In the political history of the South Asian subcontinent, Mohammad Ali Jinnah towers above his contemporaries. He was a pillar of moral strength, the climax of integrity, uprightness and honesty in public life which he regarded as trust never to be betrayed. He with all determination defied his insidious, wasting disease, and continued to bend his declining energies to the Herculean task of resolving the formidable problems confronting the fledgling state until he was completely tired and broken. With the establishment of Pakistan, rumours and speculations spread about Jinnah’s health. Star of India, Civil & Military Gazette, Morning News, Leader and The Times etc had written about Jinnah’s failing health and his retirement from active politics. The same was rebutted as ‘trash’ by S M Yousuf, Secretary to Governor-General. However, Mountbatten ‘mentioned casually’ to Nehru in their meeting on December 21, 1947, ‘that Jinnah had been given a maximum of six months by his doctor and he was very ill’.
After a visit to Balochistan in February 1948, he undertook a nine-day tour of East Bengal, in March, during which he addressed a mammoth public meeting of over 300,000 people at Dacca, delivered the convocation address at the Dacca University, visited Chittagong for the instant study of its problems, and met with a large number of individuals and delegations. After a whirlwind tour of the NWFP in April, he left for Quetta in May to finalise the formation of an Advisory Council for Balochistan. He was then moved to Ziarat for rest and recuperation, from where he hopped back to Karachi to inaugurate the State Bank of Pakistan on 1st July. His weak and delicate body was beginning to wilt under these tiring pressures.
Fatima Jinnah thought that the event which probably caused Jinnah’s health to get worse critically, was a public meeting held at Peshawar in April 1948, when it began to rain but thousands of people kept sitting. She says, “My brother could not disappoint them.... He was drenched to the bone, but he sat throughout the meeting, braving the inclement weather. That night he had a running nose, cold and chill, cough and high temperature.” After his return to Karachi, his health showed little improvement. Miss Jinnah pleaded with him to leave Karachi for a place like Quetta or Ziarat with a healthy climate and bracing air. She was supported by Jinnah’s personal physician, Dr Rahman, who warned that “unless he gave up work completely for at least two months and took complete rest, he would only be doing irreparable damage to his health.” On May 25, 1948, he travelled to Quetta where after a few days; there was some noticeable improvement in his condition. On June 17, he was shifted to Ziarat for a stay at the Residency. However, only fifteen days later, he decided to go to Karachi to perform the opening ceremony of the State Bank of Pakistan. Miss Jinnah tried to convince him to stay at Ziarat because of the strain of travel to Karachi and back. His reply was: “We must prove that we have the talent to run our country not only in the field of politics but also in finance and banking. So my presence is necessary. ... Why worry about my health. This is a duty I have to perform. I can’t put it off, and say I am afraid to take risks.” The effort took its toll and in the course of his speech, writes Miss Jinnah, he was “scarcely audible, pausing, coughing, as he proceeded with the text of his speech. When we returned to the Governor-General’s House after the ceremony, he went to his bed with his clothes and shoes on. Within the emaciated body that lay in bed, there burnt the dazzling flame of genius.” He then returned to Quetta on the way to Ziarat.
Back to Ziarat, Liaquat Ali Khan and Chaudhry Mohammad Ali, Secretary-General, paid him a visit. The latter suggested that Colonel Ilahi Bakhsh, an eminent physician, be called from Lahore to attend Jinnah. When, after his arrival, the physician inquired how he felt, Jinnah maintained, with his customary defiance, that there was nothing wrong with him except his stomach: “I have been working fourteen hours a day for the last fourteen years. I have never known what sickness really is. However, for the past few years, I get frequent attacks of fever and coughing.” After a thorough examination, the physician pronounced, “Sir, I am afraid results of the clinical tests show that you have an infection of the lungs.” Jinnah heard the news quietly, almost impassively, and spoke after a few minutes’ silence, “This means that I am suffering from tuberculosis.” He didn’t want his sister to know about his illness. So he spoke to her, “Fati, so you see, you were right... I should have consulted specialists earlier... But I am not sorry. Man can only struggle... the tongue of destiny is always dumb... I will stand my post as long as I can.”
His friend and confidant, M A H Ispahani, Pakistan’s Ambassador in Washington, who visited him at Ziarat on 25 July, “broke down in tears. He could not bear to see that veteran of many fights lay helpless in bed, struggling feebly for his life.” He wrote soon after from Washington, I beg of you not to return to Karachi before the end of September... You must, however, take complete rest and keep away from work... until you regain the strength that you have lost through over-exertion and overwork.” Jinnah reassured him, “you need not worry that I will be unwise to hasten my return. Besides, the doctors do not allow me to do so. Thank you... for all your concern. There is nothing to worry.”
In the second week of August, doctors noted a swelling in Jinnah’s feet, which they feared might affect his heart. They also felt that the Ziarat height was rather too much and that the patient had better be moved to Quetta. However, as Fatima Jinnah says, when it was decided to send him to Quetta, on August 13, “He insisted that he would not travel in pyjama suit, saying he had never done that in his life... I brought out a brand new suit... a tie to match, put the handkerchief in his vanity pocket, and made him wear his shining pump shoes.” Owing to Jinnah’s poor state of health, a press note from the Governor-General House stated, “Quaid-i-Azam regretted that he will not be able to take part in the celebrations of the first anniversary of the establishment of Pakistan and the attainment of complete freedom and independence.” According to Brig (R) Noor Ahmad Hussain, ADC of Jinnah at that time, Jinnah’s voice was very faint on that day. Towards the end of August, Jinnah seemed resigned to his imminent fate. On September 7, the Jinnah recalled, he chattered in his sleep about Kashmir, Constitution and refugees.
In such frail health, Quaid-i-Azam on August 6, sent an Eid message appealing to every Muslim to serve Pakistan honestly, sincerely and selflessly. Jinnah was not oblivious of his nation, he sent a telegram to the Governor of Sindh on August 15, expressing great sorrow and grief over floods in the Sukkur area and ordered to sanction Rs. 5,00,000 for the relief of the persons affected by the floods.
As the disturbing news of his rapidly failing health began to spread, the world braced itself for the approaching finale of Jinnah’s eventful and, in many ways, extraordinary life. When he was taken back to Karachi, he protested: “Don’t take me to Karachi on crutches.... I dislike being carried on a stretcher from the car to my room.” He was, typically, defiant even as the end seemed imminent. In an effort to get him the best medical attention, Dr Mistry was called from Karachi. A cable was sent to Ispahani as well to arrange immediately for a specialist to fly out from the US. On September 10, having obtained advice from top medical specialists, Ispahani selected Dr Riggins, a very renowned chest and lungs specialist, to fly to Pakistan. In the event, it was too late; on September 11, Jinnah was flown to Karachi in a precarious condition. His physician recalled, later, that when he was being taken to his plane, the crew gave him a salute which he duly returned. He had become so weak that he found it difficult to “even cough without an effort.” This was “symbolic of his sense of duty and discipline even on the verge of death.” The road journey from the airport to the Governor General’s House took several hours because the ambulance broke down on the way. The same night, the light that had shone so brightly for some five eventful decades went out after the last flicker. His devoted sister was at his bedside when he breathed his last and witnessed his final moments. “He made one last attempt and whispered ‘Fati, Khuda Hafiz... La Ilaha Illallahu Muhammadur Rasullullah.’ His head dropped slightly to his right, his eyes closed.” Thus the bell tolled for the charismatic leader of the epic struggle that culminated in the emergence of an independent Muslim state in South Asia. He is regarded by many as the biggest star in the political firmament of the subcontinent. The Quaid was buried at the Idgah Maidan at 6:24 pm amid scenes of acute grief and mourning. His death came as a staggering blow not only to Pakistan but to Indian Muslims and the rest of the world. A detachment of 50 civil police was at the vanguard followed by 50 Royal Pakistan Navy ratings, 50 men of the Army, 50 of the Air Force and the Governor-General’s Bodyguard. Over 600,000 mourning citizens reciting Kalima uninterruptedly moved on slowly and in an orderly and impressive manner.
The news of Jinnah’s passing away was received with shock and grief in Pakistan, as elsewhere, bringing forth sad messages of condolence from the world over. On his death, the Government of Pakistan on September 13, 1948, issued an official statement, “The Prime Minister and Ministers of the Pakistan Government announce with deep sorrow and grief the death by heart failure of the beloved Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Governor-General of Pakistan on Saturday, September 11, 1948, at 10:25 p.m. They wish to convey their heartfelt condolences at this national calamity to Miss Fatima Jinnah and other members of the family and to the nation. The Father of the Pakistani nation has passed away. To his far-reaching vision, indomitable will and steadfastness of purpose are due to the creation of the biggest Muslim state in the world.
To him it was given, as to few in history, to witness the fruition of his labours in his own lifetime. Even after the achievement of Pakistan he did not sit back but continued to the last breath his untiring and unceasing labours to strengthen and consolidate Pakistan. His death deals the greatest blow that could be inflicted on the people of Pakistan, but, nurtured as they are in the ideals set before them by the Quaid-i-Azam, the Pakistan Government are confident that they will bear it with fortitude and dedicate themselves afresh to the service for which their beloved leader lived and died.”
The Government of India issued the Gazette Extraordinary, “The Government of India have learnt with deep regret of the death last night of His Excellency Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah. As a mark of respect to his memory it is hereby ordered that flags on all public buildings and defence establishments shall be flown half-mast today.”
Princess Abida Sultan, the erstwhile heir-apparent of Bhopal State, telegraphed, “Stunned by tragic news. The great leader, architect and father of nation has passed away leaving a baby nation an orphan”. The message from Pakistan Air Headquarters read: “A great man and a lovable personality has passed away, leaving life itself poorer.” The message from the city of Bombay, to which Jinnah had imparted much luster, said, “He was a member of the Corporation for about two years, an eminent lawyer and a great statesman, indomitable and incorruptible.” The Muslim University, Aligarh which had given wholehearted and unwavering support to Jinnah and had carried his call for a Muslim national homeland to the four corners of India, recorded in a resolution, “a great Indian, a great statesman and a great leader and one of the most prominent members of the Aligarh Muslim University Court.”
The Karachi Parsis lamented; “Leaving us in unspeakable sorrow, the cruel, icy hand of death has snatched away our beloved Quaid from our midst at a time when we needed him the most...That Bombay’s legal luminary who caused many a legal miracle, that lion of Pakistan who floored many an adversary and father and architect of our young state lies today in peaceful slumber.”
Among the large number of condolence messages received from various parts of the world was one from Jordon sympathising with the people of Pakistan in “their bereavement on the death of the leader of Muslim world whose remembrance will go through history and will be a symbol not only for Pakistan and the Muslim world but also for all humanity.” British Prime Minister, Clement Attlee wrote a condolence message, “In Mohammad Ali Jinnah Pakistan has lost her most outstanding statesman. For many years he devoted his great abilities to the cause of the Muslim community in India. He came to the conclusion that there must be a separation between India and Pakistan and, having so decided, worked untiringly to bring his policy to fruition. He was outstanding as a leader and Pakistan will find it hard to replace him.” The Embassy of Iran wrote to Fatima Jinnah, “How shocking that a great thinker, a great Muslim leader, the founder and the architect of the largest Islamic state in the world... has slept in eternal peace.” The Indian Association of Tanganyika (now Tanzania) wired their “heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathies at the irreparable loss.” Kamali Hiridijee wrote from Tananarive, “This pain has plunged the entire Muslim community of Madagascar in a state of gloom.” Stafford Cripps, a British Cabinet Minister, who knew prominent leaders of the subcontinent well, broadcast this obituary, “one of the outstanding personalities in Eastern political life...he stuck with a single-minded intensity to his determination to create a free Muslim state.... He was a man of the highest standard of probity and honour.” The leading British newspaper The Times speculated on the consequences of Quaid’s death: “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...No succeeding Governor-General can quite fill his place for as ‘Father of the Nation’, his prerogatives were enlarged by popular acclaim far beyond the limits laid down in the constitution.”
The mortal remains of the great leader are enshrined in a grand mausoleum in Karachi around which the grateful nation has laid out a magnificent garden. When he visited the mausoleum in October 1992, the great South African leader, Nelson Mandela, wrote in the visitors’ book, “Jinnah’s museum (mausoleum) is a source of tremendous inspiration to all those who struggle against all forms of racial oppression.”
—The writer is a Director at the Quaid-i-Azam Academy, Karachi and can be reached at [email protected]
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