By Ian Stephens *
My first sighting was brief, but remains perhaps the clearest. I was young and impressionable, in my twenties only; I had been in India little more than a year. But though I am now well into my seventies, and it happened so long ago, that brief incident still seems fresh.
It was in Simla. The month, I think, April or May – 1931; and the time politically crucial; a mere few weeks after the Irwin-Gandhi Pact, and the consequent release from jail, because of it, of bigwigs in the Indian Congress Party who, before, I had had no chance of meeting. Among these was Mrs. Naidu, whom I took a liking for. She had told me about Mr. Jinnah, well describing his distinctive appearance – she was a poet – and his, to her - she was a politician too – then enigmatic import for the evolving Indian scene.
And then suddenly, one day, in Simla, there he was: standing in bright sunshine, just outside the front entrance to the Cecil Hotel, where I lived; immobile, immaculate, a figure of scarcely believable thinness and elegance, clad in a perfect Savile Row suit, very erect, his raven-black hair well brushed back but startlingly transformed, over the forehead, by a white streak, or quiff; his face handsome, but inscrutable, somehow alarming. And he was wearing a monocle. I had never before seen anyone at all like him. And then abruptly he turned, and went indoors.
Identification was confirmed by my companion and friend Hafazat Hussain. We were both young Government employees, walking back to the hotel together for lunch.1 And there the great man, indisputably, had stood, an enigma, at the hotel entrance, alone.
And as we know – but which, of course, was not known then – those summer months of 1931 were probably the most difficult, frustrated and heartrending of his life. The first Round Table Conference in London was over, and he had been deeply disillusioned by it. The cleavage between him and the nationalists of the Hindu-dominated Indian Congress Party, his former colleagues, which had begun over the affair of the so-called Nehru report in the middle 1920s, had widened. Furthermore the Viceroy Lord Irwin – with whom Waheed Ahmad’s book2 shows his relations were quite friendly – had gone and been replaced by Lord Willingdon, a former Bombay Governor whom he had clashed with, unpleasantly, years before. Moreover his private life had lately been filled with tragedy: his marriage had been breaking up and then, suddenly, his young wife had died.
So, only a few weeks after that glimpse I had had of him, he took a house in Hampstead, and seemed to be establishing himself, as an exile, in legal practice before the British Privy Council. There was talk that he intended to stand for Parliament. The phase in his life which implied a complete, disillusioned withdrawal from Indian politics had begun.
However, about two years later, a change set in. Liaqat Ali Khan and his wife came to him, urging him not to make his dissociation from India’s Muslims total. By 1935, he occasionally reappeared, to make speeches in the Indian Legislature, some of which I listened to. They were very able but, with me, gripped the intellect rather than the heart.
It might, at the point, be fascinating to speculate on what the course of events would have been, during those ambiguous, history-shaping middle years of the 1930s, had Iqbal’s opinions had been different, or had Sir Fazl-i-Husain not died when he did, when in his later fifties merely – not an old man – in July 1936. I was slightly acquainted with both these eminent persons.
Iqbal’s influence, of course, sustainedly favoured Pakistan’s creation, in some form, throughout. But Sir Fazli’s did not; and he was a powerful leader; and free, at that stage, for active re-entry into politics, his term of office as a Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council, having ended only the year before. From evidence at the time – and his son Azim Husain’s book confirms it – his views about what should be the right policies for Muslims on the subcontinent had, by 1935 or thereabouts diverged, very much, from Jinnah’s and some of his comments on the future Quaid were harsh.3
On these matters, however, other contributors to this Congress will have much weightier things than me to say. And it was not till 1937 that Mr. Jinnah re-entered the subcontinent’s politics in a history-changing way-by which time I had moved from Government employ in Delhi-Simla to be a leader-writer on “The Statesman’, in Calcutta. So, for some years, I did not, physically, see him.
But in that journalistic capacity, I did have to try to help construe his activities from afar. And perhaps we, on “The Statesman”, under Arthur Moore’s leadership, were the first to interpret aright the crucial importance, for the subcontinent’s future, of the Muslims’ reaction to Jawaharlal Nehru’s arrogant conduct about composition of the U.P Provincial Cabinet after the 1937 elections. The effect of that affair, as I subsequently wrote,4 was “on many Muslim minds…of a lightning-flash. What had before been guessed at, now leapt forth… in horridly clear outline. The Congress, a Hindu-dominated body, was bent on the Muslims’ eventual absorption; Western-style majority rule… could only mean the smaller community being swallowed by the larger, as Syed Ahmad Khan had long ago pointed out.”
In the Summer of 1942, at the height of the so-called August disorders, instigated by Gandhi and Congress Party, when the triumphant Japanese had overrun Burma, and were at the gates of Bengal, I was made Editor of “The Statesman” in replacement of Moore – and, in that new post, had to seek interviews with the great men in the land, so as to try, personally, to understand the working of their minds.
I had done some of this sort of thing before of course. But now, such interviews became a regular part of my duty, which they had not been when I was a mere indoors man, writing so-called “leaders”. And despite the removal, once more into jail, that August, of all the leading Congress Party figures except Rajagopalachari, because of those disorder, there were many grandees yet to be investigated: Viceroy; Members of his now very large war-time Executive Council; C-in-C.; Governor of Bengal; Indian Liberals; other kinds of unattached eminent persons and, of course, Jinnah, head of the now vigorously growing Muslim League.
My first interview with him, in the front lounge, sombrely furnished, of his large house at 10 Aurangzeb Road in New Delhi, proved to be an austere, formal affair – very unlike interviews with Gandhi, which were rich, nearly always, in accessory and sometimes absurd human incident, and with numerous minor persons flustering about off-stage. But at Aurangzeb Road, a single modest young secretary, Khurshid-his third, I think – received me discreetly in a lobby at the entrance; Miss Fatima Jinnah, in grey draperies, became briefly visible within; and then appeared the great man, very erect, alarmingly lean as ever, his handsome face expressionless except for an occasional restrained smile, the thin lips then moving, characteristically, over the rather prominent teeth. And he proceeded to give me a discourse, very lucid-but with not much novelty, for me, in it – on the Indian political scene as construed by the Muslim League. There was no real personal exchange between us.
I had been half-prepared to feel magnetized by this man, at close range, and had put myself professionally on guard that because, shortly before, Beverley Nichols, a writer now almost forgotten, had experienced something like a revelation, during his first interview with Jinnah – vividly describing it, afterwards, in his book Verdict on India. But I felt none of that at all. I was interested, instructed, but no captivated. Possibly, Mr. Jinnah himself felt inhibited by misgivings about my intentions towards the mysterious, important fortnightly contributions still uninterruptedly being made to “The Statesman’, despite its new Editorship, by “Shahed”, a very talented Muslim controversialist who infuriated most Hindus. But I am unsure whether the great man himself then knew who “Shahed” was and, extraordinary to relate, I did not, then either – a tale which is told, for the first time, in my coming new book Unmade Journey.5
Indeed, for me, what perhaps was most significant about the morning’s doing was the lively interest taken in it, outside, by my Pathan motor-driver Yakub who, like many of the Muslims so called “masses”, had of late become very politically minded – and pro-League. He plied me, when I emerged, with questions about what the great man had said – then told me that he himself, waiting out there, and chatting with the underlings, had learned a thing or two: that Mr. Jinnah was surprisingly British in his personal way of life; also, was kind to his servants.6
From then on, till Partition time, I had other interviews with Mr. Jinnah; informative, less cautious but, in retrospect not of lasting importance. There might well have been a fascinating one, over the notorious “Clause 8” affair of June 1946. However, I was in Calcutta at the time, not Delhi. But simultaneously, and of course independently, the Muslim League leadership, and we on “The Statesman”, over that episode, had reached an identical ugly conclusion: that the British Cabinet Mission and the Viceroy were guilty of dishonesty. “Politicians may eat their words,” I wrote, “but statesmen should not.” It was rough stuff and of course caused grave displeasure in high places. Not till February 1948 in fact – at Karachi, after Partition – did I have a talk of outstanding interest and intimacy with Mr. Jinnah. I will revert to that in a moment. It was later described in my book Horned Moon,7 published in 1952, after I had retired from “The Statesman”.
And one amazing fact, every relevant, has only quite recently emerged: in Lapierre and Collins’s book:8 Jinnah’s private knowledge – at that time, February 1948, hidden from every-one-that he was dying: that he had a lung fatally damaged by tuberculosis. He had known this for a full two years.
Right at the start of the interview, I had myself alluded at his health, saying, which was true, that I thought he looked better than when I had last seen him. It was a very good interview, wide-ranging, with a warmth and friendliness I had not previously experienced from him; baffling, too for his secretaries because it went on so long, disorganizing his day. He said very kind things, deriving largely of course, from “The Statesman’s – editorial stand, the previous autumns – which I had risked much… against, as I thought, India’s wrongful acquisition of Kashmir. He also alluded to the Clause 8 affair, of 1946. And in discussing details about his health he told me no untruth. He merely withheld, from me as from every-one, even, I have reason to believe, from his sister-one vital fact: the awful evidence of that X-ray plate, locked away, since June 1946, in Dr. J.A.L. Patel’s safe.
And whether we may think of the Mountbatten propaganda put across the Lapierre and Collins, we must award the two authors high praise for having ferreted out the facts about that plate, presumably from Dr. Patel himself, it is hard to think what other source there could have been. And I, before writing Horned Moon in 1942, had consulted two of Mr. Jinnah’s subsequent doctors, both Pakistanis: Drs. Ilahi Bux, and Riaz Ali Shah. They had known nothing of any long-established tuberculosis. Only Jinnah himself knew – and his old friend and confidant in Bombay. And historians may now confidently assert that, had India’s Congress Party leaders learned the truth, during those 14 relevant months before August 1947, the subcontinent’s destiny might have been quite different: they would have delayed, instead of helping to accelerate, the course of history; and Pakistan might then never have been born, or else have been smothered at birth.
Lonely, sustained moral and Physical courage, of a quite extraordinary kind, to sustain a creative feat of statesmanship, must be ascribed to Mr. Jinnah during his last phase of life.
A few words from me, to end with, on a British item. When Pakistan was created in 1947 the Quaid offered Governorships, in three of its four provinces, to senior British members of the Civil Service. That was indeed magnanimous, towards a departing Colonial Power; and I think we may say was insufficiently repaid, by successive British Governments, during the bitter Indo-Pakistani disputes afterwards. India however was the bigger country potentially more lucrative for trade – and that counted. So she tended to get the advantage.
Of course there were other considerations, which motivated the Quaid-for instance, shortage of senior Muslim civil servants, and the need to keep such as there were at the Centre. But there can be no denying that those three appointments were gracious. And when myself in the Pakistan Government’s employ, during the later 1950s, I visited two of those Governors, Cunningham and Mudie, at their Scottish homes, they both told me of the Quaid’s full trust, and scrupulous fairness, throughout their, often, very perplexing terms of office.
* Formerly Editor, Statesman and late historian, Pakistan Government, G.H.Q. Rawalpindi.
Source: World Scholars on Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
Ahmad Hasan Dani, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan, 1979.