Muhammad Ali Jinnah

The founder and first Governor General of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948) was known to the nation he created as Qayid-i-Azam (Great Leader). He was the leader of the All-India Muslim League from 1913 until partition was accomplished in 1947. He has most recently been depicted by Denzil Smith in the 2017 film Viceroy’s House about the negotiations between Jinnah, Nehru and India’s last Viceroy the Earl Mountbatten of Burma.

Born into a mercantile family who settled in Karachi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah was educated at the Christian Missionary High School and graduated from Bombay University aged sixteen. In 1892 Sir Frederick Leigh Croft offered Jinnah an apprenticeship in London with Graham’s Shipping and Trading Co. Before he left, he married child bride Emibai Jinnah – a distant cousin – who died while Jinnah was still in London. Much to his father’s disapproval, Jinnah gave-up his apprenticeship to study law at Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

Jinnah’s political ambitions were fired when he witnessed the maiden speech of Dadabhai Naoroji, Britain’s first Asian MP, from the Visitors’ Gallery in the House of Commons. Aged nineteen, he became the youngest Asian to be called to the bar and abandoned Indian dress for Western tailoring. He would come to own over 200 bespoke suits though did not patronize Henry Poole & Co until his second sojourn in London in the 1930s. Jinnah returned to Indian to practise as a barrister in Bombay. A fellow pleader described him as having ‘a sixth sense (and that) he could see around corners. He was a very clear thinker (and) drove his points home with exquisite selection and slow deliver, word by word’.

By 1916 Jinnah had risen through the ranks of the All India Muslim League to become president firm in his belief that ‘Hindus and Muslims can never evolve a common nationality’. By 1920 he resigned from the Indian National Congress who had launched a movement of non-cooperation to undermine British rule that Jinnah fiercely opposed. The Savile Row-suited Jinnah who spoke English as a first language profoundly disagreed with Hindu Mahatma Gandhi’s Indian peasant garb and the seer’s whipping-up of mob rule in India. He fought with Jawaharlal Nehru (who would become independent India’s first Prime Minister) to place the Muslim League as an equal partner with the Indian National Congress and the British Raj.

A British general’s wife who observed Jinnah at a Viceregal dinner in Simla wrote of him, ‘he is a great personality. He talks the most beautiful English. He models his manners and clothes on (Gerald) du Maurier, the actor, and his English on Burke’s speeches. He is a future Viceroy if the present system of gradually Indianizing the service continues’. In 1929 Jinnah returned to England having separated from his second wife. He would be joined there by his daughter Dina (with whom he would become estranged when she married a Christian) and his sister Fatimah who would become his lifelong consort.

Jinnah’s biographer Hector Bolitho described his tenure in London as ‘his years of order and contemplation wedged between the time of early struggle and the final storm of conquest’. Practising law, Jinnah became rich. He lived in a large house in Hampstead, employed an English chauffeur to drive his Bentley, maintained an Indian and a British chef and kept houses on the Malabar Hill in Bombay and in New Delhi designed by Edwin Lutyens. Jinnah’s tailor was Henry Poole and he was said never to wear the same silk tie twice.

In 1935 Jinnah returned to India. A fifty Craven A cigarettes a day man, his health was already poor due to tuberculosis but this was hidden from the public as Jinnah took charge of the Muslim League and began the fight for an independent homeland for India’s Muslim community. The battle cry was ‘India divided or India destroyed’. The Lahore Resolution, signed in 1940, formally demanded the formation of an independent Pakistan after the British withdrawal from India. Nehru called it ‘Jinnah’s fantastic proposal’ but British war time Prime Minister Winston Churchill bargained independence for India and Pakistan for support during World War II. ‘Pakistan is life or death for us’, Jinnah declared.

Pakistan’s independence from India was achieved in 1947 at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives during mass migration as India was divided along religious lines. Viceroy the Earl Mountbatten disliked Jinnah commenting ‘until I had met Jinnah, I would not have thought it possible that a man with such a complete lack of sense of responsibility could hold down so powerful a position’. He also stated that had he known Jinnah was dying in 1947, Mountbatten would have delayed negotiations. The last Viceroy was equally nonplussed that Jinnah was appointed Governor General of Pakistan rather than he.

In power, Jinnah was described thus: ‘here indeed is Pakistan’s King-Emperor, Archbishop of Canterbury, Speaker and Prime Minister concentrated into one formidable Qayid-i-Azam’. Governor General Jinnah did not live long to stabilize the world’s largest Islamic state. Dying in 1948, his adversary Nehru, now Prime Minister of India, wrote ‘how shall we judge him? He succeeded in his quest and gained his objective, but at what cost and with what a difference from what he had imagined’.

(c) James Sherwood

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