by Sujata Anandan

The AMU controversy might be politically motivated, but the fact is Mohammad Ali Jinnah never stood for anything Indian or Muslim

The Aligarh Muslim University may have got it all wrong about Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He is not worthy of veneration by any Indian Muslim. If only they read Roses in December they will know why.

The book, memoirs of M C Chagla, the first chief justice of the Bombay High Court in Independent India, was standard reading for students of high school in the 1960s and 1970s. It has a narrative on Jinnah that is quite damning.

Chagla was his election agent during the British regime when Jinnah was contesting a seat to the Constituent Assembly. Chagla describes a particular upper crust restaurant where they both sat discussing poll strategy. Just then, one particular constituent, a Muslim man accompanied by his son, happened to pass by and decided to stop and chat with Jinnah and his election agent. They were having sandwiches with their tea and the little boy wanted one. Chagla seemed to hesitate but it would have been churlish to refuse. The boy loved the sandwich and had some more even as Jinnah seemed upset at his sandwiches being gobbled up by the unexpected guests.

When they had departed, the father promising to vote for Jinnah, the latter furiously reprimanded his election agent. “How could you allow the boy to eat those sandwiches!”

Chagla’s reply is what makes the book so memorable and exposes Jinnah’s hypocrisy. For Jinnah was not upset by someone merely eating his sandwich per se, he could always have ordered more. There was a deeper reason why he was angry at Chagla for allowing the boy to eat them.

“I had only a split second to think and choose between your welfare and that boy’s. Had I stopped him, I would have had to have good reason for my refusal. If I had told them the truth, you would have lost every single vote in your constituency. My choice was between your election and his religion. I chose you.” Chagla’s retort effectively shut up Jinnah. For they were pork sandwiches.

The perfect British gent with a Parsi wife, Jinnah could neither read nor quite speak Urdu. I do not think, despite scolding Chagla for violating that young Muslim boy’s religion, he had much regard for his fellow Muslims. He had painstakingly built a beautiful bungalow at Altamount Road in Bombay but did not want to rent it out to fellow Muslims as he thought none of them had any class or etiquette.

When Jinnah had to leave his beloved house behind in 1947, he told the first Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, “Tell Jawahar not to break my heart!” For he did not want the Indian government to sell it off to any sundry Muslim. He wanted it rented to either a British diplomat or to an upper crust Parsi family. Accordingly, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru allotted the house to the British deputy high commissioner. But after their mission in Bombay got their own premises, the bungalow lay abandoned and weed-ridden for years until General Pervez Musharraf tried to make a bid for it to turn it into the official residence of the Pakistani consul general.

But by then the Indian government was wary it would be used as a listening post for conversations emanating from the nearby Raj Bhavan and Varsha, the Maharashtra chief minister’s official residence, by Pakistani agents and thus would be a security risk. Eventually, Jinnah’s daughter, the mother of industrialist Nusli Wadia, laid claim to it and the issue was resolved according to Jinnah’s wishes—it stayed in the hands of an upper crust Parsi family.

But it is his reaction to his Muslim brethren who migrated from India to Pakistan that actually reveals the kind of man Jinnah really was. Arif Mohammad Khan, who was a minister in Rajiv Gandhi’s Cabinet in the 1980s, is fond of relating this story as an indicator of how futile was the partition of India from the perspective of migrating Muslims and how they got nothing apart from Jinnah’s contempt.

These refugees from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were made to languish in refugee camps and decided to petition Jinnah. Looking at how India was settling its own refugees on land and in jobs, giving them all respect and sympathy, they told Jinnah, “We fought so hard for Pakistan and brought this nation into being. And here we are being treated worse than animals while India is taking such good care of its own.”

Jinnah was unmoved. “Only three things are responsible for Pakistan,” he shot back. “I, my typist and my typewriter!” That rendered the Muslim migrants to Pakistan speechless and rather orphaned. If Jinnah had lived long enough, he may have lost much of the glory and sheen that even some Indian Hindus like former Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani bestowed upon him in later years. Advani eulogised Jinnah’s secularism but the party he labelled as pseudo-secularist, the Congress, finds it very difficult to lay claim to a piece of prime property in Mumbai, titled Jinnah House (different from his Altamount Road residence). It was the hub of activity of Congress workers during the freedom movement but now lies dilapidated and abandoned, occasionally used by NGOs and sex workers. It is generally regarded a hot potato for its name, no one can either renovate it or pull it down for obvious political reasons.

So while the controversy over the photo of Jinnah at the AMU might be motivated, I agree with noted poet and film lyricist Javed Akhtar that the university authorities should pull it down voluntarily. Jinnah never stood for anything Indian or Muslim. Unlike other British educated Indian leaders, he derided his countrymen and co-religionists. He also had no role in setting up the AMU. And he alone is responsible for leaving Indian Muslims worse off than before Partition.