Each portrait tells a story. A portrait, behind its contours, contains a persona that inspires, stimulates and motivates the beholders to emulate the ideals and ideologies that the former represents. The portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah hanging on the walls of the Students Union office in the Aligarh Muslim University, similarly, hides many stories behind the dust of time gathered around it that contains a different message to different people.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah is not just another figure lying in the debris of the history but is a cruel perpetrator of the past who caused the dismemberment of India in order to create a separate nation on religious line. He gave political expression to a dangerous and dysfunctional “two nation theory”, which was long being propagated in-principle by the likes of Md Iqbal and Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan. Finally, through his unfathomable obstinacy and persistence, he became successful in creating the theocratic state of Pakistan but not before programming a madness in which nearly 2 million were killed and 14 million were displaced permanently for no fault of their own. Those who lived behind, untouched with the ravages of death or displacement, got a permanent scar on their psyche and a pathological divide in their hearts.
While to the Hindus, Jinnah represents a treacherous villain piercing a dagger of religion in the body-mass of India to fork it into two, to some of the Muslims he comes across as the greatest leader, the undisputed Quaid-i-Azam who pulled off a valiant coup on the belligerent Hindus led by an ‘obstructionist’ Gandhi to create Pakistan for the ummah, an act of alliance comparable to none other than the Rashidun caliphs, who expanded the reach of Islam immediately after the Prophet’s death.
But Jinnah was not like that, and at least till 1936, he wasn’t a Muslim bigot. Jinnah was a free spirit caged within a Muslim body. Born an Ismaili Shia, Jinnah was as much a Muslim as Jawaharlal Nehru was a Hindu. With a cigar, wine, western clothes and British mannerism he wasn’t someone who fits the bill of a Jihadi fighter struggling in the way of Allah for establishing an Islamic state for his followers. He never entertained the obscurantism of Islam or its fanatic traditions.
So, how did suddenly Jinnah becomes fanatic? What makes him fall to the notion of the partition of a country, in which he lived all through his life, on religious line? The answer lies in two factors.
The first factor that drew him to a separate Muslim state was the fear that the western democracy, as being adopted gradually in India, would be detrimental for the Muslims because of their small population. Constituting less than one-third of the total population, Jinnah believed the Muslim would ever remain outnumbered by Hindus in all policy decisions.
Though, the idea of a separate Islamic state within India was incubating slowly since the days of ideologues like Sir Saiyyad Ahmad Khan, this idea didn’t resonate well with Jinnah, who at best looked for extracting concessions for Muslims from the Congress leaders as well as the British for a bigger pie in the governance within a united India. However, the Government of India Act, 1935 providing ‘separate electorates’ for Muslims and the subsequent elections of 1937 proved disastrous for the political ambitions of Jinnah. Whereas the Congress was successful in making governments in 8 provinces across India, the Jinnah-led All India Muslim League (AIML) couldn’t form government anywhere including Punjab and Bengal, which were Muslim majority states. This exposed him to the realization that the provision of ‘Separate Electorate’ was not working to the benefit of Muslims.
Thus, the developments convinced him that electoral democracy would result into the permanent subjugation of Muslims by the Hindus – a hypothesis that has since been thoroughly and comprehensively defeated in India, which has largely remained successful in ensuring rights and dignity for the minorities over its 70 years of post-independence existence. The conclusion convinced him of the need and necessity of pitching a political demand for Pakistan.
The second factor was his close association with Muhammad Iqbal, the poet, politician and ideologue who is considered as the “Spiritual father of Pakistan” in the 1930’s till the latter’s death. Through his series of speeches and writings, Iqbal established that Islam had a “legal concept” which was anachronistic with the principles of nationalism or democracy as neither of the two can operate without dividing the community (umma).
During the period of political vacuum in the IUML, mainly due to the self-imposed exile of Jinnah from India in the first half of 1930’s, Iqbal theorized and successfully articulated, what was to be known later as ‘The Two Nation Theory’ — a political principle of religious exclusivism that holds Muslims as a distinct nation unable to co-exist with any other religious group or community, hence deserving political independence from the Hindus.
Having theorized such a blatant communalist principle, Iqbal set himself on the task of convincing Jinnah to come back to India and take up the leadership of the IUML, as he believed that the latter was the only Muslim in India who possessed the ability to lead the community and to make them join the League. With a series of intense and fruitful correspondences with Jinnah, Iqbal was successful in bringing the former back from London in 1936 to lead the IUML. Thus, appears Jinnah 2.0, thoroughly transformed and wholly steeped into the ideologies of Iqbal, whom he declared as his political mentor.
From 1937 through the World War II, Jinnah still looked hesitant to ask for partition and wanted to have some kind of rapprochement with the Indian National Congress. However, the subsequent political developments dashed all hopes of Jinnah and he got more and more drawn to the visions of Iqbal. Finally, convinced of the need of Pakistan, Jinnah formally brought up “Pakistan Resolution” for the creation of a Muslim state of Pakistan in its Lahore session of 1940 and the IUML adopted the same as its political goal henceforth.
The AMU had become the hotspot of Pakistan movement during this period as Jinnah made multiple visits to the institution all through this period. He was given a lifetime membership of its student union in 1938.
Thus, the vagaries of electoral democracy and the machinations of Muhammad Iqbal were the two factors that completed the transformation of a secular-liberal Jinnah 1.0 to his 2.0 avatar, which saw a communal, obstinate and villainous politician spewing venom against the ‘”Hindu” Gandhi and his Congress leaders while unashamedly talking of Pakistan in an uncompromising manner. That’s why the Indians, including a majority of Muslims who stayed behind rejecting his flawed theory, loathe him and find his portrait on an Indian university campus shocking.
However, from the Muslim perspective, Jinnah was a savior of Muslims from the ‘oppressive’ democracy that would have put them under the permanent subjugation of Hindus in an undivided India. He fought the British authorities as well as with the Hindu majority tooth and nail to carve out Pakistan. That’s why he is still the hero of a section of Indian Muslims who treat him as an Islamic victory conquering over the Hindu majoritarianism. The portrait hanging in the students’ Union office of the AMU is the portrait of Jinnah 2.0 which still finds space in the current Indian political environment.
Thus, Jinnah is a moral leader of those Indian Muslims who look for a dominant political space for themselves in the 21st century India. The Jinnah portrait gives them the inspiration and assures them that it’s possible. The chant, ‘lad ke lenge azadi’ (we’ll achieve independence by force) has its source in that portrait.
Just because the Berlin wall was there since the 1960’s didn’t mean it couldn’t be demolished. Many such mistakes of the history have been rectified in course of time; hence the argument that the portrait is there since 1938 is not the reason d’être for its existence in the university. The portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah in the AMU’s student union’s office is nothing but the moral elixir of the aspirational Muslim youths looking for an Islamic icon in India through the leadership vacuum of modern times.
Thus, don’t expect the portrait to be taken down from AMU. No wonder, if you find it creeping up many other university walls in India in days to come.