Thursday, August 20, 2009




    The expulsion from BJP of Jaswant Singh for authoring the controversial book 'Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence' was unfortunate, and yet understandable, even inevitable. Mr Singh's continuation in the BJP had become untenable after the sales promotion campaign of the book in which he was seen to be extolling the 'virtues' – self-made man, secular etc – of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the creator of Pakistan and the man widely held responsible in India for the Partition and its horrendous fallout.

The BJP might even have been ignored someone praising Jinnah, but there was no way that the party could forgive Mr Singh for committing the cardinal sin of blaming titans like Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel for not accommodating Jinnah's political demands, thereby pushing India towards partition. This amounted to cutting at the ideological roots of the party, and no one was going to buy Mr Singh's claim that this was only his personal opinion and had nothing to do with the party. Already being disparaged as the 'Bharatiya Jinnah Party', the BJP was finding it impossible to distance itself from Mr Singh's 'personal opinion', much less live down the ridicule that was being heaped on it by its political opponents. Any other party in the same position would have reacted similarly – remember the treatment meted out to Mohit Sen by the CPM or the intolerance that the Congress has shown towards anyone in its ranks who questioned its icons.

In all fairness to him, Mr Singh's tragedy is that his detractors have pronounced their judgement without having taken the trouble of reading the book. Perhaps even if they had read the book, they would have failed to understand the fine nuances in the book that effectively rubbish Jinnah's achievement in creating Pakistan. In all likelihood, therefore, their reaction would have been no different had they read the book, but at least then the debate around Mr Singh's controversial assertions would have been more well-informed, maybe even enlightening. Although the book indulges in a sort of revisionism that many in India will find objectionable, Mr Singh to a large extent makes amends in the concluding chapter of his book, where he provides a lot of food for thought for anyone on both sides of the great India-Pakistan divide who cares to think about the events and attitudes that led to Partition.

The storm unleashed by the book, however, centres primarily around two major issues. The first is the person of Jinnah and Mr Singh's admiration of him. The second is Jinnah's politics and the justification, or should we say, alibi that Mr Singh tries to provide for it.

Jinnah was without doubt an exceptional man. His doggedness, his legal brilliance, his financial propriety, his sartorial elegance, his self-confidence (he once quipped "What is the Muslim league except me and my stenographer"), was all the stuff of legends. But Mr Singh's attraction to the personality of Jinnah merely on the grounds that he was a 'self-made man' is somewhat strange, if not specious. This is akin to someone admiring Dawood Ibrahim, who is not only a self-made man, but is (or was) quite secular both in his personal habits as well as in his profession.

That Jinnah was secular in his personal life is a well established fact. But drinking whisky, eating pork, or having friends belonging to another community is a rather spurious definition of secularism, particularly in the context of someone who in his public life espouses a cause which is totally sectarian and communal. Ultimately, secular is what secular does, and the political platform that Jinnah adopted raises the question of whether Jinnah was secularly communal or communally secular. It can be argued that despite running a virulently communal campaign for Pakistan, Jinnah did not want a theocratic state. But a denominational state, which is what Pakistan has become, was always going to be the logical culmination of forces that Jinnah had unleashed in his tussle with the Indian National Congress.

Perhaps there was a time – 1916 and the Lucknow pact – when Jinnah was an 'Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity'. But two decades later – 1937 onwards – it was a very different Jinnah. Either for reasons of personal ego and political self-aggrandisement, or as a spoiler working at the behest of the British Raj (see Wali Khan's Facts are Facts) or even as a born-again Muslim, Jinnah had become the standard-bearer of the pernicious 'Two-Nation theory' that sought to divide, rather than unite, the two communities. From this point on, instead of building bridges between the communities, he was only interested in advocating, articulating and securing the interests of a single community, if possible within a loosely structured Indian federation, otherwise as a separate state.

The imperial interests of the British, coupled with Jinnah's relentless advocacy of his case for Pakistan, had made partition inevitable. The communal genie that was let out of the bottle could never have been put back in and had partition been avoided in 1947, it would have taken place 10, 20 or maybe even 50 years later. In the circumstances that prevailed at that time, the decision taken by Nehru and Patel was unexceptionable. Short of giving in to Jinnah's blackmail, Nehru and Patel tried everything possible to prevent Partition, but failed.

To talk today of the Cabinet Mission plan as a possible way of avoiding Partition is to close one's eyes to the reality of those times. The Cabinet Mission plan was never going to work. By the time this plan was proposed, the poison of communalism and separatism had seeped far too deep in the psyche of the Muslims of India for them to be amenable to anything short of Pakistan. It was then not so much a question of addressing the self-created and self-serving insecurities of the Muslim community as it was about the future stability and functionality of the newly independent state. Had the Cabinet Mission plan been accepted, it would have created 50 Pakistan's. Nehru and Patel were absolutely correct in rooting for a strong centre over a loosely structured federation, even if this meant conceding Pakistan. That they were right and Jinnah was wrong is evident from the fact that Pakistan too has rejected the sort of federal structure that Jinnah had insisted upon as the price to be paid for keeping India united.

The tragedy is not so much that India was partitioned. After all, states have been formed, reformed, deformed, and unformed throughout the history of the subcontinent. In this sense the Partition is nothing out of the ordinary. But the religious cleansing and mass murder and migration that followed the Partition has probably no parallel in the history of the subcontinent. Nor for that matter is there any historical precedent in the subcontinent of borders being sealed for citizens of different states that have existed from time to time. But maybe the bitterness and hatred that Jinnah's politics had created, and which was nurtured by successive rulers of Pakistan, made hostility between India and Pakistan inevitable.

The question now is whether the peoples of the subcontinent can put behind them a very painful chapter of their history. Mistakes and miscalculations were made on all sides, sometimes out of pettiness, at other times because of hubris, and often in response to a situation over which they had little control. While we can endlessly quibble and quarrel over what happened, why it happened, who was responsible etc, there is a need to look towards the future. The choice before the three states that emerged out of the erstwhile British India is simple: they can either continue to stay in conflict; or else they can start to accept the reality of each other and try and forge areas of cooperation in order to improve the lives of their citizens. This, in the ultimate analysis, is the message of the book that Jaswant Singh has written, a message that has unfortunately got drowned in the din surrounding the book.


    <1330 Words>                    20th August, 2009



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