HECTOR Bolitho’s biography, Jinnah: Creator of Pakistan, doesn’t get the attention it deserves, even though it was the Quaid-e-Azam’s first biography in English by an internationally recognised author. American writer Stanley Wolpert mentions him only briefly in his classic, Jinnah of Pakistan, while the young Pakistani writer Yasser Latif Hamdani in his Jinnah: A Life, totally ignores him. Maybe, on a humble personal level, the Bolitho book has had a lasting impression on me because I read it in my intellectually formative years at college.
Like all biographies, the Bolitho book covers every phase of Jinnah’s life — from childhood, through his navigation of the Muslim cause, and up to his death. But what adds to the book’s readability for the layperson is his emphasis on some of the traits in Jinnah’s character and the contrast with Mahatma Gandhi.
Both were great men of the kind history produces in centuries, both had respect for each other despite acute political differences and both negotiated face to face and through correspondence at a level that truly revealed the inherent greatness in their character.
On some of Jinnah’s obsessions, like that with personal cleanliness, Bolitho dwells at considerable length and quotes eyewitnesses that to my knowledge other books missed. They included doctors, friends and two personalities that fascinated Jinnah – Liaquat Ali Khan and his charismatic wife, Ra’ana.
Both were great men of the kind history produces in centuries.
As for the differences between Jinnah and Gandhi, a most interesting account has been given by a doctor who treated them both. Not named by Bolitho, the doctor said of Jinnah: “As a politician, he kept his distance. Gandhi was unclothed before his disciples: Jinnah was clothed before his disciples: that was the difference between them. Gandhi was an instrument of power: Jinnah was power. He was a cold rationalist in politics; a man with a one-track mind, but with great force behind it. That was the fundamental difference between them.”
In terms of their cleanliness habits, he said “Gandhi used to say ‘Cleanliness is not next to Godliness. It is Godliness.’ He was scrupulously clean in all his physical habits, yet he would perform dirty work and spoil his hands, in doing some kindness for the poor. Jinnah was not like that. His cleanliness was a personal mania. He would wash his hands … several times a day. But he did not wish to touch people: it was as if he wished to be immaculate and alone.”
Bitterness never cropped up between them and they behaved in a manner that was sometimes astonishing. Once the Quaid had some problem with one of his feet and couldn’t go to the gate to receive Gandhi when he came to his Bombay home for one of their lengthy talk sessions. Gandhi sat down on the floor, removed Jinnah’s shoe and sock, examined his affected foot and promised to send him a home remedy. The medicine arrived next day, and even though Jinnah didn’t use it he thanked Gandhi for his gesture.
Yet neither of the two great men in whose hands was the destiny of a subcontinent gave up their views on partition. Gandhi made several proposals which seemingly accepted partition but with clauses that Jinnah didn’t find acceptable.
Arguing against Jinnah’s two-nation theory, Gandhi wrote to him: “I find no parallel in history of a body of converts and descendants claiming to be a nation apart from the parent stock. If India was one nation before the advent of Islam, it must remain one in spite of the change of faith of a large body of her children. You do not claim to be a separate nation by right of conquest but by reason of acceptance of Islam. Will the two nations become one if the whole of India accepted Islam?”
Jinnah’s reply was historic and like all his utterances and writings consisted of words that turned the reply into textbook stuff for future students of Pakistan’s history. He wrote back: “We maintain that Muslims and Hindus are two major nations by any definition or test as a nation. We are a nation of a hundred million, and what is more, we are a nation with our own distinctive culture and civilisation, language and literature, art and architecture, names and nomenclature, sense of values and proportion, legal laws and moral codes, customs and calendar, history and traditions, aptitudes and ambitions: in short, we have our own distinctive outlook on life and of life. By all the canons of international law we are a nation.”
Gandhi’s assassination on Jan 30, 1948 by a Hindu fanatic “shocked” the Quaid, who called him “one of the greatest men produced by the Hindu community.”
Bolitho’s book begins with a single quote on the page after the flyleaf: “Failure is a word unknown to me.” — Jinnah
The writer is Dawn’s External Ombudsman and an author.
Published in Dawn, September 11th, 2022