Special Feature

August 11, 1947 – Jinnah’s Paradigmatic Shift

phpThumb_generated_thumasdRecently, the Jinnah Institute interviewed leading historian and Quaid expert Sharif al-Mujahid in an attempt to understand the political rationale and ethos behind Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 address to Pakistan’s first constituent assembly. Considered by some to be the cornerstone of his vision for the country, others have dismissed the speech as intellectually inconsistent with his previously articulated positions. Given the importance of the message of tolerance and pluralism in the address, the Jinnah Institute asked Mujahid to explain whether this address signaled a paradigmatic shift in Jinnah’s nationalism or was it, as Stanley Wolpert described it, merely an “uncharacteristic monologue”.

August 11, 1947 – Jinnah’s Paradigmatic Shift

An interview with historian Sharif al-Mujahid


Why was faith used to mobilize the “˜Pakistani’ nation in the sub-continent?

For Muslims in pre-Partition India, with their latent horizontal, vertical, regional and linguistic cleavages, Islam alone could serve as a broad political plank. Scholars such as Karl Deutsch have termed it as Nationalism and Social Communication typology. Islam provided a comprehensive and broad-based platform to gather the 90 million Muslims of the subcontinent under one banner. It was a platform that transcended communal cleavages and reinforced shared beliefs, ideals and concepts that had been ingrained in [the] social consciousness. Moreover, it was charged and saturated with emotions”¦

Three decades of public life had made Jinnah “a keen student of human nature”. Hence, like Gandhi, he was not averse to exploiting “human weaknesses for a good cause,” noted Nilankan Perumal in 1947.

Jinnah recognized by the late 1930s that “his great political ability and astuteness” could not make the Muslim League strong and powerful. He realized that mass support could be won only by appealing to his co-religionists’ loyalty to Islam”¦

Jinnah’s choice was also determined by the overriding fact that Islam provided, according to Iqbal, “those basic emotions and loyalties which gradually unify scattered individuals and groups”, but had also worked as “a people-building force”, transforming them progressively into “a well-defined people”. This explains how – scattered though they were across the length and breadth of the subcontinent in varying proportions – they had yet developed the will to live as a nation on the basis of their “social heritage”, to barrow a Toynbean concept. This “national will” “¦ in turn provided Indian Muslims with the intellectual and political ballast for claiming a distinct nationalism for themselves; that is, apart from an Indian or, more accurately, Hindu nationalism.

How would you rate the influence and relevance of the two-nation theory as an idea to forge a Muslim nation? Was it an “˜absolute’ construct?

The two-nation theory was a paradigm, a conceptual framework. But a paradigm isn’t something that is permanent or absolute. It owes its origins and existence to a particular set of circumstances that call for its formulation. When that particular set changes, the paradigm invariably becomes dysfunctional and obsolete. This is precisely what happened to the Two-Nation Theory, which gave birth to Pakistan. It was relevant in the pre-August 1947 sub-continental context when the Muslims were denied an equitable share in power.

The rise to statehood of the pre-August 1947 Muslim nation, on August 14-15, 1947, changed the nature of the nationality framework provided by geography and the political developments over nearly a century under the Raj. With this change, the Two-Nation Theory that had become operative and functional and held forth the prospect of a Muslim homeland, was obviously rendered a little irrelevant and obsolete. This was for the obvious reason that with the Muslims having acquired a homeland of their own and having attained nationhood, the field of battle and the field of work had undergone a radical change.

The Two-Nation Theory has “¦ undergone a paradigm shift. Since August 14-15, 1947, it has been replaced by a new, post-partition, India-Pakistan paradigm.

How would you define Jinnah’s understanding and utilization of the Two-Nation Theory? Do you think Jinnah could also foresee it as a paradigm that would change over time?

This basic change in the loyalties and emotional attachment of the Muslim nation in India was first recognized by Jinnah himself.  Jinnah had kept himself riveted to new developments and new realities. He did not allow himself to become a victim of his own arguments and previously held points of view.

Thus, on the eve of his departure from New Delhi on August 7, 1947, Jinnah gave the call for forgetting the (immediate) past, burying the hatchet and what Gladstone (1809-98), many years ago, had called “a blessed act of oblivion”. In tandem, he called for starting “afresh as two independent sovereign States of Hindustan and Pakistan”. This was in contrast to most other top Indian leaders (including Gandhi), who were calling on the Muslim minority in India to prove their “loyalty”.

The same message was repeated in Jinnah’s August 11, 1947, address to the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. He called upon both the Muslims in post-partition India and the Hindus in Pakistan to give unreserved loyalty to their respective dominions.

To Jinnah, the major premise in the new geo-political context was that with partition and independence, the two nations encapsulated in the Two-Nation Theory had attained statehood, transforming themselves into the Indian and Pakistani nations. Thus, their prime identification became Indians and Pakistanis and not Hindus and Muslims.

Thus Jinnah’s August 11 call for a united Pakistani nationhood comprising one and all without any distinction of race, religion, colour and language, represents a paradigm shift grounded in new realities and developed for a newly established nation-state and not an emerging nation.

Do you think the intelligentsia shared Jinnah’s view that the Two-Nation Theory would eventually become irrelevant to the Pakistani context?

Most commentators had failed to fathom this paradigm shift and what it entailed. They were unable to recognize that over a period of time, the underlying ideological paradigm can undergo a change or shift in its emphasis, tone and tenor.

As a result the commentators’ own failure to fathom the dictates of the new realities is reflected in their comments on Jinnah’s August 11 address, which in the words of E.I.J. Rosenthal range from “loose thinking and imprecise wording”, to “what a remarkable reversal it was “¦ His mind was racing too swiftly for logical coherence “¦ What was he talking about? Had he simply forgotten where he was? Had the cyclone of events so disoriented him that he was arguing the opponent’s brief? Was he pleading for a united India – on the eve of Pakistan”¦?” Professor Stanley Wolpert considered his address as an “uncharacteristic monologue of reflection before the perplexed mullahs, pirs, nawabs, rajahs, shahs, and khans”.

Do you agree with the view of political commentators of the time on Jinnah’s August 11th address? Was Jinnah portraying a dichotomy in his political ideology as they suggest? How would you interpret the thought behind this address?

Jinnah had not simply forgotten where he was and neither was he arguing the opponent’s brief, much less pleading for a united India. Indeed, he was proclaiming the paradigm shift that had been caused by partition, independence and the acquisition of statehood by the two nations. In this landmark address, Jinnah was laying down a new framework to meet the basic requirements of the new realties in the subcontinent.

For one thing, Jinnah had long demonstrated his command over statesmanship “¦ From this point forth, the statesman in him had taken over [the politician]. Of all the political leaders who had dominated the Indian political scene in 1947, he alone could fathom and articulate the dictates of the new ground realities. While Congress leaders, from Gandhi, Nehru, Patel down to Acharya Kripalani, were demanding “loyalty tests” of Indian Muslims to get entitled to personal security and citizenship, Jinnah in contrast offered the promise of full citizenship to one and all, without any preconditions, with equal rights, equal privileges and equal responsibilities”¦

As Jinnah had so fervently envisaged or hoped for in his August 11th address, why could it not be possible that over the course of time “Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims “¦ in the political sense as citizens of the state” in Pakistan’s body politic? Then, why all this outcry or misrepresentation of one of Jinnah’s most critical declarations? A declaration which, fortuitously, is so well grounded in the first constitutional document in all the annals of Islam? Because of ignorance – sheer ignorance of Islamic lore, traditions and ethos.