situation, independent Muslim states will be granted to them, the 100 million Muslims…would fight Japanese aggression tooth and nail, alongside the British”. 

Ahmed also claims that such was the extent of the camaraderie between the administration and Jinnah that, at the time, several rumours of a pact between Jinnah and Churchill were being spread; in particular, Churchill allegedly “pledged to reward Jinnah with Pakistan for the support to the war effort”. Additionally, other documented evidence such as letters exchanged between the viceroys such as Linlithgow and Wavell suggest a fervent dislike for the Congress and strong sympathy for the position of the All India Muslim League. According to Ahmed, Jinnah knew about Britain’s belief that Congress-led India would not further the imperialist cause, unlike the League and capitalised on it on several occasions. 

Comparing the arguments of Ishtiaq Ahmed with Ayesha Jalal’s book, The Sole Spokesman: From the previous blog post (https://thehistoryhaven.com/2021/08/15/book-review-the-sole-spokesman-by-ayesha-jalal/)

While the above-stated arguments outline two crucial factors that Ahmed attributes to Jinnah’s meteoric rise to power after the 1937 elections, the book also raises several essential views that contradict those put forth in Pakistani Historian Ayesha Jalal’s book, the Sole Spokesman. The first of these are in reference to the type of government that Jinnah intended for Pakistan to become. While both historians unequivocally agree on Jinnah’s intentional ambiguity in defining Pakistan, to garner support from all sections of Muslims, Jalal put forth the perspective that Jinnah always wanted Pakistan to be a secular democratic state. The evidence Jalal’s puts forth to justify this belief is an extract from one of Jinnah’s most controversial speeches from August 1947 (cited below). 

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples; you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State”. 

At first glance, the speech seems to suggest Jinnah’s evident belief in the need for Pakistan to be a secular democratic state; regardless of Muslim’s being the dominant majority in Pakistan, Jinnah asserts, caste, creed and religion would have “nothing to do with the business of the State”. Jalal interpreted this speech as an indication that although Jinnah used the “communal consciousness” to his favour, his ultimate goal was far from creating an Islamic state. Ahmed, however, strongly contradicts this argument by making the bold statement that this speech, made on August 11th, was an anomaly that arose out of Jinnah’s desire to ensure that the Muslim minority of 35 million would remain in India and be looked after the Congress despite the communal carnage and bloodbath of the partition. Ahmed’s argument is convincing as it was not long before Jinnah returned to his regular narrative suggesting that “Sharia” would be the basis of the Pakistani Islamic state, all at once eliminating any hope or notion of Pakistan supporting the idea of a Secular Democratic state. Ahmed’s argument is also compelling in that it notes the evident absence of terms such as “Islam” and “Sharia” in Jinnah’s August 11th speech, despite the fact they were the very essence of Jinnah’s demand for Pakistan.

Another blatant contradiction between both books is whether Jinnah intended to arrive at a power-sharing deal with the Congress. Jalal’s book asserts that all along, Jinnah’s primary intent was to arrive at a “power-sharing deal” with the Congress to “gain parity for the Muslims at the all India centre”. Ishtiaq Ahmed’s book, however, firmly takes a stand against notions of this sort, going so far as to state, “Jinnah had repeatedly dispelled rumours that he wanted a power-sharing deal with a United India”. This perspective is also strongly backed by evidence taken from Jinnah’s speeches, in which he firmly asserts his belief that without Pakistan, the repression of Muslims by Hindus would be inevitable. Jinnah also often made statements in public rallies stating that “either we (Muslims) achieve Pakistan or we perish”. 

Jalal also, on several occasions, stated that Jinnah was determined to create a “loose federation in India” ever since the 1940 Lahore resolution but was forced to revert to the idea of a sovereign Pakistan due to the circumstances of the time. Ishtiaq Ahmed’s book, however, blatantly disproves this perspective, too, with several quotes and statements by Jinnah proving that he never seriously considered the idea of a power-sharing deal in India. On one occasion, Jinnah made a statement that referenced his strong opposition to the concept of a loose federation, as can be seen in the extract below. 

“We are opposed to any scheme, nor can we agree to any proposal, which has for its basis any conception or idea of a central government- federal or confederal-for it is bound to lead in the long run to the emasculation of the entire Muslim nation…Therefore remove from your mind any idea of some form of such a loose federation. There is no such thing as a loose federation”. 

Another strong point of contention between both books was Jinnah’s rationale behind his acceptance of the Cabinet Mission plan. Jalal uses the idea of Jinnah’s desire for a power-sharing deal to explain once again his stance on the cabinet mission plan of 1946. She states that what the plan gave Jinnah was the “option of Pakistan that is based on a partition of Punjab and Bengal or remaining within the all India union with no necessary assurance of Muslim share of power at the all India centre”. In other words, Jalal portrayed his acceptance of the plan as something he wasn’t keen on but was forced into because “it became clear that the Congress had no intention of sharing power”. Ahmed’s book, on the contrary, not only dispels the idea that Jinnah ever wanted a power-sharing deal but also puts forward the view that Jinnah’s acceptance of the plan as a result of his realisation that a united Punjab (consisting of 77% of Muslims only) and united Bengal (only 50% Muslim) as he had previously demanded, was not on offer. According to Ahmed, Jinnah recognised that he no longer had the unconditional support of the British, who wanted to leave India with the least possible damage to imperial interests. For fear of getting less what he demanded, Jinnah made the strategic decision to accept the cabinet mission plan on conditional terms. He believed that the plan could “be an important step on the road to Pakistan given its provision that provinces could reconsider their accession after ten years”. Put simply, Jinnah was aware that his demand for an undivided Punjab and Bengal was unrealistic and would not be granted to him; as he interpreted it, accepting the Cabinet Mission Plan as an interim arrangement served his interests far better. 

Additionally, to oppose the view that “Congress had no intention of sharing power”, Ahmed states that such was Congress’ unwillingness to agree to Pakistan and the two-nation theory that when the Cabinet Mission plan was suggested in 1946, Gandhi openly “proposed that for the interim period Jinnah should be asked to form the government and choose the ministers he wanted”. Jinnah, however, was unwilling to accept the proposal as opposed to the view put forth in Jalal’s book. 

The final contradiction between both books is on the idea of whether Jinnah’s demand for Pakistan was simply a “bargaining counter” to aid his attempts to get a better deal for Muslims at the centre. Jalal’s view that it was a bargaining counter was well known; however, Ahmed contends against this view strongly. Ahmed states that Jinnah made it clear that Pakistan was not to be considered a bargaining chip. To prove this, he cites an extract from a speech that Jinnah made on November 23rd while delivering a speech to the Delhi Muslim Student’s union. In one notable section of his speech, Jinnah states, “Pakistan was our goal today, for which the Muslims of India will live for and if necessary, die for. It is not a counter for bargaining”. Jalal’s argument, unlike Ahmed’s, however, lacks adequate backing and primary evidence to be substantiated. 

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