December 25: Mr. Jinnah’s Legislative Career

Posted on December 25, 2006
Filed Under >Yasser Latif Hamdani, History, Law & Justice, People
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Guest Post by Yasser Latif Hamdani

As we celebrate M.A. Jinnah’s birth anniversay today, December 25, it behoves us to think deep and hard on his true legacy (also see earlier Jinnah-related ATP Posts: The Other Side of Mr. Jinnah; Watch Jinnah-The Movie; 1947 Video-1; 1947 Video-2; Aazadi Mubarak; Independence Day Greetings for India; Remembering 9.11.1948).

Those who criticize the current government for passing the Women’s Protection Bill would do well to remind themselves of the long and extremely effective legislative career of Pakistan’s founding father, Mr. Mahomed Ali Jinnah, as a member of the central legislative assembly of India.

Indeed the greatest tragedy of the subcontinent is that both India and Pakistan have chosen to selectively remember this great man, especially by choosing to ignore his politics prior to the Pakistan Movement. However if both India and Pakistan were to revisit Jinnah’s pre-1937 Indian nationalist career, we would find much to celebrate together, even if we continue to differ on his later role as the champion of Muslim separatism.

Jinnah’s legislative career spanned over close to four decades, out of which 37 years were spent serving the cause of India’s progress. Most ironic was his very first election in 1910, where Congressman Jinnah, who was to one day lead Muslim League to hilt against the Congress, defeated the Muslim Leaguer Rafiuddin Ahmad from Bombay to successfully enter into the legislative council. Who could imagine then that this young Congressman barrister would one day end up becoming Muslim League’s most famous leader.

Barely a month into the assembly, he took on Lord Minto by denouncing the “cruel and harsh treatment that is meted out to the Indians in Natal” in support of Mohandas Gandhi, who too was to become his principal foe in the future. When Lord Minto reprimanded him for using “harsh language”, he replied, “Well my Lord, I should feel inclined to use much harsher language.”

In 1912, Jinnah alienated many of his Muslim supporters by giving his wholehearted support to the Special Marriage Amendment Bill, which sought to provide mixed religion marriages legal protection. He argued that the bill would provide equality but he was opposed by many members on the grounds that the bill contravened the Koran. Undaunted Jinnah asked the law member who had opposed the bill if he “would deny that there is a certain class of educated and enlightened people who rightly think that a gravest injustice is done to them as long as liberty of conscience is held from them”.

Rubbishing the idea that Muslim sensibilities would be hurt, he asked: “Is this the first time in the history of legislation in this country that this Council has been called upon to override Musalman Law or modify it to suit the time? The Council has over ridden and modified the Musalman law in many respects.” It was the same year that he stood up to argue that universal elementary education ought to be “compulsory”. He declared unfettered by any opposition religious or otherwise:

“In no country has elementary education become universal without compulsion. Find the money; if necessary tax the people. But I shall be told that people are already taxed. I shall be told that we shall face great unpopularity… My answer is that we should do all this to improve the masses of this country to whom you owe a much greater duty than anyone else. My answer is that you should remove the reproach that is leveled against the British rule, that is, the neglect of elementary education. My answer is that it is the duty of every civilised government to educate masses, and if you have to face unpopularity, if you have to face certain amount of danger, face it boldly in the name of duty.”

Later defining self government, he spoke of a government for the people and by the people unfettered and unconditionally. Here too Jinnah was at his best, a secular liberal politician who fought for what he believed in. While he opposed forces of religious reaction and espoused the cause of freedom, he did not turn his back to the legitimate demands of his community and this manifested itself in form of the Wakf Bill, which was his great legislative triumph for the Muslims. But if the Muslims thought Jinnah had changed his ways, they were sorely mistaken when he supported the Child Marriages Restraint Bill which outlawed marriages of girls below the age of 16. When questioned, Jinnah declared that religion had nothing to do with it, but that this was a question of common sense.

At other times, he pushed forward an agenda that sought to drive the British into a corner. In February 1924, he introduced a legislation that called for the Government of India to buy its stores through “Rupee tenders” instead of Pound sterling which had proved costly for India and had blatantly favored the British. In introducing this measure, he recounted 75 different British imperial purchases that had inhibited India’s economic development. His resolution passed and has been held by many historians as the single most important event in India’s pre-partition history that had stimulated indigenous Economic growth and development. Opposing a British move to introduce passports as a necessary pre-condition to enter India, Jinnah declared that “all regulations that impose passports are the biggest nuisance and the sooner they are done away with the better.”

Speaking against the deportation of Bombay Chronicle Editor, B. G. Horniman he declared:

“I do maintain, and I have drunk deep at the fountain of constitutional law, that the liberty of a man is dearest thing in the law of any constitution and it should not be taken away in this fashion.”

On Indian soldiers fighting British wars, Jinnah and Gandhi clashed publicly. Gandhi wanted to use Home Rule League to recruit soldiers for the British Empire, something which Jinnah found abhorrent and opposed. Jinnah believed that as long as Indians were not allowed to become officers or India remained in subjection, they could not be asked to fight for the empire. Jinnah said:

“We cannot ask young men to fight for principles, the application of which is denied to their own country. A subject race cannot fight for others with the heart and energy that a free race can fight with for the freedom of itself and others. If India has to make great sacrifices in the defence of the Empire, it must be as a partner in the Empire and not as its dependency. Let her feel that she is fighting for her own freedom as well as the freedom of a commonwealth of free nations under the British crown and then she will strain to stand by England to the last.”

Jinnah’s legislative career prior to his taking up the Muslim separatist case was marked by secular Indian nationalism and his desire to see India as a great and free nation of the world, inspired by constitutionalism and democracy. Jinnah stood for universal education, women’s rights, equality of Indians irrespective of religion, caste, creed or gender and against obscurantism of all forms. It is this part of his career that can not only help to bridge the gap of distrust between Pakistan and India, but can also inspire liberals in the nation that he founded to work for a modern, democratic and pluralistic Pakistan in line with Jinnah’s ideas of constitutionalism and democracy.

Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer in Lahore and a researcher of the history of the Pakistan Movement.

25 responses to “December 25: Mr. Jinnah’s Legislative Career”

  1. BJ mian,

    Glad to see you interacting here.

    Your suggestions are most welcome and I will keep them in mind.

    Hope you will stay and add “flavor”.

  2. Beej Kumar says:

    A well-written piece, accentuating the positives of Mr. Jinnah’s early career and understandably focused on what the ORIGINAL Jinnah was all about before things went the wrong way – leading to the creation of Pakistan.

    Just a couple of suggestions.

    (1) Images should have some caption (and perhaps reference to the source)

    (2) Include citations at end.

    You should also incorporate some “Recommended Reading” at the end of every article you do on such topics.

  3. Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan


    14 th July 1947:

    Minorities to which ever community they might belong will be safeguarded. They will be in all respects the citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste or creed.

    (New Dehli Press Conference)

    25th October 1947:

    Minorities DO NOT cease to be citizens. Minorities living in Pakistan or Hindustan do not cease to be citizens of their respective states by virtue of their belonging to particular faith, religion or race. I have repeatedly made it clear, especially in my opening speech to the constituent Assembley, that the minorities in Pakistan would be treated as our citizens and will enjoy all the rights as any other community. Pakistan SHALL pursue this policy and do all it can to create a sense of security and confidence in the Non-Muslim minorities of Pakistan. We do not prescribe any school boy tests for their loyalty. We shall not say to any Hindu citizen of Pakistan ‘if there was war would you shoot a Hindu?’

    (Quaid e Azam’s interview with Reuters’ Duncan Hooper note: not to be confused with his interview with Reuters’ Doon Campbell which has been quoted in detail else where).

    30th October 1947:

    The tenets of Islam enjoin on every Musalman to give protection to his neighbours and to the Minorities regardless of caste and creed. We must make it a matter of our honor and prestige to create sense of security amongst them.

    (To a Mass Rally at University Stadium Lahore)

    Same Day (On Radio Pakistan):

    Protection of Minorities is a sacred undertaking. (On Partition Massacres) Humanity cries out loud against this shameful conduct and deeds. The civilized world is looking upon these doings and happenings with horror and the fair name of the communities concerned stands blackened. Put an end to this ruthlessly and with an Iron hand.

    17th December 1947:

    I cannot in good conscience continue to be the president of a self avowedly communal organization and the Governor General of Pakistan at the same time.

    ( Last meeting of the All India Muslim league before it split into PML and IML)


    9th January 1948:

    Muslims! Protect your Hindu Neighbours. Cooperate with the Government and the officials in protecting your Hindu Neighbours against these lawless elements, fifth columnists and cliques. Pakistan must be governed through the properly constituted Government and not by cliques or fifth columnists or Mobs.

    (Tour of Riot affected areas of Karachi)


    25th January 1948:

    I would like to tell those who are misled by propaganda that not only the Muslims but Non Muslims have nothing to fear. Islam and its idealism have taught us democracy. Islam has taught Equality, Justice and fairplay to everybody. What reason is there for anyone to fear

    Democracy, equality, freedom on the highest sense of integrity and on the basis of fairplay and justice for everyone. Let us make the constitution of Pakistan. We will make it and we will show it to the world.

    (Address to the Karachi Bar association on the occasion of Eid Milad un Nabi)

    3rd February 1948:

    I assure you Pakistan means to stand by its oft repeated promises of according equal rights to all its nationals irrespective of their caste or creed. Pakistan which symbolizes the aspirations of a nation that found it self to be a minority in the Indian subcontinent cannot be UNMINDFUL of minorities within its own borders. It is a pity that the fairname of Karachi was sullied by the sudden outburst of communal frenzy last month and I can’t find words strong enough to condemn the action of those who are responsible.

    (Address to the Parsi Community of Sindh)

    21st March 1948:

    Let me take this opportunity of repeating what I have already said : We shall treat the minorities in Pakistan fairly and justly. We shall maintain peace, law and order and protect and safeguard every citizen of Pakistan without any distinction of caste, creed or community.

    (Mass Rally at Dacca)

    22nd March 1948:

    We guarantee equal rights to all citizens of Pakistan. Hindus should in spirit and action wholeheartedly co-operate with the Government and its various branches as Pakistanis.

    (Meeting with Hindu Legislators)

    23rd March 1948:

    We stand by our declarations that members of every community will be treated as citizens of Pakistan with equal rights and privileges and obligations and that Minorities will be safeguarded and protected.

    (Meeting with the ‘Scheduled Caste Federation’

    13 June 1948:

    Although you have not struck the note of your needs and requirements as a community but it is the policy of my Government and myself that every member of every community irrespective of caste color, creed or race shall be fully protected with regard to his life, property and honor. I reiterate to you that you like all minorities will be treated as equal citizens with your rights and obligations provided you are loyal to Pakistan.

    (Speaking Quetta Parsis)


    In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State — to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non- Muslims — Hindus, Christians, and Parsis — but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.(Jinnah’s address to the people of the US in Feb 1948)

    Pakistan will not be a theocracy or any thing like that (Jinnah March 1948)

    17th July 1947 Press Conference:

    Question: “Will Pakistan be a secular or theocratic state?”

    Mr. M.A. Jinnah: “You are asking me a question that is absurd. I do not know what a theocratic state means.”

    A correspondent suggested that a theocratic State meant a State where only people of a particular religion, for example, Muslims, could be full citizens and Non-Muslims would not be full citizens.

    Mr. M.A. Jinnah: “Then it seems to me that what I have already said is like throwing water on duck’s back (laughter). When you talk of democracy, I am afraid you have not studied Islam. We learned democracy thirteen centuries ago.”

    Raja of Mahmoodabad says in his memoirs: My advocacy of an Islamic state brought me into conflict with Jinnah. He thoroughly disapproved of my ideas and dissuaded me from expressing them publicly from the League platform lest the people might be led to believe that Jinnah share my view and that he was asking me to convey such ideas to public. As I was convinced that I was right and did not want to compromise Jinnah’s position, I decided to cut myself away and for nearly two years kept my distance from him, apart from seeing him during the working committee meetings and other formal occasions.

    “Democracy is in the blood of Muslamans who look upon complete equality of man. I give you an example. Very often when I go to a mosque, my chauffeur stands side by side with me. Muslamans believe in fraternity, equality and liberty.” (Speech at Kingsway Hall, London. 14.12.1946)

  4. Great Article.

    Glad to see it on Pakistaniat.

    One of Jinnah’s life philosophy was to “Never accept the second best in your ideas, in your manner and in your way of life when you get to the top. Most importantly, be independent of others.”

    There are very few people who live by that but Jinnah certainly did.

    Another good book that outlines the consistent role that MA Jinnah played in the pre-partition era too, is Stanley Wolpert’s Shameful Flight.

    May this year be another one where Jinnah lives on.

  5. Mariam says:

    [quote post=”488″]As for the father of our nation, it is ironic to place a person so high in our being , who could not even narrate in our own national language.[/quote]

    Yet he chose Urdu over other languages :D. Can you tell us why?

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