The Sole Spokesman

…Ayesha Jalal’s take on Jinnah & the partition

Dr. Javid Iqbal
Srinagar, Publish Date: Oct 20 2017 10:27PM | Updated Date: Oct 20 2017 10:27PM
The Sole SpokesmanFile Photo

Ayesha Jalal is a famed Pakistani writer, a compiler of the country’s history and political evolvement. She carries the advantage of teaching and researching in American academia. Her take on Jinnah and partition expounded in her book—The Sole Spokesman forms an interesting proposition. In her take, Jinnah was the sole spokesman of subcontinental Muslims, voicing their concerns on their fate in British Raj and in what would follow-the successor state. The historical question remains—whether he wanted a single successor state to accommodate and address Muslim concerns or a separate domain for Muslims? Apart from Ayesha Jalal other authors of repute, such as Stanley Wolpert, Jaswant Singh and Delhi academician—Ajit Javed have explored the subject, reaching more or less identical conclusions. Ayesha Jalal’s take stands out, as the study is in depth and perhaps the single most influential academic work on the dynamics of the Pakistan movement and the role played by Jinnah in it. Ms. Jalal’s follow-up work--Self and Sovereignty broaches the subject further, making it a comprehensive academic take on the subject

In an elaborate talk with a Pakistani academic—Ali Usman Qasmi, Ayesha Jalal elaborates her take. She asserts that, ‘’Jinnah did not want Partition; in case people have forgotten that. Similarly, when the United Bengal plan was floated, Jinnah said it was better that Bengal remained united.’’ Asked, what has given ‘The Sole Spokesman’ enduring appeal and an extended shelf life in an age where the shelf life of an academic book is very short, Jalal replied that, ‘’I did have a bit of luck in the sense that I started my research at a time when the documents [cited in the book] had just come out. Mine was among the first takes on those documents. It also went against the grain of commonplace views of Partition.’’ She adds, ‘’the fact that the book was well-documented has played a role in giving it the shelf life it has had. The Sole Spokesman has become a kind of academic orthodoxy - even if you don't agree with it, you have to look at it.’’

Qualifying the image of Jinnah—a secular leader even when the Pakistan moment had Islamic overtones or an Islamist wanting to establish an Islamic state, Jalal relates, Pakistan was a political movement. In support of her contention, she quotes Jinnah telling Nawab Bahadur Yar Jung that the Constitution of Pakistan would be what the representatives of the people wanted, what the people of Pakistan wanted. Nawab was trying to commit Jinnah to an Islamic state. She qualified her note with what she says she has often stated, ‘’what I have said many times is that there is too much made of the history Jinnah made and too little of the context that made Jinnah. He operated within the context of Muslims in India being a [religious] category, even though they were not united or organized.’’ Asked whether Jinnah transformed a minority into a qaum, a nation, Jalal replied, ‘’Well, discursively, yes. And he wanted to do much more. Jinnah was from a province where Muslims were in a minority. He wanted to use the power of the areas where the Muslims were a majority to create a shield of protection for where they were in a minority. The possibility that the areas that became Pakistan would offer a kind of protection for Muslims living in areas which have remained in India was not acceptable to the Congress. It was easier for them to partition the subcontinent and let these areas go.’’

What Ayesha Jalal’s emphasis is based on perhaps relates to Muslim League’s acceptance of cabinet mission plan, wherein northwestern and northeastern Muslim majority corridors were placed in group ‘B’ and ‘C’ while as the bulk of Indian mainland with predominant Hindu majority remaining as group ‘A’. The groups of states would then combine in a loose federal set-up. This was the set-up devised in consultation with Pethick Lawrence led British cabinet mission which included Sir Safford Cripps and AV Alexander. Jinnah’s acceptance of the plan, as Ms. Jalal points out was to use the political weightage of Muslim majority areas to ensure protection of minority pockets in Hindu majority Indian mainland. Over a period of time Jinnah had to contend with leadership of Muslim majority provinces, such as Sir Sikander Hyat Khan led unionist party of Punjab. In Bengal Fazl-ul-Haq Choudhry led a separate political set-up. The provincial leadership did not share Jinnah’s all India vision of safeguarding Muslim interests, with adequate safeguards for minority pockets and proportionate power sharing in the federal set-up. It was only after Jinnah’s popularity spread among Muslim masses across India that leaders like Sir Sikander and Fazl-ul-Haq fell in line.

Ayesha Jalal says as much, ‘’There were two steps in Jinnah's strategy. The first was the consolidation of Muslim majority areas behind the All-India Muslim League and then to use undivided Punjab and Bengal as a weight to negotiate an arrangement for all the Muslims at an all– India level, but the Congress had Punjab and Bengal partitioned to frustrate the first element of his strategy.’’ Jalal is emphatic that Jinnah did not want Partition; he wanted Bengal to stay united while relating, ‘’what was Bengal without Calcutta? It was like asking a man to live without his heart.  So, we ended up with a mutilated Pakistan that Jinnah had rejected out of hand.’’

What Ayesha Jalal points to finds an echo in much of recent academic assessments of Jinnah and his political campaign.

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]