May issue 2009
Cult of Personality
The thesis presented in The Charismatic Leader, Sikandar Hayat’s book on M.A. Jinnah, is that the founder of Pakistan used his charm to will the state into being. This might seem to be a non-controversial hypothesis but if one looks at the other five major hypotheses to explain his role in the creation of Pakistan, it appears to be problematic. And that is why this book is important. It is the first book-length academic study on the concept of charismatic leadership and why Jinnah’s role in the creation of Pakistan may be considered charismatic.
The author’s introduction is important because it lists the alternative hypotheses explaining Jinnah’s success. Briefly speaking, his role is explained as that of a saviour, as an ambitious man desiring personal power, as a filler of an existing vacuum, as a lucky man whose personal needs were congruent with those of the Muslims of India, and as a by-product or reaction to the hostile politics of M.K. Gandhi and the Congress party. Sikandar Hayat refutes all these hypotheses as a prelude to advancing his own theory that Jinnah was, indeed, a charismatic leader.
In chapter one, the author defines charisma. Before doing so, however, he tells us that none of the historians of South Asia who have used the term charisma — and these include M.M. Qureshi, Khalid bin Sayeed, Waheed-uz-Zaman and Stanley Wolpert — have used it in an analytical manner. He then goes on to reference Max Weber’s work Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (1925) and his later writings in Politik als Beruf to define charisma analytically. Earlier, Weber defined charisma as being “based on an emotional form of communal relationship.” Later, however, he plays down the emotional part, calling it an “ascetic-rational construct.” This later re-formulation shifts the focus from enthusiasm and mass sentiment to discipline — the “routinisation of charisma.” This change might have been occasioned by the inordinate enthusiasm (mass emotion) which led to World War I, as well as the rise of fascism between the two world wars. With this background, the author lists the personality and situational factors which create charisma.
After these theoretical chapters, Sikandar Hayat gives an outline of Jinnah’s journey from Jinnahbhai Poonja to M.A. Jinnah and how he finally morphed into the Quaid-i-Azam (Great Leader). This brief biographical chapter in the book, however, does not focus on Jinnah’s personal life. Instead, it describes his early political life, which saw him change from an Indian nationalist to the architect of Pakistan, in the early 1940s. Charisma, says the author, manifested itself from 1935 onwards and was recognised in the Lucknow session of the League in 1937.
Chapter three, which briefs the readers about the condition of Muslims in India, is no different from other historical accounts of the Pakistan Movement by Pakistani historians. The basic argument is that the domination of the Hindus, as exemplified by the Congress rule in several provinces, convinced the Muslims that Jinnah was right in demanding a separate homeland for them.
This process of convincing different segments of society is given attention in chapter four when the author describes the role of the traditional leadership — the nobility, gentry, provincial leaders and the religious leaders. The chapter compacts a great deal in a few pages and offers the reader insight into the social conditions and worldview of the diverse segments of Muslim society. The main argument is that the traditional leadership failed to provide the political forum which Jinnah, the harbinger of modernity, offered to the Indian Muslims. However, the point that many members of this leadership also supported Jinnah is important because he appealed to them — but they did so for reasons of their own. The author does not dwell upon this point but if the ulema supported him on the assumption that he would create an Islamic state—in accordance with their understanding of the concept — it also means that Jinnah was ambiguous.
Chapters five, six and seven outline the final scenes of the drama which created Pakistan. Here, Dr Hayat does not depart significantly from the usual historical narrative found among Pakistani historians. But for a scholar working on charisma, he should have answered questions about Jinnah’s acceptance of the post of governor general instead of merely defending this decision. After all, if a charismatic leader assumes a ceremonial position, does the position not carry more power than it legally should? And, when this happens, is it possible to insist on legality in later such appointments, even when the incumbent does not have popular will behind him?
This brings us to the problems in the book. The first one is that the author pays no heed to Weber’s later concern, about tempering the emotionalism of charisma with reason, legality and routinisation. A charismatic leader is literally worshipped so he is able to transcend legality and constitutionalism. This makes him so powerful that he becomes dangerous for dissidents who dare to oppose him. This happens even when he holds no government office, as Khomeini and Gandhi did. But when he does hold public office, he can make it into a virtual dictatorship. This happened with Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rahman, who remained unaccountable to anyone until he was killed. In the case of Khomeini, the religious standing he held made him the last word on everything in Iran at the cost of rational decision-making by government functionaries. Gandhi, too, could hold the government hostage through his fasts. In Jinnah’s case, if it was necessary that he guide Pakistan in its initial years, should he not have become the prime minister of the country rather than assume the ceremonial position of governor general? Had he done so, wouldn’t this have ensured that charismatic power and legal power went hand-in-hand? And had this happened, would it not have been established that legality, rather than personality, were the sources of authority in Pakistan? Of course, the prime ministership would have entailed hard work, but every historian, including Hayat, assures us that he did work hard — indeed, he performed the duties of the prime minister too.
But the point is that the tradition of the prime ministers having only as much power as their charisma (compare Bhutto with Fazal Ilahi Chaudhry) or military backing allows them, need not have been established so soon in our history had the Quaid’s charisma been routinised and diffused. This is not a question which the author answers, although he is the most suitable person to do so.
Another question which remains unanswered in the book is that the Quaid was different things to different people. For the ulema, the Quaid’s references to Islam were proof that he wanted to establish an Islamic state. For the westernised liberals, of course, the state was to be a liberal democracy. Charisma, being emotional, whipped up mobilising sentiment but without an agreement about the future ideology of Pakistan. The point is to find out if charisma entails harnessing the emotions of so many diverse ideological groups, as to preclude the adoption of any one ideology later. Is the defining feature of charisma to leave ambiguity as its legacy? That is another question which the author is most suited to answer, but doesn’t.
Sikandar Hayat, like other Pakistani historians, does not tell us why the principle of partition — the faith of the majority of the population in federating units — was not applied to the states and on what principle was there reluctance about applying the same principle to the Punjab and Bengal by the Muslim League. Also, Hayat hasn’t written much on the personal qualities that created the Quaid’s charisma, that one would have expected in a book about the Quaid’s charismatic credentials. Also missing is Jinnah’s comparison with Khomeini, Sheikh Mujib and Gandhi. The comparisons with Ataturk, Kwame Nkrumah and Lenin, while necessary, are not sufficient since the situational factors in their cases are very different when compared to South Asia. Had the author concentrated more on charisma and reduced the historical narrative to a bare minimum, the study would have been theoretically more valuable than it is at present. And, further, had he detached himself from the subject of his study (the Quaid), he would have developed the capacity to be critical.
Despite these drawbacks, however, this book is valuable as one of the few studies of history which draws upon the theories of both sociology and politics. It is to Dr Sikandar Hayat’s credit that he has used both historical data — a rich archive of sources, which must have taken much labour and time to master — as well as the sociological theories in order to understand the magic behind Quaid-i-Azam’s success in creating Pakistan. The book is a necessary read for all those interested in Pakistan, South Asia and the analytical notions of charisma and leadership.