October 14, 2008 11:45:02 pm
In the dispute over the palatial Jinnah House in south Mumbai, Dina Wadia, the only daughter of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, has stated before the Bombay High Court that her father is not governed by Islamic succession laws, but by Hindu customary law instead.
The building in question, blessed not only with history but also location — facing the sea from the posh Malabar Hill — is currently valued at Rs 300 crore.
In 1947, when Jinnah left India for Pakistan, the Government had taken it over as “evacuee property”. However, Dina had remained behind in Mumbai, having been disowned by Jinnah. Now 88 years old, she lives in the United States. After a series of legal moves, Dina Wadia filed a writ petition before the Mumbai High Court in 2007, claiming that Jinnah House could not be classified as “evacuee property”, as her father had died without leaving behind a will. So, she went on to claim, all his properties, including Jinnah House, devolved to his successors.
The trouble was that under Muslim succession law, Jinnah’s property would devolve to a long list of family claimants, only one of which was his daughter. This meant that even if Jinnah House was not “evacuee property”, Dina Wadia would have to share Jinnah House with other relatives of her father.
To overcome this, her lawyer Fali Nariman has stated in court that Jinnah, as a Khoja-Shia, was not governed by Muslim succession law, but by Hindu customary law — in which intestate succession is to the daughter alone. To establish this, Nariman has relied on a long line of cases where the Indian Supreme Court has held that Khoja-Shias are governed by Hindu customary law. Khoja-Shias, like many Muslim communities in India, have traditions that are a mix of Islamic and Hindu rituals.
However, given the complicated legal issues involved in the case, what has taken a backseat is this most interesting aspect of the case: the claim by Jinnah’s only daughter that the man who forged Pakistan claiming to be the representative of India’s Muslims be governed by Hindu, not Islamic, laws.
The Government, led by Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Gopal Subramaniam, has countered Dina Wadia’s argument by alleging that Jinnah did not die intestate, but had willed Jinnah House to his sister Fatima. Since Fatima also left India for Pakistan in 1947, ASG Subramanian contends that Jinnah House is rightly classified as “evacuee property”, and now belongs to the Government.
Nariman has countered this by arguing that since the will — even if genuine — is not probated, it is not admissible in court. Some other relatives of Fatima have joined the melee, claiming that as per the will, Jinnah House devolves to the heirs of Fatima Jinnah — them.
To further add to the confusion, some within the previous NDA cabinet sided with Dina Wadia, and had informally agreed to give Jinnah House to her on a life-long lease. Former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh says this in a personal affidavit to the court.
While he admitted on August 29 that many within the NDA Government favoured giving Jinnah House to Dina, ASG Subramaniam claims that then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s final decision was that it remain with the Government.
Adding another twist to the tale, Nusli Wadia — Dina’s son and Jinnah’s grandson — filed a petition with the Central Information Commission (CIC) in December 2007, demanding the release of former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee’s two legal opinions, in which he reportedly sided with the Wadias. In early October, the CIC ruled that the two opinions be made public. The Court has scheduled the next hearing for October 24.
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