By Khurram Ali Shafique

Jinnah never claimed to be the sole spokesman of his nation. His lifelong stance was that the sole representative of the Muslim nation was All-India Muslim League (and later its off-shoot in the new state). In April 1946, he also took the pledge of loyalty to the League just like ordinary Muslims.

The idea that he was the sole spokesman of his nation seems to have originated in the contempt in which his nation was held by the Indian nationalists and some of their foreign masters.

Gandhi described the Indian Muslims as a batch of converts, whose claim to be a nation seemed preposterous to him. Likewise, Lord Mountbatten felt offended when Jinnah refused to accept his partition plan without consulting the party. ‘I am not the Muslim League,’ said Jinnah. The Viceroy replied rudely, ‘Don’t tell me that. You can try and tell the world that. But please don’t try to kid yourself that I don’t know who’s who and what’s what in the Muslim League.’ Recalling this dialogue many years later, he insisted that Jinnah ‘was the Muslim League and what he said, they did.’

Arrogance might have prevented the British aristocrat from conceding that Muslims could also have a political organization but it is difficult to understand why Stanley Wolpert also holds the same belief. Sir Stafford Cripps noted that Jinnah refused to go against the dictates of his party because ‘he was not his own master’. In Jinnah of Pakistan, Wolpert calls it ‘a singular confession for Jinnah, yet one he knew would appeal to Cripps.’ By no means was it ‘a singular confession’ but it seems that Wolpert got carried away by an urge to suggest that a genuine political organization was part of Cripps’ background but not of Jinnah’s.

The idea remains the central theme in the biography written by Wolpert but forms the very title of the book written by Ayesha Jalal, The Sole Spokesman. ‘Jinnah sought to be recognised as the sole spokesman of Indian Muslims,’ she writes, in stark contradiction to Jinnah’s lifelong stance. A scholar like her is perhaps within her rights in interpreting facts according to her perception but we would fail to see the bigger picture if we mistake that interpretation, no matter how well-presented, as fact.

The bigger picture here is the party Jinnah belonged to and the reason behind his calling it the sole representative of the nation.

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