Page last updated at 14:12 GMT, Tuesday, 7 June 2005 15:12 UK

How Indians see Jinnah

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Delhi

To most Indians, Mohammed Ali Jinnah was the architect of the bloody partition of the country on communal lines in 1947.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah
Jinnah - a 'minor conspiratorial figure' to many Indians
So when the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader LK Advani praised the founder of Pakistan as a "secular" leader during his recent trip to the country, it raised the hackles of his fellow Hindu nationalists and the ruling Congress party alike.

A hardline Hindu leader even accused Mr Advani of treason for praising Mr Jinnah - "Mr Jinnah was a traitor, is a traitor and will remain a traitor and a person glorifying him is also a traitor," screamed Praveen Togadia of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP).

India's grand old party, the Congress, joined issue saying that the secularism of India's freedom movement could not be compared with that of Mr Jinnah's - "It is truly ironic and astounding that Mr Advani considers Mr Jinnah secular," said party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi.

Incensed by the row over his encomiums for Mr Jinnah, Mr Advani has now handed in an offer to resign as leader of his party.

At the root of the antipathy towards Mr Jinnah, who is fondly called Quaid-e-Azam (Great Leader) in Pakistan, is a general reluctance among many Indians to come to terms with the founder of Pakistan and his country.

It has been only a little over a year since the two nuclear-armed neighbours have embarked on a peace process after fighting three wars since Independence.

'Minor figure'

"The dominant Indian historical narrative is that Mr Jinnah was a minor conspiratorial figure who aligned with the British to bring about partition. We simply do not want to accept him as a significant historical figure," says political philosopher Pratap Bhanu Mehta.

In most popular Indian accounts of the freedom struggle, Mr Jinnah's role is overshadowed by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.

Jinnah is considered the architect of the partition of India
Jinnah is considered the architect of the partition of India

Mr Jinnah is painted as an obstinate villain of the piece, while Mr Gandhi and Mr Nehru are praised as the true leaders.

"Jinnah has either been ignored or, as in the case of the hugely successful film Gandhi, portrayed as a cold megalomaniac, bent on the bloody partition of India," says historian Akbar Ahmed, writing in his book Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity.

The truth is more complex - something many Indians still do not accept.

After joining the Muslim League in 1913, Mr Jinnah, a natty westernised Muslim with Victorian manners, showed himself as a true liberal who believed in education, rationality, equality of law and democracy.

For the first two decades of his political life, he was seen as a secular politician.

From 1925, he moved away from the Congress after differences with Mahatma Gandhi over his strategies to gain freedom.

Much later, in 1940, he announced the demand for a separate homeland for Muslims.

Secular vision

British historian Patrick French believes that Mr Jinnah "remained a secularist of sorts until his death, but also at times he was willing to use communal antagonism in a strategic way".

After the partition, Mr Jinnah envisaged a secular, liberal and democratic nation serving the needs of the Muslims, says Mr French.

LK Advani after laying a wreath at Jinnah's mausoleum
Mr Advani after laying a wreath at Jinnah's mausoleum

"His vision of Pakistan was that it would be a homeland from which Muslims could come and go at leisure. He never wanted it to become a theocratic state, and hoped that it would co-exist in harmony with India," Mr French has said.

But Mr Jinnah also confounded liberals after taking over as the ruler of newly independent Pakistan.

He declared Urdu as the national language of Pakistan riding roughshod over the aspirations of the Bengali speaking people in the populous eastern part of the country (which itself separated in 1971 and became Bangladesh).

He also backed the tribal invasion of Kashmir in 1947, which led to the first war over the region.

"Jinnah was a liberal of the pre-Gandhian variety. He was a never a very democratic mass politician," says analyst Mahesh Rangarajan.

At the root of the popular Indian historical narrative of Mr Jinnah as the villain of partition is also the belief that the man and his party - Muslim League - were solely responsible for the division of the subcontinent.

What is conveniently forgotten is the British policy of divide and rule and exploiting communal schisms. In addition, the last viceroy Lord Mountbatten has been accused of speeding up independence at the cost of unity.

Many Indians also believe that intransigent Islam alone was responsible for the breaking up of India.

What is again forgotten that most Muslim theologians did not support division.

Muslim scholar Maulana Azad opposed partition and Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani did not support Mr Jinnah's 'two-nation' theory along religious lines.

"The separatist movement was finally led by a westernised leader like Mr Jinnah. Thus politics, not religion was responsible for partition," says Indian historian Asghar Ali Engineer.

"It is true that Mr Jinnah spearheaded the movement and he articulated the aspirations of the Muslim elite, specially of the Muslim minority areas," says Mr Engineer.


Some commentators believe that Mr Advani's endorsement of Mr Jinnah has more to do with his own political ambitions of becoming a truly acceptance pan-Indian leader and an obsession to leave behind a legacy.

In a way, the 77-year-old leader was trying to do what former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has done rather successfully in the past - appealing to the non-Hindu nationalist constituency.

"But it is going to be more difficult for Mr Advani. He can't simply walk away from his past," says Mahesh Rangarajan.

Mr Rangarajan is referring to communal riots in India after Mr Advani's rathyatra (motorised chariot) journey in the early 1990's to whip up support for a temple at Ayodhya that culminated in the destruction of the Babri mosque there.

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