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August 25, 1997


Farzana Versey

The other side of Jinnah

Mohammed Ali Jinnah The life of the man largely held responsible for the partition of the country has a touch of tragedy to it.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah almost appears like a naive knight in shining armor, blinded by the glitter of his position, rather than a visionary convinced of the soundness of his stand. His major flaw lay in the fact that he was the brash other voice while everyone else was the chorus.

It would be easy to say he was making political capital of the situation by using the minority issue as a shoulder from which to fire the gun, but that would an appalling generalisation.

Like many people in power who portray themselves as saviours, Jinnah was pawn in the hands of those he promised to free from the majority clutches. The distribution of leaflets bearing pictures of a sword-bearing, sherwani-clad Jinnah was clearly the handwork of a marketing genius. Jinnah, in a spirit of parody, played along, probably for a good laugh and certainly for a pat on the back.

It would, therefore, be unfair to hold him solely responsible for 600,000 deaths and the uprooting of 14 million people.

Even without referring to his taste in Scotch and sausages, one has to admit he was not Islamist. The concept of jihad was totally alien to him and, as Sardar Patel said, he was not a votary of mass movements. H M Seervai, in his book on the Partition, has raised in important issue: "It is a little unfortunate that those who assail Jinnah for destroying the unity of India do not ask how it was that a man who wanted a nationalist solution till as late as 1938, when he was 61 years of age, suddenly become a 'communalist'."

Why were over a hundred million Muslims willing to eat out of his palm? Because Jinnah reflected their fears, even as he spoke of intermarriage to promote communal harmony. Jinnah learned, as does every other politician, that human beings are easily excitable because they are inherently prejudiced.

Jinnah has been accused of being a megalomaniac, but so were most of the leaders of the time. They could not forget they were participants in an epoch-making event.

If he could maintain grace under pressure, at the height of the battle, he would have dealt with many other issues in a similar fashion. If fact, in 1946 he talked of having a metaphorical pistol in a world full of AK-47s and nuclear arsenal. The statement may have seem terribly outdated and stupid, but it gave a glimpse into an essentially principled man. That we may not agree with his principles is another matter.

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Farzana Versey