Jinnah as a Lawyer

Jinnah and Colonel Blimp
Khalid Hasan
The Friday Times, May 16, 2005

Although everyone says what a superb lawyer Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah
was, rarely does one get to read anything about the court appearances that
earned him that reputation.

I remember years ago in Lahore, Safdar Mir, the great Zeno of Pakistan Times ,
telling me about the Quaid's contribution to the "Indianisation" of the
British-led and officered army. Though I never made the effort to look up how
and where the Quaid had made his contribution, what Safdar Mir has said remained
engraved in my memory.

The other day, while reading the autobiography of the late Maj. Gen. Ajit Anil
"Jik" Rudra, who originally came from Lahore, served in three armies, fought in
both World Wars and died in India in 1997 at the age of 93, I came upon an
episode that showed that the Quaid's reputation as a brilliant lawyer was not a
Pakistani myth but a fact.

The Government of India appointed a committee of the legislature - I am not
clear about the year - to study the question of Indianising the army. British
officers were unabashedly racist when it came to Indian officers being posted to
purely British officered units. Curiously, British officers invariably enjoyed
close relationships with the men and ORs (other ranks) who served under them.
The Subedar Major, for instance, used to be known as "Kala Karnail." But when it
came to officers serving with them as their equals, juniors and, especially, as
their seniors, or dining with them in their all British messes, or frequenting
their clubs, they found it unacceptable. Col. Ronny Datta, a retired Indian
officer, told me that he had seen a sign at the front door of the once
all-British Fort William Club in Calcutta that said, 'Indians and Dogs not

The Committee appointed to study the sensitive Indianisation question included
Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Lt Rudra who had been commissioned in England during the
First War and who fought gallantly in the trenches in France during one of the
most brutal military campaigns of all times, was asked to appear before that
Committee. He was presented to the Committee that included Pandit Motilal Nehru
by one Gen. Skeen with the words, "Gentlemen, here you have a young Indian
King's Commissioned officer. He served in the ranks of the British Army during
the Great War and is now serving in an Indian regiment. You have just heard his
commanding officer's opinion of him. Please ask him any questions you may have
of him."

Rudra recalls that Mr Jinnah was the first member of the Committee to address
him. He began by asking a number of questions about his conditions of service,
including what commands and appointments he had held. Then he said in a "more
serious tone," "Mr Rudra, I must warn you that the proceedings from now till I
finish will be in camera. I want you to understand that clearly." Rudra writes
that although he did not have the foggiest idea what "in camera" meant, he
replied, "Yes, sir." Mr Jinnah then asked the Chairman of the Committee if he
could send for one Colonel Pope again, a British senior officer he had obviously
questioned before Rudra had been brought in. The Colonel was the commanding
officer of the 4th Hyderabad Regiment, an Indianised battalion in which Thimayya
(one day to become the commander-in-chief of independent India's army) and some
other Indian officers had been serving for the past two or three years.

Mr Jinnah's opening question to Col. Pope was, "Col. Pope, in your evidence
earlier you said that in your opinion, no Indian is fit to take the place of a
British officer." "Yes," the British officer answered. The colonel then looked
Rudra "full in the face and repeated those very same words." Mr Jinnah's next
question was, "Colonel, could you please give us your reasons for holding such
an adverse opinion of Indians?" Pope hesitated for a while, then said, "Well,
er... for one thing Indians are not impartial in the matter of promotions. They
tend to favour their own kith and kin... and that would be disastrous. Secondly,
they can't be trusted in money matters. That's the general Indian weakness. In
fact, they are totally unfit to hold the King's Commission."

"Thank you, Col. Pope," Mr Jinnah said, "You have of course had instances where
your Indian officers have promoted their own kith and kin overlooking more
suitable personnel?" Col. Pope hesitated before replying, "Er... well, no. But I
know that that's what they would do if given half a chance." Mr Jinnah's
response was immediate, "So, it is just prejudice - you have no concrete fact,
no particular case to back up your statement." The trap that Mr Jinnah was
laying for Col. Blimp was exactly what he walked into. "I know I am right," he

Mr Jinnah then asked him calmly, "I see. Now, as regards money matters, how many
cases of mishandling money by Indian officers and untrustworthy behaviour in
financial dealings have you had to deal with?" Col. Pope was now fully trapped
but he remained arrogant, "Well, er... there have been no actual cases. They
wouldn't dare while I am their commanding officer. But if left to themselves,
they can't be trusted." Mr Jinnah's response was razor sharp: "But these are
merely opinions and prejudices. Can you not back them up with facts?" The
Colonel remained silent and, as Rudra recalls, "he was beginning to turn a
little red in the face by then." Mr Jinnah now went for the coup de grace .
"Colonel, I must ask you to be more specific. Why have you formed these
opinions? You must have some reason." Col. Pope replied, "Well, my Subedar Major
holds these opinions too, He is quite definite about them."

At this point, Mr Jinnah went for the kill, "I see, so you are merely voicing
your Subedar Major's prejudices. In that case, we might be better off asking him
to appear before us instead of you. Thank you Colonel. I have nothing further to
ask you."

I suppose this was how the Quaid-i-Azam won the case for Pakistan, though had he
known who was going to inherit his great legacy, he might have developed second


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Anonymous said…
Edgar Snow, the well known American Author, noted that even if one only appraised Jinnah as a barrister, it would be to acknowledge that he had won the most monumental judgement in the history of the bar. He had recognized in the romantic ideal of Pakistan, a case that could be fought and won. Lord Denning, the Master of Rolls, in fact, Master of Rulings, had recalled with pleasure the fact that the Quaid-e-Azam Mmohammad Ali Jinnah, the Founder of Pakistan, had been a member of Lincoln's Inn. President Bill Clinton during his visit to Pakistan in the year 2000 at the lunch given in his honour by the Chief Executive remarked that Mmr. Jinnah was the great constitutional lawyer of the Common Wealth. Jinnah's outstanding career as a Counsel is beyond any cavil or controversy whatsoever. In a Broadcast from BBC, Sir Stafford Cripps spoke of him as " a most accomplished lawyer outstanding amongst Indian lawyers and a fine constitutionlist.

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