Jinnah Papers

This review was published in Herald, November 1997. In the light of my subsequent research, I am no longer quite sure about what I had suggested here about the works of Stanley Wolpert and Ayesha Jalal, i.e. they are “the two powerful accounts of Jinnah’s career ever to be written – and his most convincing defence.”

Jinnah Papers, Vols. I-II
Editor-in-Chief : Dr. Z.H.Zaidi
Published by Quaid-e-Azam Papers Project, National Archives of Pakistan, Ministry of Culture, Government of Pakistan (1993)
Distributed by Oxford University Press

Jinnah is one of the most controversial personalities of recent history. Hailed by his followers as integrity incarnate, he is condemned by his Indian critics as the man who broke a country, and sometimes overlooked by the British chroniclers who, more often than not, do not know what to make of the formidable old lawyer.

Unfortunately, historiography in Jinnah’s own part of the world has been suffering from serious lack of scholarship due to unavailability of original sources. Part of the responsibility lies with the historians themselves but also, and primarily, the ones to be held responsible are the custodians of the original documents who make it next to impossible for an ordinary research scholar to have a glimpse of them. It was no surprise that the two powerful accounts of Jinnah’s career ever to be written – and his most convincing defence – came from scholars working outside Pakistan, namely Stanley Wolpert and Ayesha Jalal. The publication of Jinnah Papers, the fruit of half a lifetime spent by Dr Zawwar Husain Zaidi with the moth-infected papers of the Quaid-e-Azam, goes a long way to ensure that the Wolpert of the next decade is likely to be someone born in Pakistan.

The story of their discovery and restoration sounds like an excerpt from detective fiction. Back in the days of Ayub Khan, Zawwar Husain Zaidi, a visting Pakistani scholar from America wanted to find out the whereabouts of the personal documents of M. A. Jinnah. To his astonishment he discovered they were located in the police head office – they were never sorted out from the other papers of the Pakistan Muslim League since the military regime sealed the offices of all political parties. Dr Zaidi was launched on a life long campaign of recovery and restoration of these documents that went on through the changing times of Ayub, Bhutto, Zia and the aftermath untill the first volume was published in 1993. In the course of his effort he had to contend with mindless government officials and haughty rulers – and some stupid memorandums, passed without much thought, which could have nevertheless brought down the entire mission to a close. An elaborate tale of pride and prejudice, of non-sense and insensitivity, is narrated by Dr. Zaidi in te opening pages of the first volume.

Apart from the above-mentioned papers (currently preserved in the National Archives, Islamabad, by the name of Quaid-e-Azam Papers), the editors have also used other sources: India Office Records in British Lkibrary; Churchill Collection, Cambridge; Archives of Freedom Movement, Karachi; Movement of Freedom Archives, Islamabad; Shamsul Hasan Collection, Karachi; The Transfer of Power; and some newespapers, mainly Civil & Military Gazette, Dawn and Pakistan Times. One major collection of Quaid-e-Azam’s papers, viz. Rizwan Collection is conspicuously absent from this list.

The editors have decided to present the collection in several series, divided on the basis of important events in Jinnah’s life or the political history of India. So far only two volumes of the first series have appeared, but they are quite a study.

The First Series is aimed at covering the final phase of Jinnah’s political career. “Since this period is also one in which many persons still living were actors or spectators and one still intensely interseting to them, there seemed every reason to make this the starting point for publication.” (p. xviii)

Volume I covers the papers relevant to February 20 – June 2, 1947. 718 documents are collected in nearly one thousand pages of Part One. Apparently only the documents related to the Muslim League’s struggle to power in the Central Government have been included in this part. Documents related to other themes have been collected in Part Two of the same volume. Here they appear as 14 appendices on: Cripps’ Offer and the Muslim League Response, The Cabinet Mission Paln, report on Bihar Riots, Report on Bombay Riots, and so on.

Volume II, unlike Volume I, is served in one part, which also contains its ten appendices. Apart from the one mentioned above, the other appendices deal with communal disturbances, reactions to 3 June Plan, the Viceroy’s personal reports, etc.

While many readers would feel that a simple chronological order could have done better, Dr. Zaidi explains the logic for this painstaking classification, saying that it was not possible to follow a simple chronological pattern like Transfer Of Power volumes published by Her Majesty’s Stationary Office in Britain. “Their documents converged on a single theme, i.e. the devolution of power in 1947. In our case, although the collection of papers revolved around the life and time of one man, there are several themes running side by side and the time span is much greater … The Quaid-e-Azam Papers can be divided into five broad categories (i) personal, (i) political, (iii) published material, (iv) photographs and (v) maps and diagrams.”

As editor-in-chief of the project, Mr. Zaidi had every right to follow a pattern that satisfied him best. However, one can already see certain problems with the categorisation he has quoted, since the last three categories generously overlap with the first two. Such classification, once popular with academics, is now usually seen as rather old-fashioned. Historiography, like many other disciplines of humanities, is once again regaining its organic spontaneity. The Jinnah Papers might have become more interesting if they had been allowed to flow in the simple chronological sequence – just like life itself. Also, it would have prevented a small mistake that seems to be a product of over-worrying about the categories.

The documents related to the personal life of Jinnah during the period 20 February – 2 June 1947, which should have formed an appendix in Volume One, were perhaps forgotten and had to be included as Appendix 1 in Volume II, which otherwise deals with the period 3 June – 30 June 1947.

Also, one wonders how have the editors dealt with documents that might have touched upon more than one theme at the same time.

The problem with classifying historical information is that it helps only those readers whose minds are following the same path as the minds of the editors, while barring all other readers and hindering all other possibilities. An example from Jinnah Papers:

On 3 June, 1947, Jinnah made his famous announcement. This announcement elicited mixed response from his friends and foes. Some of his friends blamed him for having accepted a truncated Pakistan, while his opponents were annoyed at what they called ‘abuse’ of national broadcasting service – Jinnah had not only included his political slogan ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ in his speech but also broadcast a message to his followers in N.W.F.P. to vote for the Muslim League! In Jinnah Papers, there are a number of documents dealing with the aftermath of the June 3 Plan. But alas, they have to be searched in different compartmentalised sections. While the angry letters of Patel and Dr. Khan Sahib addressing the Viceroy over Jinnah’s ‘abuse’ of radio are included in the main body of documents, the other material is divided into three separate appendices, viz. ‘Reactions to 3 June Plan’, ‘Sindh and aftermath of 3 June Plan’, ‘N.W.F.P.’s response to 3 June Plan’. This division can only help that reader who is predisposed to study the 3 June Plan according to its reactions in different provinces. But what about a reader who, for instance, wants to approach the topic in a more holistic manner? What about those who want to study the responses of the Plan all over India? For them, the Jinnah Papers would mean a tedious exercise of going back and forth across different appendices.

The scheme of arrangement held apart, Jinnah Papers is work of commendable academic labour.

For those of us who care to have first hand account of the events that shaped our destiny, Jinnah Papers are indispensable.

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