| The plaque
London, Dec. 22: Who would Pakistan prefer as the owner of Jinnah House: An Indian or a Jew'
The Pakistan government is showing little interest in buying a 14-room house in London where the nation’s founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, had rented a room in 1895 when he was a 19-year-old law student.
An unnamed “Indian property developer” and “a Jewish businessman” are the only bidders for the house, for which offers “in excess” of £1.4 million were sought, said Khalid Hassan, a representative of the US-based owner, Ahmad Asrar.
That Jinnah lived in the property at 35, Russell Road, “10 minutes walk from Kensington Palace”, is demonstrated by a blue plaque which was erected on the outside wall by London County Council.
Hassan expressed deep regret that the Pakistani response to a “unique” building of such historical interest had been, at best, lukewarm.
Ironically, the Indians could legitimately claim an interest in the property. When Jinnah was training to be a barrister in London, there was no more passionate supporter of Hindu-Muslim unity in an undivided India. He converted to the idea of a separate homeland for India’s Muslims many years later.
Partition is also in the minds of the prospective buyers of the London property. They apparently want to split the house into bedsitters.
Hassan said the property had been advertised for sale in the Daily Jang, a Pakistani newspaper in London, on August 14, 15 and 29. “It is our setback that neither the Pakistani government nor the Pakistani community has come forward to purchase the property,” he lamented.
Pakistani sources indicated, however, that the Pakistani high commission felt the property was overpriced. A senior Pakistani foreign ministry official, who visited London, allegedly told Pakistani journalists: “Jinnah may have lived in 20 houses in London but that does not mean we have to buy 20 houses.”
This produced an angry response from Hassan, who retorted: “There aren’t 20 houses with blue plaques — there is only one.”
A blue plaque confirms the historical authenticity of the building. Since it is listed, it cannot be altered — turned into flats or bedsitters, for example — without the approval of the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, the local authority in this instance.
It is difficult to explain why the property, which is called “MA Jinnah House”, has not fired the imagination of the Pakistani government. The blue plaque does record: “Quaid i Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah 1876-1948 founder of Pakistan stayed here in 1895”.
Although the controversy has surfaced anew, the saga has been going on for many years.
Several well-informed Pakistani journalists said the property was acquired in 1989 by Javed Khan, a Pakistani businessman. Six years ago, the Pakistan high commission in London was approached and encouraged to buy the place but was reluctant to do so.
Khan refurbished the building and held a function after which the property was formally called Jinnah House. It is said Khan sold the house about four years ago for £500,000 and returned to Pakistan.
Pakistani journalists say that the house is in a rundown residential area of London and disagree with Hassan’s description that it is situated in a prime locality, within 10 minutes of the Commonwealth Institute, the Kensington Olympia Exhibition, High Street Kensington underground and Holland Park underground stations.
Hassan’s version is that Javed Khan did not actually sell the property to Ahmed Asrar, who was a relative, but had merely transferred ownership on paper.
Hassan disclosed: “The owner has put this Quaid’s monument in the open market and he is in the process of negotiation with an interested party who is a property developer and a non-Pakistani. Although this decision of the owner is very painful for himself but the government of Pakistan did not leave any alternative but to accept this existing offer.”
He wanted the circumstances of the sale, through a property company called Al Hamad, to be brought to “the knowledge of the government and the people of Pakistan”.
Hassan claimed that the Pakistani government “wants the property to be donated to the high commissioner but the owner cannot do that because he has commitments”.