Muhammad Ali Jinnah
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A lean phase
The Times of India, Jun 28 2015
Excerpted from `Midnight's Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India's Partition and Asia' with permission from Penguin India
Before he rose to forge Pakistan, the Muslim League leader suffered a humiliating fall from grace, writes Nisid Hajari in a new book
In the summer of 1916, the man who would go on to found Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, ran up against one of India's most stubborn communal prejudices. His good friend Sir Dinshaw Petit had invited him to escape Bombay's suffocating heat and spend several weeks in cool Darjeeling. Sir Dinshaw was a Parsi, and heir to a textile fortune. More importantly , he had a 16-year-old daughter -a sinuous beauty named Rattanbai, or “Ruttie.“ Jinnah would have been hardpressed to ignore her presence. She wore gossamer-thin saris that clung to her body and had a ready , flirtatious laugh. One prim memsahib described her as “a complete minx.“
Like many Indians, Jinnah had been married young to someone of his parents' choosing, a 14-year-old Gujarati village girl named Emibai. A year later she had died while he was away studying in London. He told friends that he hadn't kissed a woman since then (although, hearing that particular tale, the irrepressible poetess Sarojini Naidu trilled, “Liar, liar, liar!“). Jinnah left no record of what transpired between him and Ruttie amid the emerald tea plantations of Darjeeling, but clearly a romance blossomed.
When they returned to Bombay at the end of the summer, Jinnah asked Sir Dinshaw how he felt about intermarriage.The Parsi didn't realize what his Muslim friend was angling at. A capital idea, Petit declared -just the thing to help break down the foolish barriers that divided Indians from one another. Jinnah's next question horrified him, though. The nearly 40-year-old Muslim marrying his teenage daughter? The idea was “absurd!“ Sir Dinshaw not only refused but took out a restraining order against Jinnah.
Jinnah was not to be discouraged, however, either personally or politically .He and Ruttie continued to correspond secretly . Like many of the youth in her circle she was enthralled by the romance of the nationalist movement, and that winter she eagerly followed the news coming out of the graceful Mughal city of Lucknow, capital of the United Provinces, where Jinnah had helped arrange for the Muslim League and the Indian National Congress to hold their annual sessions simultaneously. For the first time the two parties agreed on a common set of demands to make of the British -what became known as the “Lucknow Pact.“ Jinnah won for Muslims a guaranteed percentage of seats in any future legislature, among other safeguards that would ensure they were not perpetually outvoted by the Hindu majority .
The Lucknow Pact raised Jinnah's political stock sky-high; he seemed a shoo-in to become president not just of the League, but perhaps even the much larger Congress one day . A few months later, soon after Ruttie had turned 18, she and Jinnah scandalized Bombay's Parsi community by eloping. They quickly became one of the city's most glamorous couples, cruising down Marine Drive in Jinnah's convertible at sunset each night, her hair loose in the wind.
Then Jinnah threw it all away . Just as his political career was reaching its zenith, the spotlight shifted to another Gujarati lawyer, born just 30 miles from Jinnah's ancestral village. In 1915 a 45-yearold Mahatma Gandhi had returned to India from South Africa, where he had lived for the past two decades, and where his efforts to organize South Africa's Indian immigrant community had made him a celebrity .
Gandhi dubbed his strategy satyag raha -literally , “soul force“ -and he now proposed replicating his methods in India. Jinnah balked. He did not challenge the principle behind satyagraha -the idea that Indians should peacefully refuse to cooperate with their British overlords.“I say I am fully convinced of non-cooper ation,“ Jinnah declared at a contentious Congress meeting in September 1920. But he did not believe that the Indian masses were educated or disciplined enough to ensure their protests remained nonviolent. He thought Congress leaders needed to prepare their followers first. “Will you not give me time for this?“ he asked the crowd at the meeting, plaintively .
Not all of Jinnah's motivations were so high-minded, of course. He was unquestionably a snob: later, when tens of thousands of Muslims turned out at ral lies to see him, he would recoil from shaking hands with his own supporters. He also found Gandhi's appeal to the largely Hindu masses dangerously crude. At his evening prayer meetings, the Mahatma would frame his political arguments using parables from Hindu fables; he described his vision for independent India as a “Ram Rajya“ -a mythical state of ideal government under the god Ram. All the chanting and meditating that accompanied Gandhi's sermons seemed to Jinnah like theatrics.
What is almost never acknowledged, though, is that Jinnah worried less about Hindus than about the danger of inflaming religious passions among Muslims.At the time mullahs across the subcontinent were threatening to launch a jihad if the British, who had defeated the Ottomans in World War I, deposed the Turkish Sultan -the caliph, or leader, of the world's Sunnis. Led by a pair of fiery brothers, Mohammed and Shaukat Ali, this “Khilafat“ movement had attracted an unsavory mob of supporters. The acerbic Bengali writer Nirad C. Chaudhuri remembers Khilafat volunteers as “recruited from the lowest Muslim riffraff...brandishing their whips at people.“
Jinnah had no sympathy for these rough-edged Muslims, or for their fanatic cause. He feared that their rage would inevitably turn from the British to Hindus. Gandhi, on the other hand, threw his support behind the Khilafat movement: in turn Muslim votes gave him the slight majority in Congress he needed to launch his satyagraha. Years later Gandhi recalled Jinnah telling him that he had “ruined politics in India by dragging up a lot of unwholesome elements in Indian life and giving them political prominence, that it was a crime to mix up politics and religion the way he had done.“
Nowadays most Indian accounts put down Jinnah's opposition to Gandhi to jealousy . At a follow-up Congress meeting in December 1920, they often note, Jinnah drew jeers by referring to “Mister“ Gandhi in his speech, rather than the more respectful “Mahatma.“ In fact, although he did slip once or twice more, Jinnah did switch to using “Mahatma.“ What he absolutely refused to do was refer to Khilafat leader Mohammed Ali as “Maulana,“ a term reserved for distinguished Islamic scholars. Jinnah was not about to encourage what he saw as religious demagoguery . “If you will not allow me the liberty to ... speak of a man in the language which I think is right, I say you are denying me the liberty which you are asking for,“ he vainly protested. The crowd's howls chased him off the stage.
The humiliating scene marked the beginning of Jinnah's long slide into irrelevance as a national political figure.Under Gandhi's influence a new, less august crowd dominated Congress meetings -middle-class and lower-middle-class men and women, clad in saris and kurtas and sitting on the ground cross-legged rather than in chairs. Jinnah still got upset when his bearer laid out the wrong cufflinks for him. He no longer fit in.
Jinnah did not disappear from the political scene, but as Gandhi's Congress grew larger and larger, the League leader was pushed further and further to the margins. He became what he had never wanted to be -a purely Muslim politician, reduced to petitioning for concessions for his community . By the end of the 1920s, the League had begun to break up into factions, and Jinnah's influence had become negligible.
This was not the illustrious nationalist hero with whom the impressionable Ruttie had fallen in love. After giving birth to a daughter, Dina, in August 1919, Ruttie had plunged into a half-baked mysticism, taking up crystals and seances. She may have begun using drugs like opium to combat a painful intestinal ailment. The differences in the couple's ages and temperaments became too obvious to ignore.“She drove me mad,“ Jinnah told one friend. “She was a child and I should never have married her.“ In early 1928, Ruttie moved into a suite at Bombay's Taj Mahal Hotel, leaving Jinnah home with eight-year-old Dina. That spring, visiting Paris with her mother, Ruttie fell into an unexplained coma and almost died.
While she recovered, their relationship did not. Two months later, on February 19, 1929, Ruttie fell unconscious in her room at the Taj Hotel. She died the next day , on her 29th birthday .
Most accounts say only that the circumstances of Ruttie's demise were “mysterious.“ But her daughter Dina put it more bluntly: “My mother committed suicide,“ she told Jinnah's first biographer. The embarrassed author left that nugget out of his hagiography . Still, even at the time rumors about the death were rife. Jinnah never wanted to be reminded of his private tragedy , which had become so humiliatingly public. He packed away Ruttie's jades and silks and volumes of Oscar Wilde in boxes and rarely mentioned her again.
There was nothing left for Jinnah in India. In its two decades of existence, the Muslim League had accumulated fewer than 2,000 members, most of whom did not pay their dues. Creditors tried to seize what little furniture remained at League headquarters to sell at auction. Parts of the factionalized party did not even recognize Jinnah's leadership.
In 1931 Jinnah moved to London with Dina and his spinster sister Fatima. He refused to answer questions about when-or if--he would return to India. “I seem,“ he told an Indian journalist over lunch at Simpson's, with startling candor, “to have reached a dead end.“