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One piece of attire has long symbolised Pakistan’s national ideology: the Jinnah cap. Technically known as the Qaraqul cap, for it is made from the fur of the Qaraqul breed of sheep, the hat is typically worn by Central Asian men (presently, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is rarely seen without his). But in Pakistan, the hat has been firmly identified with the Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah for decades. This affiliation has ensured that others who sport the cap are understood to be making a political, rather than fashion, statement. Indeed, as Pakistan’s democratic fortunes have waxed and waned over the years, the choice by certain politicians to don the Jinnah cap has revealed much about political aspirations and the public mood.

The Jinnah cap was first initiated into national politics in 1937, when Jinnah sported it at the Lucknow session of the All India Muslim League on October 15. The cap was part of a complete change in Jinnah’s wardrobe; he surrendered his Saville Row suits in favour of a sherwani and Qaraqul cap meant to signify his commitment to the idea of a separate nation for the Muslims of South Asia.

Interestingly, at that point, many regarded the Jinnah cap as an answer to the hand-spun cotton cap which Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru used to wear, and which had come to symbolise the Congress Party’s ideals at the time.

Since then, the cap has graced many a brow vying for a successful political, even religious, career in the Land of the Pure. The cap has come to acquire ample political significance and is bought usually by oath-takers as a ritual to achieve the ‘crowning touch.’ In most cases, however, the cap’s symbolism has not proved powerful enough to achieve the degree of leadership success that Jinnah managed.



Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first prime minister, who also wore the Jinnah cap, was assassinated while the country was in its early years. The leader, who was widely regarded as Jinnah’s ‘right hand man,’ tried to fill the leadership vacuum after Jinnah’s death and proved a fairly successful diplomat especially with regard to the Kashmir conflict.

Another national leader who donned the Jinnah cap was Khwaja Nazimuddin. Stepping in as prime minister after Khan’s assassination, Nazimuddin’s government tried to tackle challenges posed by the Bengali Language Movement and a campaign aimed at declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims. His reign, however, ended abruptly as Ghulam Mohammad, the then Governor-General of Pakistan, dismissed the prime minister, thereby kicking off a disturbing trend that has haunted the political history of Pakistan over the decades.

Ayub Khan also sported the Jinnah cap to symbolically assure the public of his goodwill and potential to lead the nation. Of course, it was during his reign that the infamous ‘Operation Gibraltar’ was set in motion that eventually led to the 1965 war and thousands of casualties.

The cap then found another faithful in Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, dubbed an ultra-nationalist by several. The brilliant orator Bhutto was quite the secularist, much like Jinnah himself. But he was also the one to restrict the sale of alcohol in order to please religious groups, many of whom were critical of him. That didn’t help; the die had been cast. The leader who set Pakistan’s nuclear programme in motion and founded the country’s largest political party was sentenced to death on charges of ‘conspiracy to murder’ Ahmed Raza Kasuri. To this date, Bhutto’s trial remains amongst the most disputed in the country’s sordid politico-judicial history.

Not surprisingly, General Ziaul Haq chose not to don the Jinnah cap. After all, by the 1980s, the accessory had become synonymous with the secular ethos that Jinnah espoused and that the general was rabidly opposed to. For this military man, official army attire and the occasional trappings of Islamisation were sufficient.

The cap had to wait a decade before staging a comeback on the crown of Nawaz Sharif, the chief of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz group and the prime minister of Pakistan. In that tumultuous decade of democracy, the cap hovered, on and off, with Sharif’s dismissal, and then re-election.

With Sharif, the Jinnah cap took on political as well as explicitly religious proportions, as this was a leader who defended democracy even while aspiring to be the Amirul Momineen (commander of the faithful). No doubt, many religious scholars over time have sported Qaraqul caps and Jinnah, too, used it to symbolise his call for a Muslim state. But in the Pakistani public sphere, the accessory was a distinctly political symbol until Sharif tipped the balance.

Over the years, the cap has been used by others who didn’t attain the country’s highest offices to enhance popular support and, by extension, political clout. In fact, the Jinnah cap would be an interesting case study for an esoteric European semiotician looking for research fodder.

Altaf Hussain, once the staunch mohajir nationalist, now an avowed federalist, has exploited the cap’s symbolism along with that of the Sindhi ajrak to facilitate his politics in Sindh. Another recent example of a politician channelling the cap’s veneer of legitimacy is Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who showed off his Jinnah in Lahore’s sweltering heat. In both cases, the public figures remained in line with Jinnah’s secular vision of Pakistan.

But for some, the Jinnah cap has always been intrinsically linked with Pakistan’s Islamic identity. Jamaat-i-Islami chief Munawar Hasan, who almost always wears the Jinnah cap, explains, ‘Quaid-e-Azam died too early in the country’s history and politicians and other leaders naturally look up to him as the ideal example of leadership.’ Hasan adds that, ‘during the last few years of the Pakistan Movement, Jinnah completely changed his garb from western to eastern and Muslim. His cap was a manifestation of his Muslim identity.’

Veteran journalist, playwright, and actor Imran Aslam seconds this idea: ‘In pre-Partition India, the cap became part of a political campaign that distinguished the Muslim League from the Congress. It was a political ploy and although I’m sure Jinnah must have felt uncomfortable wearing it, he looked quite elegant in it. Later, politicians used it as a leadership symbolism which intended to show their association with Pakistan’s roots and with the Pakistani identity.’

It is poignant to note, then, that with Messrs Pervez Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz, the cap became virtually obsolete. Currently, too, Pakistan’s top leadership continues without the cap. Perhaps the shift away from this symbol of Pakistani nationalism, pride, and secularism is a good measure of the profound extent of this country’s ongoing identity crisis. For if the head that wears the crown is meant to lie uneasy, one can only fear for the fate of the head that governs without the crowning touch of the Jinnah cap.

Source: Qurat ul ain Siddiqui - Dawn News

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