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Jinnah speeches: How they can help us overcome a tragic legacy

Sudheendra Kulkarni

Updated: September 6, 2013, 11:03 AM IST
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So, finally, after sixty-six long years, All India Radio has handed over to Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation recordings of two key speeches by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, which he had delivered ─ and AIR had recorded ─ on June 3, 1947 and on August 14 the same year. Shall we call it an Indo-Pak Confidence-Building Measure? It could've been a mini-CBM had this simple act not occasioned an unbecoming and wholly unnecessary tug-of-war over tapes, which ought not to have commenced at all in the first place and which certainly shouldn't have gone on for so long.

India has not covered itself with glory in this episode. Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation was established on August 15, 1947. Pakistan, as a separate sovereign nation partitioned out of united India, had come into being the previous day. Since proper recording facilities were unavailable in the newly born nation, its authorities requested All India Radio in New Delhi to send its sound engineers to Karachi (Pakistan's first capital until 1958) to record the speeches of the architect of Pakistan. AIR gracefully did the needful. It recorded two historic speeches of 'Quaid-e-Azam' (Great Leader) ─ the first was his oration at the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11 and the second, three days later, was on the occasion that commemorated the birth of the new nation. (Jinnah's June 3 speech was his reaction on holding a referendum in the North West Frontier Province on its decision to join India or Pakistan. It was delivered, and recorded by AIR, in New Delhi itself.)

Both common courtesy and common sense required that, after the creation of Pakistan, our two countries should exchange important archival resources based on the principle of reciprocity ─ of course, after making copies if either side so desired. For some inexplicable reason, AIR (which later came under Prasar Bharati) did not give the Jinnah tapes to Pakistan. When an RTI activist sought information about Jinnah's pre-1947 speeches, Prasar Bharati took the stand that these recordings could not be disclosed citing section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act. In other words, the information sought was of such serious nature that it could "prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India"!

It took the intrepid outgoing chief information commissioner Satyananda Mishra to break the deadlock with his explicit order in June, which said: "It is easy for any public authority to take the stand that everything relating to Pakistan or the leaders who went over to Pakistan should be kept secret or confidential and invoke the provisions of Section 8(1)(a) and not disclose the details. This will be a regressive stand." This forced the Indian government to permit AIR to hand over the Jinnah tapes to Pakistan.

Apparently, the original recording of Jinnah's August 11 speech is untraceable in the AIR archives. If it has indeed become extinct, this is indeed both tragic and shameful. Prasar Bharati has a lot to explain for its loss. Both AIR and Doordarshan are indeed a goldmine of archival material. Sadly, much of it ─ especially in Doordarshan, which fares far worse than AIR in this respect ─ has become a victim of neglect and lack of professionalism.

It must, however, be borne in mind that the significance of Jinnah tapes lies less in the delay and senseless red-tapism that marked their handing over to Pakistan than in what their contents mean for the 'Land of the Pure' today. Jinnah's June 3 speech is not much relevant in the present circumstances, except for researchers of Partition history. Hence, we can ignore it in our discussion here. His speeches on August 11 and 14 cannot be ignored at all by anyone interested in understanding either Jinnah's contradiction-ridden personality or the conflict-ridden evolution of Pakistan since his demise in September 1948.

In her book Jinnah: Secular and Nationalist, Dr Ajeet Jawed gives many startling examples of how this architect of Pakistan, based on the poisonous Two-Nation Theory, began ─ and also ended ─ his political life as a leader who shunned communalism. He was hailed by Gopalkrishna Gokhale as an 'Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity', a praise that was echoed, until the middle of the 1920s, by many leaders of India's freedom struggle. In the decades of the '30s and '40s, a combination of factors ─ personal ambition; vacuum of leadership in the Muslim League which, with considerable prodding from the British, had begun to fan the passions for a separate Muslim nation; disillusionment with the Congress which refused to share power on an equal basis with the Muslim League and also to recognise the Muslim League and its leader as the sole spokesmen for Muslims in India ─ drove Jinnah to embrace the path and philosophy of Muslim communalism and separatism. However, when Pakistan actually became a reality, accompanied by communal bloodbath and transborder migration of Hindus and Muslims on a horrendous scale, he returned to some of his initial secular convictions. This is clearly evident in his speeches on August 11 and 14.

Without any doubt, Jinnah's August 11 speech is the most important in his political life ─ far more important than the one he delivered on the day Pakistan was founded. (And this is why AIR losing the original recording is so shocking.) Addressing the constituent assembly of the about-to-be-born nation, he said:

"I cannot emphasize it too much. We should begin to work in that spirit, and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community ─ because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vaishnavas, Khatris, also Bengalees, Madrasis and so on ─ will vanish. Indeed if you ask me, this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain the freedom and independence, and but for this we would have been free people long long ago. No power can hold another nation, and specially a nation of 400 million souls, in subjection; nobody could have conquered you, and even if it had happened, nobody could have continued its hold on you for any length of time, but for this. Therefore, we must learn a lesson from this. You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed ─ that has nothing to do with the business of the State....

We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle: that we are all citizens, and equal citizens, of one State...

Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal, and you will find that in 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."

Albeit in a somewhat less direct way, Jinnah reiterated this tolerant and liberal vision for the future of Pakistan in his speech on August 14:

"The tolerance and goodwill that great Emperor Akbar showed to all the non-Muslim is not of recent origin. It dates back thirteen centuries ago when our Prophet not only by words but by deeds treated the Jews and Christians, after he had conquered them, with the utmost tolerance and regard and respect for their faith and beliefs. The whole history of Muslims, wherever they ruled, is replete with those humane and great principles which should be followed and practiced by us."

One only has to juxtapose these two speeches with the subsequent and, especially, current happenings in Pakistan to know how much Pakistan has betrayed the vision of its founding father. Secularism has become a hated word. Islamisation of a viciously bigoted kind has been sought to be made the mandate of the State. Religious minorities have been reduced to second-class citizens. Terrorism, fuelled by religious extremism ─ much of it funded by petro-dollars ─ has claimed the lives of thousands of innocent Muslims. Export of terrorism to India is an enterprise in which both state and non-state players have collaboratively participated.

The only conclusion that one can draw from all this is simply this: Jinnah's basic personality and convictions were secular. Nevertheless, these convictions were negated by the reckless manner in which he championed the Two-Nation Theory, which led to India's blood-soaked partition and has left behind a bitter legacy of hostility and conflict between the two South Asian neighbours.

Even though this is true, Jinnah's two speeches themselves contain some regenerative ideas and ideals for overcoming this legacy. His vision of a secular, tolerant, liberal and democratic Pakistan ─ one in which all communities have an equal and honourable place in the national life and where religion and state are separate ─ has value for the entire Indian subcontinent. This is because it is rooted in the shared spiritual, cultural and civilizational ethos of both India and Pakistan (and also Bangladesh). It is the collective responsibility of the governments and people of our three countries to resurrect this ethos and reorder our society and polity under its light. Pakistan, of course, has the greatest responsibility to follow this ethos, because it has strayed away the most from it. Even so, India and Bangladesh too have their share of duty to promote communal peace and harmony, and justice for all without any kind of discrimination.

If this responsibility is fulfilled, history would record the positive contribution of Jinnah's speeches to overcoming a tragic legacy to the making of which he had himself contributed overwhelmingly.

(These are the personal comments of Sudheendra Kulkarni and does not in any way reflect the opinions of IBNLive.com and CNN-IBN. Comments are welcome at sudheenkulkarni@gmail.com)
First Published: September 6, 2013, 11:03 AM IST

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