(This biographical page is adapted from
Secular Jinnah & Pakistan, Chapter 1, which is available to
read in full
Birth & education
Ali Jinnah (born Jinnahbhai) was born in 1876 in Sindh, Karachi,
in what was then part of British India. The son of a merchant, Jinnah
went to London in his late teens for a business apprenticeship,
but soon decided to train as a barrister instead at Lincoln's Inn.
After being admitted to the Barr at the age of just
19 (making him the youngest Indian to be admitted) Jinnah returned
to India and began practising law full time in Bombay. In 1906 he
joined the All-India National Congress party, which sought self-government
for Indians, the same year that the All-India Muslim League also
came into being, though he did not join the latter until 1913.
Jinnah lived in a turbulent period when there was an
increasing anti-colonial sentiment across India, while tensions
were also increasing between the Hindu and Muslim communities. As
the largest non-Hindu community with a long history in India, Muslims
sought political equality rather than a 'minority' status. Many
Indian Muslims sought increased provincial autonomy for the regions
in which they lived, and separate electorates. As a believer in
Indian nationalism, Jinnah was among the liberal politicians who
sought to unite the two communities. His political mentors were
non-Muslim liberal politicians such as Hindu Gopal Krishna Gokhale
and Parsi Dadabhai Naoroji, and this no doubt influenced his political
beliefs. He personally opposed separate electorates for Muslims,
and he was also a centralist, but in practice he faithfully represented
In his very first speech in Congress in December 1906,
in which a resolution was moved on the issue of Waqf-i-ala-aulad
(Muslim inheritance and trust law) he expressed his appreciation
that a question affecting solely the Muslim community was being
raised by the Congress. Later he also took on the Waqf issue himself,
sponsoring the Musalman Waqf Validating Bill through the Viceroy's
Legislature in 1913.
It was Jinnah's anti-imperial stance that explains
why he refrained from joining the essentially pro-British Muslim
League until 1913. When he did, it was because the League had brought
its official rules more in line with a nationalistic programme,
and that too under his personal guidance. Thereafter, through his
membership of both parties, he worked for a political union of Hindus
Jinnah cemented his reputation as 'ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity'
in 1916, when as president of the Muslim League he was the chief
actor in rallying the two major communities in a cooperative agreement
that became known as the 'Lucknow Pact'. Through the Pact the Congress
formally recognised the right of Muslims to have 'special' electorates,
implicitly recognising their equal status. In return the League
was to support the national aims of the Congress.
Estrangement from Congress
Jinnah's earliest issues with Congress revolved around
the methods it employed to tackle the British. Mahatma ('Great Soul')
Gandhi's revolutionary 'non-cooperation' method directly conflicted
with Jinnah's 'cooperative' constitutional approach of making gradual
changes for the betterment of India's people. Gandhi's first non-cooperation
movement against the British government ended in the massacre of
around 400 Indian unarmed protestors by British troops. The Khilafat
movement for which Gandhi led a second non-cooperation movement
also ended in bloodshed, this time between Hindus and Muslims, and
this worsened communal tensions. In addition, Gandhi was directly
involved in changing the creed of both the Home Rule League (of
which Jinnah was a member) and the Congress, to reflect both a desire
to fight for full independence and also to declare the right to
employ 'unconstitutional and illegal' methods to this end. Jinnah
permanently resigned from both parties.
In 1928, the Nehru Report was published and it aimed
to outline a constitution upon which all communities could agree.
However the Muslim League rejected the Report, since it offered
Muslims less power than they wanted at the centre, and insisted
on joint electorates. Jinnah authored his famous 'Fourteen Points',
containing the Muslims' bare minimum demands. Though Congress did
not concede to these demands, Jinnah's efforts helped to repair
a pre-existing rift in the Muslim League from the previous year.
In the early 1930s, Jinnah attended the first two Round Table Conferences,
which were set up to try and resolve the Indian constitutional crisis.
Muslims were now fully committed to separate electorates, and to
strong provincial autonomy, and the Congress was committed to the
Nehru Report and refused to attend. The situation was further complicated
by 1) the British, who wanted to retain control at the centre, this
being the substance of their imperial power, and 2) the Princes,
who wanted to retain their despotic rule in their territories (the
Princely states were not a formal part of British India). Jinnah
was still thinking as an Indian nationalist, and so he tried simultaneously
to win 'safeguards' for the Muslim community, and to win power both
at the provincial level and at the centre for Indians in general.
His conciliatory efforts backfired, and all parties viewed him with
contempt. A dejected Jinnah settled in London for the foreseeable
future. He was not invited to the third and final Round Table Conference.
Return and 1936 Provincial elections
Back in India, the Muslim League was floundering. Muslim
Leaguers unanimously elected Jinnah as their party president in
his absence, and pleaded with him to return. He did so in April
The following year the Government of India Act 1935
came into effect. It substituted the previous unitary system for
a federal structure, and involved British Indian provinces alone.
Rulers and leaders throughout the subcontinent were uncooperative
for their individual reasons, and so only the provincial portion
of the Act could be put into effect. This meant that Indians could
introduce self-rule for the first time at the provincial level.
The League contested the elections under the leadership of Jinnah.
The League had never contested an election at the all-India level
before, and it had always been considered a body of upper-class
Muslims with no mass following. It adopted a mass contact policy
for the first time in 1936, with Jinnah stating his intent to put
the League in 'a position so as to be able to speak with unchallenged
authority for the 80 million Musalmans in India'. He toured all
over India, giving numerous talks in universities and colleges,
and at public meetings, as well as leading the League. Now sixty
years old, he began to establish his 'super star' status, raising
the profile and popularity of the League almost single-handedly.
The Muslims of India soon began calling Jinnah 'Quaid-i-Azam', meaning
'Great Leader'. Although Congress ultimately won the elections,
the League secured almost half the number of seats it had contested,
indicating that it had acquired a reasonable following in a relatively
short space of time.
the provinces where it had secured a majority, the Congress now
expected the League (along with other parties) to effectively dissolve
and sign the Congress pledge unconditionally. Next the Wardha Scheme
of education, the brainchild of Gandhi, was enforced in the Congress-ruled
provinces in March 1938. Its commendable provision of free, self-sustaining
and compulsory primary education notwithstanding, it had many facets
that were deemed unacceptable to Muslims, including the inculcation
of the concept of Ahimsa (non-violence) and the introduction
of the Hindustani language (while suppressing Urdu). In addition,
the song Bande Mataram - an anti-Muslim song from a Hindu
novel - was to be sung in all schools, and all children were expected
to salute the picture of Gandhi, which Muslims considered idolatrous.
Though Gandhi's scheme did not include religious education in its
syllabus, most minority communities believed that this was nevertheless
an institute for the imposition of Hindu culture. Jinnah accused
the Congress of being 'absolutely determined to crush all other
communities and cultures in this country and establish Hindu Raj'.
The commencement of World War II brought an unexpected
end to the Congress-dominated government. In September 1939, Viceroy
Linlithgow declared that Britain was at war with Germany and that
India must assist in the war effort. Congress leaders were outraged
that they had not been consulted before the announcement. They called
for immediate independence. Linlithgow rejected the demand, and
by November Congress ministers had resigned from the provincial
cabinets, putting the British back in power. The League was more
supportive of the war effort, a decision that would make the British
somewhat more sympathetic to Muslim sentiments up until partition.
The Lahore Resolution
From 1939 onward under Jinnah's leadership, the League increasingly
adopted a hardliner policy and began contemplating alternative constitutions
to the 1935 Act that would give Muslims the widest autonomy possible.
On 23 March 1940, the League passed the historic 'Lahore Resolution'
making a demand for (eventual) total independence. It soon became
known as the 'Pakistan resolution'. Though some people would always
believe that the Lahore Resolution was a 'bargaining counter', and
that the League's aim was simply parity in an all-India centre,
Jinnah always insisted that it was a serious demand for partition.
He almost single-handedly prepared his people with this long-term
goal in mind; he reorganised the League, adding the Lahore Resolution
to its creed; he frequently toured through India to reach out to
the masses; and he headed the 'five year plan' for organising social
and economic uplift, state industrialisation in future 'Pakistan'
zones, introduction of free primary basic education, land reforms,
improvements in labour and agriculture conditions, money-lending
Over the next few years, the British, the Congress
and other small parties came up with several constitutional proposals
for facilitating the transfer of power from British to Indian hands.
Most of these schemes invariably leaned in favour of a united India.
Jinnah and the Muslim League never quite committed to any of these
schemes (with perhaps one exception which at any rate was not quite
as it seemed on the surface. This is reviewed in detail in Secular
Jinnah & Pakistan, Chapter 11).
In June 1945, the Viceroy announced the British intention
to 'advance India towards her goal of self-government', and that
autumn, the British also announced fresh provincial elections (there
had been none since 1937, owing to the War). Jinnah had fought the
last provincial elections mainly with a view to ascertaining the
feasibility of making the League the sole authoritative representative
of Indian Muslims. This time, he stated that the League would contest
the election not to win seats for a ministry, but to obtain the
Muslim 'verdict' on partition. A vote for the League was to be taken
as 'a vote for Pakistan'. When the League subsequently won 90 percent
of the Muslim seats in the election, it passed a new resolution
(Delhi Resolution) demanding immediate partition and creation of
In 1946 the British Cabinet Mission arrived in India. An interim
government was to be set up in the short term while power was being
transferred to Indians. The British offered two schemes for the
long term, one for a 'united India' federation, and one that would
partition India to create two countries - Pakistan and India. The
partition scheme was deliberately made as unattractive as possible
to the League, drastically reducing Pakistan's territory and assets,
while the 'united India' scheme was made more attractive, since
it was really a confederation (legally looser than a federation)
and it also allowed the Muslim territories to leave the union after
ten years if they wished. The League's acceptance of the Cabinet
Mission Plan was received unfavourably by the Muslim masses; but
it later emerged that Jinnah and the League had only accepted the
Plan conditionally. The League suspected that the Congress was quietly
attempting to turn the confederation scheme into a permanent federation.
The League's suspicions were proven correct, when Congress president
Jawaharlal Nehru declared that after independence India would do
'what it likes', with no intention of adhering to either the short-term
or long-term schemes. The Muslim League pulled out of the interim
government within a few months and demanded partition.
The British conceded and announced partition on 3 June 1947. On
14 August 1947 a smaller than hoped for but viable Pakistan came
into being, with Jinnah as its first Governor-General. Over the
next year, a frail Jinnah worked tirelessly to ensure the fledgling
country didn't suffer socioeconomic collapse, and to keep its people
united. He also continually stressed the need to build up the country
along progressive lines and Islamic ideals. He died on 11 September
1948, after a long battle with lung disease, the seriousness of
which he had downplayed in public.
This biographical page is adapted from
Secular Jinnah & Pakistan, Chapter 1, which is available to
read in full
All images reproduced here are in the public domain.