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The great pleader for a Muslim state - Time

Carl Posey ()
23 December 1997

Title : The great pleader for a Muslim state
Author : Carl Posey
Publication : Time
Date : December 23, 1997

When the stood up in court, slowly looking toward the judge,
placing his monocle in his eye-with the sense of timing you would
expect from an actor-he became omnipotent. Yes, that is the word
omnipotent." Thus an Indian barrister upon his remarkable and
enigmatic subject, Mohammed All Jinnah. Courtroom omnipotence may
have brought the Bombay lawyer wealth and comfort, but Jinnah's
portal to immortality lay elsewhere. By sheer force of with, he
sundered the grand ruby that had been British India and raised
Pakistan from the shards.

Nothing in Jinnah's early history suggested that this tall, almost
transparently thin man would be anything more, or less, than a
distinguished barrister, what a contemporary called a great
pleader. Jinnah spent most of his life stalking the courts and
parliament of London and Bombay, almost a caricature of a Victorian
attorney-1.9 m tall, less than 54 kg in weight, a monocle, fine
clothing and, an extraordinary, very British voice, of such quality
that he was once offered a spot with a troupe of English actors.

A marvelous subject for Charles Dickens, perhaps, who might have
observed that the heart was no fatter than the man, and that the
man was as incorruptible as a strip of desiccated hide. Jinnah was
not particularly religious, at least not in the beginning. Yet he
would finally be reviled by Hindus as the Muslim serpent in the
garden of independence-and revered by Muslims as Qaid-e-Azam: Great
Leader.

Among the many paradoxical myths still swirling around Jinnah was
that he had been born a Hindu, on Christmas Day 1876, and later
converted to Islam. In fact, he was the first of seven children of
Jinnahbhai Poonja, an affluent merchant in Karachi; the son would
later derive his surname from Jinnahbhai. After matriculating at
the University of Bombay, 16-year-old Jinnah was married off to a
young girl, then sailed alone to study for the bar at London's
Lincoln's Inn. His bride would die before he returned.

This was the liberal, end-of-the-century Britain of William
Gladstone, however, and Jinnah's political glands began to stir.
>From the outset he was a frequent visitor to Parliament, and he
worked hard for India pioneer nationalist Dadabhai Naoroji, who in
1892 became the first Indian seated in the House of Commons.
Called to the English bar in 1 8 95, Jinnah returned to Karachi.
Appointed advocate of the Bombay High Court in 1906, he was,
according to one account, "the best showman of them all. Quick,
exceeding clever, sarcastic, and colorful ' his greatest delight
was to confound the opposing lawyer by confidential asides and to
outwit the presiding judge in repartee."

Like the other lawyer-nationalists fencing with the British Raj,
Jinnah believed fervently in an independent India; and like them,
he saw that independence as a secular mosaic in which a Hindu
majority and Muslim minority-a huge one, to be sure-lived in amity
and equity. Though not a man of the masses, he was elected in 1910
to India's Imperil Legislative Council, where he began a long,
distinguished tenure. He kept himself apart from the nascent
All-India Muslim League until he was assured that Indian
nationalism was its primary concern. Once in, he became what one
colleague called the "best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity." At
the historic Lucknow meeting of the Indian National Congress and
Muslim League in 1916, his speeches for unity were so strong as
later to be an embarrassment to the Muslim League.

Soon after Lucknow, the 39-year-old barrister met and fell
hopelessly in love with Ruttie, the beautiful 16-year-old daughter
of Parsi millionaire Sir Dinshaw Manockjee Petit. Two years later,
deaf to her family's objections, the pair eloped into a marriage
that turned out to be as had as it was brave. Ruttie would give
him one daughter, Dina, but leave him in 1928, fleeing to Paris.
When he followed and learned she was deathly ill, he arranged her
care. She recovered, but returned without him to Bombay, where she
died the following year. He would be consoled then, and forever
after, by his sister, Fatima.

Something curdled in Jinnah during those years. Gandhi's policy of
noncooperation repelled him. Believing it would not advance
independence, he left the Indian Congress. The man of the hour at
Lucknow was becoming steadily less relevant. From the sidelines he
watched Gandhi's noncooperation fail against a hard-willed British
Raj, and the emergence of a militant Hinduism and ensuing riots
between Hindus and Muslims-riots of a violence no one had foreseen.
By 1932 Jinnah had abandoned India to its factions. He took up a
quiet life in north London's posh Hampstead district with daughter
Dina and sister Fatima, and made another grand success in law.

His political life appeared to be over. Attempting to find a seat
in the Commons, he found he was too much the toff for Labour, too
dark for the Tories. At home the enfeebled Muslim League was
splintering into factions. When Jinnah heard that students were
pushing something called PAKSTAN-an acronym made of the initial
letters of Punjab, Afghan province, Kashmir and Sind and tan from
Baluchistan-he would not even see them.

Yet when the Muslim League asked him to return and heal them,
Jinnah moved his elegant practice and life-style back to Bombay and
Delhi. By then he was quite a different man from the reasonable,
unity minded Jinnah of old. This Jinnah had discovered in the
Congress Party's dismissive treatment of the league the one thing
worse than British rule: Hindu Raj. Islam, he began to caution his
auditors, was in danger. Nehru would wipe away wealth with the "red
pen" of his socialism. Islamic culture would be diluted to
extinction in a Hindu sea.

Jinnah remained the Muslim who eschewed the Mosque, smoked and
partook of wine and spirits; who made no pilgrimages and endured no
fasts. But the snob described by Nehru had vanished. He embraced
the masses, though a trifle gingerly and without perceptible
warmth, bringing them along with the sheer force of his oratorical
technique. He breathed life back into the league-indeed, he had
become the league. On Oct. 15, 1937, Jinnah signaled his real
destination at a league convention in Lucknow. He had arrived
there in the costume of a British barrister. But when he took the
podium, it was in the Muslims' long, black sherwani, and a black
Persian lamb cap borrowed from a Muslim nabob. Then he told the
assembly that they held a "magic power" with which they could spin
a new and better future. "It is by resisting, by overcoming, by
facing these disadvantages, hardships and suffering, and
maintaining your true convictions and loyalty, that a nation will
emerge."

His opportunity arrived in September 1939, when it became clear
that Britain would be fighting for its life in Europe-and later for
its Asian empire against the Japanese. The British Indian Army
counted many Muslims among its members. As their political leader,
Jinnah could bargain with their continued loyalty. The price:
dismissal of the Congress Party ministers. "Turn them out at
once," one writer quotes Jinnah as saying. "They will never stand
by you." And he also hinted at a terrible choice: partition or
civil war. In October, unable to get what they wanted from the
British viceroy, Congress ministers began to resign. The
unexpected result-to everyone but Jinnah-was to make the league a
full member of all future negotiations, and to hand Jinnah a veto.
Muslims, he told his 80 million, would celebrate the fall of the
Congress government as "a day of deliverance and thanksgiving" on
Dec. 22. India trembled with fear and loathing.

On March 23, 1940, a Muslim League conference in Lahore defined the
ethnic fault lines of the subcontinent. "The areas in which the
Muslims are numerically in a majority, as in the North-Western and
Eastern zones of India, should be grouped to constitute
'Independent States' in which the constituent units shall be
autonomous and sovereign." Away from the negotiating table,
however, the mood had been less formal. "The only course open to
us all is to allow the major nations to separate to their
homelands," Jinnah told 100,000 followers gathered in the killing
heat. A permanent Muslim minority in independent India, he added,
"must lead to civil war and the raising of private armies." The
fuse laid that day would sputter for seven more years.

Another fuse sizzled within. Behind what he had for decades called
just a smoker's cough lived a fatal tuberculosis, which had long
ago begun gnawing its way beyond his ruined lungs. It was a race.
If his body ran anything less than a dead heat, he would die, and
so would Pakistan. His new nation was just that fragile.

Jinnah lived long enough to see what he had created-a bath of blood
between Hindus and Muslims. The Dominion of Pakistan was born on
Aug. 15, 1947, and the Qaid-e-Azam became its first Governor
General in the capital of Karachi. His new nation was huge, and
hugely poor. He survived long enough to be aware, perhaps, that
the separatist forces unleashed by partition had propelled Hindu
assassins to Gandhi's side that January. And then, on Sept. 11,
1948, just 13 months after independence, the tuberculosis fuse
burned down to nothing. On his death bed, according to his doctor,
Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the wealthy lawyer of Bombay, rendered his
final judgement on his signal achievement: Pakistan, he said, had
been "the biggest blunder of my life."



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