The People’s Jinnah Hall


People’s Jinnah Hall on Lamington Road, Mumbai, India PHOTO/Sunday Guardian

Both Indians and Pakistanis believe that Jinnah was politically born on March 23, 1940, the day the Muslim League adopted the Pakistan resolution. Both ignore his glorious role as a fighter for India’s freedom.

It is one thing for India to refuse to hand over to Pakistan the Jinnah House, at Mount Pleasant Road in the Malabar Hill in Mumbai. Inexcusable, though that is, it is unforgivable to wilfully, maliciously neglect the People’s Jinnah Hall in the compound of the Congress House, off Lamington Road, in the same city. The house was Jinnah’s property, which the Central government acquired as evacuee property after Partition. The Hall, as its very name indicates, is the people’s property. It was built with public funds, as a tribute to one who was then the uncrowned King of Bombay, as the city was then called. One of the leaders of the Bombay Bar, Jinnah was Chairman of the Board of Directors of Bombay Chronicle, established by his mentor Sir Pherozeshah Mehta, as a nationalist counter to the British owned The Times of India. He was president of the Home Rule League, a leading member of the Indian National Congress and president of the All India Muslim League. He was also a member of the Imperial Legislative Council (later the Central Assembly) from 1910.

For long India was committed to handing over Jinnah House to the Government of Pakistan. On January 13, 1956, India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan, C.C. Desai, wrote to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru suggesting that “the house of M.A. Jinnah, on Malabar Hill in Mumbai, should be salvaged from the auction to which all evacuee property was subjected, and be preserved by the Government of India as a relic of Jinnah”. He thought that such a gesture would contribute to a better understanding between India and Pakistan.

Nehru sent a note on that letter to the Secretary General, the Foreign Secretary, and the Commonwealth Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs on January 19. The Cabinet disagreed. Bombay was rocked by riots over the formation of the State of Maharashtra.

In his note to the Cabinet dated March 7, 1955, Nehru had suggested that Jinnah’s house must not be auctioned and “we should further be prepared to make a gift of it to the Pakistan Government, should they desire to use it as a memorial”. (Selected Works [second series], Volume 29, page 595.) Subimal Dutt, then Foreign Secretary, noted on January 20 that it would not be appropriate for the government to set up the memorial since Jinnah “was responsible for the partition of the Indo-Pakistan sub-continent”, but if the Pakistan government itself wanted to purchase the house and preserve it as a memorial to Jinnah, “we certainly should raise no objection”.

Nehru’s opinion was “all I can suggest is that the house should not be sold for the present and we should await further development” (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Volume 31, pages 375-376). The minutes of an India-Pakistan meeting later record India’s willingness to hand over the property to Pakistan. So strong and fervent was Jinnah’s nationalism that two British Governors of Bombay contemplated his deportation out of India. John Bryant Wells, an Australian scholar who delved into the archives, wrote: “A second contributing factor to Jinnah’s reduced political status by 1920 was the attitude of the governments of India and Bombay towards him. Their malevolent response to Jinnah’s ‘disloyal’ Home Rule League activities left him with a reputation as a trouble maker. The Governor of Bombay, Lord Willingdon, labelled him ‘irreconcilable’ and a leader of ‘bad’ character. His later agitation against Willingdon further raised the ire of the administration. Although the reaction of the Indian press was to report his ‘magnificent leadership’, the British were not similarly impressed. Willingdon recommended Jinnah’s deportation, but his successor, George Lloyd, ‘was not disposed to begin his career by conferring unnecessary martyrdom’. (Later he changed his view on the possibility of Jinnah’s deportation.) In 1918 Jinnah was labelled an ‘extremist’ and even a ‘Bolshevist’” (Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity: Jinnah’s Early Politics, Permanent Black, page 1077).

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