Midnight’s Children- Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammad Ali Jinnah

This post reflects on the speeches that Quaid e Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Jawaharlal Nehru made on 11 August 1947 and midnight of 14/15 August 1947 respectively.

Independence Day of Pakistan is on 14 th August, that of India, 15th August.

Thanks to Adil for his wonderful post at All Things Pakistan, and the comments there, that led me to read the two speeches in their entirety.


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 responsibilties 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 speeches are, trusting that internet versions are faithfully reproduced, relative short. JLN’s speech is about 1100 words, and MAJ’s about 1700.

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. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of Inida and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.

At the dawn of history India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries are filled with her striving and the grandeur of her success and her failures. Through good and ill fortune alike she has never lost sight of that quest or forgotten the ideals which gave her strength. We end today a period of ill fortune and India discovers herself again. The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?

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. Well, I know that blackmarketeers are frequently caught and punished. Judicial sentences are passed or sometimes fines only are imposed. Now you have to tackle this monster, which today is a colossal crime against society, in our distressed conditions, when we constantly face shortage of food and other essential commodities of life. A citizen who does black-marketing commits, I think, a greater crime than the biggest and most grievous of crimes. These blackmarketeers are really knowing, intelligent and ordinarily responsible people, and when they indulge in black-marketing, I think they ought to be very severely punished, because the entire system of control and regulation of foodstuffs and essential commodities, and cause wholesale starvation and want and even death.

The next thing that strikes me is this: Here again it is a legacy which has been passed on to us. Along with many other things, good and bad, has arrived this great evil, the evil of nepotism and jobbery. I want to make it quite clear that I shall never tolerate any kind of jobbery, nepotism or any any influence directly of indirectly brought to bear upon me. Whenever I will find that such a practice is in vogue or is continuing anywhere, low or high, I shall certainly not countenance it.

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. Indeed if you ask me, this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain the freedom and independence and but for this we would have been free people long long ago. No power can hold another nation, and specially a nation of 400 million souls in subjection; nobody could have conquered you, and even if it had happened, nobody could have continued its hold on you for any length of time, but for this. Therefore, we must learn a lesson from this. You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State. As you know, history shows that in England, conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some States in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. The people of England in course of time had to face the realities of the situation and had to discharge the responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government of their country and they went through that fire step by step. Today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain and they are all members of the Nation.

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):

I know there are people who do not quite agree with the division of India and the partition of the Punjab and Bengal. Much has been said against it, but now that it has been accepted, it is the duty of everyone of us to loyally abide by it and honourably act according to the agreement which is now final and binding on all. But you must remember, as I have said, that this mighty revolution that has taken place is unprecedented. One can quite understand the feeling that exists between the two communities wherever one community is in majority and the other is in minority. But the question is, whether it was possible or practicable to act otherwise than what has been done, A division had to take place. On both sides, in Hindustan and Pakistan, there are sections of people who may not agree with it, who may not like it, but in my judgement there was no other solution and I am sure future history will record is verdict in favour of it. And what is more, it will be proved by actual experience as we go on that was the only solution of India’s constitutional problem. Any idea of a united India could never have worked and in my judgement it would have led us to terrific disaster. Maybe that view is correct; maybe it is not; that remains to be seen. All the same, in this division it was impossible to avoid the question of minorities being in one Dominion or the other. Now that was unavoidable. There is no other solution. Now what shall we do? Now, if we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor. If you will work in co-operation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed. If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be on end to the progress you will make.

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.

To bring freedom and opportunity to the common man, to the peasants and workers of India; to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman.

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.

Picture Courtesy: The Hindu

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Author: bhupinder singh

an occasional blogger

22 thoughts on “Midnight’s Children- Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammad Ali Jinnah”

  1. Thank you for the fascinating post, especially relevant on these days to be reminded of what our respected countries set out to achieve and what they have/haven’t.

  2. Interesting information. I know I may sound like “typical” Indian (which I am), but I found JLN’s speech definitely better than MAJ. Former was grand and, as you said, poetic – fitting to majesty of occasion. Later was practical, but something that could be delivered on the floor of parliament any day. Pragmatic, yes, but by the same virtue localized in time since at some time corruption will no longer be problem of Pakistan. On the other hand, JLN’s speech will hold true as long as India lives as it is not time specific.

    Regarding justification of Pakistan and secularism, less said the better. Wouldn’t want to make it rambling thread. Happy Independence Day all.

  3. Sohaib: Thanks for your your comment. And the clarification 🙂

    Renegade: Your comment reminds me of this poem by Auden.

    Ashish: Thanks for your comment.
    On a more cynical note, even corruption and nepotism don’t seem to be time specific either 😦

  4. A very impartial post! I appericiate that. And I would thoroughly agree with you on the timelessness of the problems faced by both countries.

  5. > A very impartial post!

    Thanks, Ayesha. Given the animosity that runs among desis on the internet, I take that as a big compliment 🙂

  6. Dear Bhupinder, this is extremely well written. I agree with Ayesha that this is impartial notwithstanding the divided ‘selves’ in the blogosphere. Unfortunately, we are trapped by official ideologies of our respectve nation states.The truth is that Mr Jinnah accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan proposals in 1946. This constructed history of Jinnah as the enemy of a united India is a post 1947 phenomena. In any case, your post takes a fresh, unbiased view of history and this is what made it so readable.

  7. I find it interesting that no parties in India (and Pakistan) that I have seen, call for the reunification of the sub-continent (on an equal, secular basis).

    Although this may seem like ancient history to many, it was a common theme in for example Bengali films of the 60s and is an obvious righting of a wrong and against communalism.

    Even the communist parties, who should organise on a basis of ‘workers of the world unite’, talk about a spurious ‘national interest’.

    As a visitor to all three countries, I can see how clear the similarities are.

  8. Talking of unification would probably open a Pandora’s box !

    Each country I guess has developed in a different trajectory after 1947, 1971 in case of Bangladesh. Each has also developed problems unique to itself.

    It would be good if these three countries can start living like good neighbours first.

  9. “It would be good if these three countries can start living like good neighbours first.”

    Point is that we make a better unified country than good neighbors! I cant stop dreaming of the behemoth a unified, nuclear India will/can be on theworld stage.

  10. An interesting comparison indeed. We can see that Nehru the idealist and Jinnah the realist were both ultimately aiming for the same thing.

  11. thanks a lot mate for such good post. Its true past 1947 and 1971, it might not be feasible to reunite the subcontinent. I am Pakistani and I identify myself as such, but I do wonder if all Mr. Jinnah ever envisioned was secular Pakistan then a severe injustice was done by the division. Well we can all argue about that. I truly believe an open border and open economic with joint military safegaurding ala Nato could be answer to subcontinent problems.

  12. Unified India is not possible.. and not necessary now. What We need is: SAARC should turn into something like EU with joint military command like NATO.In that case Kashmir problem will automatically be solved. However,how the Taliban issue will be be tackled I can’t predict.May be if ISI is disbanded then Talibans will die out!

    1. Extremely nice post…but i would like to bring everyones attention to the foll points one,the seperate muslim state was an ideolody created by the british and the leaders of both nation states shouldn’t have reciprocated to it. However our national leaders were too infant to understand the british politics or as i may call it engoying personal profits(head of state position).second,there was no strong reason for partition,hence neither party satisfactorily explains it.Thirdly,none of the parties of india and pakistan will ever think of a reunion until and unless such desire comes out from the people themselves.This is because it has become a prime subject for politicians of both countries..(e.g blaming pakistan for every terrorist attack on india which might be fabricated by the politicians themselves).Fourthly,Sleeping people under the pretext of a stable government.

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