Prime Minister Modi finds it convenient to forget Jinnah's role in the Partition

PM Modi’s sense of history may be weak but his sense of political mischief is very strong. So, when he in Parliament blamed Nehru for Partition of the country, he did not even take his name

MA Jinnah with Mahatma Gandhi
MA Jinnah with Mahatma Gandhi

Arun Sharma

A mischievous claim has been often peddled around that the partition of India could have been prevented if Nehru and the Congress had accepted the proposal made by Gandhiji to Lord Mountbatten to offer Jinnah the option to form the first government of independent India and give up the demand for Pakistan.

Hinting at the motive for rejecting this proposal, Narendra Modi, in one of his lowliest lows, declared in Parliament on February 6, 2020: “Anyone can have the desire to become a prime minister. And no one can have any problem with it. But someone (implying Nehru) wanted to become prime minister, therefore a line was drawn on the map of India and the country was partitioned!”

Modi thus exonerated Jinnah and blamed Nehru for partition! This is malicious distortion of history. The facts are otherwise.

It is true that the Mahatma had made such a proposal to Lord Mountbatten, as he had to some other Viceroys too; but to claim these offers could have prevented partition of the country is to underestimate Jinnah’s resolve to see a separate nation created for Muslims and to underrate the shrewd negotiator in him.

Once hailed as the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity by no less a national leader than Gopal Krishna Gokhale, a mentor of Gandhi himself, Jinnah had parted ways with the Congress to build the Muslim League as the sole representative of the Muslims.

The reasons for Jinnah’s intransigence in coming to terms with the Congress are too complicated to be subjected to any single interpretation and are beyond the scope of this article. However, it is certain that Jinnah did not come to the decision to make the demand for Pakistan suddenly, one day in August 1947. He had pursued that aim at least for a decade before the fateful day of Partition.

It was one case, Jinnah’s biographer, Stanley Wolpert says, that the Barrister would burn out his life to win. The brilliant historian has traced the chain of negotiations, sourcing from the letters of Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah, that failed in forging unity between the Congress and the Muslim League and led to the final decision of the Quaid-i-Azam to demand a separate nation.

In its winter session at Lucknow in 1937, the Muslim League resolved to work toward “establishment in India of full independence in the form of federation of free democratic states in which the rights of Musalmaans and other minorities are safeguarded”.The Muslim League would very soon abandon that concession “in India” to demand an entirely separate nation.

In March 1938, Nehru wrote to Jinnah: “We are eager to do everything in our power to put an end to every misapprehension and to endeavour to solve any problem that comes in the way of our developing our public life along right lines and promoting the unity and progress of Indian people.” Nehru asked Jinnah to “let me know what exactly the points in dispute which require consideration are.”

Jinnah wrote back, “But do you think that this matter can be discussed, much less solved, by and through correspondence?” (Wolpert, Jinnah of Pakistan).

Jinnah was most reluctant to enter into a written debate. He would have nothing of the kind. To have made a common cause with the Congress would have been detrimental to the League’s interests. “To have agreed to swing his fragile craft (the League) round just as it was picking up speed”, says Wolpert, “would have been suicidal for Muslim League prospects.

Jinnah might easily have negotiated the concessions of a few in the Bombay and other provincial cabinets, but he would certainly have lost Pakistan in the process.” (ibid, page 158)

Jinnah insisted upon full recognition of his League as the “one authoritative” political body representing all Muslims. A non-League Muslim was like a red rag to a bull for him. He rejected Gandhi’s offer more than once to have a discussion with Maulana Azad of Congress, telling him, “I find that there is no change in your attitude and mentality when you say you would be guided by Maulana Azad.”

Jinnah refused to de-train at Wardha on his way back from Calcutta to Bombay for talks with Gandhi. So, Gandhi himself went to his residence at Malabar Hill in Bombay in late April 1938. But the Mahatma came out exhausted and depressed after a three-and-half hour meeting with Jinnah. He had lost his self-confidence, Gandhi wrote to Nehru and advised him to examine the proposals on merit. Nehru turned over the task to Bose, who had taken over as Congress President. Bose went to Bombay in May 1938 to discuss with Jinnah, but their talks achieved nothing.

In October 1938, at Karachi, Jinnah for the first time talked to his followers of “their national goal.” Two months later in December 1938,at Patna session, the League passed a resolution to resort to “direct action” to redress the grievances of Muslims, giving up the Constitutional approach. Jinnah called it a revolutionary departure from the past. During his conversation with Lord Linlithgow on 04 September 1939, Jinnah revealed to the viceroy that he now believed the only political solution for India “lay in partition.” (Ibid, page 171)

Finally, on 22 March 1940, Jinnah roared to an audience of nearly 1,00,000 in Lahore’s famous Minto (now Allama Iqbal) Park, mocking the Congress session held just two days before and quoting from Gandhi’s speech there:

“And this is now what Mr Gandhi said on 20 March. He says: ‘To me, Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, Harijans are all alike. I cannot be frivolous’- but I think he is frivolous- ‘I cannot be frivolous when I talk of Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah. He is my brother.’

“The only difference is this that my brother Gandhi has three votes while I have only one vote,” commented Jinnah acerbically...Then speaking to Gandhi, Jinnah added, “Why not come as a Hindu leader proudly representing your people and let me meet you proudly representing the Musalmaans? This is all that I have to say so far as the Congress is concerned. “(ibid, page 181)

The die had been finally cast. In Jinnah’s speech was something- his insistence that the Congress represent “your people”, the Hindus and the Muslim League represent “my people”, the Musalmaans- that would never let the twain meet. Jinnah further said, “If the British Government are really in earnest and sincere to secure the peace and happiness of the people of this Sub-continent, the only course open to us all is to allow the major nations(italics mine) separate homelands, by dividing India into “autonomous national states.” (Ibid, page 182)

Says Wolpert, “Jinnah’s Lahore address lowered the final curtain on any prospects for a single independent India. Those who understood him enough to know that once his mind was made up, he never reverted to any earlier position realised how momentous a pronouncement the Quaid-iAzam had just made. The rest of the world would take at least seven years to appreciate that he literally meant every word he had uttered that important afternoon in March. There was no turning back. The ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity had totally transformed into Pakistan’s Quaid-iAzam.” (ibid, page 182)

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