Mahomed Ali Jinnah
Barrister, statesman, founder of Pakistan

(This biographical page is adapted from Secular Jinnah & Pakistan, Chapter 1, which is available to read in full here)

Birth & education

Mahomed 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.

Early politics

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 Muslim interests.

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 and Muslims.

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 1934.

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.

Congress rule

In 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 control, etc.

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).

Cabinet Mission

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 'Pakistan'.

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 here
All images reproduced here are in the public domain.


Send this to a friend

Secular Jinnah
& Pakistan:
What the Nation Doesn't Know

CheckPoint Press, Ireland
Paramount Books, Karachi


Book Data:
6.14 x 9.21 inches
xiv, 318 pages
Includes bibliography
and index

What is the Munir quote?


Copyright 2010-11 CyberBlurb