“…in the course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”
These are not the words of Gandhi or Nehru, but of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the man whose portrait in a corner of a university has led to protests in the country he left 70 years ago. Jinnah was a man of many colours. He was a bulwark of Hindu-Muslim unity, who found no place for religion in politics, he was a liberal Mussalman who liked his whiskey and married a Parsi. Also, he was one of the leading lawyers in London who defended Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bhagat Singh in the courts.
That is how his picture found a place in Aligarh Muslim University but that’s not how India remembers him. For Indians, Jinnah was the founder of Pakistan, the man who divided the country in two. The bloody partition of undivided India may be a distant memory now but it’s repercussions are felt even today. Over a million died and around 14.5 million moved both ways across the newly demarcated border. That’s how most Indians remember him, the antagonist in the Indian History.
Seven decades have passed since, but the questions of the past still haunt us – Why did the partition happen ? Who divided the country, Jinnah or Nehru? Why is there a picture of Jinnah at AMU ? Does Jinnah have a place in Modern India?
Mohammad Ali Jinnah in later years of his political years was a changed man. He considered Congress, a Hindu dominated party, as a threat to the Muslim population of the country whom he thought would be left voiceless. What Jinnah envisioned was not a separate country, but he wanted a muslim majority Pakistan to co-exist with the rest of the country under a central Indian-power. But the fear that with British out of the picture, the League would find it difficult to raise its voice in the Congress dominated government, he opted for a sovereign Pakistan with divided Punjab and Bengal.
Jinnah feared. He feared that the minority would be left with no voice in Hindu led majority. He feared the minority views could not co-exist with the majority. For seven decades, India proved him wrong. Not only did we exist but we performed far better than Jinnah’s Pakistan. But today, his portrait in AMU is mocking us, justifying his claim that minority would struggle under majority. For if we cannot bear a picture of the man who contributed to the independence of this country as much as anybody else, we have proved him right. Jinnah was a fighter for Independence alongside Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Till the demand for Pakistan came about, he was almost as important as the other leaders in the national narrative at that time.
Moreover, Students at the university “come from India, their grandparents chose India over Pakistan” and opposed Jinnah. It is not for the government or the hooligans to decide, what can hang on the walls in the AMU students’ union office. To contextualize who Jinnah was, it’s important to examine his legacy beyond the lens of Partition. The Jinnah debate is not an academic discussion and it is not about Jinnah either. May be, it is just an attempt to divide our society into us versus them.