Quaid-i-Azam as a Parliamentarian


Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah is one of the few great personalities who besides having many achievements to their credit, have changed the course of history. Much has been written about different dimensions of his personality and his political triumphs and successes. This paper is an effort to highlight his role as a parliamentarian and the contributions made by him in this capacity.

            Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah began his career as a legislator in 1910, when the Muslims of Bombay chose him to represent them in the Imperial Legislative Council, set up under the Minto Morley Reforms of 1909. During the period from 1910 to 1947, he was reelected several times, from the same constituency. On a couple of occasions, he returned to the legislature unopposed. During the early period of his political life he supported the Nationalist views and policies as propounded by the Congress but afterward changed his plan of action when he left the Congress in 1920. With the establishment of Pakistan in August 1947 as an independent and sovereign state, he was elected as President of Pakistan’s first Constituent Assembly. He held this position till his death in September 1948, but didn’t take part in the proceedings of the Assembly in this capacity. As the Governor-General of Pakistan, nevertheless, he addressed the Constituent Assembly.

            Jinnah, in his role as a parliamentarian, manifested a very high quality of statesmanship. From the very beginning, his speeches in the Legislative Council reflected his qualities of intellectual vigour and reason. His sense of realism and pragmatic approach towards various issues distinguished him from others. However, his sense of realism was entrenched in ethical principles and parliamentary norms. He always avoided political opportunism. His parliamentary genius manifested itself in his flair for solid facts, logic and cogent arguments. His orientation as an outstanding lawyer made his arguments impressive and appealing. “He knew how to bring to the front always those arguments and sentiments which were best calculated to win over the other man.”1 His speeches though lacked the touch of Burke, were usually serious, grave and practical.2

            Law was the first and foremost passion in Jinnah’s life Therefore, he manifested a keen interest in formulating and interpreting law from the very beginning of his career as a legislator. His intellectual vigour and deep knowledge of law and his efforts to use these qualities to bring substantial good to his people won him praises of all his contemporaries.3

            Jinnah remained a firm believer in the constitutional approach. His passion for law and earlier training in this field provided the basis for this dominant aspect of his life. It earned him the reputation of “cross bencher” in Hindu and Muslim meetings soon after his election to the Legislative Council. In a period when political terrorism was greatly in vogue, he never endorsed any measure, which undermined law and order. This dominating aspect of his personality was very much pronounced in his role as a parliamentarian. His speech on the Criminal Law Amendment Bill in 1913 clearly revealed his belief in constitutionalism. He said: “I believe in criticizing government freely and frankly, but at the same time, it is the duty of every educated man to support and help government when the government is right-having regard to the history of political crimes-let those men who have these hallucinations, realize that by anarchism, by dastardly crimes, they can not bring about good government; let them yet realize that those methods have not succeeded in any country in the world and are not likely to succeed in India.4

            In 1923, Jinnah’s decision to contest to the Imperial Legislative Council as an independent candidate is another example of his belief in constitutionalism in the face of the Congress’ decision to boycott elections as a part of the ‘non-cooperation’ movement. His election manifesto reflected his conviction that the country could be served best by using constitutional platform. His perspective was supported by his adversaries. The Bombay Chronicle, a pro-Congress publication, admired his service as a legislator. It wrote: “If Mr. Jinnah does not belong to a party, the country has chosen him as one of its devoted and most loyal servants….His brilliant past record, his sterling patriotism, his rare independence, which no favour can buy nor any frown diminish and, above all, his uncompromising fighting spirit mark him out as one worthier than any living citizen of Bombay to be its chosen representative.”5

            He was returned to the Council unopposed. However, his constitutional and rational approach never stopped him from taking a courageous stand for “moral principles and spiritual necessities.” He never approved despotic methods of bureaucracy. Immediately, after his election to the Council in 1910, he crossed his swords with the President of the Council, Lord Minto, during a debate on the resolution regarding the plight of Indians in South Africa. Supporting the Resolution he remarked: “My Lord, I beg to support the resolution that has been placed before the Council. The hon’able, mover has put the question before the Council so clearly and concisely that there is very little left for any one else to say….If, I may say at the outset, it is a most painful question-a question which has roused the feelings of all classes in this country to the highest pitch of indignation and horror at the harsh and cruel treatment that is meted out to Indians in South Africa. When the Viceroy interrupted, reminding him that “he is talking of friendly part of the empire” and censured him for using such a strong word as “cruel,6” Jinnah brusquely replied: “Well, My Lord, I should feel inclined to use much stronger language, but I am fully aware of the constitution of this Council and I, not to trespass for one single moment, do say this, that the treatment that is meted out to Indians is the harshest which can possibly be ignored, and, as I said before, the feeling in this country is unanimous.”7 The incident was widely reported in the press, as such a courageous and brusque manner on the part of an Indian member was unheard of in those days.8 In 1919, he vehemently opposed the Rowlatt Bill meant to curb crimes “by giving the Government power to detain and try insurgents and active enemies of its policy without a jury.”9 He categorically stated that the Bill was “against the fundamental principles of law and justice,” and “was wrong remedy for the diseases, namely, these revolutionary crimes.” The powers given to the executive by the Bill were likely to be abused and there was no instance of any civilized country having laws of that character enacted. At the end of his speech, he warned the Government thus:

            “….It is my duty to tell you that, if these measures are passed, you will create in this country from one end to the other, a discontent and agitation the like of which you have not witnessed; and it will have, believe me, a most disastrous effect upon the good relations that have existed between the Government and the people.”10

When the Bill became law on March 28, 1919, he resigned as a protest, arguing that the enactment demonstrated “the constitution of the Imperial Legislative Council, which is a legislature but in name – a machine propelled by a foreign Executive.” Therefore he found it very difficult to cooperate with it.

            He was a “cogent and convincing speaker,” and these qualities were rooted in the sincere and deep feelings of his convictions. Hector Bolitho remarked that; “his thoughts and words grew out of his proved experience.” This aspect clearly manifested itself from the very beginning of his parliamentary career. It lent him the strength to pursue the matter diligently. His fight for Gokhale’s Elementary Education Bill in April 1919 demonstrated this trait as his arguments reflected his conviction…. “emancipation could come only through the education of the people.”11 He remarked:

            “I honestly and sincerely appeal to the Government: do you really think that education means sedition? I say, Sir, that a frank and independent criticism of the Government or the measures of Government is the duty of every member of the State. But let me tell you that you have no better friends in this country – than the educated class. But, it may say so, we love the British Government but we love our country more.”12

            His short and pithy speeches in the Council reflected his rational, logical, discreet and dispassionate approach. His stand was always based on reason rather than emotions. He never allowed himself to show any sign of prejudice. His attitude during the course of a debate on the resolution tabled by Babu Bhupendra Nath Basru, in March 1912 on the subject of police administration is worthy to mention in this regard. The resolution had two parts, one concerned with administration and the other with amendments to the law of confession. In both cases, the inquiry through an appointed Commission was demanded. Jinnah’s opening remarks on the resolution revealed that he wished the resolution to be dealt purely on its merit and questions of racial, national or personal character should not be entered into the debate as the matter was primarily one affecting the administration of the country. He endorsed the demand for the appointment of a Commission to inquire whether there was a “particular evil that was to be remedied or a particular system that was to be altered.” However, he strongly opposed the second part of the resolution by citing two instances and argued that there was no need to appoint the Commission when the Council was fully capable of dealing matters with “any legal flaws.” He said: “why usurp this Council of its proper functions and leave a matter of this kind to a Commission, where, we can do that ourselves here?”13

            He also demonstrated his non-prejudiced approach while dealing with sensitive religious issues. In March 1911, Jinnah introduced “Wakf Validating Bill” in the Imperial Legislative Council. London Privy Council in 1894 had given a verdict, which denied the Muslims the right “to make valid Wakf to their families and descendents.” Jinnah demanded the legislative reversal of that decision. His successful advocacy on the Bill revealed that he had deep concern with the problems faced by his co-religionists. He convincingly defined the rights of Muslims “to make settlements of property by way of Wakf in favour of their families and descendants.” His speeches on the Bill showed his close contacts with Muslim community and his knowledge of Islamic Fiqah. During the course of debate, he appeared to be deeply concerned with Muslims’ deteriorated economic conditions. He also showed his deep regards for Islami Fiqah: “I, for one,” he stated, “am not prepared to accept any provision which is in any way likely to over-rule or affect the personal law of Mussalman.”14 However, his ‘skillful piloting’ the Bill could not be marred with any trace of religious prejudice. Speaking on the Bill, he said: “the one objection, which has been urged against this Bill, is the question of public policy. Now the answer to that, Sir, is a very simple one-what we have got to do is to administer the Muhammadan Law to the Mussalamans; and therefore, to introduce the question of public policy, which is foreign to Islamic jurisprudence, to any mind is out-side the question; and there is no such thing as public policy of any kind-so far as Muhammadan jurisprudence is concerned – to which the provisions of this Bill are in any way opposed. I therefore give that simple answer to that point.”15 Two years later, the passage of Bill made it (the Bill) the “very first non-officially sponsored act in British Indian history,” which won him the recognition as an eminent legislator not only from Muslims but from others also. In the words of Mrs. Naidu, His admirable skill and that in piloting through such an intricate and controversial measure – the first instance of a Bill passing into legislation on the motion of a private member won him not only appreciation from his co-religionists all over India, who while still regarding him a little out-side the orthodox pale of Islam were so soon to seek his advice and guidance in their political affairs.”16

            Like wise, his behaviour on the Elementary Education Bill introduced by Gokhale reflected his concerns about Muslims’ plight.17 He was a believer of National solidarity but without impairing the interests of Muslims.

            Jinnah during his tenure as a parliamentarian, always strongly supported the measures, which he thought could contribute towards the advancement of Indians. He always pursued his arguments in this regard with vigour, fervor and sincere conviction. He threw all his weight to impress upon the Government. Among many cases, his valuable contribution to the cause of Civil Services, his criticism and useful suggestions to the recommendations of the Lee Commission and his strong plea for the competitive examination to be held simultaneously in India and England manifested the character with which he served his countrymen inside the legislature.

            His bold and frank attitude, especially on the question of simultaneous examinations for Indian Civil Services in India and England will be memorable. He said: “Now the first difficulty which the Hon’ble Member (Sir William Vincent) puts forward is that it (resolution) would certainly not maintain the preponderance of the British element. Now, Sir, May I know why is it necessary to have a preponderance of the British element? Why? If, as we are contemplating, we are not going to have, I hope, for a very long time a bureaucracy that will be the servant of the people, and that is what we are realized in the reconstruction of the Government, we hope that the bureaucracy which under the present constitution are the masters and the rulers, will be the servants of the people. If that is to be realized, may I, Sir, know why there should be a substantial element of the British?”18

            His desire to improve opportunities for Indians was reflected in his active participation in the recordings of the committee appointed by the Council on the subject of training of Indian officers for the commissioned ranks for the Indians Army and to attract educated Indians to the military career.19 He believed in the policy of gradual reforms and missed no opportunity to impress upon the Government that Indians should be given more representation in the day to day administration of the country and in other services.

            He eagerly cooperated with the Government in formulating its polices in this regard both inside and out-sides the legislature. But this spirit of co-operation did not rob him of his sense of patriotism. In 1927, a Commission was appointed by the British Government to make recommendations on the future Constitution of India. The Commission included Sir John Simon and six other Englishmen. Jinnah decided to boycott the Commission and strongly criticized the composition of the Commission, which did not include any Indian member. He took it as humiliation of India and strongly condemned the underlying idea, which pertained to the “arrogant assertion of the principles that Indians cannot be allowed to share in the responsibility in matters concerning the future Constitution of India.”20

            He contacted the Indian political leadership in order to enlist their support and prepared ground “for befitting boycott” of the Commission. A statement issued by him on February 20, 1928, in collaboration with other members of the Central Assembly in this regard supported the “boycott”.

            Jinnah’s role in the discussions on the Communal Award in Legislative Council (1935) also showed his magnificent skills as Parliamentarian. He successfully proved that his “tiny minority voice” could be magnified enough to win the strategic support. In August 1932, the British Government published a scheme for future constitutional arrangements in India known as Communal Award, which retained separate electorate for the Muslims and all other minorities. The Congress leaders rejected the Award. Jinnah at that time was leading the Independent party, which occupied out of 127 only 22 seats in the Assembly. Despite the numerical minority, Jinnah succeeded in getting the Assembly accept the Communal Award “until a substitute is agreed upon by the various communities concerned.” The victory, without any doubt, proved him the most brilliant parliamentarian in British India.21

Reference:     Pakistan Vision (Quaid-i-Azam Number) Vol. II, Nos. 1 & 2,Jan-Jul 2001
Publisher:      Pakistan Study Centre, University of the Punjab, Lahore. 2001

Notes and References

  1. Sharif-al-Mujahid, Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah –Studies in Interpretation, Karachi, Quaid-i-Azam Academy, 1981, p.232.
  2. Ibid, p. 231
  3. Matlub-ul-Hasan Saiyid, Mohammad Ali Jinnah (A Political Study), Lahore, Ashraf, 1945, p. 73.
  4. Sayed Sharifuddin Pirzada, The Collected Works of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Vol. XXI, 1906, Karachi, East & West Company, 1984, p. 88.
  5. Sharif-al-Mujahid, op cit., p. 90.
  6. Ibid, p. 47.
  7. Ibid.,
  8. Matlub-ul-Hassan, op cit., p.66.
  9. Hector Bolitho, Jinnah Creator of Pakistan, Lahore: Oxford University Press, 1969 p. 80.
  10. Dr. M. Rafique Afzal, Speeches and Statements of the Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah (1911-34&1947-48), Lahore: University of the Punjab, 1980, p. 85.
  11. Hector Bolitho, op, cit., p. 84.
  12. Dr. M. Rafique, op cit., p. 17.
  13. Matlub-ul-Hasan, op cit., pp. 67,68.
  14. Sharif-ul-Mujahid, op cit., p. 7.
  15. Hector Bolitho, op cit., p.54.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Sharif-ul-Mujahid, op cit., p. 8.
  18. Matlub-ul-Hasan, op cit., p. 150.
  19. Ibid., p. 352.
  20. Ibid., p 389.
  21. Stanley Wolpert, Jinnah of Pakistan, Karachi: Oxford University Press 1993, p. 137.