A constitutionalist by conviction he was unable to endorse, what he called, a sterile programme that the Congress intended to pursue. He was not opposed to agitation or, even putting stronger, pressure on the Government but he distrusted the ‘destructive methods which did not take account of human nature, and which might slip out of control at any time’3. He was convinced and he did not hesitate to tell Gandhi directly that ‘your way is the wrong way: mine is the right way – the constitutional way is the right way’4. But his voice of practical statesmanship was not heeded and Jinnah walked away not only out of the Congress session but from the Congress Party as well. Commenting on Jinnah’s courage as the solitary opponent of the Boycott resolution Col. Wedgwood, who was present in the Congress session as a fraternal delegate of the British Labour Party, observed that if India had only a few more men of Jinnah’s convictions she would not have to wait for long for her independence.5
Jinnah’s rupture with the Congress has been variously interpreted. Jawaharlal Nehru in his Autobiography is of the view that “Temperamentally he did not fit in at all with the new Congress. He felt completely out of his element in the Khadi-clad crowd demanding speeches in Hindustani”.6 In a later work he has reiterated that Jinnah left the Congress ‘because he could not adapt himself to the new and more advanced ideology and even more so because he dislike the crowds of ill-dressed people talking in Hindustani, who filled the Congress’7. This is hardly a convincing explanation of Jinnah’s breach with the Congress. During his fourteen year old8 association with the body he had freely mingled with the ‘Khadi-clad’ and ‘ill-dressed’ crowd at its meetings. This criticism, moreover, does not appear to reckon with the fact that the people whom Jinnah led in later years – the Muslims – were even poorer and less educated than Hindus who swelled the Congress gatherings and felt completely at home among them. It is of course true that the wilderness of unconstitutionalism had no appeal for him. There was nothing mealy-mouthed about it. He was convinced that Gandhian methodology for the solution of political problems would do great harm than good to India and especially the Muslims, as indeed it did. The Moplahs, the descendants of Arab sailors living along the Malabar Coast, rose in revolt against the British in August 1921 as partners in the non-co-operation movement and lost no less than 10,000 lives9. The Chauri-Chauri tragedy in the district of Gorakhpur, in February 1922, where twenty two policemen were overpowered and brutally burnt alive in the adjoining police station by a frenzied mob was also a sequel of Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement. Whether it was on account of excess such as these or some other unexplained factors, Gandhi realised his mistake at this stage; calling it a Himalayan blunder he called off the movement.
Another Hindu writer would have us believe that Jinnah was a ‘misfit in the Indian National Congress after its assumption of a new complexion of agitation against the British Government’.10 Writing in defence of the Nagpur Resolution, a British biographer of Gandhi has likewise suggested that the Congress demand for Swaraj ‘within the British Empire if possible or outside it if necessary’ was the clause which ‘killed the alliance with Jinnah and the Muslim League’. In his opinion ‘the suggestion that India might quit the Empire was too much for him – having talked himself into total inefficacy he deserted Congress for ever’11. The proposition that Jinnah was in league with the forces of British Imperialism is manifestly incorrect. Any one who has made a dispassionate study of Jinnah’s political career and his public utterances inside as well as outside the Legislative Assembly would not fail to see that he was the bitterest critic of British rule throughout his public career.
Immediately after the stormy session of the Congress at Nagpur, Jinnah explained the reasons for his dissociation from the Congress. Talking to a Hindu journalist he said ‘I will have nothing to do with this pseudo-religious approach to politics. I part company with the Congress and Gandhi. I do not believe in working up mob hysteria. Politics is a gentlemen’s game’12. Speaking several years later, he charged Gandhi with destroying the ideal with which the Congress was started. He was the one man responsible for turning the Congress into an instrument for the revival of Hinduism’13. These words are neither a mere accusation nor a revelation. ‘Gandhi’, in the words of Jawaharlal Nehru ‘was essentially a man of religion, a Hindu to the inner-most depths of his being14. His oft-expressed desire to live for 125 years was an old Hindu aspiration which ‘according to Hindu tradition was the full span of human life’15. Even the political terminology he coined and the weapons he used to fight his political battles were characteristically Hindu. In an article, entitled, ‘The Doctrine of the Sword’, written in 1920, he proudly proclaimed: ‘I have therefore ventured to place before India the ancient law of self-sacrifice. For Satyagraha and its off-shoots, non-co-operation and civil resistance, are nothing but new names for the law of suffering. The Rishis who discovered the law of non-violence in the midst of violence were greater geniuses than Newton. They were themselves greater warriors than Wellington’16.
Despite his frequent professions that he was equally dedicated to all religions17, Gandhi left no one in doubt as to what his own religious beliefs were. In a language free from all ambiguity he said that he was Sanatani Hindu ‘because I believe in the Vedas, the Upanishadas, the Purana and all that goes by the name of the Hindu scriptures, and therefore in avatars and rebirth’18. It was his religion and not politics which appealed to his Hindu followers. In the words of Subhas Chandra Bose, ‘when the Mahatma speaks, he does so in a language…of the Bhagvat Gita and the Ramayana. When he talks to them about Swaraj…he reminds them of the glories of Ramarajya (the Kingdom of King Rama of old) and they understand. And when he talks of conquering through love and ahinsa (non-violence) they are reminded of Buddha and Mahavira and they accept him,19. In spite of ‘Himalayan’ miscalculations that he made and the obvious political blunders that he committed his popularity among the masses hardly ever waned. The explanation of this curious phenomenon lies in the fact that ‘he played cleverly on the religious superstitions of the ignorant and poverty-stricken millions of India and got away with it’20. It was this approach to politics which repelled Jinnah and his departure from the Congress may be regarded as the starting point of a long process of self-examination. He was therefore to look more and more to the needs of his own community.
It may be mentioned in the passing that Gandhi and Jinnah were each other’s antithesis in beliefs and ways of life and furnished an interesting study in contrast. There was hardly anything in common between them which could hold them together on one political platform for any length of time. Gandhi had been active in politics since his return from South Africa in 1915 and had consistently waged battles against the British Government on the question of political and constitutional future of India. But an accurate knowledge of facts and their details was not one of his otherwise numerous accomplishments. He himself admitted to Chimanlal Setalvad during the second session of the Round Table Conference that he had never read the Government of India Act of 1919.21 In 1942 he wrote to Viceroy Lord Linlithgow that ‘he had been reading for the first time the Government of India Act of 1935’ and added ‘that if only he had studied it carefully…the course of Indian history might well have been different’22. He was an enigma and a sort of mystic who seldom spoke directly and mostly acted on impulse which he conveniently descried as his ‘inner voice’. Even his closest associates like Nehru found him to be ‘a very difficult person to understand’ because ‘sometimes his language was almost incomprehensible to an average modern’23. Lord Wavell at the end of one meeting with him complained that ‘he spoke to me for half an hour, and I am still not sure what he meant to tell me. Every sentence he spoke could be interpreted in at least two different ways. I would be happier were I convinced that he knew what he was saying himself, but I cannot even be sure of that’24. He was quite capable of interpreting and reinterpreting his own statements and was ‘perfectly prepared to go back at any time on anything he had said earlier’25. He could assume that role of a dictator in the Congress Party when it suited him while on other occasions when he believed that Hindu interests could be better served by his silence he would withdraw and innocently plead that he was not even an ordinary member of that Party.
Jinnah, on the other hand was a down right political realist. True to his legal profession he would prepare his brief only after he was sure of his facts. There was a great deal of political idealism in him which was to grow with years but it was always based on the stark realities of the situation. He honoured his pledged word and as Lord Pethick Lawrence said, ‘a man of very firm resolution, a man who when made a promise always kept it and if he felt any body else with whom he was negotiating failed to keep his promise he reacted very strongly’26. To say that the two-nation theory was the only ‘wall between Gandhi and Jinnah’27 is to oversimplify their mutual differences. It was a clash of two strong personalities, two distinct value systems and two irreconcilable ideologies and it were these differences what were ‘to dictate the course of the pen that wrote the history of India’28.
Gandhi was a ‘strong man’ and he wanted complete submission not only from his followers but also from his co-workers. To expect Jinnah to offer unconditional acquiescence to any one and least of all to person like Gandhi was to hope for the impossible. This was completely alien to his way of thinking. The surprising thing is not that Jinnah left the Congress in 1920 but that he did not quit it earlier? It is therefore not a far-fetched assumption that Jinnah would have given up the Congress even if he had not voted for non-co-operation at Nagpur. It may have come about a little later but to expect that he would have continued to work in the Congress, in spite of Gandhi’s ascendancy with Hindu philosophy as the guiding star of his politics, appears highly unlikely.
By Dr. Waheed-uz-Zaman ( He is Professor of History, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.)
Source: World Scholars on Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Ahmad Hasan Dani, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan, 1979.