Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Jinnah's Nationality and Oath

Truth be told, the MQM chief Altaf Hussain’s much anticipated drone attack landed on the xenophobia and narrow-mindedness of Pakistanis. Every anti-MQM politician rushed in to defend the honour of the Quaid-e-Azam after feeling slighted that Altaf Hussain had claimed that Jinnah was a subject of the British crown and as Governor-General had taken the oath of allegiance to the crown.
The discussion that ensued was as amusing as it was downright ignorant. Tarek Fatah, a self- styled Jinnah-basher, came up with the claim that unlike Jinnah, India’s Prime Minister Nehru had not taken allegiance to the crown, which was as baseless an assertion as by those on our right wing crying foul over Altaf Hussain’s comments. Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister of the Dominion of India, which was a constitutional monarchy between 1948-1950 and not only did he take an oath of allegiance to the crown, it was administered by the King’s own cousin. The oath of allegiance for Governor-Generals, ministers and governors is found in the Independence of India Act, 1947. The question can be settled by looking at item 179 on page 276 of the Jinnah Papers, Volume IV, which contains the different kinds of oaths for the governor general, governors, ministers, etc. Ironically, in all of India, it was only Jinnah that insisted that King George stopped signing his name George R I or Rex Imperica.

What was Jinnah’s attitude towards the British? Let us leave that to B R Ambedkar, the father of the Indian Constitution, who wrote about Jinnah: “It is doubtful if there is a politician in India to whom the adjective incorruptible can be more fittingly applied. Anyone who knows what his relations with the British government have been will admit that he has always been their critic, if indeed, he has not been their adversary. No one can buy him. For it must be said to his credit that he has never been a soldier of fortune” (Pakistan and Partition of India; 1946; page 323).
One can agree or disagree with Jinnah’s positions on independence, Pakistan, etc, but there can be no two opinions about the fact that the man was inherently incorruptible, selfless and “entirely without the lure of public office”, as Nehru wrote in his book Discovery of India. Nehru, throughout his political relationship with Jinnah, had been snarky and downright dismissive, and yet even he, Jinnah’s most vociferous opponent, admitted that he was not seduced by public office. That not even Jinnah’s worst enemies ever accused him of corruption or self-seeking is confirmed by H V Hodson, who wrote: “One thing is certain, it was not for any venal motive that he changed. Not even his political enemies ever accused Jinnah of corruption or self seeking. He could be bought by no one and for no price. Nor was he in the least degree a weathercock, swinging in the wind of popularity or changing his politics to suit the chances of the time. He was a steadfast idealist, as well as a man of scrupulous honour” (The Great Divide, Page 39).
So what was Jinnah’s nationality? He may have been the father of Pakistan but he seemed to have remained an Indian national until the end, true to his famous words: “I am an Indian first second and last.” On July 30, 1947, he met a delegation of Muslim League members of the Indian Constituent Assembly and reportedly told them that he was going to Pakistan as a servant and not as a citizen, just as Mountbatten was not Indian but was still the Governor-General of India. This was the correct legal position. He also indicated to the Indian High Commissioner Sri Prikasa that he intended to go back to India after retiring in a few months, who conveyed the information to the Prime Minister of India. Jinnah, unlike the nation he founded, was not xenophobic. Nor was he an irreconcilable fanatic that our official state mythology wants to portray him as. He stood for Indian independence but not necessarily a severance of ties with Great Britain. His idea of independence was of the empowerment of the people through education, civil rights and responsible parliamentary government. He wanted India to emerge as an equal partner in a great British Commonwealth. Similarly, Jinnah wanted to create Pakistan as a vehicle of Muslim empowerment and worldly progress but his Pakistan was to be either a part of the confederation of a great Indian whole or a state with sovereign treaty relations with India. He did not imagine in the least the rigid separation and official enemy status for India that is common today.
While I reject the view that Altaf Hussain has somehow insulted the Quaid-e-Azam by stating that he had taken the oath of allegiance to the Crown, I must say this to all Pakistani politicians and other self-styled intellectuals and authors taking it upon themselves to distort Jinnah’s image. The corpse that lies buried under that magnificent marble mausoleum in Karachi is still a hundred times the man that any of you will ever be.

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Jinnah: Myth and Reality. He can be contacted via twitter @therealylh and through his email address

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