Democratic Welfare State as Visualised by Quaid-i-Azam

The world knows Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah more as the founder of Pakistan and his socioeconomic thoughts are usually out of the popular discourse. However, in the last two decades, a continuous flow of literature comprising his speeches, statements, interviews and addresses to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan has hit the markets. Even a cursory look at this vast literature would reveal that he was deeply concerned with the socioeconomic uplift of masses in general, and Muslim society in particular. His views in this regard reflect a remarkable continuity of approach from the earlier days of his political career to the period he occupied the position of Governor General of Pakistan.

Quaid-i-Azam became more and more expressive on this point as the prospects of Pakistan’s coming into existence became brighter. When Pakistan finally emerged on the world map as a sovereign nation, while rejecting the prevailing economic system as having failed, he said:

“The Western economic theory and practice will not help us in achieving our goal of creating a happy and contented people. We must work our destiny in our own way and present to the world an economic system based on true Islamic concept of equality of manhood and social justice”.

On another occasion, while responding to his public reception at Chittagong, he declared:

“You are only voicing my sentiments and the sentiments of millions of Mussalmans when you say that Pakistan should be based on sure foundations of social justice and Islamic socialism which emphasises equality and brotherhood of man.”

The Quaid’s interest in socioeconomic issues dates back from 1909 when, at the age of 33 years, he was elected to the pre-partition Indian Legislative Council and with few years of interruption held this membership till 1947. Apart from speeches of political nature, he left a durable impression on legislation which dealt with a very large number of contemporary economic problems. During this period, he spoke with knowledge and authority on bills concerning such diverse subjects as Indian coinage, steel industry, land customs, currency, tariffs, railways, merchant shipping, insurance companies, trade unions, central budgets, and so on. His speeches on all these occasions make him a ceaseless advocate of interests of common people, with continuous condemnation of well-organised European commercial lobbies and their monopolistic practices.

The Quaid-i-Azam gave foremost attention to economic rights of the Muslims. A relevant example of this aspect is the Muslim Wakf-e-Alal-Aulad Bill of 1913 which he skilfully piloted to revalidate Muslim trusts. This incidentally also revealed his familiarity with Islamic jurisprudence.

Sources of His Economic Thoughts
The richness and variety of the Quaid’s observations on socioeconomic issues shows that although he fully benefited from currents of contemporary thought on various issues, he did not allow them to dominate his own approach to life and its problems. His professional mastery of law enabled him to go deep into the heart of an issue, acquire details, and cast new light on it according to his own rational and enlightened interpretation. This way of looking at things helped develop certain recurring socioeconomic and political themes in his intellectual setup.

A deeper look at Quaid’s life shows that he drew inspiration from the following four sources:

First, Al-Quran, Sirat-e-Rasul (PBUH) and Islamic jurisprudence were frequently consulted by him. Right from the very first day of his admission to Lincoln’s Inn to the last days of his life he took inspiration from the Holy Quran and made frequent and well-informed references to Islamic Law, history and ethical values in his speeches and statements.

Secondly, his visits to England helped him to become familiar with the great welfare state movements initiated in the late nineteenth century by philosophers like John A. Hobson, Richard H. Tawney, and Fabian Socialists. As against Marxism, these movements stood for positive liberalism designed to build up a society in which human welfare was consciously sought as the chief objective of social policy.

The Quaid was greatly influenced by positive liberalism. His advocacy for similar and even more aggressive reforms on the occasion of 25th Annual Session of All India Muslim League in 1937 reminds one of his early liberal approaches.

Thirdly, conditions of abysmal poverty prevailing in India, especially among Muslim masses, greatly perturbed the Quaid. He forcefully attacked budgets of British India for their inadequacy for solving problems of poverty and continuously demanded full control of people of India over all fiscal policies.

Lastly, one single person who more than any other contemporary thinker influenced his thoughts and perceptions was Allama Iqbal. In 1930s, the whole direction and emphasis of Muslim politics — and of Indian political scene — was transformed by the appearance of a single address, viz. Iqbal’s Presidential Address at the Twenty-First Annual Session of All India Muslim League. This address and the letters which Iqbal sent to the Quaid-i-Azam between 1936 and 1937 greatly influenced the latter’s thinking about the political and economic destiny of Muslim India.

The Concept of a Democratic Welfare State
Although Quaid-i-Azam was not a professional economist, yet he had a firm grasp of the basic notions which constitute a welfare-oriented economic philosophy. He viewed the proper form of society as the one in which the interests of the community as a whole transcended those of the individual and in which economic relationship were motivated by goodwill and concern for the interests of others. He declared in Muslim League’s 30th Annual Session held at Delhi in 1943 that the goal of Pakistan Movement was to set up a ‘Peoples’ Government’ which would not allow landlords and capitalists to flourish at the expense of the masses.

What would be the major objectives of such a welfare state? In his speeches and statements, one finds repeated emphasis on the following three broad-ranging guidelines:

(i) It is not our purpose to make the rich richer and to accelerate the process of accumulation in the hands of few individuals. We should aim at levelling up the general standard of living amongst the masses. Our ideal should not be capitalistic but Islamic and the interests and welfare of the people as a whole should be kept constantly in mind.

(ii) Pakistan should not blindly follow Western economic theory and practice and should develop its own economic system based on true Islamic concept of equality of manhood and social justice.

(iii)    Public sector should play a more active role in providing a network of social and public utility services and relief and amenities, especially in underdeveloped areas. Key industries should also be controlled and managed by the state.

The above guidelines provided the foundations for a host of welfare-oriented policies which the Quaid-i-Azam wanted to be followed.

On the occasion of Pakistan’s first budget, the Government announced a liberal Industrial Policy to associate individual initiative and private enterprise at every stage of industrialisation. A few key industries were reserved for public sector and those remaining were left open to private enterprise. Similarly doors for foreign economic assistance were opened on the principle of mutual commercial respect.

In spite of this open-door policy, interests of workers and labourers were to be safeguard by the government.

It will be seen that the Quaid-i-Azam’s philosophy of welfare state was pragmatic in view of the fact that Pakistan virtually started from a scratch and had to build up almost every conceivable economic and social sector. Further, more than 8 million refugees had to be rehabilitated despite a lack of adequate administrative machinery and financial resources. From this angle, the Quaid-i-Azam’s concept of welfare state was pragmatic yet visionary, critical yet hopeful.

Two Important Welfare Documents
Two pre-independence documents, prepared under the active guidance of the Qauid-i-Azam, throw adequate light on his socioeconomic welfare philosophy.

The first document consists of an economic, social and educational programme chalked out in the 25th Annual Session of All India Muslim League in 1937. Its salient features were:

1. To fix working hours for factory workers and other labourers;
2. To fix minimum wages;
3. To improve the housing and hygienic conditions of the labourers and make provision for slum clearance;
4. To reduce rural and urban debts and abolish usuary;
5. To grant a moratorium with regard to all debts, whether decreed or otherwise, till proper legislation has been enacted;
6. To secure legislation for exemption of houses from attachment or sale in execution of decrees;
7. To obtain security of tenure and fixation of fair rents and revenue;
8. To abolish forced labour;
9. To undertake rural uplift work;

Second is the Quaid’s address to the Constitution Assembly on August 11, 1947 whereby he said:

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State”.

What the Quaid obviously meant was that state had no business to discriminate between citizens on religions or any other basis as was provided in the Constitution of Medina which did not discriminate between Muslims and Jews and treated them as one ummah so far as their rights as citizens were concerned. The Quaid-i-Azam further added:

“In course of time, Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state”.

It may be asked as to why the Quaid-i-Azam’s welfare-oriented approach did not become major part of public economy of Pakistan. Although Pakistan started from scratch in 1947, and since then has made significant advances in different economic sectors, it has by no means emerged as a welfare state. There may be many reasons for this state of affairs but one basic reason is that a few years after the death of the Quaid-i-Azam, power passed into the hands of those who had vested interests in the system and who had no sympathy with the socio-economic objectives or ideology of Pakistan Movement.  There are only a few works available which highlight the dynamic and progressive approach of the Quaid-i-Azam to the solution of problems of poverty and uneven distribution of incomes and wealth.

December is the month of birth of this great genius. Hence, it is high time that we re-examined our entire socioeconomic policy framework in the light of his pragmatic yet visionary advocacy for the promotion of a society in which human welfare, based on Islamic principles of equality of manhood, is consciously and deliberately sought as the sole objective of all social and public policies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *