Sunday, January 1, 2012

Was Jinnah democratic ? - I

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

As a people we are incapable of assuming responsibility for our actions. How unfortunate is the man who is credited with founding of Pakistan, for time and again, blame is laid at his door for the mess we have made of this country.

A leading journalist, who is one of the finest journalists in my opinion, recently levelled four accusations at Jinnah, which he described as the reason Pakistani democracy has not flourished. First, that Jinnah chose to be the Governor-General instead of prime minister; second, that he concentrated power in his own hands; third, that he dismissed the NWFP [now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa] Assembly; and fourth, that Jinnah chose Urdu as the ‘national’ language. These were contrasted with Nehru in India. The problem is that all four of these accusations are strawman fallacies at best, and I will show how in the next few articles that will be dedicated to this topic. In this part, I will address the issue of his decision to become the Governor-General. In the next, I will address the issue of the dismissal of the NWFP ministry versus the repeated use of Section 93 powers by Nehru. Last but not least, I will address the language issue.

The reason why Jinnah chose to be Governor-General instead of prime minister is plain enough. The Times of London wrote in its editorial of July 11, 1947: “Yet those who will be called to rule Pakistan may hold that relatively undeveloped qualities that make up much of its territory must be guided by a governor general capable of exercising the functions of higher control and co-ordination which formerly vested in a Canning or a Curzon.” The powers Jinnah enjoyed were far less than those enjoyed by either Canning or Curzon, mind you, and when compared to, say, powers vested in and assumed by President Abraham Lincoln in the aftermath of the civil war, Jinnah’s powers were toothless.

Even Lord Mountbatten, who never made any effort to hide his ambitions, had more power as Governor-General than Jinnah. Mountbatten was handed — allegedly — a blank piece of paper by Nehru for cabinet selection. Mountbatten presided over not just every major decision of the Indian government but he even commanded and directed the Indian troops in Kashmir. This was far beyond the powers Jinnah had.

As a student of law and constitution, I must state here that in the empire’s history, a powerful politician like Jinnah taking over as the first Governor-General of a self-governing dominion is the norm and not the exception. Lord Elgin and Lord Dufferin were two such political Governors-General, both instrumental in the formative phase of Canada. Ireland’s first Governor-General of the Dominion was an active party politician (Jinnah on the other hand had resigned from the presidency of the Muslim League soon after independence stating that he could not as Governor-General remain at the head of an avowedly communal organisation). So if Jinnah is to be called autocratic, then from Bismarck to Lincoln and Roosevelt, every Dominion Governor-General was autocratic, including India’s first Governor-General.

So why did Nehru choose to become prime minister instead of Governor-General? Important as Nehru was, he was just one party leader and at best a stalwart amongst at least three others. There was no question of Congress forwarding Nehru’s name for the Governor-General given that he was not a neutral arbiter for the various party factions. He had a major rival in Patel and his position in the Indian pantheon was by no means as absolute as Jinnah’s. Jinnah was — as Nehru wrote in his book, Discovery of India — the only Muslim League politician of noted ability, and entirely without the lure of office. Nehru’s role in India was to be that of a respected party politician and not that of an impartial arbiter that Jinnah’s followers expected.

There are many myths that are woven around Jinnah’s period as Governor-General of Pakistan, one of which was forwarded by Campbell Johnson who inaccurately claimed in his book Mission With Mountbatten that Jinnah applied for powers under the Ninth Schedule of the Government of India Act 1935 (GOIA 1935). It was the Ninth Schedule of the GOIA 1935 that strengthened the Governor-General and gave him powers to ensure passage of bills in a form that had been recommended by the Governor-General. From July 19, 1947 onwards, the Ninth Schedule was no longer available.

A constitutional point of divergence between the Dominion of Pakistan and the Dominion of India was Section 93, which empowered the Governor-General to dismiss provincial legislatures. It was Pakistan that omitted Section 93 and India that adopted it. Therefore, the Pakistani Governor-General could not, in contrast to the Indian Governor-General, dismiss a legislature. This is very relevant in the context of the Khan Ministry dismissal, for that dismissal was not the dissolution of a legislature but simply constitutional manoeuvring. The governor of NWFP, after concluding that Dr Khan Sahib no longer commanded the confidence of the House, invited Abdul Qayyum Khan to form the government, which he did. After this, the House was prorogued and reconvened when Qayyum had established a majority before the budget session. Technicality? Perhaps. However, the Canadian Governor-General as late as December 2008 used the same constitutional device to save Prime Minister Harper’s government and no one accused her of being undemocratic.

(To be continued)

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