A. G. Noorani*
*The author is an eminent Indian scholar and expert on constitutional issues.
(Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s great success in securing the establishment of Pakistan in 1947 has tended to obscure his brilliant record of the preceding forty years as a liberal constitutionalist. Many Indians and Pakistanis speak or write of him as if he was politically born on 23 March 1940, the day the All India Muslim League adopted the Pakistan Resolution at Lahore… Fulsome praise pours forth on anniversaries. But the man’s record is neglected… Jinnah awaits a proper study. – Author)
Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s stellar performance in the Imperial Legislative Council, later the Central Legislative Assembly, at the sessions of the All India Congress Committee, till his resignation from it on 30 September 1921, at the sessions of the All India Muslim League, on public platform all over the country, before umpteen Committees and conferences form a harmonious whole. It has been largely ignored by admirers and detractors alike; bar an exception or two. For example, the Socialist leader Madhu Limaye acknowledged, later in life, that Jinnah was at heart a social reformer.
As a lawyer – politician Jinnah was head and shoulders above “liberal” leaders like Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, Sir Ali Imam and the like. A Governor of Bombay proposed his deportation. Since he was to retire soon, the decision was left to his successor. Jinnah escaped arrest and deportation, worse than imprisonment, by a whisker. There were times in the twenties when he proposed “direct action” and warned that the people would have to shed blood to achieve India’s independence from British rule.
These sentiments were expressed in sheer desperation. In the main Jinnah was ever a liberal and constitutionalist, deeply influenced by the writings of British Liberals during his days in London.
In 2017, it is very necessary to recall particularly one much neglected exposition of views. The British Government constituted a Joint Select Committee, with The Earl of Selbourne as its chairman, to suggest how to bring about progressive realisation of a responsible government in India. The Committee issued a questionnaire to important personalities in public life in India and then interviewed them individually. The report was published in mid-November 1919 and was placed before the British Parliament. The Bill got through both Houses of the Parliament, received the Royal assent on 23 December 1919 and was promulgated as Government of India Act of 1919. Jinnah spoke to the Committee in London on 13 August 1919, accompanied by Yakub Hasan. The neglect is inexcusable. Jinnah spoke about his past and his present commitments. A member rudely accused him of being anti-British – Jinnah kept his temper.
These extracts reveal the man and his outlook. At the very outset the Chairman of the Earl of Selbourne asked “I think you represent the Muslim (sic.) League? Jinnah replied crisply “Yes”. He had done his homework to rebut the charge that there was “no efficient electorates” in India because of illiteracy among the people.
According to the figures in the British Report there were at least 10 per cent literates in India. Jinnah went on the offensive. “Now what was the position of the United Kingdom when there was a complete responsible government run in this country? In England in 1835 you had 4.6 per cent; in Ireland you had 1.2 per cent; in Scotland, 3.2 per cent. In 1871, England 9 per cent; Ireland, 4.2 per cent; Scotland, 7.6 per cent. In 1881, England, 9.7 per cent; Ireland, 4.4 per cent; and Scotland, 8.4 per cent. In 1889 you had 15.8 per cent in England, 16.6. per cent in Ireland, and 14.2 per cent in Scotland. We do not stop at England, but we go further. What do you find in other countries in Europe? You find, first of all in Sweden, there was 1 per cent of the population that got into the electorate; in France 26.6 per cent; the Chamber of Deputies in Italy was elected by 2-1/2 per cent of the population till the franchise was broadened in 1832; and you find as late as 1888 only 17.6 per cent of the population in the United States of America took part in electing the most complete responsible Government in the world. Therefore, my Lord, it is no argument that you will not be able to get more than 10 per cent – if you wish to lower the franchise, if the Southborough Committee had not put such a high qualification, you certainly would get at least 10 per cent of the population in the electorate.”
The Secretary of State for India Edwin S. Montagu began on an unpleasant note. “Question no.3633. How long have you been in public life, Mr. Jinnah? – (Mr. Jinnah) Since I was twenty-one. 3634. Have you ever known any proposal come from any Government which met with your approval? – Oh, yes. 3635. Can you mention it to me? – The other day I supported the Government’s Taxation Bill about the income-tax under the Imperial Council. 3636. You must have felt very uncomfortable? – No; I have supported the Government on various occasions. 3637. This Bill which is now before us, you realize, purported to be nothing more – with very trifling amendments – than a Bill to carry out the parts of the Montagu-Chelmsford Report that had to be translated into a piece of legislation. You, realise that? – I do, much to my regret. 3638. I am not asking your opinion. I mean you realise that that is so? – Yes. 3639. And you realize that the reason that that procedure was adopted was that this Committee should decide how much further to go, or how much less to do, after it had heard evidence that was put before it? – I do not agree with you there. I think it was the business His Majesty’s Government – 3640. That is not the point, if you will forgive my saying so. You may feel an objection to the procedure of His Majesty’s Government? – No, I do not; not to the procedure. 1641. I say you may? – I do not. 3642. If you will allow me to finish, I say that you may feel an objection. I am merely asking you whether you were aware of the policy which was adopted by His Majesty’s government? – I am quite aware of that. 3643. Now you base your description of this bill as inspired by timidity and prejudice mainly on the powers given to the Government of India and the provincial Governments? – Yes. 3659. We will come to the reasons later on. Am I right in my recollection that the scheme that you advocated until you could get something better, the scheme of the Congress and the Moslem League, gave you an executive in the Province of Bombay of two officials and two non-officials? – Yes. 3660. And that this scheme as embodied in the Bill, will in all probability give you an executive consisting of three non-officials and one official? – Yes. 3661. Is not that so?- Yes. 3662. Would you describe that as timid or prejudiced? – I have answered your question. I say, in some respects, it is better, in some respects it is worse. If you take the whole, it is impossible to compare the Congress League scheme with your scheme – impossible. They are two different things. In some respects, if you ask me, it is better; in some respects it is worse. 3663. I will not delay on that. You will remember I am part author of this scheme? – Yes. 3664. And you will remember that it is not very pleasant to hear that one has been timid and prejudiced? – I am very sorry. 3665. I do not mind your saying it, in that least? – That is my view. 3666. What I should like to put to you is that it has been your role in politics always to accentuate and increase your demand, as what is given you is increased in itself? – Mr. Montagu, that is absolutely incorrect, because I told you that my position is this, that I have openly disagreed with the Congress, I have openly disagreed with the Moslem League, and there are some views which the Home Rule League holds with regard to these reforms with which I do not agree. Therefore it is absolutely incorrect for you to say that, and you know it, or, at least, you ought to know it. In the Congress my attitude has been very different; in the Moslem League my attitude has been very different; therefore it is not correct to say that.”
Major Ormsby- Gore was more pleasant. 3817. “Do you think it is possible, consistently with remaining in the British Empire, for India to have one foreign policy and for His Majesty, as advised by his Ministers in London, to have another? – Let me make it clear. It is not a question of foreign policy at all. What the Moslems of India feel is that it is a very difficult position for them. Spiritually, the Sultan or the Khalif is their head.
“3818. Of one community?- Of the Sunni sect, but that is the largest; it is in an overwhelming majority all over India. The Khalif is the only rightful custodian of the Holy places according to our view, and nobody else has a right. What the Moslems feel very keenly is this, that the Holy Places should not be severed from the Ottoman Empire – that they should remain with the ottoman Empire under the Sultan.
“3819. I do not want to get away from the Reform Bill on to foreign policy – I say it has nothing to do with foreign policy. Your point is whether in India the Moslems will adopt a certain attitude with regard to foreign policy in matters concerning Moslems all over the world.”
Jinnah was not opposed to the Khilafat Movement. He was opposed to its hijacking by Gandhi to secure the Ali Brothers’ support for his civil disobedience movement. Jinnah, the constitutionalist, was opposed to law breaking. Jinnah, the Muslim, very much shared the community’s sentiments on the Caliphate; contrary to the views expressed by some.
On the issue of franchise the democrat asserted himself boldly in reply to Lord Islington’s question. “You told us a good deal about your opinion on the Franchise. Would you say that India, as at present constituted, might have a certain portion of its population granted votes on other qualifications than that of being literate? – I think myself that it certainly does leave out a very large section which might be included in the electorate.
“You think it leaves out a lot of sections which might have been included, and a section which could not be described as literate? – Even literates might be left out, because it is a property qualification.
“That may be, but what I want to get at is this; You would say that there are people in India who, though they be not literate, have a sufficient interest in the welfare of the country to entitle them to a vote? – I think so, and I think they have a great deal of common sense.
“People who have that kind of common sense which would justify them having a vote? – Yes; I was astonished when I attended a meeting of mill hands in Bombay when I heard some of the speeches, and most of them were illiterates.” (Minutes of Evidence Taken Before the Joint Select Committee on the Government of India Bill; pages 208-230).
Jinnah opened his innings as a member of the Imperial Legislative Council with a clash with the views of Lord Minto, the Viceroy who presided over it. Speaking on a Resolution regarding Indentured Labour for Natal, he said; “If I may say, at the outset, it is a most painful question – a question which has roused the feelings of all classes in this country to the highest pitch of indignation and horror at the harsh and cruel treatment that is meted out to Indians in South Africa.
Minto: “I must call the Hon’ble gentleman to order. I think that is rather too strong a word, ‘cruelty’. The Hon’ble member must remember that he is talking of a friendly part of the Empire, and he must really adapt his language to the circumstances”.
Jinnah: “Well, my Lord, I should feel inclined to use much stronger language, but I am fully aware of the constitution of this Council, and I do not wish to trespass for one single moment, but I do say this that the treatment that is meted out to Indians is the harshest which can possibly be imagined, and, as I said before, the feeling in this country is unanimous.” (M. H. Saiyid; Mohammad Ali Jinnah: A Political Study; pp. 65-66).
Gopal Krishna Gokhale had no stauncher support in the Council than Jinnah when on 16 March 1911 he moved his Bill to make elementary education compulsory and free. On the Special Marriage Bill Jinnah had to balance his views and those of both communities. This was in line with Edmund Burke’s famous speech at Bristol on 3 November 1774 when he said “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion” (British Orations; Everyman’s Library; pp. 71-72).
Jinnah supported Gokhale once again on 19 March 1912 when his Elementary Education Bill came up before the Council. Jinnah said: “Sir, are you going to keep millions and millions of people trodden under your feet for fear that they may demand more rights? Are you going to keep them in ignorance and darkness forever and for all ages to come because they may stand up against you and say that we have certain rights and you must give them to us? Is that the feeling of humanity? Is that the spirit of humanity? I say, Sir, that it is the duty of the zamindars and of the landlords to be a little less selfish. I say, Sir, that it is the duty of the educated classes to be a little less selfish. They must not monopolise the pedestals, but they must be prepared to meet their people. They must be prepared to be brought down from their pedestals if they do not do their duties properly. I say, Sir, that it is the elementary right of every man to say if he is wronged that he is wronged and that he should be righted.”
Constitutionally democracy rests on a non-political professional civil service; both domestic and foreign. Jinnah was for the Indianisation of the British dominated civil service as well as the armed forces. He made a powerful case before the Royal Commission on the Public Services on 11 March 1913. In his evidence he revealed interesting personal details. He had been a member of the Bombay Municipal Corporation for two years; was called to the Bar in 1896 when he was 20; was a Presidency Magistrate for six months, “My own language is Gujarati, and I speak Urdu…. Urdu is a language you can get on pretty well with in any part of India. It may not be Lucknow Urdu. My complaint against the Civilian is that it is not even Bombay Urdu”.`
Jinnah’s record on civil liberties is of abiding relevance. He had drunk at the fount of liberalism in Britain. Macaulay had predicted the consequences of British rule in his magnificent peroration when he commended the Government of India Act (popularly known as the Charter Act) to the House of Commons on 10 July 1833: “Having become instructed in European knowledge, they may, in some future age, demand European institutions.”
Not long after came the writings of John Stuart Mill who had been appointed a clerk in the India House in 1823. Even today passage after passage in his books On Liberty (1859) and Considerations on Representative Government (1861) strike one sharply for their contemporary relevance. Mill moulded the outlook of a whole generation of liberals in England as well as in India. They loved to quote his aphorisms – this, in particular: “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”
It was in this intellectual climate that Mohammed Ali Jinnah came to London to study for the Bar in 1892 at the impressionable age of 16. Years later he told Dr. K. Mohammed Ashraf, “I happened to meet several important English Liberals with whose help I came to understand the doctrine of Liberalism. The Liberalism of Lord Morley was then in full sway. I grasped that Liberalism, which became part of my life and thrilled me very much.”
Morley’s influence on Jinnah’s thinking forms the subject of an excellent essay by Prof. S. Qudratullah Fatimi (Quaid-i-Azam and lord Morley) Mill was Morley’s mentor and both were mentors to Indian constitutionalists.
Jinnah was foremost among them. His commitment to civil liberties flowed naturally from what Lippmann called “the public philosophy”. There is evidence enough, however, that his reading, was not confined to English writers. On a notable occasion he read out to the Central Legislative Assembly a quotation so striking as to prompt one of the European members to ask for the reference. It was from the classic American Government and Politics by Beard. It reads thus: “Liberty of opinion, of course, is open to abuse; it is constantly abused; but far more open to abuse is the right to suppress opinion and far more often, in the long history of humanity, has it been abused. Still all matters of sentiment may be put on one side. It is a hard, cold proposition: by what process are we most likely to secure orderly and intelligent government, by the process of censorship or that of freedom? On this question a comparison of English and Russian history is illuminating.”
Jinnah asked, “Do you want to follow the Russian history or the English history?” and continued to read the passage: “Again and again those who have attempted to stop the progress of opinion by the gallows and prison have merely hastened their own destruction by violence.”
On the Obscene Publications Bill Jinnah said in the Central Legislative Assembly on 20 February 1925: “Sir, Is there any work of literature or art or science which is truly a work of art or literature or science, and if it is published or sold with a bona fide object, I ask Mr. Chaman Lall – and I appeal less to his imagination, less to his enthusiasm, and more to his common sense and reason – to say is there any Magistrate, unless he is absolutely devoid of honesty, who would condemn it?”
On 5 September 1927 Jinnah struck a sound balance between vilificant of religion and freedom of speech. “I thoroughly endorse the principle, that while this measure should aim at those undesirable persons who indulge in wanton vilification or attack upon the religion of any particular class or upon the founders an prophets of a religion, we must also secure this very important and fundamental principle that those who are engaged in historical works, those who are engaged in the ascertainment of truth and those who are engaged in the bona fide and honest criticisms of a religion shall be protected.”
He was for social reform and supported the law to penalize child marriage. He said on 11 September 1929: “I am convinced in my mind that there is nothing in the Koran, there is nothing in Islam which prevents us from destroying this evil. If we can do it today do not wait till tomorrow. I fully recognize the orthodox opinion. I fully appreciate the orthodox sentiments, the orthodox feelings both of the Mussalmans and of the Hindus. Sir, whether certain practices have any sanction divine or religious or not, usages and customs grow up, and when any social reform is suggested which goes to destroy the usages and the practices to which the people are used and upon which they have looked as semi-religious usages and practices, it is always known all over the world that those people who have got deep sentiments, deep convictions, strong opinions, always resent, and they believe that it is destroying the very root of their social life or religion.
Always the social reformer is face to face with this orthodox opinion having behind it this conviction, this sentiment, this feeling which is perfectly understandable and to some extent legitimate. But are we to be dragged down by this section for whom we have respect, whose feeling we appreciate, whose sentiments we regard, – are we to be dragged down and are we to be prevented in the march of progress, in the name of humanity, I ask you?
“And Sir, as far as my own constituency is concerned, that is, Bombay, I have no mandate from them. This measure has been before this House for a long time, this measure certainly has been discussed in the Press and on the platform; but my constituency has not given me any mandate whatsoever of any kind, and therefore, perhaps I am very happy and perhaps I am in a better position than my Honourable friends who probably are afraid that they may have to face their constituencies in future, and that they may have some trouble, or some of them may have got some mandates. But, Sir, I make bold to say that if my constituency is so backward as to disapprove of a measure like this then I say, the clearest duty on my part would be to say to my constituency, “You had better ask somebody else to represent you”. Because, after all,you must remember that public opinion is not so fully developed in this country, and if we are going to allow ourselves to be influenced by the public opinion that can be created in the name of religion when we know that religion has nothing whatever to do with the matter, – I think we must have the courage to say, ‘No, we are not going to be frightened by that’”.
Jinnah’s record on denunciation of imprisonment without trial shows that he denounced it regardless of political consideration. On 30 July 1917, at a meeting in Bombay, of leading figures such as B.G. Tilak, Motilal Nehru, Sarojini Naidu and Bhulabhai Desai, Jinnah said, “It seems obvious that, if we accept the policy of the Government, all constitutional and lawful agitation will in effect be stropped, that the freedom of speech and the press and the right of public meeting under the British flag is henceforth to be regulated by the arbitrary judgment and decision of a Provincial Governor or Government, that the Executive are to decide what is lawful and constitutional propaganda without reference to the Courts of Justice of His Emperor.”
The Central Legislative Assembly was not endowed with parliamentary privileges. One of its members Satyendra Chandra Mitra was put in preventive detention. Jinnah joined hands with Motilal Nehru to denounce “the bureaucrats who sit on the Treasury Benches”. He said: “If this House was a Parliament, if this House either had, as you find in the Dominions, the privileges and the rights of members defined by regular Statutes, or if, as you find in the British Parliament, the rights and the privileges of the members of the House are a growth and a development of the common law of England, if that was the position here, then we would have been able to deal with this question in this House. But it is not so. Let us therefore get to the realities; let us get to the truth. What is truth? Here is a man who stands imprisoned for more than two years. Here is a man who was arrested under a most obnoxious law which gives the Executive absolute power to imprison a man on suspicion without trial. The question really to my mind, if I may say so quite frankly in this House, is this: How long are you going to keep this law? How long are you going to prevent him from what he is entitled to do?”
Jinnah attacked an Order which prevented Vallabhbhai Patel from speaking for a month. He said on 10 March 1930: “What was the emergency, I want to ask, Sir, to pass this order? According to the statement of the Honourable the Home Member, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had made several speeches before. Were those speeches against the law? Did he transgress the limits of law or did he not? I have no information. If he was going to make a speech or speeches of the kind which he had already made in regard to which he had already transgressed the limits of law, and if he had already committed offences or infringed the law, then, Sir, your proper course, the proper course on the part of the authorities in that district should have been that Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel ought to have been prosecuted long ago for an offence, but an order should not be passed which goes to the root of the principle of liberty of speech.
“Sir, the precedent that the Government of India are creating – this is what I am afraid of and that is where the danger lies – the precedent they are creating is a dangerous precedent, and I want this House to understand that this is a very important issue. Do not let us be carried away for the moment with other side issues and various other arguments that have been advanced. What is the real issue before the House? Sir, I will read in the language, which is certainly much better than I can command, a small passage to the House, and I think any one who is a student of history and of political movements in other countries will appreciate this passage and will see the point that I am trying to impress upon the Government:
“Liberty of opinion of course is open to abuse….”
Sir Hugh Cocke: “What is that book please?”
Mr. M.A. Jinnah: “It is called “American Government and Politics” by Beard, 4th Edition, Liberty Edition. It is not mine. It is the Library Edition of the House. Therefore, I think my Honourable friend Sir Hugh Cocke is now thoroughly satisfied.”
Sir Hugh Cocke: “Quite.”
Mr. M.A. Jinnah: “Liberty of opinion, of course, is open to abuse; it is constantly abused; but far more open to abuse is the right to suppress opinion and far more often, in the long history of humanity, has it been abused. Still all matters of sentiment may be put on one side. It is a hard, cold proposition: by what process are we most likely to secure orderly and intelligent government, by the process f censorship or that of freedom? On this question a comparison of English and Russian history is illuminating.
“Do you want to follow the Russian history or the English history?
“Sir, I shall continue to read the passage now: ‘Again and again those who have attempted to stop the progress of opinion by the gallows and prison have merely hastened their own destruction by violence.’
“I therefore ask the Government not to allow, in the first instance, their police and their programme to deal with this serious situation to be deflected in the slightest degree by the whimsical or fanciful action of a district officer about whom the Honourable the Home Member said that, if he had done anything else, he would have been guilty of a dereliction of duty. The Honourable the Home Member may stand there and support that officer, but let us remember that the Home Member did not know anything about it. He had no idea. I have not heard that the Bombay Government have been consulted. Therefore it comes to this – that there was no emergency and I maintain most emphatically that there was no emergency. Vallabhbhai Patel had made no speech or speeches which came within the purview of the Penal Code.”
Though Jinnah had no sympathies either with the civil disobedience movement or the terrorists, he upheld their civil rights. Law and order must be upheld, but in order to enable the people to exercise their rights, not to stifle them. “Now, Sir, I for one have no hesitation in saying that I believe and I believe firmly that it is the primary function of every Government to maintain law and order. We do not deny that. That is your function that is your business. But the question that this House has got to ask itself is this. How is that function to maintain law and order to be performed? Is it to be performed against the will of the people? Is it to be performed in spite of the will of the people? Is it to be performed by not responding to the public opinion and by retaining a most reactionary and oppressive measure on the statute book. Is that your function of Government? Are not the people entitled to say to you that we are here as the representatives of the people and would never give you this power if you had come to us today? Why, because you are the cause of the trouble, you are the root cause of the trouble, you are the primary cause of the trouble and you talk of the primary duty of maintaining law and order.
“I maintain Sir, that if the Government were really responsive to public opinion, all the revolutionary organizations and anarchical organizations that you are now talking of and which you want to arrest and to destroy by means of this little Statute will disappear. On the other hand you may have this little Statute and you can have many more Statutes and if you do not respond to the wishes of the people, if you do not respond to the option of the people, in spite of any number of Statutes you will not destroy these revolutionary movements. Now, I particularly appeal to the Honourable the Home Member. You have ruled this country for nearly one hundred years at any rate if not one hundred years, very near it. In 1857 Queen Victoria assumed the reins and the power of ruling this country. Was there a bomb or an assassination; was even the hair of an Englishman in this country in danger until 1906 or 1907?” This was said on 16 September 1924. It can be asserted now as well.
He added “Was there an Indian for a long time, until 1906, who threw a bomb in this country? Now, who are the people who are really the members of these organizations? You have caught some of them. You ought to have some fair idea of it. Why do these educated young men take to bombs? Have you ever thought of it? Why do these young men, bright youths who have drunk at your own literature and who have imbibed those principles of liberty and freedom, come together in secret organizations in order to assassinate you, the very people who have taught those fine principles? Why? Because they feel that this Government do not respond to their aspirations, to their ideals and to their ambition to secure complete political freedom for their country. Now, Sir, you are not going to put this right unless you meet those aspirations and those principles. They are deeper than you imagine.
“Now, coming to this Act itself, it has been already pointed out what this Act is and how it can be used. The danger of this Statute is this. It has been already pointed out and I do not wish to repeat it, but a suggestion was made by my Honourable friend Sir Chimanlal Setalvad. I want the House to understand that. I do not know whether the Government are going to accept that proposal, but if the Government did. I am afraid the very object that they have will be destroyed. But, even if the Government are prepared to accept that, I shall certainly not accept that. I will not be a party to that. I want this Act to be repealed and I do not want to see this Act again on the Statute-book. Sir, can you point me out a single country in the world, and I appeal again to Mr. Chatterjee’s knowledge of history and law, that claims the name of a civilized government which has got a Statute of this kind because there are a few bombs thrown. Which country is free, where bombs are not thrown? Is this the way you are going to prevent bombs being thrown? No. The way to prevent bombs being thrown is to meet the people, respond to their feelings, their sentiments and their legitimate and proper aspirations.”
Similar sentiments were expressed on another occasion, 22 January 1925: “My liberty should not be taken away without a judicial trial in a proper court where I have all the right to defend myself. It is all very well for Colonel Crawford to give us a lecture here as to how the Intelligence Department works. We have examined his intelligence Department. Sir, I have spent 25 years of my life in doing so and we know what it is; I have gone through many cases and I know how it works. The less said the better. Are you going to lock up an innocent man because of the Intelligence Department? And what do we get from the Home Member? The Home Member says, ‘I have not got legal evidence, I am not prepared to put it before the Courts, and when I do get evidence I shall do so.’ You are reversing the order. A man is entitled to his liberty until you have got the evidence to place him before A Court. …
“You can only justify a measure like this if it was for the defence of the realm or for the public safety. And you cannot say you want it for the public safety. You can only put it on the ground of public safety and public safety is in danger according to Government because these few violent crimes have been committed. Now, Sir, may I point out to the Honourable the Home Member what happened in England when the Sein Fein movement was going on? Does he remember that even the gates of Downing Street were barricaded and protected by the police? The life of every Minister of yours was in danger; I know it and it was patent to every citizen in London. What did Great Britain do? What has Great Britain done now? Only a few days ago you had a plot to blow up a British ship. What did you do? … I tell you Sir, that that Prime Minister would not have 24 hours of his life as Prime Minister if he went with that request to Parliament.
“Sir, it only shows this that your police is inefficient. It shows that your police want a soft job so that they can lock up men, innocent and guilty, indiscriminately, and of course in the whole lot there may be a few guilty. Let them put them all together and let them rot in jail. This is the soft job you want to give to the police. I suppose, if you arrest a large number of men, quite possible a few of them may be guilty. Well, Sir, that is my first objection.
“My second objection is – and I here appeal to Government – that it will defeat its own ends. It not only will defeat its own ends but I have no doubt in my mind – I hope I am wrong – but I have no doubt in my mind that it will make the breach and the gulf between the Government and the people wider than it has ever been, if you persist in this policy of yours. It is not that you want it and we oppose it, or that we oppose it and therefore you will insist upon it. I do ask you, I do appeal to you, to carefully consider it. Sir, we find in the words of one of the English newspapers which are to my mind so to the point that we have got to ask the question, why disturbances have come into existence?
“I think it is the historical truth that several nations that enjoy freedom including perhaps Great Britain, did not attain it without some terrorism. … Good government means a government that is responsible to the representatives of the people. What do we find here today? We find here today on the authority of Lord Reading – and rightly under the present constitution – that the Government cannot share the responsibility with us. The responsibility is yours. But we are, if you like to call us, interlopers, if you like to call us, busy bodies, who want to interfere with your responsibility. You may describe us in any other manner you like. But we thought that this debate should be raised, and we must tell you really, frankly and respectfully what is in our mind. The responsibility of yours. If you like to follow our advice, our advice is this.
“Please revise your policy. It is no sign of weakness to revise your judgment if you are wrong. I again say, ‘Revise it and come down from your high pedestals, and discuss with us on equal terms what India wants and meet us reasonably’. And I venture to say that this terrorism which I condemn in no too strong terms will be destroyed.”
Jinnah’s speeches on Bhagat Singh and his associates are acclaimed to this day. He was much sharper in his attacks on the British than Congress members. “With whom are you at war? What are the resources of these few young men who according to you have committed certain offences? You want to prosecute them, and after due trial, you want to secure their convictions. But before they are convicted, surely this is not a matter on which there should be this struggle that you should not at once yield to their demands for bare necessities of life. After all, so far as the Lahore case prisoners are concerned, surely they are political prisoners and under trial. You ask me what is a political prisoner. It is very difficult to define a political prisoner. It is very difficult to lay down any particular definition. But if you use your common sense, if you use your intelligence, surely you can come to the conclusion with regard to the particular case and say, here are these men who are political prisoners, and we do not wish to give them proper treatment. We want to give them treatment as under-trial prisoners. If you had said that, the question would have been solved long ago. Do you wish to prosecute them or persecute? …
“The inquiry will then proceed ex parte before the Magistrate. Evidence will be led oral and documentary, which will go without being tested by cross-examination. The documentary evidence will go without being even seen by the accused against whom it is produced, and how will you identify the accused in their absence? Then we know, and particularly….
“You know perfectly well that these men are determined to die. it is not a joke. I ask the Honourable the Law Member to realize that it is not every body who can go on starving himself to death. Try it for a little while and you will see. Sir, have you heard anywhere in the world, except the American case, which my Honourable friend Mr. Jamnadas Mehta pointed out, an accused person going on hunger-strike? The man who goes on hunger-strike has a soul. He is moved by that soul and he believes in the justice of his cause; he is not an ordinary criminal who is guilty of cold-blooded, sordid, wicked crime.
“Mind you, Sir, I do not approve of the action of Bhagat Singh, and I say this on the floor of this House. I regret that rightly or wrongly youth today in India is stirred up, and you cannot, when you have three hundred and odd millions of people, you cannot prevent such crimes being committed, however much you may deplore them and however much you may say that they are misguided. It is the system, this damnable system of Government, which is resented by the people. You may be a cold-blooded logician; I am a patient cool-headed man and can calmly go on making speeches here, persuading and influencing the Treasury Bench. But remember, there are thousands of young men outside.
“This is not the only country, not youths, but grey-bearded men have committed serious offences moved by patriotic impulses. What happened to Mr. Cosgrave, the Prime Minister of Ireland? He was under sentence of death a fortnight before he got an invitation from His Majesty’s Government to go and settle terms? Was he a youth? Was he a young man? What about Collins? So what is the good of your putting forward this argument? You have got a situation which you have got to meet, not by introducing and enacting measures which go to the root of the fundamental principles of jurisprudence. …
“I say that no Judge who has got an iota of a judicial mind or a sense of justice can ever be a party to a trial of that character and pass sentence of death without a shudder and a pang of conscience. This is the farce which you propose to enact under this procedure. I say this, that if ever there was a conscientious Judge and he was strong enough, if he had a judicial mind, and if he had any independence, let me tell you, that, in spite of this provision of yours, he would say, “True, the law has to be administered; I am obliged to make the order that the trial shall proceed ex parte; but I realize and I feel that it will be a travesty of justice and I cannot be a party to it, and I shall therefore adjourn this case until further orders.”
On 14 September, after an adjournment, Jinnah resumed his attack with yet greater force. “Is there today in any part of the globe a civilized government that is engaged day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out, in prosecuting their people? You have read the daily papers for the last six or eight months. You will find prosecutions in Bengal, prosecutions in Madras, prosecutions in the Punjab, prosecutions all over the country. In fact I am afraid you will soon have to open a new Department and to have an additional Member to manage these prosecutions if you go on at this rate and in this way. Do you think that any man wants to go to jail? Is it an easy thing? Do you think any man wants to exceed the bounds of law characterizes as a seditious speech, knowing full well the consequences, that he may have to go to jail for six months or a year? Do you think that this springs out of a mere joke or run or amusement? Do you not realize yourself, if you open your eyes, that there is resentment, universal resentment against your policy, against your programme?”
No man in India’s public life has been more misunderstood or defamed than Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Jawaharlal Nehru wrote a lie, years before the Pakistan Resolution, that Jinnah did not want political parties to be open to the masses. His evidence before the Selbourne Committee exposes the lie as does this writer’s book, Jinnah and Tilak (Oxford University Press, Karachi).
M. C. Setalvad, whom Jinnah liked, spread the canard which many in the Bombay Bare, including M.C. Chagla but excluding H.M. Seervai, picked up and spread that Jinnah was no lawyer; only an advocate. His speeches show how well equipped he was in the law.
What the speeches establish also is his fierce opposition to British rule in India. Frank Moraes reported an English journalist telling him after an interview with Jinnah “He is so anti-British”. No Congress leader spoke as sharply to British members on the Treasury bench in the Central Assembly or their Indian stooges than Jinnah. There was no nationalist more fervent than he; no stronger champion of freedom from British rule. He spoke as freely as MPs did in the House of Common. He accepted no lesser position as an Indian member of the Central Legislative Assembly.
This was the nationalist whom the Congress leaders, especially Gandhi and Nehru, belittled, alienated and excluded from sharing power. Witness their sabotage of the Cabinet Mission’s Plan of 16 May 1946 which Jinnah accepted. There was no Federal Court or Supreme Court in New Delhi; only a District Court. Lala Lajpat Rai noted admiringly that Jinnah gave up a lucrative practice in Bombay to attend the Assembly’s sessions in New Delhi. He spoke on a variety of subjects and his doors were open to all to voice their grievances.
Saprus and Jayakars were not his peers. He stood tall with leaders like Tilak and Gokhale; after them Gandhi and Nehru. Indians still belittle him. But do Pakistanis understand him? Truth to tell, I doubt it. He is adored. Fulsome praise pours forth on anniversaries. But the man’s record is neglected. Biographers like Hector Bolitho and Stanley Wolpert were unfit for the job. The less said about the Court Historians in Pakistan and the hacks in India, the better. Jinnah awaits a proper study.