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Jinnah: India’s first Prime Minister?

Last Updated: Wednesday, September 2, 2009 - 18:36

Ritam Banati

Jinnah as India’s first Prime Minister-well it never happened. The statement might appear a redundant one to some. But while trying to probe whether or not the possibility existed, one gets to understand India’s political history slightly better.

With this in mind, I thought of exploring the probabilities just to help me in understanding the man and the politician better in the circumstances of that era.

I would like to begin by quoting Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s views when he lauded Jinnah as one who “has true stuff in him and that freedom from all sectarian prejudice which will make him the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity.”

The very fact that a leader like Gokhale felt this about Mohammad Ali Jinnah seems enough to make one believe that had he become India’s first Prime Minister, there may not have been any chaos of a civil war or any balkanization of the country as speculated by some in case India was undivided.

However one finds that later his reality changed. And he became one of the accused who caused the country’s bloody partition.

The motive behind India’s division was largely political. So in case the dominant political interest was in his favour that time, and if we reverse the demarcation of the nation, Jinnah might have gotten the first opportunity.

But here again we assume a number of things like the acceptance of this fact by senior leaders of Hindu-dominated Congress. This was highly unlikely.

Nonetheless speculate that Jinnah indeed did become the first Prime Minister of free India. Thus we have our first Prime Minister from the minority Muslim community. The Hindus who are in a majority must not feel insecure socially as they know that to neglect them would be nothing short of political folly. However the Hindu leader who has high political ambitions may make politics a game of numbers and religion. So when this game is played, inevitably, the chances of a Muslim leader get drastically reduced.

There is no doubt that this was one of the reasons why, in the 1946 elections to the Constituent Assembly, the Congress won most of the seats. Hence Jinnah’s chances fade further as he was the leader of the Muslim League. Thus, democratically, it was almost impossible for him to head the country, considering this reality.

Even if he was still with the Congress, Jinnah would have faced a strong challenge to his authority from Nehru despite being older than him. In the game of numbers, Nehru would have won, unless of course there was a total revamp of the political system. This too appears hypothetical.

But in case we alter the course of modern Indian history and make the Congress adhere to Jinnah’s demand for a federation of provinces then there may not have been any Pakistan. Still a dominion of states within one nation at that time would not have sustained as a nation unless governed at times with a firm hand by the sovereign head of state. And this would have in the long run led to the balkanization of India. So even if Jinnah had become the first Prime Minister, he would not have stayed for long in that position presuming that he had not died so soon.

Jinnah passed away on September 11, 1948, just a year after independence. Had he been India’s first premier if Congress’ Maulana Abul Kalam Azad plan of a rotational headship was accepted, then it would have been just for a year. If Nehru had got the first chance, Jinnah would have passed away even before getting his. But the first situation seems likely even if just for a year. However this too is based on the presumption that following Azad’s plan, Congress had not blown the trumpet of Hindu-Muslim unity to neutralize the substance of the idea.

To cite another instance will be the dis-formation of the Muslim League. Had the League only not existed in the first place, Jinnah would have never left the Congress if he planned to stay in politics. But, he was a Muslim in a Hindu-dominated nation. And let’s face facts here. Political ambition does lend a communal colour to a politician’s mindset. And senior Hindu politicians would have felt threatened by a leader of a minority community heading the nation as its first Prime Minister.

One must not forget that India got its first Muslim President decades after independence as also its first Sikh Prime Minister. So the odds would have played heavily against him.

Coming to Britain’s side of the story. The seed was watered by the British policy of divide and rule. The first ground was laid when they made Hindi the official language of the United Provinces, the present day Uttar Pradesh. This angered the Muslims and the Hindu-Muslim wedge was only added spasms to. The British made use of the prevailing discontent between the two communities to establish and further strengthen their hold on India.

It is a misnomer that holds the British responsible for the partition.

The Mughal Empire was India’s reality before British invasion. Later it dismembered slowly. But it left its impact in terms of language culture and religion. British in a way united India albeit unintentionally along with dividing it. Since power was highly centralized, the basis for centralised authority was already created. And, because Hindus were in a majority, those with political ambitions wanted to capitalise on numbers to play their cards. The Muslim with political ambition would obviously feel sidelined being in a minority.

Also India had perhaps not quite forgotten the Mughal rule. Perhaps the seeds of discontent might date as far back as that. Some tall Muslim leaders did join the Congress. Out of these were Mohammad Ali Jinnah, but he left it after the Muslim electorate was created and also wrote a letter to a leading newspaper condemning the same; the write-up was rejected. Later Jinnah himself became a strong advocate of a separate Muslim electorate. He joined the Muslim League.

The silent reason behind why Jinnah’s idea of a federation of provinces did not favour senior leaders were maybe the ills of the Mughal dynasty also. Making a Muslim the first Prime Minister of undivided Hindustan may have been seriously detrimental to the political interest of the senior Congress politicians in the long run, even if they had known in advance of Jinnah’s death just a year after independence.

Jinnah’s call for Direct Action caused the riots in Calcutta which witnessed massive destruction. 4000 innocent people paid with their lives to further his political ambitions. They also paid their lives to further the same ambitions of some senior Congress politicians. Therefore if one holds the latter in reverence, it would be unfair to demonise the former only because he is the Father of Pakistan.

I don’t mean to forgive Jinnah-the politician, but do cut a slack for Jinnah-the man, who was a separatist by his actions, but secular in his thinking. This was the irony of being Jinnah.

All said and done, I am making Mohammad Ali Jinnah the first Prime Minister of free India. The idea is interesting and its fallout I beg to negate with the following repercussions:

• No Direct Action Day would have then taken place. And this would have meant no Calcutta riots that claimed 4000 lives

• Therefore the partition of the country would have been reduced to historical speculation

• And if there was no partition, then Kashmir would not have been an issue and the situation there at least would not have been as bloody as today

• Jinnah breathes his last a year after independence as destiny wills leaving vacant the Prime Ministerial seat

• Now Muslim leadership is a force to reckon with and no sidelining is possible.

• This reduces the chances of a future division of India as both the communities attain an equally bargaining political position

• True secularism and rise of India’s global stature.

Nevertheless, history is not based on assumptions. Its course is set when one leader is busy planning, but the other is already executing. As moves are manipulated, the game rolls on and history is written. Nonetheless, circumstances are a major deciding factor on which actions are finally based. And if the situation is more against one and less against the other, then no matter however much that leader maneuvers his tactics, he may not be able to achieve his political goals.

This, I opine, was the main reason why the able and astute Mohammad Ali Jinnah would have never got the opportunity to head India, let alone be its first Prime Minister.

First Published: Wednesday, September 2, 2009 - 18:36

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