- Today’s parliamentarians could learn a thing or two
BY MUHAMMAD ZAHID RIFAT
Qaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had many qualities as a lawyer, a parliamentarian and as a public leader. As a public leader, despite the odds against him, he had performed the political miracle of the 20th century by founding an independent country, Pakistan, out of nowhere. In all these top qualities, his mental powers, oratory, determination, honesty and straight forwardness helped him greatly. Here, his achievements mainly as a parliamentarian are being discussed hoping this may help the modern parliamentarians to do some soul searching which is the need of the hour.
The Quaid was attracted to politics when still in London studying law and attended the British Parliament regularly. The ways, manners, gestures and even the dress of prominent members formed a lasting impression on his mind.
His reader’s tickets to the British Museum are still preserved. He read all the significant speeches of important parliamentarians there and this had formed the background of his parliamentary career. The Quaid himself had leanings towards liberalism. He was not a narrow-minded sectarian and intolerant politician, and throughout his parliamentary career he always stood for liberal policies.
Mr. Jinnah started his parliamentary career with election to the Imperial Legislative Council in 1909. He remained its member till March 28, 1919. He resigned in protest against the Rowlatt Act. Mr. Jinnah, speaking on the Bill, vehemently opposed it as a “new shackle on the freedom of the people.” But despite his protest, the Rowlatt Bill was passed because of the government majority.
When the Central Legislative Assembly came into being, he was again elected from a Bombay Urban constituency on 14 November 1923. In October 1934 he was re-elected. When Pakistan came into being he was elected Chairman of the National Assembly– a post he had held till his death on 11 September 1948.
He always chose his words carefully and never retracted any, once uttered. His critics, whether Judges, Viceroys or Pundits, usually received humiliating tongue lashings for any barb. He was not known to sit silent at the slightest reprimand.
In 1926, when elected to the Indian Legislative Council, he joined the “independent” group and became its leader. At that time the British Parliament had sent Sir John Simon to find out the public opinion in India. Jinnah and other Indian leaders boycotted the Commission ,which did not consist even a single Indian member,with the slogan “Go back Simon”. Jinnah was never prepared to tolerate even parliamentary action which he thought was unwarranted and wrong.
His parliamentary speeches show masterly grasp of the subject under discussion and incisive reasoning. In the legislature, he had shone as the epitome of the Parliamentary decorum, the grand manner, the elegant style
Several qualities of the Quaid-i-Azam as a parliamentarian are often enumerated as his strategy, keen insight, able advocacy, clear representation, reasoning power, balanced judgement and undaunted criticism. The Quaid was very often witty and sarcastic which distinguished him as a parliamentarian. The Quaid is generally described as a born parliamentarian and his self-confidence, sincerity, honesty, outspokenness and frankness coupled with his ability and acumen made him an ideal parliamentarian. The Quaid had a great respect for parliamentary traditions and believed that the speaker of an Assembly should be like an umpire, impartial and fair.
The Quaid as Governor General was the head of the executive and his presidentship of the Constituent Assembly would have taken the traditions to the pre-1919 days. As such the Quaid had presided over its meetings when it met as a constitution making body, but Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan presided when it met as a Legislature.
It was the Assembly which on 12 August 1947 had formally conferred on him the title of the Quaid-i-Azam.
Mr. Jinnah used his membership for the benefit of people in general and Muslims in particular. Whenever necessary he also criticised the government but never used unparliamentary language and fully maintained the decorum of Parliament, a lesson that parliamentarians even now would do well to learn and follow sincerely.
Rapid political changes had taken place after the failure of the Round Table Conference in London in 1930, and the Quaid was disappointed with Congress’s tactics. He was so disappointed he decided to settle in England and stay away completely from politics. But then came the 1935 Government of India Act. Politicians, including Allama Iqbal and Liaquat Ali Khan, requested him to come back to India because in a constitutional struggle he alone was suited to lead the Indian Muslims. Since it was a constitutional struggle, the fate of the Mussalmans as such could be safely entrusted to him. He came back, took up the leadership of the Muslim League and turned into a mass organisation. It was no more a body of a few elites, which met annually, passed a few resolutions and dispersed. The Muslim masses had now joined the organisation. They had conferred the title of Quaid-i-Azam (Great Leader) on Mr Jinnah, who fully deserved it.
Elections were fought under the 1935 Act. The Quaid fully devoted his time to organising and strengthening the League. Parliamentary politics was a part of main politics and assemblies had become important. The Quaid was a member of the Central Assembly, and guiding the League parties in the Provincial assemblies. In the Centre the Quaid was party leader and his right hand man was Liaquat Ali Khan.
In 1945, crucial elections were held, in which the youth led by the All India Muslim Students Federation played a key role. The Quaid was as usual chosen to represent the Bombay (Urban) constituency. At the time of his election he was touring the distant NWFP. Raja Amir Ahmad Khan of Mahmudabad, as AIMSF President was supervising the elections. The Quaid was opposed by an Ismaili, Hussain Bhai Lalji, backed by Congress. The Congress in a false statement had said that the Aga Khan had asked his community to vote for Lalji. But another prominent Ismaili leader, Ibrahim Rahimtoola, was very close to the Quaid. He immediately phoned the Aga Khan, then in New Delhi. He not only denied having ever instructed the Ismailis to vote for Lalji but also asked Rahimtoola to intimate all Ismaili families to vote for the Quaid.
League won 100% seats in the Central Assembly and about 70 to 90% in the Provincial Assemblies. This had strengthened the Quaid-i-Azam’s hands and paved the way for Pakistan.
After _Partition, the Assembly was both Constituent Assembly and National Assembly. The Quaid was elected its President besides being Governor General. It was in this Assembly that the Quaid in his address on 11 August 1947 laid down the guidelines for the future, indicating that he wanted to see honesty, liberalism, clean life and a noble society in Pakistan. It is sad and dangerous that we have forgotten the direction he prescribed.
The Quaid always kept his audience in mind, which enabled him to assess their mental calibre. When he appeared as a lawyer he knew the judges were usually men of experience and knowledge. He could therefore narrate the complex nuances and fine points of law. In Parliament too most members were aware of the problems of socio-political life. But in a public meeting, varied intellects and knowledge sat before him. So he spoke on things that were easily understood.
In all fairness, he did not claim to be a saint or divine preaching to ordinary mortals, nor did he foist his own views on his followers with dogmatic authority and while speaking in Parliament with sophisticated audience he was quite different and from parliamentary speaker he rose to the heights of oratory.
The Quaids voice, though lacking in volume, was rich in timbre and characterized by deep musical resonance. The audience listened to him with bated breath; a motion of a finger, a little waving of the head, or a slight turning of his impressive figure enthralled his audience. The incisive reasoning, the close analysis, the careful marshalling of facts and arguments, the laying of emphasis of points of vantage ,all characteristic qualities of a lawyer , also marked the Quaid’s speaking both on public platforms and in Parliament. He did not try to hoodwink the audience and kept away from verbal jugglery and mental acrobatics. During the first decade of the Legislative Assembly, established under the 1919 Act, he had crossed swords with many powerful debaters and invariably came out with flying colours. His parliamentary speeches show masterly grasp of the subject under discussion and incisive reasoning. In the legislature, he had shone as the epitome of the Parliamentary decorum, the grand manner, the elegant style.
The Quaid-i-Azam was a distinguished personality, very neat and clean and head and shoulders above the common run of men. In the home, Parliament and on public platforms he used to wear three–piece suits, and black or white sherwanis. Even in old age, his behaviour and deportment distinguished him. These were great qualities in Parliament.