India on Thursday strongly rejected Pakistan’s claim of ownership of the Jinnah House in Mumbai and said the property belongs to it.
“Pakistan has no locus standi as far as this property is concerned. It is a government of India’s property and we are in the process of renovating it,” External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.
The Jinnah House on Malabar Hill in Mumbai was designed by architect Claude Batley in European style and Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah lived there in the late 1930s. Pakistan has been demanding that the property be handed over to it for housing its Mumbai consulate.
Mr Kumar said the government is considering putting the Jinnah House into use on the lines of the Hyderabad House here. The government uses the Hyderabad House for holding meetings and hosting banquets for foreign dignitaries.
The MEA spokesperson’s comments came on a day Pakistan asserted that the Jinnah House belonged to it and any attempt by India to take the building under its control will not be accepted.
WHAT IS JINNAH HOUSE?
Jinnah House was the residence of Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah in Malabar Hill of south Mumbai. It was originally named as South Court.
The Jinnah House was built by Jinnah in 1936 after he returned from England and as he took complete control over the Muslim League, which later demanded a separate country for Muslims in the form of Pakistan.
Jinnah House is a European-style architecture designed by Claude Batley – the former head of Indian Institute of Architects. Trained masons from Italy were brought to India especially for the construction of the Jinnah House.
Jinnah is said to have built the palatial bungalow at an exorbitant cost of Rs 2,00,000. To understand the cost perspective, it would be interesting to know that in 1947, when India got Independence, Re 1 was equivalent to USD 1.
It is spread over 2.5 acres of land. The bungalow is sea facing. Exquisite Italian marble and walnut woodwork was used in the construction of the Jinnah House. But, today many walls of the Jinnah House are moss-covered.
BITTER HISTORY WAS CREATED HERE
The Jinnah House was the centre of Muslim Leagues agitation for Pakistan. Its leaders discussed strategies as to how to tackle the Congress and convince the British that Muslims constituted a separate nation.
It was at the Jinnah House that Mahatma Gandhi and Muhammad Ali Jinnah held what is often termed as ‘watershed talks on the partition of India’ in September 1944.
On August 15 in 1946 – exactly a year ahead of Partition and Independence – Jinnah held another round of talks about creation of Pakistan with the premier Congress leader Jawaharlal Nehru.
After Partition, Jinnah went to Pakistan but expressed his wish to spend his last days at Jinnah House in Mumbai.
WHAT HAPPENED AFTER PARTITION
After Independence, Pandit Nehru did not want to declare Jinnah House an enemy’s property. It is said that Nehru wanted to return the Jinnah House to Mohammad Ali Jinnah or rent it out to some European with the consent of Jinnah.
But, sudden demise of Jinnah a year later in 1948, Nehru could not take a final call on the Jinnah House.
Finally, the Jinnah House was declared an evacuee property in 1949 and the government of India took control of the building.
It was allotted to the British High Commission, which operated from Jinnah House till 1981, when they moved out. After British High Commission shifted out, Pakistan petitioned the government of India to let it use Jinnah House as its Consulate.
LITIGATION OVER JINNAH HOUSE
Three years after building the Jinnah House, Mohammad Ali Jinnah wrote his will making his unmarried sister Fatima Jinnah the lone inheritor of his properties including this sprawling bungalow.
At the time of Partition, Fatima Jinnah moved to Pakistan. Later in 1962, Fatima obtained a certificate of succession from the Bombay High Court. But, this was before the Enemy Property Act, 1968 was legislated.
Currently, Jinnah’s only daughter Dina Wadia – who married an Indian and settled in India – is engaged in a legal battle with the government of India.
Dina Wadia claimed that Hindu inheritance law applied in Jinnah’s property case as mere two generations ago Jinnahs were Hindus. Jinnah’s mother was Mithubai and his wife’s name was Ratanbai. Jinnah was Khoja Shia Muslim.
WHO OWNS JINNAH HOUSE?
The Ministry of External Affairs rejected Dina Wadia’s claim as the legal heir of Jinnah’s properties including the Jinnah House.
The Ministry of External Affairs told the Bombay High Court that Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s will of 1939 settles the issue of inheritance in the family. Jinnah House belonged to Fatima Jinnah, the MEA said.
But as Fatima Jinnah moved to Pakistan, the Jinnah House came under the control of the Custodian of Enemy Property which comes under the government of India.
The ambiguity on the enemy’s property rights continued till 2005, when the Supreme Court ruled the Custodian of Enemy Property was only a trustee while the enemy was the owner.
This changed in 2016, when the Narendra Modi government brought an Ordinance and followed it up with four more. While the first four Ordinances lapsed, the last one was replaced by the Enemy Property (Amendment) Act, 1968 passed by Parliament in the ongoing Budget session.
The amended law makes the Centre the owner of enemy property. Now, the Jinnah House is the property of the central government.