Yet another longstanding India-Pakistan dispute has surfaced again — the fate of the Jinnah House in Mumbai. Recently, Mangal Prabhat Lodha, a Bharatiya Janata Party MLA from Maharashtra demanded that the former residence of the founder of Pakistan be demolished.
Coincidentally, the MLA is also a well known and 'powerful' Mumbai builder.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has predictably responded by saying that they are not okay with Lodha's suggestion. Pakistan foreign office spokesman Nafees Zakaria said that the property belonged to Pakistan's founding father, and that "ownership rights" must be respected.
The Jinnah House was built in 1936 on 2.5 acres of land and is estimated to be worth about $400 million today.
The sprawling mansion, formally known as 'South Court' was the main residence of Pakistan's founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah until he left for Karachi following the Partition.
It is historic for several reasons. This is where talks between Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi on the partition of India reached a turning point in September 1944. On 15 August 1946, exactly a year before India gained independence, another round of talks were held between Jinnah and Jawaharlal Nehru here.
Jinnah was extremely attached to his house. When he became the Governor General of Pakistan, he reportedly requested Prime Minister Nehru to allot his house to any foreign consulate. Nehru offered him a monthly rent of ₹3,000 but the deal couldn't be finalised.
Jinnah died in September 1948, and between 1948 and 1983, the house was leased to the British High Commission as the residence of the Deputy High Commissioner. In 1983, the Indian government demanded that the house to be returned to it. Since then, Pakistan has repeatedly, though unsuccessfully, requested India either to sell or lease the house to its government for use as a consular office.
Explaining why the historic house should be demolished, Lodha said, "The Jinnah residence in south Mumbai was the place from where the conspiracy of Partition was hatched. Jinnah House is a symbol of the Partition." He said that a lot of money is wasted in maintaining the European-style seafront bungalow which was constructed in the late 1930s.
Lodha called it "enemy property".
However, the BJP MLA was wrong in labelling it thus because the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2016, passed by the parliament the same year, empowers the government to seize properties left behind by those who migrated to Pakistan or China after wars. Since Jinnah did not leave India in the aftermath of a war, the law does not apply to Jinnah House yet.
An article in Quint notes how Jinnah wanted to retire in India, despite the Partition, and live in his old house.
"I tell you that I still consider myself to be an Indian. For the moment, I have accepted the Governor-Generalship of Pakistan. But I am looking forward to a time when I would return to India and take my place as a citizen of my country," Jinnah said in his address to the All India Muslim League Council meeting in Karachi in December 1947.
Meanwhile, there's another party who wants the house. Jinnah's daughter Dina Wadia, an Indian citizen, is engaged in a legal battle with India over the property. In her petition before the court she has stated that she wishes to spend her remaining years in the house in Mumbai where she was born and where she spent her childhood years.
With so many claimants, the government finds itself in a quandary.
Speaking with the NDTV television news channel, Supreme Court lawyer Anand Grover suggested a way out. "The government may well apply the Enemy Property Act to the Jinnah House, as it can be applied retroactively." This would offer a way out for the government to legally dispose of the house as it would wish to.
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