Jinnah’s aversion to secularism

Jinnah’s political ideology went through various phases of evolution in reaction to Gandhi’s thought and practice

Jinnah’s aversion to secularism

Another insight that emanates from Saleena Karim’s book is an extraordinary stress on the Hindu aspect of Indian civilisation in Gandhi’s thought. I, in fact, concur with Zia-ud-Din Sardar that until the British re-orientated its cultural as well as socio-political ethos and configuration into a nation state, India had been a civilisation.

One may tend to read the political profile of the Indian civilisation as depicted by Abul Kalam Azad. In the last 800 years, it had embraced several layers of Islamic socio-cultural norms. It is important here to underscore that any civilisation is an embodiment of its total spiritual and material cultures. In the words of Zia-ud-Din Sardar, “it is a product of open, and to some extent, self-perpetuating interchanges between cultures and individuals and values and norms that are inherent in its basic constituents.”All this was reflected in the North Indian social formation over several centuries. I think there is no harm in reiterating that several variations of Islamic culture were immersed in the very warp and woof of the civilisation, manifested in North India.

Now let’s revert to Gandhi and read closely his thought formation in utmost brevity. Not doubting his originality, it is important to underline the intellectual synthesis forged by Gandhi, bringing into currency Hindu figures like Rama, Krishna, and Harishchandra (a legendary Indian king of the Ikshwaku dynasty, who appears in several legends. In popular colloquial, Raja Harishchandra is synonymous with absolute adherence to truth. A person is often chided as being “a Raja Harishchandra” if he tries to cling to truth even to the detriment of those related to him).

He also evoked the interest of the general Hindu masses in the text of Gita, which he frequently recited at his prarthana meetings, along with Quran and Bible. To what extent was the reading of the latter two texts based on a genuine effort to include Muslims and Christians into the fold of his devotees, is open to speculation to this day.

What I want to foreground here is the process of synthesis in the Hindu aspect of Indian civilisation, which actually got under way with Raja Ram Mohan Roy, that was carried forward by Gandhi in quite an ingenious manner. He incorporated in good measure the artistic/ intellectual resonance of John Ruskin, Leo Tolstoy and Thoreau. The conceptual basis of the ideology of ahimsa was drawn from Christian theology though many analysts have linked it up with Krishna’s teachings.

Thereby, he provided an alternative paradigm to the doctrine of unity in diversity that Jawaharlal Nehru so vehemently professed in his magnum opus, The Discovery of India. Gandhi was fully invested in the Hindu tradition (and its supposed vitality) to stall and blunt the impact of the British colonialism.

To understand the ideologies of Gandhi and Jinnah in a proper context, it is imperative to turn our analytical gaze to the reformist trends in the 19th Century. These trends seemed to have a strong rub on the intellectual bearing of the two great leaders. It is important to mention that Jinnah’s political ideology went through several phases of evolution in reaction to Gandhi’s thought and practice.

Thus, Jinnah’s aversion to secularism was necessitated by the religious orientation of Gandhi’s politics. I hope that this is not too loaded an assertion. It is a sense I get from a perusal of Saleena Karim’s book. The good thing about Secular Jinnah and Pakistan is that it persuades the reader to unravel the profounder questions of the modern history of the subcontinent.

It is important to be cognizant of the figures engaged in the process of mainstreaming the Hindu sub-cultural traditions, which were multifarious and frequently at odds with one another. Thus, several attempts were made to weld them together into a singular identity. Such identities are created under colonial dispensation by laying stress on the definition of “a new self-conscious awareness of what it is to be a Hindu that must be justified by reassessment of what constitutes the salient values of Hindu culture.”

It should not be ignored that several Hindu nationalists did not think the British rule was an aberration and considered it as blissful as that of Rama. Bharatendu Harishchandra (1850-1885) wrote a poem in which British rule was portrayed as redemption for the Hindus, who had been suppressed and tyrannised by the Muslims for centuries. Writers like Vishnu Krishna Chiplunkar (1850-1882), Pratapnarayan Misra (1856-1894), Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Swami Shraddhananda (1857-1926) went on to imagine and “construct a history of Hindu society in which social evils, such as satti, child marriage and caste system were read as survival mechanisms, a reaction to Muslim lechery.”

An aggressive campaign by Arya Samajis against Muslims had widened the gulf between the two biggest communities that looked askance at each other by the turn of the century. Gandhi emerged on the Indian political landscape in this context, vitiated by communal hatred and venomous sentiments for each other.

Gandhi predicated his political ideology on the Hindu religious injunctions. To build a Congress that was the sole representative of all Indians, he tried to include Hindu extremists like Lala Lajpat Rai and Madan Mohan Malvia as well as moderates. However, people like Savarkar and Golwalker remained out of Gandhi’s influence.

As the prime adversary to Gandhi and his style of politics, Jinnah framed his political ideology around separatism and Muslim exclusivity. He was forced to adopt that course; that is the view clearly implied in Saleena’s book. In order to do so, he came up with his own synthesis entwining Muslim tradition with modernity couched in the idiom of constitutionalism. These are the thoughts I have extracted from Saleena Karim’s book.

The book is very well documented. The range of sources used in it is impressive and the methodology flawless. The only thing I wish to point out is that index comes before bibliography which is not the usual practice. Bringing in Nayyar-Salim report and furnishing a rejoinder was unnecessary as was the mention of Pervez Hoodbhoy. These make the book a reactive narrative. I would have liked it to be a proactive narrative that said what its author believed to be an objective truth; its motivation coming from within.

Having said that, I hope that this book will generate a new debate among scholars and both undergraduate and postgraduate students will benefit from the fresh insights in it.


The writer is a professional historian and an author.

He can be reached at tk393@cam.ac.uk

Jinnah’s aversion to secularism