Jinnah: Hero or Villian?

Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Pakistani flag.

Quite possibly, Muhammad Ali Jinnah may be one of the most historically ambiguous figures of the twentieth century. He is maligned by his opposition almost more than he is adored by his followers. In fact, in a day and age when Pakistan struggles with accusations of being ‘the terror factory of the world’ many Pakistanis themselves begin to doubt their founder. And yet, they continue to call him ‘Quaid-E-Azam’ which in literal translation means ‘The Great Leader’. The Partition was a division of India into two independent countries and resulted in a mass movement of people on a scale the world had never seen before. Indian Muslims rushed to go to a country which seemed to be the promise of a new future and Pakistani Hindus and Sikhs headed in the opposite way for India. Needless to say, it caused unprecedented violence and misery.

The question is, despite being blamed as the sole cause of the Partition massacres by many Indian historians, why does a man like Jinnah still hold a unique place in the heart of ordinary Pakistanis? His opponents cannot fully slander his name and put him in the category of infamous dictators of the period; yet one rarely reads a positive account of Jinnah in historical literature.

He is popularly known now as ‘The Man Who Divided India’ thanks to a book of the same name by Rafiq Zakaria. The author paints an unflattering caricature of a man who ate pork, drank alcohol and never spoke Urdu. As a man who professed to create a homogenous Muslim nation, he did not make the most exemplary Muslim by this account. On a continent where religion was part of politics, such an account can only be deemed damning. The author himself was a staunch advocate of a kind of conservative Islam that contributes to what we today know as radical Islam, which in turn leads to atrocities such as terrorism. The question is why do Indian historians, such as Kapil Komereddi, lose all sight of logic and oversimplify the Partition? Is this just a game of point scoring between two countries infamous for mindless enmity? In an era where clashes are frequent in Indo-Pak relations the answer seems obvious. The media and politicians on both sides fan the flames and use history to support their actions.

In India, Jinnah is popularly known as the monster who painted his hands red with the blood of the massacres of the Partition. The reason: his insistence on a separate Muslim nation to protect the interests of all Indian Muslims. This is an unfair and biased judgement, no matter how well-known it is:  the blame lies equally on Nehru, Gandhi, the Indian National Congress (INC) and the All-India Muslim League. The INC wanted a Hindu dominated parliament in which Muslim interests would be managed by them; Jinnah looked to the future and along with the Muslim League, insisted such a deal would never work. “The rule of India would pass into the hands of that community which is nearly four times as large as ourselves … our life, our property, our honour, and our faith will all be in great danger.” Their opinion was that the noose would no doubt constrict around Muslims as time wore on and the extremist Hindus would most certainly try to exact their ideas of getting rid of Hindus and Christians or converting them back into the “Hindu fold”.
Jinnah however, was dismissed as a wilful, stubborn man who held grudges and was determined to get revenge against the INC and the British for repeatedly stonewalling him. To narrow down an incredibly complex character and accuse him of such a basic desire seems unjust. Besides, in the present day where tensions between Hindus and Muslims escalate in India, the current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, also voices an opinion similar to Jinnah’s: the two groups cannot co-exist peacefully. Modi is by no means a supporter of Jinnah and yet he seems to have reached the same conclusion after sixty-eight years and countless Hindu-Muslim clashes in the country.

Gandhi, the leader of  the Indian independence movement under British ruled India, stated that Islam and Hinduism were practically one and the same religion and that their followers would have no issues living as a unified nation. Yet Jinnah insisted at a 1940 League conference in Lahore that Islam and Hinduism are different in all aspects; the recent beef riots in India are another example of where the harmony between the two faiths has once again gone disastrously wrong. Gandhi would profess their foundations are entwined and yet history suggests otherwise.

The history of India before the British Raj also displays a trend which supports the above fact: a system of ruling never existed in which Hindus and Muslims governed the country together. One dominated the other and vice versa, but never did they rule together. Akbar the Great was an example of a leader that did introduce somewhat equal and fair rights for all his subjects regardless of faith, the same cannot be said for many other rulers, Hindu or Muslim.  Did Gandhi and Nehru (an important member of the INC, later to become the first Prime Minister of India) therefore advocate the questionable ‘oneness’ of Islam and Hinduism to pursue their own singular aim of keeping India united? Is it possible they saw and chose to ignore the flaws in their ideology? Could the Partition massacres have been avoided had Gandhi and Nehru, some of the most influential figures of the era, chosen to recognise that a united India was a fantasy that could no longer be sustained?

Reports have been made that Jinnah met for long sessions with both Nehru and Gandhi and both in their turn tried to dissuade him from the idea of Pakistan. However, he did not concede and eventually communication broke down. How then, can Jinnah be the only strong-willed and irrational figure in the Partition? Had Nehru or Gandhi decided to advocate for Pakistan as a brother nation for India and its strongest ally, Jinnah may have given up his campaign for Pakistani independence and India would still have been somewhat united today. But they did not want a separate Muslim state in the common purpose of a unified India and also failed to recognise that by incorporating religion with politics (something Jinnah advised strongly against) the tensions were worsening.

Extremist Hindus were already misusing religion as a reason to mistrust and look down on the Muslims as ‘Mlecch’ (unclean) and this only intensified the demands of the Muslim League –  a political party created to safeguard the political rights of Indian Muslims – for a separate nation. Was Gandhi purposefully being ignorant to the demands of extremist Hindus who mirrored the Muslims’ calls for two nations, and whose efforts to achieve such an occurrence were getting more and more violent? Or was he simply too indecisive? He did not want an independent Pakistan and yet he failed to please the extremist Hindus either who ended up taking matters into their own hands by going to the extreme and resorting to his assassination. What did Gandhi really think he was campaigning for when his idea of a unified India already looked so impractical? Jinnah and the extremist Hindus were clear in their opinions and those opinions are generally blamed as the cause of the Partition massacres. Yet had Gandhi, the most influential figure on the South Asian platform, been more decisive with his plan of action after India’s eventual independence from the Raj, the massacres may never have reached the horrendous scale they did.

Gandhi’s focus on unity as compared to the British Raj’s disabling strategy of divide and rule, was understandable and admirable enough; yet it ignored the many flaws in such a policy and the fact that it caused more harm than good. An amiable agreement between two nations was by far the closest scenario to peace, rather than the eventually warring, fully nuclear-armed independent countries of today.

The early twentieth century was a depressing time for the Muslim world, especially after the defragmentation of the Ottoman empire. The Caliphate was essentially the political power source for Muslims, a government run according to the principles of Islam. The Caliph was the Caliphate’s political and religious figurehead and also the leader of the entire Muslim community, regardless of nationality. This position had previously been occupied by the Ottoman Sultan since the start of the Ottoman Empire but after the last Sultan’s exile in 1922, it ceased to exist. The Caliphate had crumbled and the Muslims were faced with a sudden awareness of their isolation in world affairs. They no longer held major influence on the global stage and they no longer had a leader.

For Pakistani Muslims, Jinnah provided a safe haven. In an independent country, they no longer had to worry about possible clashes with a fundamentally different faith (something which is a sadly common occurrence in present-day India). He was creating the promise of a revival of Muslim power by providing a rallying point. Even though the idea of Pakistan is far from the glory of the Islamic empire of old, it might be considered by many to be a hope for the future.

I believe Jinnah is a man underestimated in the past and underappreciated in the present. His dream was not the Pakistan of today, but a Pakistan which has yet to materialize. It is very easy for current day native historians to see the events around them and direct their bitter criticism towards Jinnah. However, as of 2015, Pakistan is only sixty eight years old and as of yet, a fairly young nation. It is quite possible the Pakistan which Jinnah envisioned has yet to come and in the future, historians may speak of its founder favourably and with newer understanding of his actions. Until then however, the name of ‘Quaid-e-Azam’ continues to be a source of comfort and hope for modern day Pakistanis who constantly find themselves disillusioned with the state of their nation.

Written by Aneesa Yasin


Kapil Komereddi, “Why Pakistan’s Mohammad Ali Jinnah was no Nelson Mandela.” http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/04/07/why-pakistan-s-mohammed-ali-jinnah-was-no-nelson-mandela.html (accessed on 14/10/15)

[2] Taken from the Founding Statement of the All-India Muslim League, 1906.

[3] Ajaz Ashraf, “Why did Nathuram Godse kill Mahatma Gandhi?http://qz.com/318647/why-did-nathuram-godse-kill-mahatma-gandhi/ Dec 29, 2014 (accessed on 14/10/15).

[4] Mahatma Gandhi. The India Of My Dreams.  Rajpal & Sons. 1 Dec. 2008. Preface to First Edition.

[5] Cited in Ainslie T. Embree

[6] Puckle, Frederick. “The Gandhi-Jinnah Conversations”, Foreign Affairs, January 1945 Issue. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/india/1945-01-01/gandhi-jinnah-conversations