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The Rediff Special/Vijay Singh in Mumbai
Look what Jinnah is doing in Mumbai
June 13, 2005
As the country is plunged into an acrimonious debate on Mohammad Ali Jinnah's secular credentials, a trust in Mumbai named after the founder of Pakistan is busy helping poor students of all creeds.
Welcome to the Jinnah Hall Trust.
Sitting in his small cubicle at The People's Jinnah Hall at Grant Road in south Mumbai, Nayan Yagnik, a trustee of the Jinnah Hall Trust, does not want to comment on whether Bharatiya Janata Party chief Lal Kishenchand Advani was right when he praised Jinnah's secular credentials recently in Pakistan. He does not comment either on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's attack on Advani. He has no views on the RSS' Akhand Bharat Theory -- a line of thinking that seeks to reverse bloody Partition.
Yagnik is thinking of the days ahead. He has his job cut out. A new educational year is staring him in the face. What it means for him is a flood of applications for scholarships. The applications will have to be screened and deserving students would have to be awarded assistance. Deserving students, mind you -- not deserving Hindu students, not deserving Muslim students, not deserving Christian students.
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The Jinnah Hall Trust, as the name suggests, also controls a community hall that is let out for cultural and family functions for a small price. It is let out to political parties too and parties of all hues, including the Shiv Sena and BJP, have used the hall.
Though the trust calls it The People's Jinnah Hall, political parties refer to it as just The People's Hall on the invitation cards.
Attempts were made by the Sena and BJP to pressure trustees to rename the trust. Yagnik, a Gujarati, and other trustees, none of them a Muslim, refused.
How this hall got its name is an interesting story.
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It was 1918. Lord Willingdon was relinquishing the governorship of Bombay province and a meeting was convened to appreciate his services. Jinnah did not approve of the idea and decided to organise a protest. He along with his wife Ratanbai and a large number of protestors were forceably removed by the police.
The episode made Jinnah a hero and within a few days his admirers, mostly Congress workers, contributed Rs 30,000 in his honour.
The amount was presented to him at a felicitation ceremony at a small hall at Congress House. However, Jinnah, one of the most successful barristers in the city, returned the money.
The Congressmen then named the hall after him and set up a trust with the Rs 30,000. It was called the Jinnah Hall Trust.
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Yagnik says it is a small trust with annual earnings of less than Rs 100,000. Nobody from Jinnah's family has ever been involved in the trust though Nusli Wadia, Jinnah's grandson and chairman of the Bombay Dyeing group, lives in Mumbai.
"Sometime ago the Pakistan government had wanted to set up their temporary visa office here, but we said no. We don't want to make it a diplomatic or political issue," Yagnik said.