This post, a slightly abridged version of the one written two years ago, reflects on the speeches that Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Jawaharlal Nehru made on 11 August 1947 and midnight of 14/15 August 1947 respectively.
Jawahar Lal Nehru and Mohammad Ali Jinnah were delivering the most important speeches of their lives on the eve of India/ Pakistan’s freedom from British rule.
Both had lead their peoples from the front and carried immense responsibilities on their shoulders. Both must have been aware that their speeches were historic not only for them as individuals and leaders but also in the life of their respective nations.
It is to be presumed, therefore that these were carefully prepared and sought to both paraphrase the past and look into the future.
As one reads the two speeches, one finds them startingly similar.
Their thrust is similar, the challenges that they foresee for their nations are nearly the same- in fact, each speech, with very little changes, could have been delivered in either country- Jawaharlal’s in Pakistan and Jinnah’s in India.
They differ only in their style and to some extent in their stress on certain themes.
Jawaharlal’s speech is full of literary, some would say even rhetorical, flourish while that of Jinnah is more pragmatic and straightforward.
Both the speeches dwell very little on the British and look more into their own people.
Jawaharlal seeks to place the independence in context of a long, even mythical, history:
Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long supressed, finds utterance.
On the other hand, Jinnah speaks of much more practical issues like bribery, corruption and nepotism and the role of the State in ensuring law and order:
The first observation that I would like to make is this: You will no doubt agree with me that the first duty of a government is to maintain law and order, so that the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected by the State.
The second thing that occurs to me is this: One of the biggest curses from which India is suffering – I do not say that other countries are free from it, but, I think our condition is much worse – is bribery and corruption. That really is a poison. We must put that down with an iron hand and I hope that you will take adequate measures as soon as it is possible for this Assembly to do so.
Black-marketing is another curse.
But both underline the need for a secular State in their respective countries. JLN says:
We are citizens of a great country on the verge of bold advance, and we have to live up to that high standard. All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action.
Jinnah devotes a lot more words than Jawaharlal on this theme and is much more emphatic:
We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community, because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalis, Madrasis and so on, will vanish. … We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. … Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.
Again, Jinnah spends a lot more words on the justification of the partition (nearly 400 words), on the other hand, Jawaharlal, speaks more about the need for economic and distributive justice, while Jinnah spares a sentence on this theme without, however, using the words “workers and peasants”. Clearly, the socialist inclinations of JLN contribute to this.
However great the stature of the leaders, it would be too much to expect them to sum up the past and the future aspirations of the millions of people of the sub- continent with surgical precision.
But one cannot help noticing that between the two of them, they are pretty much right in the priorities that they set out for their nations.
The future developments in both the countries have belied the hopes that their speeches contained. Nearly all the challenges that they indicate continue to plague the two nations. The speeches are rather contemporary in that sense.
And it is also here that the similarties between Jinnah and Jawaharlal end.
Anti- Nehruvians who currently dominate the Indian scene blame Jawaharlal for the statist model of development that India followed, his perceived “softness” on Kashmir and for “pampering the minorities”.
In the same vein, Jinnah may also be held responsible for some of the faults in Pakistan today- for creating a State based on religion, and also for not having reared the next line of leadership.
But death deprived Jinnah the time and possibility of leading Pakistan- something that he shares with Mahatma Gandhi, which is probably the reason for the adulation that the Quaid e Azam still gets in Pakistan, like Gandhi gets in India, compared to the rather beleagured stature of Jawaharlal Nehru in India today.
In Pakistan, the view is that the country did not live upto the ideals of the Quaid e Azam.
In India, it is Jawaharlal Nehru who is blamed for not living up to the possibities of India.