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Wednesday, January 19

"The Quaid-i-Azam has a bad cold:" Margaret Bourke-White's piercingly accurate report on 1947 Pakistan and its lessons for today.

Best friends forever, before they stopped being friends


Many thanks to the reader who sent a link to excerpts from Margaret Bourke-White's 1949 book, Halfway to Freedom, and which I republish in this post. The book was based on dispatches Bourke-White filed for LIFE magazine on post-Independence India and Pakistan. The excerpts deal with the earliest days of Pakistan and the last days of its founding father (pictured above with Mohandas K. Gandhi), Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948), the Quaid-i-Azam ("great leader").

Margaret Bourke-White (1904-1964) was the first female war correspondent and the first female journalist to report from combat zones in World War Two. Her legacy has been so greatly colored by her photojournalism -- her photographs of the war, American industry, the Depression era, and the horrors of Buchenwald concentration camp and India's partition -- that it can be hard to remember she was also a great reporter.

She was also an extraordinarily lucky person, who often found herself at the right place at the right time to report on events that would be of historical importance. She interviewed Gandhi just a few hours before his assassination, and learned of Jinnah's mental state shortly before his own death simply because she'd been waiting around his official residence to make a photographic portrait of him for a LIFE cover. Yet she always shored her luck with careful observations. It is downright eerie to read her reporting about 1947 Pakistan and its founding father in light of today's Pakistan.

The excerpts from her book will also educate readers who've bought the fiction that Pakistan's religious extremism is rooted in the 1980s policies of General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq. Pakistan was born in religious extremism that was nurtured and exploited by Jinnah and the ruling families he served. Zia simply painted a Saudi face on the extremism.

Bourke-White couldn't see around history's corners, however. By the time Halfway to Freedom was published Pakistan's leaders had already been granted the wish they'd expressed to her to receive support from the U.S. government.

Jinnah and the other Indian Muslims who wanted a separate state couldn't see around corners, either -- a point I made in The Ghost. Bourke-White's reportage makes clear just how short-sighted the decision was to break with India. It's all very well and good to ask, What were they thinking? But in 1936, when Jinnah revived the Muslim League, no one could imagine the collapse of the British Empire, the seeming suddenness of the collapse and how imminent it was. At the time all the problems that an imagined Islamic nation would face were to be smoothed over by the might of the British Empire.

By the time Margaret Bourke-White took her last photographs of Pakistan's founder it was clear that he'd staked the lives of many millions of people on an illusion. But that was seen only with hindsight, in the harsh dawn of the post-World War Two era.

The excerpts from Halfway to Freedom are provided by the Indian Relief and Education Fund website along with their introduction:
The Messiah and The Promised Land

Margaret Bourke-White was a correspondent and photographer for LIFE magazine during the WW II years. In September 1947, White went to Pakistan. She met Jinnah and wrote about what she found and heard in her book "Halfway to Freedom: A Report on the New India," Simon and Schuster, New York, 1949. The following are the excerpts:

Pakistan was one month old. Karachi was its mushrooming capital. On the sandy fringes of the city an enormous tent colony had grown up to house the influx of minor government officials. There was only one major government official, Mahomed Ali Jinnah, and there was no need for Jinnah to take to a tent. The huge marble and sandstone Government House, vacated by British officialdom, was waiting. The Quaid-i-Azam ["Great Leader"] moved in, with his sister, Fatima, as hostess.

Mr. Jinnah had put on what his critics called his "triple crown": he had made himself Governor-General; he was retaining the presidency of the Muslim League -- now Pakistan's only political party; and he was president of the country's lawmaking body, the Constituent Assembly.

"We never expected to get it so soon," Miss Fatima said when I called. "We never expected to get it in our lifetimes."

If Fatima's reaction was a glow of family pride, her brother's was a fever of ecstasy. Jinnah's deep-sunk eyes were pinpoints of excitement. His whole manner indicated that an almost overwhelming exaltation was racing through his veins. I had murmured some words of congratulation on his achievement in creating the world's largest Islamic nation.

"Oh, it's not just the largest Islamic nation. Pakistan is the fifth-largest nation in the world!"

The note of personal triumph was so unmistakable that I wondered how much thought he gave to the human cost: more Muslim lives had been sacrificed to create the new Muslim homeland than America, for example, had lost during the entire second World War. I hoped he had a constructive plan for the seventy million citizens of Pakistan. What kind of constitution did he intend to draw up?

Of course it will be a democratic constitution; Islam is a democratic religion."

I ventured to suggest that the term "democracy" was often loosely used these days. Could he define what he had in mind?

"Democracy is not just a new thing we are learning," said Jinnah. "It is in our blood. We have always had our system of zakat -- our obligation to the poor."

This confusion of democracy with charity troubled me. I begged him to be more specific.

"Our Islamic ideas have been based on democracy and social justice since the thirteenth century."

This mention of the thirteenth century troubled me still more. Pakistan has other relics of the Middle Ages besides "social justice" -- the remnants of a feudal land system, for one. What would the new constitution do about that? ...

"The land belongs to the God," says the Koran.

This would need clarification in the constitution. Presumably Jinnah, the lawyer, would be just the person to correlate the "true Islamic principles" one heard so much about in Pakistan with the new nation's laws. But all he would tell me was that the constitution would be democratic because "the soil is perfectly fertile for democracy."

What plans did he have for the industrial development of the country? Did he hope to enlist technical or financial assistance from America?

"America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America," was Jinnah's reply. "Pakistan is the pivot of the world, as we are placed" -- he revolved his long forefinger in bony circles -- "the frontier on which the future position of the world revolves."

He leaned toward me, dropping his voice to a confidential note. "Russia," confided Mr. Jinnah, "is not so very far away."

This had a familiar ring. In Jinnah's mind this brave new nation had no other claim on American friendship than this -- that across a wild tumble of roadless mountain ranges lay the land of the Bolsheviks.

I wondered whether the Quaid-i-Azam considered his new state only as an armored buffer between opposing major powers. He was stressing America's military interest in other parts of the world.

"America is now awakened," he said with a satisfied smile. Since the United States was now bolstering up Greece and Turkey, she should be much more interested in pouring money and arms into Pakistan.

"If Russia walks in here," he concluded, "the whole world is menaced."

In the weeks to come I was to hear the Quaid-i-Azam's thesis echoed by government officials throughout Pakistan.

"Surely America will build up our army," they would say to me. "Surely America will give us loans to keep Russia from walking in."

But when I asked whether there were any signs of Russian infiltration, they would reply almost sadly, as though sorry not to be able to make more of the argument, "No, Russia has shown no signs of being interested in Pakistan."

This hope of tapping the U. S. Treasury was voiced so persistently that one wondered whether the purpose was to bolster the world against Bolshevism or to bolster Pakistan's own uncertain position as a new political entity.

Actually, I think, it was more nearly related to the even more significant bankruptcy of ideas in the new Muslim state -- a nation drawing its spurious warmth from the embers of an antique religious fanaticism, fanned into a new blaze.

Jinnah's most frequently used technique in the struggle for his new nation had been the playing of opponent against opponent. Evidently this technique was now to be extended into foreign policy. ....

No one would have been more astonished than Jinnah if he could have foreseen thirty or forty years earlier that anyone would ever speak of him as a "savior of Islam."

In those days any talk of religion brought a cynical smile. He condemned those who talked in terms of religious rivalries, and in the stirring period when the crusade for freedom began sweeping the country he was hailed as "the embodied symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity."

The gifted Congresswoman, Mrs. Naidu, one of Jinnah's closest friends, wrote poems extolling his role as the great unifier in the fight for independence.

"Perchance it is written in the book of the future," ran one of her tributes, "that he, in some terrible crisis of our national struggle, will pass into immortality" as the hero of "the Indian liberation."

In the "terrible crisis," Mahomed Ali Jinnah was to pass into immortality, not as the ambassador of unity, but as the deliberate apostle of discord. What caused this spectacular renunciation of the concept of a united India, to which he had dedicated the greater part of his life? No one knows exactly.

The immediate occasion for the break, in the mid-thirties, was his opposition to Gandhi's civil disobedience program. Nehru says that Jinnah "disliked the crowds of ill-dressed people who filled the Congress" and was not at home with the new spirit rising among the common people under Gandhi's magnetic leadership.

Others say it was against his legal conscience to accept Gandhi's program. One thing is certain: the break with Gandhi, Nehru, and the other Congress leaders was not caused by any Hindu-Muslim issue.

In any case, Jinnah revived the moribund Muslim League in 1936 after it had dragged through an anemic thirty years' existence, and took to the religious soapbox. He began dinning into the ears of millions of Muslims the claim that they were downtrodden solely because of Hindu domination.

During the years directly preceding this move on his part, an unprecedented degree of unity had developed between Muslims and Hindus in their struggle for independence from the British Raj. The British feared this unity, and used their divide-and-rule tactics to disrupt it. Certain highly-placed Indians also feared unity, dreading a popular movement which would threaten their special position.

Then another decisive factor arose. Although Hindus had always been ahead of Muslims in the industrial sphere, the great Muslim feudal landlords now had aspirations toward industry. From these wealthy Muslims, who resented the well-established Hindu competition, Jinnah drew his powerful supporters.

One wonders whether Jinnah was fighting to free downtrodden Muslims from domination or merely to gain an earmarked area, free from competition, for this small and wealthy clan.

The trend of events in Pakistan would support the theory that Jinnah carried the banner of the Muslim landed aristocracy, rather than that of the Muslim masses he claimed to champion. There was no hint of personal material gain in this. Jinnah was known to be personally incorruptible, a virtue which gave him a great strength with both poor and rich. The drive for personal wealth played no part in his politics. It was a drive for power. ...

Less than three months after Pakistan became a nation, Jinnah's Olympian assurance had strangely withered. His altered condition was not made public.

"The Quaid-i-Azam has a bad cold" was the answer given to inquiries.

Only those closest to him knew that the "cold" was accompanied by paralyzing inability to make even the smallest decisions, by sullen silences striped with outbursts of irritation, by a spiritual numbness concealing something close to panic underneath. I knew it only because I spent most of this trying period at Government House, attempting to take a new portrait of Jinnah for a Life cover.

The Quaid-i-Azam was still revered as a messiah and deliverer by most of his people. But the "Great Leader" himself could not fail to know that all was not well in his new creation, the nation; the nation that his critics referred to as the "House that Jinnah built."

The separation from the main body of India had been in many ways an unrealistic one. Pakistan raised 75 per cent of the world's jute supply; the processing mills were all in India. Pakistan raised one third of the cotton of India, but it had only one thirtieth of the cotton mills. Although it produced the bulk of Indian skins and hides, all the leather tanneries were in South India. The new state had no paper mills, few iron foundries. Rail and road facilities, insufficient at best, were still choked with refugees.

Pakistan has a superbly fertile soil, and its outstanding advantage is self-sufficiency in food, but this was threatened by the never-ending flood of refugees who continued pouring in long after the peak of the religious wars had passed.

With his burning devotion to his separate Islamic nation, Jinnah had taken all these formidable obstacles in his stride. But the blow that finally broke his spirit struck at the very name of Pakistan. While the literal meaning of the name is "Land of the Pure," the word is a compound of initial letters of the Muslim majority provinces which Jinnah had expected to incorporate: P for the Punjab, A for the Afghans' area on the Northwest Frontier, S for Sind, -tan for Baluchistan. But the K was missing.

Kashmir, India's largest princely state, despite its 77 per cent Muslim population, had not fallen into the arms of Pakistan by the sheer weight of religious majority. Kashmir had acceded to India, and although it was now the scene of an undeclared war between the two nations, the fitting of the K into Pakistan was left in doubt. With the beginning of this torturing anxiety over Kashmir, the Quaid-i-Azam's siege of bad colds began, and then his dismaying withdrawal into himself. ....

Later, reflecting on what I had seen, I decided that this desperation was due to causes far deeper than anxiety over Pakistan's territorial and economic difficulties. I think that the tortured appearance of Mr. Jinnah was an indication that, in these final months of his life, he was adding up his own balance sheet.

Analytical, brilliant, and no bigot, he knew what he had done. Like Doctor Faustus, he had made a bargain from which he could never be free. During the heat of the struggle he had been willing to call on all the devilish forces of superstition, and now that his new nation had been achieved the bigots were in the position of authority. The leaders of orthodoxy and a few "old families" had the final word and to perpetuate their power, were seeing to it that the people were held in the deadening grip of religious superstition.

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Comments:
Chilling.

I would like very much if members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs would read this. I am 100 percent serious.

Newbies congress people interested in Foreign Affairs ought to have this article as part of their reading list.

The intellectual South Asian "bench" in DC worries, dear Pundita. It worries me....
 
” In the ends, thus, one keeps coming back to the same conclusion
that the British were keen on putting an Islamic halter round the socialist
order in the north and were not prepared to permit any hurdle, Khudai Khidmatgars’ or
whatever, in their way. In fact they were convinced that unless they
removed all the nationalist and anti imperialist forces from theirpath
would not be able to consummate their design.”

Khan Abdul Wali Khan S/O Abdul Ghafar Kha
 
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