I admit that I have never been a big fan of Quaid-e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. As a member of the “Generation Islam” of General Zia ul Haq, I have more than a passing familiarity with Jinnah’s hagiography. In the fifth grade, we read essays on how he studied after dark [he used the street light!] and were asked to respond [amazing!!]. In the eighth grade, we admired Jinnah’s unwavering commitment to Pakistan [he was against it before he was for it!]. On his birthday, we lined the streets with flowers and watched our military junta pass by. Every telecast started with Quaid-e Azam nay Farmiya (Quaid-e Azam said:) and some quotable quote ["Work, work and work"]. My uncle had a well-worn quip every single time: Quaid-e Azam nay farmiya, tu chal tey main aiya (the Punjabi speakers will get it). And so it went.
Despite the mounted portraits in every room, the newspaper articles, the speeches, the textbooks, Jinnah remained an aloof, cold patriarch for the nation of Pakistan. His fossilized and ubiquitous memory [honest, dedicated, principled etc.] harbored very few counter narratives. Sometimes, I would hear faint complaints about Jinnah’s love for the single-malt. Or questions were raised about his love for western attire. Sometimes, even, some one would raise that highest level of critique – Quaid-e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah contradicted himself – though, only in a whisper.
Things have changed since the ’80s, though. The nationalist hagiography has been countered by historians such as Ayesha Jalal (The Sole Spokesman) and Faisal Devji (forthcoming) who present a much more conflicted and uncertain leader. The State’s attempt at a popular revival even floundered. A movie was commissioned by the Govt. under the script guidance of academics and funding by well-wishers. Naturally, the result was a truly bizarre hodge-podge of glorification and self-righteous indignation. It received a tepid response and the State was roundly criticized for it. You can watch a music video from the movie and marvel.
Since The General’s ascension, the “Heroes of Pakistan” focus has shifted towards the more brazenly militant ones and the earlier generation’s focus on Jinnah and Iqbal has softened considerably. Just recently, the religious party Jamaat Ulama-i Islam [JUI] decided that Jinnah was no freedom fighter, because “he did nothing for Islam and Pakistan, made no sacrifice and never went to jail”. Such a public stance would have been un-heard of, at any previous time. This statement did receive public condemnationn and the sentiment is in no way universal – another religious party Jamaat-e Islami [JI] maintains a healthy respect for the Quaid – but one can begin to see another shift in the self-definition of the State of Pakistan. While Jinnah remains a restless specter in the house of Pakistan, how long before talk of exorcisms begin?
Examining the final collection of speakers for our recently held colloquium on the All India Muslim League, I realized that no one was going to speak on the Greatest Leader of the Nation. It was almost unthinkable that we would have a full day of discussions and presentations without any attention paid to him (at that moment, I was not privy to the content of Naim Sahib’s keynote – which does address Jinnah’s 1946 speech). And then, true inspiration struck – CM friend, and artist-in-residence, lapata divulged that she had done a series on Jinnah. With the extraordinary help of our dear friend Ms. Neilson, the art was framed and exhibited in the room for the colloquium. You can see my horrid pictures of the installation in situ and the way better detail views put up by the artist.
The installation was a huge success. It garnered amazing responses from everyone in the room – especially, Jinnah with Monocole and Jinnah and his sister Fatima. I overheard delightful conversations about the choice of colors and whether they reflected the perceived character of Jinnah: Was Jinnah really Blue?. One distinguished guest was concerned that the artwork appeared to present a ‘demonic’ side of Jinnah. “Is it painted by a Pakistani artist,” he asked, “because, if it is by a Pakistani, then it is ok. If an Indian did that, it is highly inappropriate.” I assured him that the art reflected the highest respect towards the nation of Pakistan. “Well, you are a Pakistani. So, I will let you be the judge,” he demurred.