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Sheikh M Abdullah in his autobiography [“Blazing Chinar” (Gulshan Books (2016) Chapter 30 titled “Mohammad Ali Jinnah & Myself” at pages 220-231] briefly mentions of an interesting criminal case of 1930s that for peculiarity of its facts had attracted attention of the whole of Kashmir. The Chapter does not divulge the full facts of the case which are, however, adumbrated here: One, Hanifa Begum’s first husband had died of police firing in September, 1931. She had been, then, married to one Abdul Kabir and subsequently to one Mirza Mehr Ali. Abdul Kabir had filed a criminal complaint under section 494 of the Ranbir Penal Code (dealing with an offence of marrying an already married woman) against both Hanifa and Mehr Ali. The lower court had convicted Hanifa while acquitted Mehr Ali for want of knowledge. The lower court’s order was assailed by Mehr Ali in appeal before the High Court at Srinagar with Shri Birju Dalal as its Chief Justice. The case was earlier argued in the trial court by Afzal Beigh who had lost it there. It was thought to be a hopeless case on facts. During that period, M A Jinnah was on a vacation trip in Srinagar. It was Jinnah’s second visit to Kashmir valley. It was 1936. He was accompanied by his sister, Fatima Jinnah, and they were staying in a houseboat at Shivpora, Srinagar.

As Jinnah was a lawyer of great eminence and the case was very complicated virtually beyond the competence of Afzal Beigh to defend in the High Court, Sheikh Abdullah along with him (Afzal Beigh) approached and requested M A Jinnah to accept the brief of the case for defending it before the Court of Chief Justice.  Blazing Chinar states that “after we (Sheikh Abdullah and Afzal Beigh) had briefed him on the case, Jinnah demanded a fee of 1000 rupees per attendance at court. Mirza Mehr Ali was not in a position to pay such a huge fee; we tried to persuade him to reduce it. That would go against his professional ethics, said he…….We had to submit to his terms”. On the day of hearing M A Jinnah argued the case and won it on very first hearing that “demonstrated his legal prowess……Jinnah’s legalistic hair-splitting did it all and he won the case elucidating a very subtle point…..relating to Islamic calendar”. [Ibid, pages 220-221] To pause for a while, these words of Sheikh Abdullah’s autobiography that M A Jinnah won the case at first & only hearing convincingly blasts his earlier statement that M A Jinnah had demanded a fee of 1000 rupees per hearing.

To resume the talk, the Court room was flooded with people drawn from almost every section of the society, lawyers, government-employees on leave, shopkeepers having shut their shops, students and duo of Sheikh Abdullah & Beigh. [Muhammad Yousuf Saraf, Kashmiris Fight for Freedom (2009 edition) vol one, pages 620-621]

In the words of Sheikh Abdullah, what was that razor-sharp legal acumen that Jinnah had used that took everyone in the Court room by surprise. In Islam, it may be noted, a widow can remarry only after observing Iddat, which is a period of four months and ten days from the date of death of the husband. The question was whether Hanifa had remarried Abdul Kabir during the period of Iddat. If so, then that marriage was null and void under the Islamic law and her marriage with Mehr Ali was valid. Conversely, marriage with Mehr Ali was invalid and, hence, the complaint under section 494 genuine. M A Jinnah came to the Court room without books and argued that the Iddat period of four months and ten days under the Islamic law was to be counted in lunar months only when death of a husband takes place on first of the “lunar month” otherwise it had to be counted as 130 days simple, one may say according to solar calendar. He argued further that, in the case, the Iddat period was to be calculated according to latter rule of 130 days simple and applying it to the case, marriage of Hanifa with Abdul Kabir (complainant) was during the Iddat period. Hence, it was null and void, while her marriage with Mehr Ali was valid in the Shariat. The whole audience was left agape with joy and jubilation. Chief Justice asked: “Mr. Jinnah. Is there any authority?” He replied: “My Lord. I am the authority”. [Ibid]

Now, coming to the above allegation launched by Sheikh Abdullah that M A Jinnah had refused to accept the brief unless his exorbitant professional fee from a poor man was agreed to be paid by him, flies in the face of the autobiographer himself for several sound reasons mentioned next.

Firstly, Muhammad Yousuf Saraf, ex- Chief Justice of “Pakistan Administered Kashmir” High Court writes about the said case that Jinnah was on holiday vacation in Kashmir during which he would never accept any case nor argue it. But, Mehr Ali had persuaded him to accept his brief as he was a staunch follower of the Muslim Conference and had contributed to the Kashmir Movement which he explained to M A Jinnah. On hearing the facts, Jinnah agreed to accept the brief and, at the same time, he declined to accept any fee. Muhammad Yousuf Saraf writes that Mehr Ali personally told him this thing. [Ibid, pages 620-621]. It must be noticed here that this book of M Y Saraf was first published in 1977 in Lahore and was available throughout world. Blazing Chinar (Atash e Chinar) was first published in 1985 and its author Sheikh M Abdullah was duty-bound to rebut narrative of Muhammad Yousuf Saraf, if it was false. Why it is totally silent on this vital information that was already available about the case? The answer seems to be a misrepresentation dictated in great haste before his death to M Y Teng (who has penned down Sheikh’s autobiography under his dictation) about M A Jinnah with whom Sheikh Abdullah had politically well known ideological differences.

Secondly, the biographer of M A Jinnah, namely, Hector Bolitho, after an extensive research, has narrated many episodes that speak loud and clear about the probity of M A Jinnah as a professional lawyer. He writes: “Once, when a client was referred to him, the solicitor mentioned that the man had limited money with which to fight the case. Nevertheless, Jinnah took it up. He lost but he still had faith in the case and he said that it should be taken to the Appeal Court. The solicitor again mentioned that his client had no money. Jinnah pressed him to defray certain of the appeal expenses out of his own pocket, and promised to fight the case without any fee for himself. This time, he won; but, when the solicitor offered him a fee, Jinnah refused arguing that he had accepted the case on the condition that there was no fee.” Hector Bolitho, author of 60 books, writes further: “There was a client who was so pleased with Jinnah’s services in a case, that he sent him an additional fee. Jinnah returned it, with a note, ‘This is the amount you paid me. This was the fee… Here is the balance.” [Hector Bolitho, Jinnah the creator of Pakistan (1954), pages 18-19]

Thirdly, Edgar Snow, internationally acclaimed American journalist & author, has noted that even if one appraised Jinnah as a barrister, it was to acknowledge that he had won the most monumental judgment in the history of the Bar. The Dawn, 11-09-2017 So, is he credited with getting acquittal order of Congress leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak in a sedition case in appeal, AIR 1916 Bom 9 = (1917) 19 Bom LR 211, from the Bombay Court. Another biographer of MA Jinnah, Stanley Wolpert, Jinnah of Pakistan, (1984) page 29] too holds high opinion about his professional integrity. He “was a most accomplished lawyer, outstanding amongst Indian lawyers & a fine constitutionalist”.  Pak Today dated 30-01-2017 quoting Sir Stafford Cripps  Frank Mores, then Editor of Indian Express, once wrote: “Watch him in the court room as he argues his case. Few lawyers can command a more attentive audience. No man is more adroit in presenting his case. If to achieve the maximum result with minimum effort is the hallmark of artistry, Mr. Jinnah is an artist in his craft. He likes to get down to the bare bones of his brief in stating the essentials of his case. His manner is masterly”. The Dawn dated 25-12-2017 The glaring example was the famous Caucus Case of 1905 which Jinnah won for Sir Ferozshah Mehta, renowned Bombay High Court lawyer & Indian Congressman, who had engaged Jinnah to represent him in the Bombay High Court.

Fourthly, Raj Mohan Gandhi has similar narratives of high professional ethics and upright behaviour of M A Jinnah to tell. [Towards Understanding Muslim Mind (1986) pages 123-186]  Jaswant Singh, ex-foreign Minister of India, writes that M A Jinnah’s reputation as a lawyer was formidable. On the strength of his capability in conducting cases, he had won a handsome practice & to achieve this in the company of eminent lawyers of those times was a testimonial to his abilities as an advocate, to his determination and his character. [Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence (2009) page 70] M A Jinnah’s cordiality, probity and integrity are unquestioned. [Joachin Alva, Men & Supermen of Hindustan, (first edition 1943), page 212]

Fifthly, Joachin Alva who was a noted Indian Congress politician, lawyer & journalist has written that Jinnah was the embodiment of the highest standards of the Bar. As an Advocate, he possessed gifts which cast a spell on the Courts, the Judges, the Juries, the Solicitors, and Clients, all alike and that he was the boldest Advocate of the Indian subcontinent and that no Judge would ever dare bully him. He will not brook any insult. Jinnah’s ready tongue and brilliant advocacy warded off all “judicial storms” and won him all-round admiration. [Ibid, page 223] Once an English High Court Judge angrily shouted, “Mr. Jinnah, you aren’t addressing a third class magistrate.” In his known rapier-like thrust, Jinnah retorted: “My Lord, allow me to warn you that you are not addressing a third-class pleader “. [Ibid; Supra, Hector Bolitho, 18-19]

Tailpiece:

M A Jinnah’s personality as an outstanding lawyer of high professional probity is beyond cavil & controversy. Only, Sheikh M Abdullah has half-heartedly cast aspersion on his towering professional stature which is unblemished, the fact invariably admitted even by his political rivals. “Jinnah was an astute lawyer”. It is what The Hindu in its editorial of 13-09-1948 two days after his death had to write & reproduce the editorial under the caption: Mohammad Ali Jinnah as the Hindu saw him. The Hindu dated 21-08-2009

M J Aslam is : Author, academic, story-teller & freelance columnist. Presently, AVP, J&K Bank.

Note: Views personal, not of the organisation the author works for.

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