Monday, July 26, 2010

Gurjar Sabha, January 14, 1915

We examine a Gandhi-Jinnah incident from January 14, 1915, from three angles.

Stanley Wolpert, "Jinnah of Pakistan" (chapter 3):

"By January of 1915, Jinnah was home.  The Gujarat Society (Gurjar Sabha), which he led, gave a garden party to welcome Gandhi back to India.  The Mahatma's ambulance corps had sailed for France without its founder after he had a slight nervous breakdown in London and decided to return home to India instead, thus prolonging his life by some three decades.  Gandhi's response to Jinnah's urbane welcome was that he was "glad to find a Mahomedan not only belonging to his own region's Sabha, but chairing it."  Had he meant to be malicious rather than his usual ingenuous self, Gandhi could not have contrived a more cleverly patronizing barb, for he was not actually insulting Jinnah, after all, just informing every one of his minority religious identity.  What an odd fact to single out for comment about this multifaceted man, whose dress, behavior, speech and manner totally belied any resemblance to his religious affiliation!  Jinnah, in fact, hoped by his Anglophile appearance and secular wit and wisdom to convince the Hindu majority of his colleagues and countrymen that he was, indeed, as qualified to lead any of their public organizations as Gokhale, or Wedderburn, or Dadabhai.  Yet here, in the first public words Gandhi uttered about him, every one had to note that Jinnah was a "Mahomedan".

We next look at Gandhi's speech.  Wolpert cites Volume XIII, page 9 of The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi; however in the electronic version, it is Volume 14, page 342.

{footnote: A brief report of this also appeared in Gujarati, 17-1-1915.}
January 14, 1915

A garden party in honour of Gandhiji and Shrimati Kasturba Gandhi was given by members of the Gurjar Sabha, Bombay, on the grounds of Mangaldas House, on January 14, 1915. Messrs M. A. Jinnah, Chairman of the Sabha, who presided on the occasion, and K. M. Munshi having spoken (in English) welcoming the guests, Gandhiji replied as follows:

Mr. Gandhi, who spoke in Gujarati, thanked Mr. Jinnah for presiding at this function and said that while he was in South Africa and anything was said about Gujaratis, it was understood to have a reference to the Hindu community only and Parsis and Mahomedans were not thought of. He was, therefore, glad to find a Mahomedan a member of the Gurjar Sabha and the chairman of that function.

With regard to their words of praise and welcome, he was at a loss to say anything. As he had said so often before, he and his wife had done nothing beyond their duty. He did not wish to repeat the same thing, but he desired to say that he considered all these good feelings and kind words as their blessings and he prayed to God. that those blessings might enable him and his wife faithfully to serve their country. They first intended to study all the Indian questions and then enter upon the service of the country. He had looked upon the Hon. Mr. Gokhale as his guide and leader and he had full confidence in him and he was sure that Mr. Gokhale would not put him on the wrong track. He had visited His Excellency the Governor {Lord Willingdon}   that morning and while thanking him for the honour, he also mentioned the same thing that he was absolutely confident that under the guiding spirit of the Hon. Mr. Gokhale he would be adopting the right course.

Continuing, Mr. Gandhi said that the chairman had referred to the South African question. He had a good deal to say on this subject and he would explain the whole situation in the very near future to the Bombay public and through them to the whole of India. The compromise was satisfactory and he trusted that what had remained to be gained would be gained. The South Africans had now learnt that they could not utterly disregard the Indians or disrespect their feelings.

With regard to the Hindu-Mahomedan question he had much to learn, but he would always keep before his eyes his twenty-one years’ experience in South Africa and he still remembered that one sentence uttered by Sir Syed Ahmed, namely, that the Hindus and Mahomedans were the two eyes of Mother India and if one looked at one end and the other at the other, neither would be able to see anything and that if one was gone, the other would see to that extent only. Both the communities had to bear this in mind in the future.

In conclusion, he thanked them for the great honour done to him and his wife.

The Bombay Chronicle,  15-1-1915

It seems to me from Gandhi's speech that the Chairman M.A. Jinnah had brought up the South African question and the Hindu-Mahomedan question in his welcoming remarks.  It would be natural then for Gandhi to mention Jinnah's religious affiliation.  So we need an account of  Jinnah's remarks. We find this in Jaswant Singh's book.  The Telegraph of Calcutta has an excerpt of the book, from which I reproduce the following:

Although the families of both Jinnah and Gandhi had once lived just about 40 miles or so apart in Kathiawar (Gujarat), this adjacency of their places of origin did nothing to bring their politics close together. At their very first meeting, at the Gurjar Sabha in January 1915, convened to felicitate Gandhi upon his return from South Africa, in response to a welcome speech, with Jinnah presiding, Gandhi had somewhat accommodatingly said he was ‘glad to find a Muslim not only belonging to his own region’s sabha but chairing it.’ Gandhi had singled out Jinnah as a Muslim, though, neither in appearance or in conduct was Jinnah anywhere near to being any of the stereotypes of the religious identity ascribed by Gandhi. Jinnah, on the other hand, was far more fulsome in his praise.

Gandhi had reached India by boat in January 1915 when many leaders, including Jinnah and Gokhale, went to Bombay to give him an ovatious welcome. By this date Jinnah had already engaged as an all India leader and was committed to attaining his stated goals of unity, not just between the Muslims and the Hindus, Extremists and Moderates, but also among various classes of India. To receive Gandhi, Jinnah had forsaken attending the Madras Congress meet of 1914. Gandhi, upon reaching Bombay, had been warmly welcomed by Jinnah who wanted to enlist his services for the cause of Hindu-Muslim unity. It was because of his popularity and standing that Jinnah had been invited to preside over a garden party given by the Gurjar Sabha, an association of the Gurjar (Gujar) community, arranged to welcome Mr and Mrs Gandhi, on his arrival on 13 January 1915.

In his presidential address, Jinnah ‘welcomed... Mr and Mrs Gandhi, not only on behalf of Bombay but on behalf of the whole of India.’ He impressed upon Gandhi that the greatest problem was ‘to bring about unanimity and co-operation between the two communities so that the demands of India (from Imperial Britain) may be made absolutely unanimously.’ For this he desired ‘that frame of mind, that state, that condition which they had to bring about between the two communities, when most of their problems, he had no doubt, would easily be solved.’ Jinnah went to the extent of saying: ‘Undoubtedly he [Gandhi] would not only become a worthy ornament but also a real worker whose equals there were very few.’ This remark was greatly applauded by a largely Hindu audience, accounts of that meeting report. Gandhi, however, was cautious and somewhat circuitous in his response. He took the plea that he would study all the Indian questions from ‘his own point of view,’ a reasonable enough assertion; also because Gokhale had advised him to study the situation for at least a year before entering politics. This, too, was all right but then, needlessly, he thanked Jinnah for presiding over a Hindu gathering. This was an ungracious and discouraging response to Jinnah’s warm welcome and had a dampening effect.


As expected, Jinnah had brought up the Hindu-Muslim question.   Once Jinnah had said that the greatest problem India faced was 'to bring about unanimity and co-operation between the two communities',  it seems obvious to me that Gandhi was going to say, how wonderful that the Gujarati community, mostly spoken of as Hindu, had a Muslim chairman.  As to whether Gandhi was circuitous or ungracious in his response, that is in the eye of the beholder.   If there are other accounts of this meeting I would be glad to post them here.


A garden party in honour of Kasturba and Gandhi was hosted by Gurjar Sabha at Mangaldas House, Girgaum. M. A. Jinnah presided over the meeting. In his speech, Jinnah spoke of Gandhi's arduous labours in the cause of not only indentured Indians in South Africa but also of the motherland. He said that Gandhi's co-operation would greatly help forward the work of uniting Hindus and Muslims.
While praising Gandhi, Jinnah did not forget Kasturba, who had set example not only to the women kind in India but also to the world. For a women to stand by a husband and share his trials, offerings and sacrifice and even go to jail was a model of womanhood of which any country could be proud of.

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