A file picture of Jinnah House.
Jinnah House was the residence of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan; in Mumbai, India. It was built in 1936 at a then exorbitant price of 2 lakh (200,000) rupees when Jinnah returned to Mumbai from England to take charge of the Muslim League. Now worth around $400 Million the house is the subject of a dispute between India, the government of Pakistan and Jinnah’s daughter. The bungalow is located on Mount Pleasant Road (now Bhausaheb Hirey Marg) in the upmarket Malabar Hill area of South Mumbai. Its opposite neighbour is the residence of the Chief Minister of Maharashtra.
Designed by architect Claude Batley in the European-style architecture, the sea facing palatial bungalow is constructed using exquisite Italian marble and walnut woodwork. Specially imported Italian stone masons were employed for its construction with Jinnah personally supervising the construction “brick by brick”. The property encompasses an area of 10,000 square metres (2.5 acres). The mansion, with its pointed arches and impressive columns, is currently in a dilapidated state, and much of the walnut panelling has rotted.
The historic building was also the venue for the watershed talks on the Partition of India in September 1944 between Jinnah and MK Gandhi. Ironically on 15th August 1946, exactly a year before India gained independence, another round of talks was held here between Jinnah and Jawaharlal Nehru which altered the course of Indian history.
Jinnah was extremely attached to his house. After India was partitioned, Mumbai remained in India and Jinnah left his abode as he became the Governor General of Pakistan. He requested to Nehru, the then Indian Prime Minister to allot his house to any foreign consulate, preferably European, as he wished it to be given to a European family who would appreciate the architecture. Nehru acceded to Jinnah’s request and offered him a monthly rent of three thousand rupees. Unfortunately Jinnah died in September 1948 before the deal could be finalised.
As a personal favour to Jinnah, Nehru did not declare the property as Enemy Property, as was done to most properties held by emigrants to Pakistan. In 1955, in a Cabinet speech he suggested it be gifted to the Government of Pakistan, but could not gain the sanction of the Cabinet. Though India’s Foreign minister and the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan suggested that the mansion be handed over to Pakistan in 1956, the suggestion never materialised.
The premises were leased to the British High Commission as the residence of the Deputy High Commissioner from 1948 to 1983. The first floor of the building also held the offices of senior Commission officials. It remained vacant until 2003, when a part of it was given to the Indian Council for Cultural Relations to be used for cultural activities. In March 2005, India’s Minister of State for External Affairs, E Ahemad reiterated that the house would remain as a cultural centre.
Pakistan had since 1979 requested that India sell the property, or at least lease it to its government as a tribute to its founder in order to convert it into their Consulate. Though Narasimha Rao, India’s foreign minister in 1980, agreed in principle to lease Jinnah House as the residence of local Consulate-General of Pakistan, the plan was never realised.
During his visit to India, President Pervez Musharraf had renewed Pakistan’s claim to the house. The President had suggested to the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee that it should be given to Pakistan so that it could be turned into a consulate. Talks in June 2004 between the foreign ministers of the two countries over the land resulted did not gain any guarantees from India.
In May 2005 Pakistan High Commission officials were shown around various properties in Mumbai and its suburbs for the setting up of its consulate but not the Jinnah House. Indian government sources say that the claim by the Jinnah’s heirs will be treated “sympathetically”, and have no intention of handing it to Pakistan.