Jinnah’s relevance to contemporary Pakistan

Bernadotte Croce, the famed Italian philosopher, lays down that “the practical requirements which underlie every historical judgement give to all history the character of ‘contemporary history’ because however remote in time events there recounted may seem to be, the history in reality refers to present needs and present situation wherein those events vibrate”.

As with history, so with the lives of great men who shape the course of history. And the events in their lives, when abstracted in terms of their universal components and interpreted in perspective, become relevant to present needs and present situations. And that is how some leaders come to acquire the role-model status. And this precisely was the case with Jinnah.

Jinnah’s role-model status acquires significance not so much because of his being the founding father — since not every founder of a state or nation-builder acquires such a status — but because of the principles he had owned up during his long political career, and, more importantly, because of the congruence of his behaviour pattern and politics with his professed principles throughout his public life.

Jinnah’s principles and political behaviour, it is true, were meant, primarily, to meet the specific requirements of the day. A political leader, after all, has to deal with matters of the moment for most of the time; he has to address issues that loom large at the moment, that call for explication, resolution, or a policy pronouncement. Though dealing, by and large, with specific issues and specific events, the pronouncements and behaviour pattern of a “genuine” leader are yet reflective of certain basic principles he has owned up during his public life. And these principles are in turn inspired by an element of universal truth which transcends both time and space.

The core principle he had stood for is that of clean, honest and unstained politics. Even when he had established himself at the bar, he refitted to enter politics, until he had sawed “enough”, so that he didn’t have to live off politics. To him indeed, politics was not the broad avenue to amass power and pelf, but the strait path to serve the community and the country. He was wont to spend his personal funds to finance his political activities (including travel, boarding and lodging).
Even as Governor-General, he set an example in austerity. Ispahani tells us that he cancelled the orders for a Lincoln (car) for them. For the same reason, he would not go in for installing a lift in the Governor-General House, despite his age. More surprising, he would see that the lights were put off before he himself retired to his bedroom.

His sister, Fatima Jinnah, followed his illustrious brother’s example in running the Governor-General House establishment. His ADC (Mian Ata Rabbani) tells us how rigorously she controlled the finances, eliminated “frills”, cut down on “lavish entertainment, wasteful kitchen expenditure and unauthorised ‘langar-like’ feeding”, got rid of surplus staff, and went in for “austerity menus”, cutting down severely both “the number of courses and the quantity served”, and even on “the supply of cigarettes”. (In this context one would like to know the amount on the maintenance of the Resident’s and the Prime Minister’s houses since 1988 under the BB and MNS regimes.)

Not only Jinnah and his sister, but his entire team headed by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan went in for austerity, in order to tide over the financial difficulties at the time; all of them were extremely careful as to how public money was spent. And when Liaquat was assassinated, he had a low four-figure balance, and Begum Liaquat didn’t have a house to move in.

In contrast, what is the record of the incumbents for the past twenty-eight years? One has only to look at the daily newspapers, and the writings of columnists of the likes of Cowasjee and Amina Jilani to see how public money is being squandered with the least compunction. Even religious rites such as Umrah and Haj are being performed, along with hordes of relatives, friends and hangers-on, at public expense. (Dawn, July 15, 1996) tells us that only Umras by the high and the mighty during the previous eighteen years has cost the public exchequer a sum of Rs. 24.8 million! Likewise, BB’s April 1995 US tour cost the national exchequer the mind-boggling sum of over US $10.75 million (Dawn, April 28, 1995) while the furnishing of the Prime Minster’s office under Nawaz Sharif in 1997 over Rs. 100 million. Incredibly though, the PM’s Office table alone cost Rs. 275,484 and the coffee table Rs.209,900! (The Nation, May 11, 1997).
Indeed, the squandering of public money for personal comfort and glory has over the years assumed the proportions of a virus afflicting the nation as a whole. Even those known as Mr Clean till yesterday are not uninfected by it. Take, for instance, the much-trumpeted Kashmir Committee (1993-96) under Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, the veteran politician, known for his “uprightness” and “principled politics”. According to Gohar Ayub Khan, the Committee had reportedly spent a cool sum of Rs. 103.5 million during 1995-96 alone! The breakdown is revealing Rs. 60 million on official expenses, Rs. 13 million on delegations going abroad, Rs. 10 million on seminars, Rs. 35 million on purchasing durables, and several million on miscellaneous expenses. These figures given in the NA went uncontested. (The Nation, August 29, 1996). And all this expense, with what result? (One cannot possibly blame the Nawabzada for being up in arms and conjuring up alliances since November 1996 when his perks and privileges entered a dead-end street.)

It is such squandering, supplemented, of course, by the piratical plunder of the national exchequer by both the BB and MNS regimes (remember Surrey Palace, GBP 102,000 necklace in a Swiss locker, and the plush flats in the most expensive central London), that had brought Pakistan to economic ruin.
Simultaneously, the gross flouting of democratic traditions, which Jinnah had tried to build up both during the Pakistan Movement and his all too brief stewardship of the fledgling state, brought Pakistan to political disruption. It is rather well known that he believed in democratic ideals, in a democratic approach, in a democratic dispensation. He stood for consensual politics, political accommodation and toleration, for an honest difference of opinion, and for observing the rules of the game.

Equally important, and in contrast, he abhorred dynastic politics. He refused to be elected life-president when it was offered to him, preferring to present himself for election each year on the basis of his previous year’s performance. He desisted from pitch forking his sister, Fatima Jinnah, to any public office, beyond ‘Organiser’ of the Women’s wing of the Muslim League (at the Patna session in December 1938) which, of course, was no public office in the real sense of the term, nor was commensurate with her status in terms of hierarchy. Nor did Fatima Jinnah ever utilized her vantage position to take to public platform, after Jinnah’s demise.

Of course, she did come to — but only at the fag end of her life, some fifteen years after Jinnah’s death, and even then, only at the imminent and desperate call of the nation, to lead a pro-democracy movement against the entrenched semi-authoritarian Ayub regime, which called for a leader/leaderne of Fatima Jinnah’s stature.

By:Prof Sharif al Mujahid

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