Wednesday, August 19, 2009


A couple of days back, Abhishek Manu Singhvi of the Congress had referred to the BJP as the Bharatiya Jinnah Party. Today, the BJP attempted to exorcise the ghost of MA Jinnah that LK Advani had brought along with him from Karachi in 2005, by expelling veteran leader Jaswant Singh from the party. The swift move, that has surprised everyone, is a stark reminder that the many wounds created by the violent Partition of India still hurt, and hurt deep.

I don't know how many have already read Jaswant Singh's 600 page biography of Jinnah, Jinnah India-Partition Independence, released on August 17, 2009 and whether anyone has written a book review. In any case, in the coming days and months, what he has written after a great deal of research spread over five years, will undoubtedly be dissected from every possible angle, and there will be extreme reactions too. For the last six decades, Indians have accepted as the whole truth the view that Jinnah was an extremely unreasonable man who used violence and the threat of it to force the division of India on a communal basis.

This demonised image of Jinnah has stood out even more jarringly in India because of the almost saintly persona of Mahatma Gandhi who practiced and took the concept of non-violence to a new level altogether. Gandhi wanted Hindus and Muslims to live together in harmony and mutual respect. But it was Jinnah, the villain, who did not allow that to happen. That is what Indians believe. In Pakistan, the part of India that Jinnah took with him literally by force, on the other hand, he is eulogised as the saviour of India's Muslims from Hindu domination. The way Pakistan has shaped since 1947 into a Hindu-hating entity - as can be seen from the history that is being taught to its children in schools - has only helped to make extremely difficult any objective assessment of Jinnah's personality and role before Partition, on both sides of the border.

Above all, the fact that India has been ruled by the Congress for most of the 62 years that have passed since Independence, has ensured that India continues to see Jinnah as no more than a hyper ambitious individual who unleashed the ugly communal demon that burnt and divided India. This has happened primarily because India has been systematically made to see Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru as the great secular visionary who had the interests of Muslims uppermost in his mind, and who laid the foundations of modern India.

Thus, while in Pakistan Jinnah's image is distorted by the thick lens of religion that Pakistan has chosen to increasingly see itself through, in India Nehru's image has been carefully cropped by scissors guided by his descendants who have ruled India for long. As a result, over time, in their respective countries, Jinnah and Nehru have become the faultless leaders that they never were. Their ugly warts have been hidden and lie forgotten.

Jaswant Singh has apparently uncovered some Indian warts. From what one has gathered till now, he has dispassionately tried to look at the role of Jinnah in India's freedom struggle. In 1916, Gopal Krishna Gokhale had praised Jinnah and called him an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. Thirty years later, the same man became the Qaid-e-Azam of Pakistan. No one will disagree that this transformation was remarkable. No one will also suspend elementary commonsense to say that such a total turnaround in outlook could have taken place without there being very strong environmental factors that would have, at least in Jinnah's perception, left him with no choice.

The questions that have manifestly been addressed in detail by Jaswant Singh are: what were the developments and who were the personalities that forced Jinnah to give physical shape to an idea that he wanted to use only as a bargaining tool to get a greater share of power for Muslims in India?

Jaswant Singh says that he has come to the conclusion that it was partly Nehru's intransigence and his vision of a centralised India that forced Jinnah to take the Partition route. The Congress party, not surprisingly, cannot accept a reading of history that shows Nehru as being responsible for Partition in any manner. It is goes without saying that any favourable hue that Jinnah gets has to be largely at Nehru's expense. For the BJP and the RSS, on the other hand, Jinnah, the man who divided India, cannot be the subject of any re-examination that even remotely justifies what he did to this country, even if some blame falls on Nehru. For them, the issue is foundational and ideological. Praise in any manner is, therefore, unthinkable, as Advani had earlier found out.

Where does that leave Jaswant Singh? The Congress has, not surprisingly, welcomed the BJP's swift decision to expel him from the party. In Pakistan, there is some joy and relief at the unexpected manner in which their founder has been portrayed by an Indian, and that too a politician belonging to a right wing Hindu party. That icing on the cake will ensure that Jaswant Singh's political career is terminated abruptly.

Jinnah has claimed Jaswant, as he had to. BJP's Hanuman has become Ravan.

But this debate is not going to die here. And should not. Whether Jaswant is right or not is not important. What is more important is that as a nation we must have the courage to accept and face history honestly, warts included. Non-acceptance of any praise for Jinnah and criticism of Nehru is as bad as the ignoring and/or denying of earlier developments and incidents in our history books on specious grounds. A society cannot claim to be liberal and free if it tries to distort and cleanse its history in any manner, for any political, social or ideological reasons. Unfortunately, after Independence, India has done that.

On hopes that Jaswant Singh's courageous, even if flawed, effort spurs India to take a holistic re-look at not just its modern history, but its medieval and ancient history too. India deserves it.
Readers may also read: Does India need "federalism" like Jinnah wanted?