Published:  12:25 AM, 12 January 2020

Two brilliant, ruthless and divisive politicians

Two brilliant, ruthless and divisive politicians Muhammad Ali Jinnah Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto

The All-India Muslim League came into being a hundred and ten years ago, on 30 December 1906, in Dhaka. The pioneering role played in the arrival of the party was that of Nawab Salimullah. On 30 November 1967, in Lahore, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto let everyone know that his Pakistan People's Party had come into being.

Over a passage of time, Mohammad Ali Jinnah took charge of the Muslim League, turning it, in the 1940s, into the instrument necessary to cause a partition of India and thereby for him to preside over the emergence of the Muslim state of Pakistan.

In subsequent times, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, exercising absolute control over his PPP, went for politics of a divisive sort. His interpretation of events in early 1971 led inexorably to a further division in South Asia when East Pakistan broke away from the rest of the country to become Bangladesh.

In this year of remembrance, of the Muslim League and the People's Party, both of which are part of the historical narrative of traumatic political change, it is well to recall the nature of the personalities of Jinnah and Bhutto --- their similarities, their ambitions, their places in Pakistan's history --- with a view to understanding the message, or messages, they came forth with in their pursuit of politics.

To be fair to both the Muslim League and the People's Party and to Jinnah and Bhutto, it cannot be denied that the two parties and the two men were instrumental in introducing --- and that despite all our persistent misgivings --- new dimensions to the political landscape in the subcontinent.

The Muslim League's role in the early years of its existence was clearly aimed at securing a following among India's Muslims and convincing them that it was a vehicle for an expression of their aspirations. By the time Jinnah came along, the League had covered a whole lot of new miles, a happening which enabled its new leader to endow it with the power to compel the British colonial government and the Indian National Congress to slice India into two.

Where the matter is one of the Pakistan People's Party or Bhutto, it was the very first instance of a political party in the western part of Pakistan appealing directly to the masses with its slogans of economic empowerment. Eloquent and experienced in government, Bhutto was able to channel gathering public support into a force that would reduce established parties and groups into insignificance and propel him to power, albeit by default after his country's humiliation in the 1971 war.

That said, how will history judge the contributions of Jinnah and Bhutto to politics? There is no gainsaying the fact that the two men remain the most popular leaders in Pakistan's pantheon of political heroes. On a larger scale, though, to what extent is this heroism justified? More pertinently, to what degree did Jinnah and Bhutto, running parallel in creating history or playing it down, damage themselves and the people they purported to serve?

Both men, if you observe the long and tortuous tale of politics in the subcontinent, were hugely divisive figures. Jinnah's stubborn struggle for a partition of India and the creation of Pakistan has quite marred his reputation, one that could have been richer had he devoted his energies toward ensuring the emergence of a united India rather than opting for a break-up of the country. In his time, Bhutto would take a leaf out of Jinnah's book.

Unable to convince the electorally triumphant Awami League in 1971 to share power with him, he chose to go for a division of Pakistan rather than agree to sit in opposition. Go back to Jinnah, for he was quite aware in the 1940s that there was little chance that he could be top dog in a free India. He therefore needed to slice Pakistan out of the old country. And he did it.

There is little question that both Jinnah and Bhutto were highly intelligent and shrewd politicians. Indeed, a particular quality they shared was ruthlessness. Neither was willing to play second fiddle to their rivals in the political arena. Jinnah was always overshadowed by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Bhutto stood little chance of scaling the peaks of power with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman around. And so India and then Pakistan were knifed through, to accommodate unbridled ambition.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah was one man who brooked no challenges to his authority. Throughout his campaign for Pakistan, he sought --- and received --- the support of such prominent political leaders as Shere Bangla A.K. Fazlul Huq and Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and yet made sure that they did not come level with him.

He was the unchallenged leader of the Muslim League, just as Bhutto was the supremo in his party, with J.A. Rahim and Mairaj Mohammad Khan unable to consider themselves his equals. There was a surfeit of arrogance in both Jinnah and Bhutto. Both men were driven by an insatiable lust for power. Neither liked obstacles coming in his way.

The Muslim League and the People's Party projected themselves, through plain sophistry, as organizations geared to the welfare of the masses. They were anything but. Jinnah, for all his campaign for the rights of India's Muslims to be epitomized by a separate state for them, was comfortable in the company of nobility as symbolized by Khwaja Nazimuddin and the Raja Saheb of Mahmudabad.

In Bhutto's case, the comfort zone was provided by men like Ghulam Mustafa Khar and Abdul Hafiz Pirzada. The two parties putatively appealed to the masses, but in the ultimate sense rested on their affinity with the landed aristocracy. A more proper term would be feudalism.

The politics pursued by Jinnah and Bhutto was brutal in its formulation and practice. The deaths of millions and the displacement of even more millions in the aftermath of the partition of 1947 elicited no sympathy or contrition from Jinnah. In 1971, as millions of Bengalis were being done to death by Pakistan's army, Bhutto demonstrated not the slightest sadness or remorse over the cataclysm his politics had caused. Jinnah was happy to get his moth-eaten Pakistan. Bhutto preached the dangerous idea of udhar tum idhar hum in his unseemly quest for power.

In the months following Partition, Jinnah effectively inaugurated what has for nearly seven decades come to be known as the Kashmir problem through authorizing Pakistan army regulars into infiltrating India's Muslim-majority state in the guise of tribesmen. Bhutto carried the idea a little further when in 1965 he persuaded President Ayub Khan into launching Operation Gibraltar, through, again, Pakistani soldiers in disguise, in Kashmir. You have here a case of two brilliant legal minds committing blunders of a thoroughly illegal kind.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah was the suave secular man who swiftly declined to being a standard bearer of communalism through his 'two-nation theory'. Bhutto was the quintessential liberal who swiftly went into a pandering of the conservative classes with his 'Islamic socialism', politics that was to lead him to proscribing Ahmadiyyas out of the Islamic faith. Both men were educated in the liberal traditions of the West. Both were eventually to turn their backs on that received wisdom. Neither man promoted democracy in his party.

The consequences were predictable. The Muslim League was to splinter into many pieces after Jinnah's passing, particularly following the imposition of martial law in 1958. The process has gone on. The People's Party, having been sustained by Benazir Bhutto till her own death, has in the hands of her husband and her son been relegated to a small league player in the province of Sind.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah died in sad circumstances. He breathed his last on a roadside in Karachi when the vehicle carrying him went out of order. From the nearby slums were heard the screams of children whose parents had arrived as refugees from India. Not a single politician, not Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, was anywhere near the scene. The day was 11 September 1948.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, having been raised to prominence by the army, was destroyed by the very same army. He walked the gallows following a trial for murder and a conviction influenced by the man he had chosen to lead the army. The day was 4 April 1979.

The writer is Editor-in-Charge,
The Asian Age

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