NADEEM F. PARACHA
There is still no (complete) audio recording of Mr Jinnah’s address to Pakistan’s first Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947. However, the full text of the speech is available. The text, mostly extracted from the written draft of the speech was sent to newspapers and then published. Certain visual portions of the speech are also available, but they are mostly without any audio.
Mr Jinnah’s first address is considered to be the only speech in which he clearly outlined the kind of Pakistan he was envisioning. Due to his demise just a year after Pakistan’s creation, the contents of the speech became heatedly debated, especially between those who claim that Jinnah envisioned a progressive and modern Muslim-majority country and those who believe he was envisaging an Islamic republic which was to evolve into becoming a theocracy.
There is no audio available of the most telling portion of the speech where Jinnah proclaimed that in Pakistan people of all faiths were free to observe their respective religions because the state (of Pakistan) had nothing to do with matters of faith. “You are free to go to your temples, mosques or any other place of worship … ,” he had said.
He then goes on to say that in Pakistan “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.”
The speech was reproduced in its entirety by newspapers. Till at least 1977, portions of it were often quoted on the state-owned radio and TV channels. However, even before 1977 — from whence it stopped being quoted or referred to in the state-owned media and in school curriculum textbooks — there was an attempt made by some members of Jinnah’s ruling Muslim League to expunge this portion of the draft of the speech which was to be given to newspapers for publication.
Author Khalid Ahmad in his first book, Pakistan Behind the Ideological Mask, writes that certain senior members of the Muslim League (and some bureaucrats) tried to erase the mentioned portion of the speech before it went into print. Ahmad wrote that the plan was leaked to Altaf Husain, editor of Dawn — the newspaper which Jinnah had founded in 1941 as an organ of the Muslim League.
Veteran journalist Z.A. Zuberi, who was an assistant editor at Dawn at the time told Zamir Niazi, the author of 1992’s Press Under Siege, that Altaf Husain received a phone call from the government’s Public Relations Office (PRO), asking him to purge certain contents of Jinnah’s speech.
Niazi then quotes Zuberi as saying that the editor of Dawn immediately wanted to know whether this had come directly from Jinnah. After making a few phone calls, Altaf Husain concluded that Jinnah had nothing to do with the ‘advice’. He then published the speech in its entirety.
Khalid Ahmad in his book wrote that Altaf even went to the extent of threatening to expose members of the PRO in front of Jinnah. From then onwards, the speech was often quoted on radio, especially during the Ayub Khan regime (1958-69), before it simply vanished from state-owned media and school textbooks after 1977.
Khalid Ahmad wrote that Muslim Leaguers who believed that the speech would put the League’s ‘minority members’ at par with its majority members, were the ones most perturbed by the address.
Author Ali Usman Qasmi in his 2009 book Questioning the Authority of the Past wrote that the tension in this context within the League and also between the League and its opponents on the religious right, was not a contest between secularism and theocracy.
He explains that both professed religion, but Jinnah and other main founders of Pakistan believed that their idea of Islam was modern, pluralistic and supple compared to what they considered was the more myopic, dogmatic and ‘backward’ strand of the faith advocated by the religious parties and the clerics.
I first heard the speech in 1972 when I was just six. It was being quoted (in Urdu) on Radio Pakistan. I remember this well because it was the first time I had heard the word mandir (temple) and had almost immediately asked my mother what a mandir was. I again came across the speech in 1975 in my grade 4 school textbook.
The speech disappeared after 1977 when Gen Zia came to power through a reactionary coup. It remained expunged from textbooks and state-owned media for the next three decades. It was only periodically reproduced in books by ‘revisionist historians’ and scholars such as Sibte Hasan, Ayesha Jalal, K.K. Aziz and Dr Mubarak Ali.
But as far as the state and governments (after 1977) were concerned, the speech never existed. As Shazeb Jillani in his September 2013 article for the BBC wrote “[after 1977] Jinnah was repackaged as a pious leader …”
After the 2008 election when the PPP came to power, Murtaza Solangi was made the head of Radio Pakistan. He wanted to know what had happened to the audio recording of Jinnah’s August 11 speech. A 2013 article in The Independent quoted Solangi as saying that large portions (from the recordings) of Jinnah’s speech were deliberately destroyed by the Zia regime.
In 1947 there were no recording facilities in Karachi. A team from Delhi had arrived to record the first session of Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly. In 2011, when Solangi was in Delhi for a conference, he met the then head of All India Radio. He asked him about the recording of the speech and was told that, indeed, the organisation did have it. He was asked to write a formal request, which he did.
After two years, Solangi still couldn’t get the recording from India. So he approached the BBC, believing that its vast archives might contain a copy of the recording. It didn’t.
In 2013, two years after he had made a formal request, All India Radio finally sent him audio recordings of two of Jinnah’s 1947 speeches. But one was of June 3 and the other from August 14. Solangi was told that the recording of the August 11 speech was at the Nehru Library. But by then the PPP had lost the 2013 election and Solangi lost his job at Radio Pakistan.
However, in 2015, the Sindh government announced that it was adding the August 11 speech to the curriculum of classes 8 to 10. The speech remains lost/expunged elsewhere in the country.