Creation of Pakistan: Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the chess player

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in 1945. © Public domain

Text by: Tirthankar Chanda Follow

13 mins

Pakistan celebrates this year the seventy-fifth anniversary of its creation, the culmination of the painful and chaotic partition of the Indian Empire into two distinct nations, a Hindu-majority India and a Muslim Pakistan.

Imagined by intellectuals, the idea of ​​a state for the Muslims of the sub-continent took shape under the impetus of an exceptional leader named Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Back on his journey.


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On August 14, 1947, the day before India gained independence,


was born , resulting from the partition of the Indian subcontinent after two centuries of British colonization.

The birth of Pakistan, a name which in Urdu means the “

land of the pure

”, was proclaimed in Karachi by the last Viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten, in the presence of the new Pakistani Head of State

Muhammad Ali Jinnah


Brilliant lawyer and leader of the Muslim League created in 1906, the latter was the true founder of this new state destined to be the homeland of South Asian Muslims.

Seventy-five years later, the people of Pakistan continue to revere Jinnah as their


(great leader), but also their


(father of the nation).

Perhaps never have titles been so deserved because, as the official biographer of the late leader, Wolpert Stanley, writes, “

Few individuals have succeeded in significantly changing the course of history.

They are still few to be able to claim to have modified the map of the world.

Hardly anyone can be credited with creating a nation state.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah succeeded in all three.


A western education

Nothing predestined the young Ahmed Ali Jinnah, however, for the leading role he played in the political life of the Indian subcontinent.

Born on December 25, 1876, from a businessman father, he grew up in a rather wealthy family.

He was programmed to work in the family leather workshop.

Before he was born, his father had left his native Gujrat to settle in


where he made his fortune in the trade in animal skins.

Karachi... RFI/Nadia Blétry

Converted to Islam for two generations, the Jinnah belonged to the “khoja” community, known for their open-mindedness and disciple of the Ismaili Aga Khan.

They were close to the movement of Muslim reformists which flourished in northern India in the second half of the 19th century, and who saw in Western-style education the salvation of Muslims faced with the inevitable rise of Hindu elites. .

The Jinnah children will go to school, the girls as well as the boys.

Ahmed, he did his secondary studies in Christian schools in Bombay and Karachi, and learned the Koran in a



In 1893, he went to London as an apprentice in a London trading establishment to improve his accounting skills.

Little focused on numbers, the young man wasted no time in abandoning his training to enroll in law studies.

It was also at this time that he developed a passion for politics, regularly attending the debates in the House of Commons from the visitors' gallery.

He was present at the Palace of Westminster when Dadabhai Naoroji, the first Indian to sit in the British Parliament and future chairman of the Indian National Congress party, delivered his inaugural address there.

In 1895, Jinnah was called to the bar in London, becoming at the age of 20 the youngest Indian lawyer authorized to practice in the metropolis.

But he made the choice to practice in his country and returned to Karachi.

However, as his father's business had in the meantime declined, he finally settled in Bombay where he succeeded in establishing himself in the space of a few years as a formidable business lawyer.

A chain smoker, western-dressed, fluent in the language of Shakespeare, Jinnah was a familiar figure in

upper-class clubs.

of this cosmopolitan Arabian seaside city.

His clients and friends were Hindus, Christians or even Parsis, one of the most westernized communities in India.

Moreover, Ruttie, his wife whom he married in 1918, was from the Parsie community.

"Ambassador for Hindu-Muslim Unity"

The young Jinnah then represented the archetype of the Indian intellectual, modernist and liberal.

He was not encumbered with religious principles and campaigned, in the shadows, alongside Indian nationalists, of all faiths, for the end of British colonization.

He was close to Gopal Krishna Gokhale, a moderate nationalist and leader of the Congress party, a formation that Jinnah joined in 1904. He also closely followed the work of the Muslim League founded in 1906 by Muslim notables and of which he became a member from 1913, while participating in Congress activities.

Like his mentor Gokhale, Jinnah was a supporter of negotiated reforms and constitutional methods, and had little belief in the virtue of boycotts or mass action against the occupier.

Both will also sit in the Imperial Legislative Council of Calcutta (which was then the capital of India) set up in 1910 by the British for the sake of democratizing the political game.

Jinnah dreamed of playing a bridging role between Indian Muslims and the Congress party.

On the occasion of the annual conference of the Muslim League in 1916, the work of which he chaired, he seized his chance by pushing Hindu and Muslim decision-makers to sign a historic agreement of cooperation, which ratified the decision of the colonial government to reserve electorates separate for Muslim candidates to provincial legislative councils, with a quota of seats greater than their demographic weight.

The agreement, known as the "

Lucknow Pact

", opened up unprecedented opportunities for collaboration between Congress and the Muslim League and earned Jinnah the nickname "

Ambassador for Hindu-Muslim Unity

" .


An ambitious politician, Jinnah, who had just celebrated his 40th birthday, could legitimately hope to rise in rank in the hierarchy of the multi-confessional Congress.

The forty-year-old aspired to take the place of Gokhale who had just died in 1915. However, 1915 was also the year when a new actor entered the scene, by the name of… Gandhi.

Taking the Congress party by storm, the future “


” (Great Soul) would upset the Indian political situation.


Jinnah and Gandhi in September 1944 © Public Domain

By appealing to the popular masses, Gandhi deeply renewed the Indian nationalist movement, marginalizing the personalities from the social and intellectual elite who dominated the Congress party at the time.

Jinnah was one of them.

Deeply legalistic and rational in his approach, the latter was particularly indignant at Gandhi's use of religion and spirituality to mobilize the masses, which he said had the effect of returning Muslims to their minority status. religious.

For Jinnah, who came to politics thanks to his readings of liberal thinkers on the law and its limits, Hindus and Muslims were first " 

political categories

", distinct entities capable of making contracts with each other as do the nations, writes the Indian political scientist Sunil Khilnani (1) in his remarkable anthology of portraits of men and women who have marked the history of India.

The ideological antagonism which then opposed the two sacred monsters of Indian political life burst into broad daylight in 1920, during the annual conference of the Congress in Nagpur, leading Jinnah to return his party card.

His political sensibility, nourished by the thought of Bentham and Mills, had a future in the political milieu of the subcontinent, he wondered.

Also feeling cramped in the very conservative environment of the Muslim League dominated by businessmen and landed notables, he took his cliques and his slaps and returned to settle in England.

There he resumed his interrupted career as a barrister, specializing in particular in appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, then Supreme Court of the Commonwealth.

His vast house in Hampstead in London,

However, Jinnah's English exile will be short-lived.

He stayed in London from 1929 to 1936, before returning to India to lead the Muslim League this time, yielding to the entreaties of friends and prominent visitors in Hampstead, who were concerned about the fate of Muslims in a future independent Indian republic, led by its Hindu majority.

“Two Nations Theory”

The last Viceroy of India Louis Mountbatten with Jinnah in 1947 © Public Domain

Jinnah now asserted himself as the champion of the Muslim cause.

Taking his role seriously, the man abandoned his Western costume to dress in


, his head covered with a characteristic headgear, passed down to posterity as the "

Jinnah cap



In politics,

liked to repeat the future Pakistani head of state

, we must play like chess, that is to say with the pieces still available on the chessboard


This is what he will try to do when he returns to India, with the only pawns at his disposal: the zamindars (earthly notables), the imams and the pirs (spiritual guides) who were then the living forces of the Muslim League .

Under its aegis, the League will campaign for parity between Hindus and Muslims and the imposition of "

the theory of two nations

", one for Muslims and the other for Hindus.

This theory was first formulated in 1930, by the poet-philosopher Iqbal, before being taken up by an Indian Muslim student from Cambridge.

It was the latter who invented the word "


", an anagram constructed with the first letter or the suffix of the provinces that make up the country: "P" for Punjab, "A" for Afghania which was the name at the time of the North West Frontier Province region, “K” for Kashmir (“Kashmir” in English), “S” for Sind and “tan” coming from the suffix of Balochistan.

Jinnah, for his part, worked to give political content to the idea of ​​the two nations by making it the creed of the Muslim League.

The speech he made at his party's annual conference in Lahore in 1940 bears witness to the path the man had traveled since his secular and congressional years:

Hindus and Muslims (…) actually belong to two different civilizations which are based on opposite conceptions.

Bringing together two such nations into a single state, one numerically in the majority, the other in the minority, will only fuel growing discontent and will lead to the eventual destruction of the fabric that the government of such a state might attempt to build.

Muslims are a nation by any definition of a nation, and they must have their homeland, their territory and their state.


The adoption in Lahore by the delegates of the Muslim League of the resolution endorsing "

the theory of two nations

" is considered the founding act of the creation of Pakistan.

However, in the text of the Lahore resolution, there is no question of Pakistan or partition.

This is the thesis developed by the researcher Ayesha Jalal in her masterful biography of Jinnah (2), where she implicitly contests the presuppositions of traditional historiography which made the father of the Pakistani nation a cold and calculating monster.

Jinnah appears there as the sole responsible for the human tragedy that was the partition which threw 14 million refugees on the roads and caused a million deaths.

Muslim refugees trying by all means to reach Pakistan during the exodus in 1947. AFP

In reality, as Sunil Khilnani writes, the leaders of the major political parties in colonial India, brought together hastily by the viceroy in the summer of 1947 to ratify the partition project "

all had their part of the responsibility

" in the monstrous


vivisection of their country.

They had all failed.

Who by playing the show by his arrogance to belong to the majority.

Who for fear of seeing his dream escape.

For the Muslim League of Jinnah, the Pakistan it wanted to bring about was not necessarily an independent country, as evidenced by the green light given by its Executive Council in 1946 to the government project proposing a federal solution within a United postcolonial India.

This project called “

Cabinet mission

was rejected by Congress leaders, making partition inevitable.

First head of state of independent Pakistan

Suffering from tuberculosis, Jinnah died a few months after the flamboyant transfer of power ceremony in Karachi on August 14, 1947. The first head of state of independent Pakistan, he nevertheless had time to paint the hollow portrait of the The tolerant and secular state he wanted his country to become.

This was the meaning of his important speech delivered a few days before the proclamation of independence: “

You are free,

he said


Free to go to a temple, free to go to the mosque or any other place of devotion.

You can belong to any religion, caste or creed, it has nothing to do with affairs of state


However, it soon turned out that the founder of the "

land of the pure

did not have the means, either political or material, to put his dream into practice.

The Mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Karachi © Public Domain

After the disappearance of the


on September 11, 1948, his successors seized the first opportunity to transform the Republic of Pakistan which they had inherited into an Islamic republic, thus creating the conditions for the eventual seizure of power by the military.

The latter, even when they are not in charge during the rare democratic clearings that Pakistan is experiencing, dominate political life.

This is undoubtedly the real tragedy of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Indian nationalist leader and supporter of liberal and secular democracy, to have founded an Islamic and illiberal state.

Against his will...



Incarnation: A history of India in 50 lives

, by Sunil Khilnani, Penguin Books, 2016, 500 pages.


The sole spokesman Jinnah.

The Muslim League and the demand for Pakistan

, by Ayesha Jalal.

Cambridge University Press, 1985, 310 pages.


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