Jinnah & Nehru

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A. G. Noorani*

*The author is an eminent Indian scholar and expert on constitutional issues.



(Jinnah stood up to Gandhi as early as in 1920; rejected his leadership; did not show deference to Nehru or to the British. Nehru and the Congress could brook no rival. They preferred partition to sharing power with Jinnah. – Author)

“Certain persons are like the red rag to him (Nehru) and the very mention of them sends him into an unreasonable outburst of passions, expressed more in his tense face … the impressions of a proud and unreasoning victim of volcanic emotions”. M. Asaf Ali wrote in his jail diary in July 1944. He was referring to Jawaharlal Nehru’s animosity towards Mohammed Ali Jinnah. (M. Asaf Ali; Memoirs: The Emergence of Modern India, edited by G. N.S. Raghavan, Ajanta; 1994).

It was a hatred of consequence. It blighted the prospects of a compromise between the All India Congress Committee and the All India Muslim League; paving the way to the partition of India, the brutal killings and the Kashmir dispute which persists still. It lasted for nearly thirty years. Behind Jinnah’s back Nehru did not hesitate to utter falsehoods to tarnish Jinnah’s reputation.

Asaf Ali noted that it was unreasoning and violent. Nehru wrote to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on 27 September 1931: “How wonderful you are to argue and argue and yet again argue with this motley crowd. I wonder if any purgatory would be more dreadful for me than to carry on in this way. If I had to listen to my dear friend Mohammad Ali Jinnah talking the most unmitigated nonsense about his 14 points for any length of time, I would have to consider the desirability of retiring to the South Sea Islands, where there would be some hope of meeting with some people who were intelligent enough or ignorant enough not to talk of the 14 points.” (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru; First Series; Vol. 5, p. 47; Nehru Memorial Fund; Orient Longmans; p.47). Jinnah’s famous 14 Points, published in 1929, envisaged a united federal India. Belated conventional wisdom in India has it that it should have been accepted. It would have averted the partition of India. (For text vide A.G. Noorani; Jinnah and Tilak; Oxford University Press; Karachi; 2010, pp. 362-3).

Nehru wrote in his Autobiography in 1936: “A few old leaders, however, dropped out of the Congress after Calcutta, and among these a popular and well-known figure was that of Mr. M.A. Jinnah. Sarojini Naidu had called him the ‘Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity’, and he had been largely responsible in the past for bringing the Moslem League nearer to the Congress. But the new developments in the Congress – non-co-operation and the new constitution which made it more of a popular and mass organization – were thoroughly disapproved of by him. He disagreed on political grounds, but it was not politics in the main that kept him away. There were still many people in the Congress who were politically even less advanced than he was. But temperamentally he did not fit in at all with the new Congress. He felt completely out of his element in the khadi-clad crowd demanding speeches in Hindustani. The enthusiasm of the people outside struck him as mob-hysteria. There was as much difference between him and the Indian masses as between Savile Row and Bond Street and the Indian village with its mud-huts. He suggested once privately that only matriculates should be taken into the Congress. I do not know if he was serious in making this remarkable suggestion, but it was in harmony with his general outlook. So he drifted away from the Congress and became a rather solitary figure in Indian politics. Later, unhappily, the old Ambassador of Unity associated himself with the most reactionary elements in Muslim communalism.” (Oxford University Press, New Delhi; pp. 67-68).

Respect for facts was not Nehru’s forte. The special session of the Congress at Calcutta, to which he referred, was held on 1 September 1920. Jinnah did not “drop out of the Congress” after this Calcutta session. He went on to participate in the Congress’ Nagpur Session in December 1920, where he was the solitary dissenter to Gandhi’s programme of civil disobedience. Jinnah’s wife Ruttie accompanied him to both sessions. Jinnah would not accept the wearing of khadi as requirement of membership and left the Congress. But he continued to speak warmly of Gandhi.

A Jinnah who participated in Bombay’s Shantaram Chawls with his friend Bal Gangadhar Tilak could not have been averse to mass politics. In his speech at Nagpur, Jinnah said: “I make bold to say that in this assembly that you will never get your independence without bloodshed” (Noorani; p. 46). At a meeting in Bombay on 19 February 1921 he told a heckler “Young man, take it from me the villagers know things better than you.” (ibid., p.58)

Jinnah was as anti-British as any Congressman. The British hated him. Bombay’s Governor Lord Willingdon recommended to his successor, Lord Lloyd Jinnah’s deportation to Burma. Lloyd “was not disposed to begin his career by conferring unnecessary martyrdom”. He changed his mind, however, and discussed the proposal with the Viceroy Lord Chelmsford, who, in turn, reported it to the Secretary of State, Edwin S. Montagu, on 16 April 1919.

He was labelled an “extremist” and even a “Bolshevik” by the government. The Viceroy Lord Reading saw in him a “strong anti-British feeling”. Jinnah adopted sharp rhetoric in the Assembly, in the manner deployed in the House of Commons. That riled the British members of the Executive Council. Ian Wells accurately perceived, “What was acceptable from a British politician was clearly not from an Indian”. The British found him “unapproachable”.

When he gave evidence in London before the British Parliament’s Joint Select Committee on the Government of India Bill, the Secretary of State, Edwin S. Montagu, began to question him in an offensive manner: “Q.3633: How long have you been in public life Mr. Jinnah? Mr. Jinnah: Since I was twenty-one. Q.3634: Have you ever known any proposal come from any government which met with your approval? Mr. Jinnah: Oh, yes. Q.3635: Can you mention it to me? Mr. Jinnah:

The other day I supported the government’s Taxation Bill about the income-tax under the Imperial Council. Q.3636: You must have felt very uncomfortable? Mr. Jinnah: No, I have supported the government on various occasions.”

As the questioning proceeded and Montagu became offensive, Jinnah tartly retorted that his comments “were incorrect and you know it, or, at least, you ought to know it.” (Q.3666). Major Ormsby Gore asked: “Q.3810: You said you spoke from the point of view of India. You speak really as an Indian Nationalist? Mr. Jinnah: I do. Q.3811: Holding that view, do you contemplate the early disappearance of separate communal representation of the Mohammedan community? Mr. Jinnah: I think so. Q.3812: That is to say, at the earliest possible moment you wish to do away in political life with any distinction between Mohammedans and Hindoos? Mr. Jinnah; Yes. Nothing will please me more than when that day comes.”

In the light of later malicious smear that Jinnah wanted membership of the Congress to be restricted to matriculates his answers to Lord Islington’s questions on franchise are pertinent. “Even literates might be left out, because it is a property qualification” (Answer to Q.3883). Islington asked: “Q.3884: 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 vote? Mr. Jinnah: I think so, and I think they have a great deal of common sense. Q.3885: People who have that kind of common sense, which would justify them having a vote? Mr. Jinnah: 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.”

Reminded of his views on separate electorates, Jinnah was careful to point out that “at present we are in a minority in the Muslim Community.” He was consistently opposed by the toadies among the Muslims and warned them against playing the British game of divide and rule. He told the Central Legislative Assembly: “To the Mohammedans the government says: ‘Well, we are your friends, we want to do everything we can, but these wicked Hindus are creating all the difficulties’. And the Mohammedans readily believe it and my Honourable friend still has his faith in the government, and he still keeps voting in the government lobby every time. … My Hindu friends have realised and my Mohammedan friends have realised now that this is the old game which is continued with a certain amount of success. But, Sir, do not play this game. The sooner you give it up, the better it is in your interests and in our interests. Let us get to the issue itself. Let us deal with every question on its merits, and we know perfectly well, Sir, that in this country at any rate there are three parties, not to talk about the fourth party discovered recently by the Home Member, and these three parties which are interested in the future progress and the welfare of this country are the Hindus and the Mohammedans and the British.”

Hence his plea for communal unity, “Swaraj is almost an interchangeable term with Hindu-Muslim unity. If we wish to be free people, let us unite; but if we wish to continue to be slaves of the bureaucracy, let us fight amongst ourselves and gratify petty vanity over petty matters, an Englishman being our arbiter” he told the Muslim League session on 24 May 1924.

For Jinnah’s defiance of the proposal for a memorial to the Governor Lord Willingdon in 1918, people of Bombay raised a fund of Rs.65,000. Thus was born the People’s Jinnah Hall which still exists; though ignored..

In 1925 Jinnah began to set up a new political party with Dr. M.R. Jayakar. The draft Constitution said “The membership of the organisation shall be open to every adult of either sex over the age of 21”. The absence of a requirement that he be a matriculate exposes Nehru’s statement for what it was – a brazen lie.

Nehru was decrying a man who spoke in the Central Legislative Assembly in defence of Lajpat Rai, Vallabhbai Patel and Bhagat Singh. The two came together on the same platform on 12 August 1936 at the All India Students’ Conference at Lucknow. Nehru paid him fulsome tributes recalling their meeting in Britain when he was a student at the Cambridge University and Jinnah an established political leader. Jinnah was a good friend of Jawaharlal’s father Motilal and an associate in the Central Legislative Assembly. Motilal never used the language which his spoilt son did.

After the 1937 elections, held under the new Government of India Act 1935, the breach widened. Nehru became President of the Congress and ruthlessly discarded the framework of discussion which was accepted for thirty years – a Congress-League Pact like the Lucknow Pact of 1916 which Jinnah had brought out with the cooperation of Tilak and Motilal Nehru. The Muslim League, dormant for long, fared poorly. Jinnah worked hard to revive it and succeeded. The Congress was able to form ministries in most of the Provinces.

During the election campaign, Nehru said at Ambala on 16 January 1937, “All those people who talk of in terms of Hindu rights and Muslim rights are job hunters, pure and simple, and fight for the loaves and fishes of office”. There was no minority question. The League was irrelevant. “There are only two forces in the country, the Congress and the Government.” (SWJN; Vol. 8, p.7). Jinnah swiftly retorted “There is a third party, the Muslim League.”

In fact the two parties had come closer. Jinnah infused life into the League; made complete independence its objective with an economic programme and made it party of the masses. Nehru’s Muslim Mass Contact Movement failed dismally. A desultory correspondence followed fruitlessly.

The Congress communicated its terms to U.P’s Muslim League leader, Chaudhary Khaliquzzaman, not by the presumptive Premier, Pandit G.B. Pant, but by Maulana A. K. Azad, a Bengali Muslim member of the Congress Parliamentary Sub-Committee. They were as follows: “The Moslem League group in the United provinces legislature shall cease to function as a separate group.

“The existing members of the Moslem League Party in the United Provinces Assembly shall become part of the Congress Party and will fully share with other members of the Party their privileges and obligations as members of the Congress Party. They will similarly be empowered to participate in the deliberations of the Party. They will likewise be subject to the control and discipline of the Congress Party in an equal measure with other members, and the decisions of the Congress Party as regards work in the legislature and general behaviour of its members shall be binding on them. All matters shall be decided by a majority vote of the Party; each individual member having one vote.

“The policy laid down by the Congress Working Committee for their members in the legislatures along with the instructions issued by the competent Congress bodies pertaining to their work in such legislatures shall be faithfully carried out by all members of the Congress Party including these members.

“The Moslem League Parliamentary Board in the United Provinces will be dissolved, and no candidates will thereafter be set up by the said Board at any by-election. All members of the Party shall actively support any candidate that may be nominated by the Congress to fill up a vacancy occurring hereafter.

“All members of the Congress Party shall abide by the rules of the Congress Party and offer their full and genuine co-operation with a view to promoting the interests and prestige of the Congress.

“In the event of the Congress Party deciding on resignation from the ministry or from the legislature the members of the above mentioned group will also be bound by that decision.”

To the published statement of these terms, Maulana Azad appended a short note. “It was hoped that, if these terms were agreed to and the Moslem League group of members joined the Congress Party as full members, that group would cease to exist as a separate group. In the formation of the provincial Cabinet it was considered proper that they should have representatives.”

Thus in the first action taken by the Congress leaders under the new constitution and in their first move in the field of parliamentary politics, there was nothing of that spirit of compromise without which parliamentary government cannot be expected to work successfully or long. Majority rule was to be strictly enforced.

In a letter to Rajendra Prasad on 21 July 1937, Nehru acknowledged that: “During the general elections in the UP there was not much conflict between the Congress and the Muslim League. It was the desire of both parties to avoid a conflict as much as possible and to accommodate each other. In the early stages of the election campaign, a number of Muslims who were more or less Congressmen were doubtful if they would stand on behalf of the Congress or the League. If they had been pressed to do so, they would have probably stood on the Congress ticket. But as there was no such pressure they drifted gradually to the League side under the vague impression that it was much the same thing.”

Nehru wanted to eliminate the League. “Those who talk of the Congress entering into a pact with Muslims or others, fail to understand the Congress or the new forces that are moving the people;” he wrote on 31 March 1937 (SWJN; Vol. 8, p. 128).

Nehru bared his outlook in a long statement to the press on 10 January 1937. It bears quotation in extenso: “Religion is both a personal matter and a bond of faith, but to stress religion in matter political and economic is obscurantism and leads to the avoidance of real issues. In what way are the interests of the Muslim peasant different from those of the Hindu peasant? Or those of a Muslim labourer or artisan or merchant or landlord or manufacturer different from those of his Hindu prototype? The ties that bind people are common economic interest, and, in the case of a subject country especially, a common national interest. Religious question may arise and religious conflicts may take place, and they should be faced and settled. But the right way to deal with them is to limit their sphere of action and influence, and to prevent them from encroaching on politics and economics. To encourage a communal consideration of political and economic problems is to encourage reaction and go back to the Middle Ages. It is an impossible attempt, for it ignores realities.

“The realities of today are poverty and hunger and unemployment and the conflict between British imperialism and Indian nationalism. How are these to be considered communally? There are of course many groups and parties and odd individuals in the country today. But, historically speaking, the present contest lies between imperialism and nationalism. All ‘third parties’, middle and undecided groups, etc., have no real importance to this historic sense. They have consequently no great strength and they function only in elections and the like and fade away at other times. The Congress represents Indian nationalism and is thus charged with a historic destiny. Because of this, it is the only organisation which has developed a vast prestige in India and the strength and will to stand up against British imperialism. Thus, in the final analysis, there are only two forces in India today – British imperialism and the Congress representing Indian nationalism. There are other vital forces in the country, representing a new social outlook, but they are allied to the Congress. The communal groupings have no such real importance in spite of occasional importance being thrust upon them. …

“What does the Muslim League stand for? Does it stand for the independence of India, for anti-imperialism? I believe not. It represents a group of Muslims, no doubt highly estimable persons, but functioning in the higher regions of the upper middle classes and having no contacts with the Muslim masses and few even with the Muslim lower middle class. May I suggest to Mr. Jinnah that I come into greater touch with the Muslim masses than most of the members of the Muslim League? I know more about their hunger and poverty and misery than those who talk in terms of percentages and seats in the councils and places in the state services. I have had vast Muslim audiences in the Punjab and elsewhere. They did not ask me about the communal problem or percentages or separate electorates. They were intensely interested in the burden of land revenue or rent, of debt, of water rates, of unemployment, and the many other burdens they carry.

“As President of the Congress I have the honour and privilege to represent the innumerable Muslims throughout the country who have taken a valiant part in the struggle for freedom, who have suffered for the great cause of independence and who have stood shoulder to shoulder with others in our historic fight under the banner of the Congress. I represent the many brave Muslim comrades who still stand in the front ranks of our forces and who have been true to the Congress through the strain and stress of past years. I represent the hunger and poverty of the masses, Muslim as well as Hindu; the demand for bread and land and work and relief from innumerable burdens which crush them; the urge to freedom from an intolerable oppression. I represent all this because the Congress represents it, and I have been charged by the Congress to hold aloft its principles and the torch that it has lighted to bring hope and strength and brightness to the dark corners of our land and to the suffering hearts of our people.

“The Congress welcomes all cooperation; it has repeatedly stressed the need for a joint front against imperialism. It will cooperate with pleasure with the Muslim League as with other organisations, but the basis of this cooperation must be anti-imperialism and the good of the masses. In its opinion no pacts and compromises between handfuls of upper class people, and ignoring the interests of the masses, have any real or permanent value. It is with the masses that if deals for it is concerned above all with their interests. But it knows that the masses, Hindu and Muslim, care little for communal questions.” (SWJN; Vol. 8; pp. 120-122).

This reveals Nehru’s mindset. He was indifferent of the entire record of talks on the Muslim question since 1906; including the Motilal Nehru Report. Nehru’s prison diary (1942-45) is a neglected document. An entry of 28 December 1943 reads: “Instinctively I think it is better to have Pakistan or almost anything if only to keep Jinnah far away and not allow his muddled and arrogant head from interfering continually in India’s progress.”

Another of 22 January 1945, on the eve of his release from prison is as revealing. “We have all been rather upset by a speech delivered by Sarojini at a press conference in Madras. An excessively foolish speech. On 18 January 1945, Sarojini Naidu described Jinnah as the one incorruptible person in the whole of India. ‘I may not agree with him; but if there is one who cannot be bought by title, honour or position, it is Mr. Mohammed Ali Jinnah’.” (SWJN; Vol. 13, p. 546).

On their release from prison all the Congress leaders declared war on the Muslim League. The Communist Party’s leader Dr. K. M. Ashraf analysed the issues and concluded that “the Congress declared war on the League while at the same time it adopted a policy of surrender towards British imperialism.” (K.M. Ashraf; Hindu-Muslim Question and Our Freedom Struggle; Sunrise, Vol. 2; p.210). Nehru demanded that the Muslim League change its policy and its “leadership”.

The Cabinet Mission sent by the British Government put forth a plan on 16 May 1946 for a federal India based on a grouping of Provinces. Jinnah accepted it. Nehru, now President of the Congress, once again, destroyed it with Gandhi’s full backing.

Nehru said at the AICC: “As far as going to the Muslim League – never. This is war. We shall face the Muslim League and fight it.” The prospect of compromise did not diminish Nehru’s antipathy towards Jinnah. It was bad enough that he repeated to Viceroy Lord Wavell on 3 November 1945 what he had said publicly: ‘The Congress could make no terms whatever with the Muslim League under its present leadership and policy, that it was a reactionary body with entirely unacceptable ideas with which there could be no settlement’.

But what was inexplicable was this assessment of Jinnah even after he had accepted the British Cabinet Mission’s Plan of 16 May 1946. It rejected Pakistan and provided for a centre vested with powers in respect of defence, foreign affairs, and communications; presiding over three groups of provinces. They could secede from the group in which they were placed after the first general election; but not from the Union.

Yet Nehru told the members of the Mission on 10 June 1946, even before he became Congress President: “The Congress were going to work for a strong Centre and to break the Group system and they would succeed. They did not think that Mr. Jinnah had any real place in the country. The Muslim League and the Congress each represented entirely different outlooks on the work of the Constitution-making Body and they were bound to have strong differences in the Interim Government.”

At his very first meeting with the new Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, on 25 March 1947, Nehru described Jinnah as “a financially successful though mediocre lawyer, Jinnah had found success later in life. He had not been politically successful until after the age of 60.” Jinnah turned sixty on 25 December 1936. As it happened Nehru and he had shared a platform on 12 August 1936, when Nehru recalled their first meeting “about a quarter of a century ago”. It was in Europe, and “at that time I was a student at Cambridge while you had already achieved distinction in the political service of the country”. Jinnah was a national figure well before that in 1916. He was forty then. The comments on his professional competence as a lawyer are belied by Jinnah’s entire record.

Jinnah and Nehru met again in London in the first week of December 1946 in a bid by the authors of the Mission’s Plan to resolve their differences. The Congress, Nehru and Gandhi particularly, rejected the authors’ statement of 6 December 1946 supporting Jinnah’s stand.

The heart of the matter was that the Mission’s Plan and its proposals for an Interim Government implied sharing of power between the Congress and the Muslim League. As in 1937 Nehru was totally opposed to it. He wanted total power not least because he could not stand up to Jinnah. Nehru preferred to divide India. The British helped him by acquiescing in his plan. Jinnah was a national figure when he was 40. Witness the Lucknow Pact of 1916.

Jinnah’s crime was that he stood up to Gandhi as early as in 1920; rejected his leadership; did not show deference to Nehru or to the British. Nehru and the Congress could brook no rival. They preferred partition to sharing power with Jinnah.