Is Jinnah more relevant to the protesting Indians than Gandhi?

Shahab Riazi
5 min readDec 31, 2019

The Indian BJP (Bharatya Janata Party), which is the ruling party in the Indian Central Government, recently added a religious test to its citizenship act through an amendment to the said act targeting Muslim migrants to India. The clamor that ensued among the cultural and literary elites along with the political opposition was in need of a whipping horse to become a united uproar of the collective Indian conscience: Enter Jinnah!

To an Indian, Jinnah is the perfect embodiment of one of their own that they love to hate. Seventy years after his demise, Jinnah evokes a detestation that simply cannot be matched in intensity by an invocation of the Indian Constitution’s preamble or hearkening of the the Gandhi-Nehru vision of a secular India to exhort people to action. It is the easiest and the laziest form of a rallying cry to draw the lowest common denominator targeting a fusing of purpose and goal, political or otherwise, among Indians today.

What was, and perhaps continues to remain, true for Pakistanis today, is now true for a large portion of Indians on both sides of the Hindutva divide. Today’s Indian needs a Pakistan to hold up its own identity, a charge usually placed on the doorstep of the Pakistanis in the past. The chiding that Pakistanis had to endure about being more “Not Indians” than “Pakistanis” has now come back to haunt the Indian thought. Today, the exhortations are about how “India is becoming a Pakistan,” and how, “We (the Indians) are not Pakistanis!”

There are those from among BJP, chief purveyor of the Hindutva ideology, who claim to understand Jinnah (Jaswant Singh is one example who wrote a book on Jinnah) but remain committed to seeing Jinnah from the prism of their own political point of view. This is not to say that Congress and the left made any attempt to understand Jinnah without first cleansing the paper that they wrote on by waxing eloquently about the sainthood of Gandhi and to a lesser extent, Nehru.

If either of them had approached the attempt to listen to Mr. Jinnah’s words without coloring it first with their own biases, they may have been able to arrive at more varied and nuanced conclusions.

What the new generation of political and cultural elite in India misses out on is how Jinnah had very little to bank on other than his legal training and background. He took charge of a divided Muslim polity, a semi-educated religiously inclined cabal of Muslim leaders in ulema, and a divided Muslim League where no one regional leadership was more at odds with the other than its own local political opponents. The leadership of Muslim League in Punjab and Bengal, two of the biggest Muslim League chapters with the biggest Muslim populations, was in open revolt against Jinnah and his Central committee. Jinnah’s political opponents and the British Administration in India were well aware of that and exploited it every chance they got while negotiating with Jinnah. Jinnah’s inability to respond effectively and politically to those challenges made him more reliant on his legalese and arguments that would stand much more in a courtroom as opposed to the court of public opinion, for his cause of preserving the interests of Muslims in India.

Notwithstanding Jinnah’s legal arguments for Pakistan, what the Indian reader in general would do well to read up on are some of Jinnah’s pronouncements about the future of Pakistan and India, even before partition in the heat of the fight for it.

Kuldip Nayyar, in his book, “On Heroes and Icons” quotes Jinnah in an interaction he had with him in Lahore before partition. Kuldip, who was a student in Lahore, inquired about the reaction of the potential Pakistani state should India face an attack from a third country. Jinnah responded by saying that Pakistani soldiers would fight the invader with their Indian counterparts, shoulder to shoulder. Kuldip went on to mention that had the Pakistani state helped India in 1962 against China (Pakistan stayed largely neutral), India and Pakistan may have followed a different trajectory in their relations.

Another place where Jinnah’s legal mind appears to be working towards the preservation of the Indian Union is the so called Pakistan Resolution of 1940. The resolution which was a document credited with verbalizing the demand for a separate nation eerily was devoid of any mention of the word “Pakistan.” It also envisioned a “Constitution,” in singular for India as opposed to multiple constitutions for separate entities.

Jinnah was raising the volume of his political pronouncements in public while arguing entirely on legal basis when negotiating with the leaders of Congress and the British Administration. He was busy building what is known as the Offer-Concession strategy, a term used by lawyers when negotiating on behalf of their clients with opposing counsels. Pakistan was supposed to be the concession offer to the Congress had they agreed to Jinnah’s points about the structure of the Federation of India. His hope clearly appears to be to save a “confederation” of India. His support of Cabinet mission plan until late in 1946, in the face of opposition from several wings of his own party, the Muslim League as well as his erstwhile colleagues, was another signal of his strong feelings for India.

Indian liberals and people protesting today against Hindutva inspired CAA will find much more in common with Jinnah, if they bother looking, than with Gandhi. Gandhi’s introduction of religious symbolism and language is more in line with some of the tactics employed by Indian Muslim Community leaders and the BJP extremists today. Congress party went on to use the same religion card overtly under Indira and Rajiv Gandhi paving the way for BJP’s saffron Brigade. It was what the Congress had inherited that they eventually went back to, notwithstanding their brandishing of the “Secular” card every step of the way. Jinnah as a last measure had agreed to a separate but united Bengal and offered a Carte Blanche to the Sikh leadership of Punjab that they refused. All of this was to avoid bloodshed in both these places. Nehru vetoed the united Bengal move and wooed the Sikh leadership to jettison Jinnah’s final attempt at avoiding the bloodletting that occurred in 1947.

In all his maneuvers, Jinnah comes across as a lawyer wheeling and dealing to get to the best possible scenario for his client. To that end, he presents arguments, makes a case and then shows his willingness to negotiate. It is clear that there came a point when Congress started viewing Muslims a liability and almost greased the rails for the League to drive towards no other end but Pakistan.

Considering these and many other points, the India that stands up against CAA and BJP government’s moves should be able to see that s/he has more in common with Jinnah, who fought the “maximum” demand from his constituency all the way. Jinnah is not the “Raavan” to be villainized. He is the sad vanquished Indian who referred to himself as an Indian, first, second and last.



Shahab Riazi

Shahab Riazi is a resident of silicon valley with a love-hate relationship with tech! He is married to a loving indulgent wife and spoils 3 kids at her expense!