What should be done with the iconic Jinnah House? This question has assumed significance after BJP MLA and a leading builder Mangal Prabhat Lodha demanded in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly on March 25 that the Jinnah House be demolished and a cultural centre be constructed at the site.
Pakistan immediately reacted by saying the Indian government should hand over Jinnah House to Pakistan. Many others also reacted saying it should not be demolished.
Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah constructed the palatial bungalow in 1936 in South Mumbai. It was designed by Claude Batley and it cost a massive two lakh rupees in those times. Trained Italian masons were brought in for the construction. Jinnah personally supervised the construction and he loved the bungalow. After partition, Jinnah wanted to come to Mumbai and spend his last days in the bungalow. He was in love with Mumbai and could not think of settling down in any other city.
It was in Jinnah House, where once a staunch nationalist and later chief of Muslim League, Jinnah held talks with Mahatma Gandhi in 1944 and with Jawaharlal Nehru in 1946.
Lodha said, “It was the place from where the conspiracy of the Partition was hatched”.
One can ask a question to Lodha and BJP where Hindu right wing leaders were at the time of the freedom struggle. One can give a number of places where the issue of Partition was discussed. Hindu right-wing leaders and Muslim right wing leaders were equally responsible for the Partition. Hindu Mahasabha in their Ahmedabad conference in 1937 passed a resolution saying Hindus and Muslims are two separate nationalities. Muslim League in their Lahore conference passed a similar resolution on March 23, 1940.
How many places will one demolish? It takes years to build and takes minutes to demolish. The issue of Jinnah House is not as simple as Lodha feels. It has also international ramifications. Pakistan has been claiming the Jinnah House. Earlier they said they want to open Pakistan Consulate in the Jinnah House. Jinnah’s only daughter Dina Wadia has claimed ownership of the bungalow as the rightful legal heir. The Lokmanya Tilak Swarajya Bhoomi Trust has demanded that the bungalow be handed over to them. Jinnah had a great respect for Tilak. Jinnah defended Tilak in a sedition case. Tilak and Jinnah played an important role in the Lucknow pact of 1915.
Jawaharlal Nehru did not want to declare the Jinnah House as enemy property. He was aware that Jinnah will continue to visit Mumbai and live in this bungalow. Unfortunately, Jinnah did not survive long after Partition. He died on September 11, 1948. In 1949, the Jinnah House was declared as evacuee property and the government of India took control of it.
In 1939 Jinnah prepared a will in which he mentioned Fatima, his sister, as the lone inheritor of the sea facing palatial bungalow.
Jinnah requested Nehru to allot his house to any European Consulate as they will appreciate European architecture. It was leased to the British High Commission for the Deputy High Commissioner’s residence from 1948 to 1983.
In 2003, a part of the bungalow was given to the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) to be used for cultural activities. In March 2005 then Minister of state for External Affairs E Ahmed said the Jinnah House would remain a cultural centre.
Fatima tried to get control of the bungalow, but failed. Dina Wadia, only daughter of Jinnah, an Indian citizen after getting married to an Indian is also fighting for the rights of the bungalow. Pakistan is claiming the ownership. So, the matter is not as simple as it should have been.
The Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill 2016, which amends the Enemy Property Act, 1968 was passed by voice vote in the Lok Sabha on March 14 incorporating the amendments made by Rajya Saha earlier. Under the act, successors of those who migrated to Pakistan and China cannot claim over the properties. So, now Government of India is the owner of the Jinnah House.
The issue also has a sentimental value. Indian pluralism will not agree with the Lodha’s destructive demand. Indian culture believes in positive things and not negative. The iconic bungalow must be preserved as it is part of history and a heritage building.
Jinnah symbolised the friendship between India and Pakistan. Keeping this in mind, the iconic Jinnah House needs to be converted into either a Centre for the Friendship of India and Pakistan or SAARC Cultural Centre.
By: Jatin Desai
Updated On: 03.04.2017