A Visionary Leader
Sikandar Hayat’s 'The Charismatic Leader: Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the Creation of Pakistan', now available in a revised edition from the Oxford University Press, seeks to explain the creation of Pakistan in terms of structures, ideas and personalities. Hayat has long advocated the development and application of theories to South Asian studies and what sets 'The Charismatic Leader' apart is the employment of Weber’s concept of charisma to the study of Jinnah’s rise and the realization of Pakistan.
At first glance, Jinnah may seem to be an unlikely candidate for the status of a charismatic leader. Normally, the use of the term “charisma” conjures up images of totalitarian ideologues such as Hitler and Mao, military modernizers like Mustafa Kemal or, more benignly, the
dhoti- clad liberator of the Indian realm, Mahatma Gandhi. Jinnah, in contrast, was freakishly alienated from the mainstream Indian culture and never took seriously the populist pretensions of the leaders of the Indian National Congress.
In a society steeped in arbitrariness, Jinnah was the arch-constitutionalist and a liberal consensus builder. In an age of rising religiosity, fueled by the propaganda of Gandhi and the Khilafatists, Jinnah was decidedly out of place and would eventually be accused by his Muslim opponents of being an infidel. In a period where all manners of socialism (from the National Socialism of Hitler to Stalinism and Fabian programs) were in style, Jinnah resolutely resisted the urge to promise an imminent utopia. And yet, Jinnah’s achievement as the founder of what was the largest Muslim-majority state in the world in 1947, and as the restorer of Muslim political sovereignty over those territories of South Asia where they were demographically concentrated, is such that a serious explanation is in order.
Hayat’s theoretical starting point is that our understanding of Weber’s concept of charisma is flawed since it does not incorporate the post-First World War development in Weber’s thought. This development was that, disillusioned by the collapse of Imperial Germany, Weber came to regard rationality and sobriety as the core qualities of an authentic charismatic leadership. The importance of personal charisma being institutionalized in the state or political party was equally important for otherwise charismatic leaders would be little more than demagogues with a death wish. Having clarified this important point, Hayat proceeds to provide the historical and socio-political context in which Jinnah operated and eventually emerged as the leader of the Muslims. In this, Hayat identifies certain conditions that needed to be met for a charismatic leader.
The first condition is the presence of a crisis that has the potential to imperil the core interests of a group or a community. In the context of Indian Muslims, this crisis had several dimensions. First, demographically the Muslims were in a minority. As India headed towards greater representation in local, provincial and, eventually, central, governments, the inferior numbers translated into reduction of their status to a permanent minority in most provinces and in local as well as the central governments.
Second, numbers aside, colonial representation was determined by educational, property and income qualifications and in the case of Indian Muslims, they were underrepresented even in those territories where they were in a majority due to their backwardness. Third, as the demand for self-governance escalated during and after the First World War, the question of British imperial succession became the central long-term issue of Indian politics. The Congress was quite clear on what it wanted – a British exit accompanied by the handing over of power to a strong central government that would operate on the basis of universal suffrage and pretend that minorities were diabolical contrivances of the Raj.
The local and provincial Muslim leaders had little to say about what kind of India would emerge if the British left. Many hitched their wagons to the Congress, hoping for some magnanimous concessions that might materialize after a centralized, majoritarian democracy had come into existence under the Congress. Hayat makes the case that among the Muslim leaders, Jinnah alone had a long-term perspective on the evolving situation. He understood that the real question was the distribution of sovereign power and that the Muslims needed to be organized so that they too could have a say in what an independent South Asia might look like.
In terms of vision, Jinnah advocated a formula in the form of the Lahore Resolution of March 23, 1940 (dubbed the ‘Pakistan’ Resolution by its critics). The formula was vague and deliberately so, but it held out the promise that sovereignty would be restored to the Muslims wherever they were in a majority. For Hayat, the ambiguity of the formula led people to read into it their own preferences or fears, and it focused
the attention of the Muslims, and the Muslim League, on a grand objective. Opposition to the “Pakistan” scheme served to lend it more substance and turned it into a key component of India’s political discourse.
Actually, organizing the Muslims to achieve this objective was a very difficult task and one in which Jinnah did not succeed as much he would have liked to. Still, the growth of the Muslim League between 1940 and 1945 was considerable, while the Second World War made it evident that the actual succession to British rule was at hand. Hayat explains in detail the mobilization strategy of the Muslim League, its activation of students, women, traditional elites, businessmen and at least some ulema and the creation of a national coalition. The growth of the League was such that by 1946 it claimed all the Muslim seats at the center and nearly all at the provincial level.
With such a resounding victory, the time for finally working out what Pakistan meant had arrived and here Jinnah was prepared to accept a sovereign Muslim India within an Indian confederation or, failing that, an independent Pakistan with no constitutional connection to India. Once the Congress reneged on the Cabinet Mission Plan, which promised the former, Jinnah had no compunctions about doing what was necessary to carve an independent Muslim-majority state out of the British Empire in India and moving towards the latter option. For Hayat, the creation of Pakistan and its consolidation meant that Jinnah’s mission had been accomplished and his charisma was routinized in the new state.
So, at a structural level, the demand for Pakistan was the outcome of the internal asymmetries of demography, economy and socio-political consciousness, which had emerged during the British Raj. These asymmetries, barely managed by concessions, reforms and repression, threatened to permanently erase the Muslims as a political community and became unmanageable as the British Empire went into decline after the First World War. The central question was of succession, and here Jinnah picked his idea – which was to advocate the restoration of sovereignty to the Muslimmajority areas of South Asia – and timings perfectly.
The idea resonated and connected with the anxiety and distress of the Muslims, triggering the Pakistan Movement. Jinnah’s leadership in terms of organization of the League, dealmaking and negotiating with the British, the Congress and other groups led to extraordinary electoral success in 1946. This success meant that Pakistan would either come into existence as a vast Muslim-majority sovereign region that comprised the whole of present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh plus the Hindumajority areas of Bengal and Punjab, or as a smaller but completely independent state.
Acceding to either of these options was galling to the Congress, but Jinnah’s success was that it had to choose between a notionally sovereign united India or an actually sovereign divided India. The Congress’s pain and confusion were evident in its dithering as it went from preferring a loose confederation and then changed its mind and went for the twostate solution.
Hayat’s 'The Charismatic Leader' is a fine study of political leadership in South Asia. Historically grounded, theoretically sound and argumentatively plausible, it provides a rich starting point for further debate and scholarship. What sets Hayat apart from other writers is that he seeks to explain Jinnah’s leadership in terms of phenomena and in doing so breaks new ground. Scholars, students, and the general readership can all benefit from the book under review.
Book Title: The Charismatic Leader: Quaid-iAzam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the Creation of Pakistan. Author: Sikandar Hayat Publisher: Oxford University Press. 2014. Second Edition Pages: 520, Hardback Price: Rs.1500 ISBN: 978-0-19-906920-0