Did Jinnah want Pakistan?

Since the publication of Ayesha Jalal’s The Sole Spokesman (1985), conventional wisdom has been that Muhammad Ali Jinnah wanted to use Pakistan as a bargaining counter to get a better deal for Indian Muslims and the Muslim League in a united India. According to Ms. Jalal, this strategy backfired because Jinnah overplayed his hand. In the final phase, she says, “It was Congress that insisted on Partition. It was Jinnah who was against Partition.”

Venkat Dhulipala challenged this view in his book Creating a New Medina (2015). He quotes Jinnah declaring several times, beginning 1941, that he was willing to sacrifice the minority provinces’ three crore Muslims to “liberate” the six crore in the majority provinces. Mr. Dhulipala attributes such statements to a carefully crafted policy by Jinnah to create an independent state that he calls a “New Medina”.

There is truth in both these assertions. Jinnah was probably not interested in a completely independent Pakistan. He used the religious imagery of the “New Medina” to garner popular support in the Muslim-minority provinces, especially Uttar Pradesh. He needed this support desperately because he had no base in the Muslim-majority provinces.

The North-West Frontier Province had a Congress Ministry and the Muslim leaders in Punjab and Bengal, the two largest Muslim-majority provinces, were averse to Jinnah’s interference in their provincial affairs. They were more interested in forming coalitions with their Hindu and Sikh colleagues than creating a separate state that would divide their provinces and subject them to Jinnah’s diktats.

For Jinnah, the best option was the creation of a loose federation consisting of two autonomous entities, Hindustan and Pakistan, that would have parity with each other at the federal level, with himself the undisputed leader of Pakistan. This is why the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946, which envisaged groups of provinces on the basis of religious majorities and a weak Centre, appealed to him.

Jawaharlal Nehru torpedoed the plan, perhaps deliberately. The subsequent decision by Nehru and Sardar Patel that Partition was the lesser evil when compared to a weak Centre put paid to Jinnah’s ambition of dealing with the Congress leadership based on parity in a loosely federated India. Jinnah was left, in his own words, with a “mutilated, moth-eaten” Pakistan by the Congress’s insistence that Bengal and Punjab be divided simultaneously with the partition of the country. Jinnah was driven above all by the pursuit of personal power which he could not achieve in a centralised Indian state. Mahatma Gandhi suggested on the eve of Partition that Jinnah be made Prime Minister of a united India with the power to choose his Cabinet. Had the Congress leadership not rejected this proposal, it could have acted as a litmus test to assess Jinnah’s real intentions.

The writer is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2020 11:31:29 PM |

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