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Making Sense of Jinnah Today : From EPW



Making Sense of Jinnah Today

It is high time we moved beyond seeing Partition largely along lines of religious affiliation with clear villains.


Jaswant Singh, former foreign minister of India and a long time leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, has been summarily expelled from his party for writing a book on Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence, Rupa & Co, New Delhi, 2009), the founder of Pakistan. In this book, Singh appears to have argued that the intransigence of Congress leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel practically forced Jinnah to demand Partition of Britishruled India and the creation of a sovereign Pakistan. Singh terms him the leader of Muslims in undivided India and apparently argues that Jinnah was merely trying to protect his constituency from a Hindu majoritarian democracy. Apart from the extraordinary irony of such a statement coming from a senior leader of the very party which has aggressively pushed the Hindu majoritarian agenda, such a position also goes against a widespread national consensus over the historical assessment of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and his role in the creation of Pakistan. Whatever the other political and academic differences among the entire spectrum from the far left to the far right, Jinnah has been the universal villain of Partition in independent India’s historiography. While there may be substantial differences of opinion over the role of the Congress as a party and of individual Congress leaders in contributing to the Partition of the country, there has been unanimity over the destructive political role of Jinnah, especially in the last decade of British rule. Therefore, it is quite surprising and unexpected that the revision of this position has come, not once but twice in quick historical time, from political figures placed firmly in the far right of the Indian spectrum. In 2005, L K Advani had taken initial steps towards a similar reassessment of Jinnah. His comments calling Jinnah secular and praising his historical role could be explained away in two ways. One was the obvious, and perhaps superficial, explanation that he was being polite to his Pakistani hosts. But as the EPW columnist GPD wrote at that time, Advani calling Jinnah secular was merely a reflection of V D Savarkar’s Hindutva ideology, which claimed that once Hindus captured state power, they would treat the minorities with generosity. Jinnah, once he had acquired his Muslim state, was merely doing that by speaking of minority rights. It is instructive that these remained mere words in Pakistan and suggest that there was no contradiction in Advani applauding Jinnah, since he wanted India to be a similar polity. At most, Advani could be accused of making a tactical mistake but did not renounce any foundational idea of Hindutva. This was perhaps the reason why Advani got off with a mere rap on the knuckles. Jaswant Singh, it appears, forwards an argument which is a break from the Hindutva position. He suggests that Muslims were right to fear domination and discrimination in a Hindu majority India with universal suffrage and to demand special protections or rights. Further, he accuses Congress leaders, including Sardar Patel, of being complicit in the Partition. Therefore, it should have come as no surprise to anyone, least of all to a Hindutva veteran like Jaswant Singh that his party reacted with the fury it did. Jaswant Singh’s arguments are not novel. It is a well argued, and equally well contested, position in Indian historiography that, by the 1940s, Jinnah had emerged as the sole spokesman of the Muslims and that it was Nehru and Patel’s “intransigence” over devolution of powers from the union to the federating units, as well as their inability to accept checks on the absolute power of
the centre which pushed Jinnah to ask for a sovereign Pakistan. The controversy over Jaswant Singh’s book points to a little noticed dissonance in the way Jinnah’s legacy is seen in India and Pakistan. Unlike in India, where Jinnah remains universallyderided for entrenching communalism in the subcontinent, in Pakistan Jinnah’s legacy is the biggest political asset for the
liberal and left political forces to fight the fundamentalists. The very words promising political rights to the minorities, which form part of Jinnah’s speech to Pakistan’s constituent assembly in August 1947 and which were quoted by Advani and Jaswant Singh in his praise, are used by those in present day Pakistan who want to push back the fundamentalist forces and work for
a democratic state and tolerant society there. It is not Jinnah’s earlier record of working for Hindu-Muslim unity but rather, his post independence avatar which is the preferred political asset for secularism and liberal democracy in Pakistan today. The same person’s legacy serves diametrically opposite political purposes in the two successor states of British India. In India he is a symbol of right reaction, while in Pakistan he is the bulwark for the present day Left. What does this dissonance imply? The easy answer is that political conditions are so starkly different in India and Pakistan that a stable constitutional majoritarian democracy would be an advance in Pakistan while it would be a political regression in India. But there is something more troubling that this dissonance points to. Even 62 years after the traumatic events of Partition the two successor states of British India have not been able to encourage a historiography and national memory which does not demonise and vilify the founding fathers of the other. This surely does not help either of the two countries to move on and build more secure relations; rather it helps entrench the deep distrust that the national publics of the two countries have for each other. While there cannot be any denial of Jinnah’s crucial role in asking for division, it surely should be possible to move beyond the monochromatic visions of Partition seen largely along lines of religious affiliation with clear villains. Jinnah, Nehru, Patel or even Gandhi, were not merely representing religious or national interests. Rather, as any social scientist would aver, class, caste and a variety of other interests played an equally crucial role. Not only academic rigour but the pressing political needs of building peace in the subcontinent call for a renewed public debate on Partition.

1 comments:

Suhas Shivanna said...

A pivotal insight to the issue..

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