Jul 29, 2009

Book review: Revisiting Jinnah’s legacy

by Ashfak Bokhari

There has never been so great a need to revisit Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s legacy as now, under the changed circumstances, to renew our resolve to adhere to his ideals, his principles and his vision of Pakistan. Nor has there been so much urgency to disseminate and popularise the political philosophy of Mr Jinnah — the Quaid-i-Azam to most of us — which has now largely been either ignored by the political community or hijacked by obscurantist forces and even distorted by Islamists to suit their designs.
Given the atmosphere charged with narrow-minded religious zealotry in the country, not many would be willing to endorse Mr Jinnah’s secular polity and accept that he created Pakistan not to establish a theocratic Islamic state, but a democratic and secular state. Equally disagreeable for many is the fact that he struggled for a separate homeland where Muslims would be able to live in accordance with their social customs and religious traditions — but the polity would be non-religious in which there would be no discrimination between a Muslim and a Hindu.
In fact, the Quaid now seems to be an outsider in Pakistan. He seldom figures in public debate and political discourse on issues of vital importance to the future of the country, although his father-figure image remains intact and he is accorded the respect he deserves but as a ritual only. His advocacy of democracy and rule of law is acceptable, but not his firm belief in secularism.
The conservative political community, which has grown in size, tends to ignore his ideas about polity. However, there are still many in the community of liberals, progressives and the educated segments who are vocal in asserting the primacy of Mr Jinnah’s vision in tackling political and constitutional matters and seek to re-establish ‘Jinnah’s Pakistan’.
The artistically designed coffee table book titled The Jinnah Anthology can, to some extent, serve the need to make some segments of the population familiar with the Quaid’s legacy, virtues of his character, qualities of his leadership and how others thought of him.
The book is an admirable effort by the Jinnah Society whose presidents Liaquat Merchant and Sharif Al Mujahid conceived the project and implemented it so gracefully.
The anthology which was first published in 1999 — this is its second edition — is meant to provide readers a quality selection of works on the Quaid’s life, his politics and achievements.
The new edition, which is an important contribution to the body of literature on Mr Jinnah, is much more enlarged, more methodically planned and better designed.
The first section of the 14-section anthology contains original essays on the father of the nation.
The contributors include Stanley Wolpert, S.M. Burke, Kuldip Nayar, Ayesha Jalal, A.G. Noorani and Pervez Hoodbhoy. Their write-ups cover critical aspects of his politics and leadership such as the constitutional structure of the country visualised by him, his relationship with the princely states and his role in institutionalising civil liberties and women’s empowerment.
Section 2 presents a collection of quotes from the Quaid which reflect his vision of Pakistan. Section 3 consists of excerpts from his speeches and highlights his emphasis on civic freedoms, his concern for the welfare of Muslims and his guidelines for running the affairs of state.
The book also includes impressions of notable figures about the Quaid. They include Beverley Nicholas, Edgar Snow, Lady Wavell and Aga Kan III. Lady Wavell considered Mr Jinnah to be ‘one of the handsomest of men I have ever seen; he combined the clear-cut, almost Grecian features of the West with Oriental grace of movement.’ To the Aga Khan, of all the leaders he met and worked with, including Clemenceau, Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, Lord Curzon and Mahatma Gandhi, ‘Jinnah is the most remarkable.’
The anthology also includes the obituary published in The Times of London on September 13, 1948, two days after his death. It noted that: ‘Mr Jinnah was something more than Quaid-i-Azam, supreme head of the state, to the people who followed him; he was more even than the architect of the Islamic nation he personally called into being ... Few statesmen have shaped events to their policy more surely than Mr Jinnah. He was a legend even in his lifetime.’
Five years ago, during his visit to Pakistan, Indian right-wing leader L.K. Advani made remarks about Mr Jinnah’s secular credentials that caused havoc in BJP circles and surprised many in both India and Pakistan. Mr Advani described the Quaid-i-Azam’s speech to Pakistan’s constituent assembly in 1947 as a vision of a secular country, not the Islamic state that it is today.
The remarks also led to a revival of interest in books about the Quaid. So much so that even an old book offering a unique perspective on the ancient history of the region that is now Pakistan was republished with a new preface. It is hoped that even more books about the founder of the nation will be forthcoming.

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