Believe it or not, seven years after the death of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, his spirit was summoned at a séance to predict Pakistan’s future and make suggestions for tackling the political instability plaguing it.

Judging from the questions it was asked by a Pakistani government official during the séance, which a spiritualist conducted at 6 pm on March 13, 1955, the idea to invoke Jinnah’s spirit most likely came from Malik Ghulam Muhammad, who was then the Governor General of Pakistan.

Jinnah’s spirit said it saw “flashes of evil pictures of Pakistan” which did not allow it to “live in mental peace there [in the afterlife].” It lamented the self-serving ways of Pakistani politicians, and observed what, in hindsight, was undoubtedly profound: “It is easier to acquire a country, but it is extremely difficult to retain it.”

In the archives

Sixteen year after the séance, as we all know, East Pakistan became Bangladesh. Pakistan’s political elites have been at war against each other for much of its history, a scenario Jinnah’s spirit had anticipated, prompting it to emphasise to the government official on the need to “avoid quarrel and cultivate peace.”

The microfilm of the handwritten record of the conversation at the séance was discovered by historian Venkat Dhulipala in the India Office Collections of the British Library in London. His book, Creating a New Medina: State Power, Islam and the Quest for Pakistan in Late Colonial North India, opens with a description of the séance that has Jinnah’s spirit, the spiritualist and the government official in conversation.

Dhulipala’s discovery inspired Ali Usman Qasmi, assistant professor of History, Lahore University of Management Sciences, to request the director of Pakistan’s National Documentation Centre for the document containing the details of the séance. It was found in a file, marked F-1067, in the National Archives of Pakistan, and a copy of it was sent to Qasmi.

Subsequently, the Pakistani historian wrote a piece in The News on Sunday, etching out the political backdrop of the séance, besides speculating as to who possibly could have ordered it to be conducted – and why.

‘Do you want to smoke?’

The séance opens with the spiritualist asking the spirit to identify itself: “Mr Jinnah?” The spirit answered, “Yes friend, I am Jinnah.” The spiritualist requested the spirit to take a seat. It, rather tartly, responded, “I have (am) seated here. I remember to have come here sometime ago.”

This suggests Jinnah’s spirit had been invoked on an earlier occasion as well. For you to conclude that, you need to temporarily suspend your disbelief at the impossibility of summoning a dead man’s soul. The spiritualist confirmed, “Yes, you had come before.”

The spiritualist alluded to the earlier visit and said, “When you came before you were complaining that you were in a dark and a cold place, which you did not like. How are you?”

Between the two visits the lot of Jinnah’s spirit had improved. The spirit replied, “Yes, so I was. I am now in a very good place brilliantly lighted. There are enough flowers. I am very happy there.”

At this point the spiritualist introduced Mr Ibrahim, “an officer of the Government of Pakistan.” The record of the séance neither provides Ibrahim’s full name nor his position in the pecking order of bureaucracy. But it does say that Ibrahim had met Jinnah once in his lifetime, wrote to him twice, on each occasion receiving replies from the Quaid-e-Azam.

It was now Ibrahim’s turn to ask questions. But quite touchingly, and a bit hilariously, Ibrahim asked Jinnah’s spirit whether it wanted to smoke. “Yes,” the spirit replied. A cigarette was lit and fixed in a wire-stand.

Ibrahim pleaded with Jinnah’s spirit, “Sir…won’t you guide the destiny of the nation now?”

Jinnah’s spirit turned down the plea saying: “I see here flashes of evil pictures about Pakistan. I think the political conditions there are most unhappy. There are the (institutional) heads who have in them selfishness, and none at all is eager to be selfless.” You would think the spirit’s forthright analysis still applies to Pakistan.

Jinnah's advice

Adopting what appears to be a pessimistic tone, Ibrahim pressed on, “What advice you would like to give to the present rulers of Pakistan?”

Jinnah’s spirit shot back imperiously, “I have already said that just now: ‘Selflessness, Selflessness.’ That is the only advice I can give them now.” Then came the profound observation: “It is easier to acquire a country, but it is extremely difficult to retain it.”

Ibrahim’s next round of questions pertained to the intense tussle between Governor General Ghulam Muhammad and the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. In October 1954 , the Governor General dissolved the Assembly because it was, as is claimed, on the verge of adopting a Constitution not acceptable to him.

Stung, the Constituent Assembly President (speaker), Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan, moved the Sindh High Court against the Governor General’s decision. The court ruled against the Governor General, who went in appeal to the Supreme Court. Providing a context to the mysterious decision to invoke Jinnah’s spirit, historian Qasmi notes, “The séance took place when the proceedings of this appeal were about to begin in March.”

Ibrahim asked the spirit: “You may be unhappy over the present tussle between the Governor General and the President of the Constituent Assembly?”

“Yes, I am,” replied Jinnah’s spirit, going on to suggest, “The Governor General should now be keenly alive to the interest of the people and any turmoil should be driven out from the country by peaceful means. If this means is unable to secure internal peace, then force should be used with as much intelligence and carefulness as possible.” Once again, the spirit sagely reiterated, “They should drop their internal jealousies and be friends.”

From the reply, Jinnah’s spirit appears to have taken a neutral position on the Governor General’s controversial decision. However, its advocacy of force does seem ironic – three years after the séance, Pakistan witnessed a coup, which thereafter became a regular feature of its polity.

Ibrahim asked the spirit whether it wanted to give a message to the people of Pakistan. Circumspect, Jinnah’s spirit responded, “I don’t think I should give any message now directly. In one word, I can say, ‘be non-selfish and be dutiful to your country. Avoid quarrel and cultivate peace’.”

The séance showed that Pakistan’s squabbles torment Jinnah’s spirit no end. When he was asked to describe how he spends time, the spirit lamented, “Not very well friend.” This is because, as the spirit said, “evil pictures regarding Pakistan are badly in my mind every now and then, and I cannot live in mental peace.”

It seemed only natural for Ibrahim to ask Jinnah’s spirit about his sister, Fatima, whose presence was a worry to Pakistan’s ruling clique, which feared she might invoke Jinnah’s legacy to challenge them. Ibrahim asked the spirit whether it had any suggestion for Fatima.

The reply was clear-cut, “She should not mix up with politics. Let her devote herself to the exclusive worship of the Great Lord.” This sounds quite rich given that Jinnah wasn’t quite known for religious observance in his lifetime.

But a few questions remain: Who could have ordered the séance? Where did it take place? Qasmi believes it was none other than the Governor General himself. It seems a stroke not only impaired his speech, but also his mental faculty, making him childishly unpredictable in his official dealings.

Qasmi writes, “Given his [Muhammad’s] physical and mental condition and the stress of ongoing legal battle, he might have felt the need to draw strength from such a ‘spiritual’ experience….It is reasonable to believe that the séance was officially arranged in the governor general’s house.” He also said that “regardless of the ‘irrational’ basis of such ‘visions’,” these need to be studied seriously to “analyse the ways in which Pakistanis like to think of themselves.”

The spirit invoked in a séance communicates through the person who summons it. Therefore, it can be very well argued that the spiritualist who summoned Jinnah’s spirit was expressing his own anxieties, doubts and fears about Pakistan’s future, persistently suggesting a path of reconciliation to the Governor General, yet taking care not to denounce outright his decision to dissolve the Constituent Assembly.

The record of the séance was not made public. You could say the advice of Jinnah’s spirit (or from the rationalist’s perspective, that of the spiritualist) could have had some value for Pakistan.

(Qasmi’s piece and the facsimile of the conversation at the séance can be read here.)

Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist in Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, has as its backdrop the demolition of the Babri Masjid.