Grappling with Jaswants Jinnah

Written by Saeed Naqvi | Updated: Aug 31 2009, 02:01am hrs
Lord Denis Healey, the best Prime Minister Britain never had, told me a story some years ago, which might be of interest now that the country is in a scrum reevaluating Jinnah.

During a general election in the first quarter of the 20th century (Healeys memory is hazy on the exact date), a short list of three Labour Party candidates from South Leeds contained a surprising name: M A Jinnah.

Healey peered through his bushy eyebrows and asked, dont you think Indian history would have been different if Jinnah got the Labour ticket and won

Healeys question is another one of those what-might-have-been quantities in sub continental history.

The hullabaloo that has followed publication of Jaswant Singhs book is, quite honestly, because Jaswant happens to be a senior BJP leader who praised Jinnah.

As far as the Sangh Parivar is concerned any appraisal of Jinnah was a settled issue: Our (Sangh) appraisal versus their (secularists) appraisal. What Jaswants book has done is to upset this Us vs Them status quo.

This kind of deviation was first attempted by LK Advani himself when, during a visti to Pakistan, he praised Jinnahs August 11, 1947 address to the Constituent Assembly in Karachi in which Jinnah spoke with clarity of his vision of a secular Pakistan. The entire Sangh Parivar, led by the RSS, pounced upon Advani. Even Congress leaders did not spare him. This despite the fact that Advani returned with a huge sweetener to soften Hindu sentiments. This was a commitment by President Musharraf to restore the ancient Katasraj temple site. Temple or no temple, Advani must recant. Advani lost nerve and backed off.

Jaswant has not been asked to recant as Advani was. He has been summarily sacked. What were the reasons for Jaswant having been treated in this fashion

The book was released on the eve of the BJPs Chintan Baithak (brainstorming session) in Shimla. The session itself took place when the party was in terminal decline after the Lok Sabha debacle.

In any event the party was in no mood to allow Jaswant to cock-a-snook at the galaxy gathered in Shimla. Instead, someone had a brainwave: Turn the tables on Jaswant and extract political mileage. Precipitate action against Jaswant (What Arun Shourie in another context calls Jhatka), would deflect attention from all the guilty men responsible for the partys downhill acceleration. It would delay the ignominious departure of leaders who are so mesmerised by their own presence on the wobbly political stage that they have forgotten their exits.

Take precipitate action on what count After all, even assuming that all those sunk in deep thought in Shimla do read books, how on earth do they claim to have read a 700 page tome overnight

Was it media initiative or the publishers imaginative marketing strategy, that bits from Jaswants pre launch interview to a channel were splashed across the front pages of newspapers the next morning There was enough material here for the Chintan Baithak to go into convulsions about. The Sangh Parviars villain, Jinnah, had been cast as a hero; their hero, Sardar Patel, had been shown as being complicit in partition. But what really drove them to distraction was something else:

Woh baat saare fasaneymein jiska zikr na tha Woh baat unko bahut nagawar guzri hai! (The fact which was not even there in the narrative is precisely the one that has hurt them the most.)

For full 50 years the Sangh Parviar has persisted with its chant of Muslim appeasement. And here, one of their top leaders talks of Muslim pain, the Sachar Committee, the fact that the guilt of partition was heaped on Muslims when Hindus took a lead in the tragedy.

This reversal of 50 years of assiduously sustained propaganda is what jolted those assembled in Shimla. When BJP leaders charged Jaswant of denigrating the partys core ideology, this is the pain they were giving vent to. Jaswant is simply teasing the Parivar spokesmen when he asks with feigned innocence: What is so core about Sardar Patel

Patel united the country, they scream in chorus. But Patel seconded the resolution moved by Jawaharlal Nehru for the countrys partition at the crucial Congress Working Committee meeting, retorts Jaswant.

It is conceivable that the Parivar has made an admission herethat Sardar Patel integrated the 600 odd princely states, including Hyderabad, into the Indian Union and it is on this count that they consider him the nations unifier. Ostrich like, they have simply buried their heads in the sand on Patels established complicity in partition.

Of course, there were petty reasons too for the party to expel Jaswant. Narendra Modi was quaking because the alleged criticism of Sardar Patel would affect his Patel votes in the coming by elections in Gujarat. By way of bonus, some juice may well be extracted from the controversy in the Maharashtra elections.

By one courageous act of having written a straightforward book on partition in which Jinnah is cast as a man of honour, Jaswant has thrown a huge boulder in the pond. The waves are affecting the Congress too.

The Parivar has rushed to protect Sardar Patel. Does the Congress watch this appropriation of one of their icons by the RSS-BJP combine in silence Or do they go out beating their breasts (as they appear to be doing in Gujarat) to the accompaniment of a chant: Sardar Patel is ours! Sardar Patel is ours!

In this public reacquisition of Sardar Patel, do they completely ignore Nehru But if they bring Nehru into the discourse, what do they say

That it was he who moved the partition resolution at the crucial CWC

In his book, India Wins Freedom, Maulana Azad, Congress President from 1939 to 1946, blames Nehru and Patel squarely for partition. Jaswant quotes him.

In brief, Maulana Azad and Badshah Khan, two Muslim members of the CWC are fiercely opposed to partition. Now Jaswant reinforces the uncomfortable reality that Jinnah, another Muslim, was pushed into a corner only by the Congress leaders.

Why is this reality so disturbing for most of us It is disturbing because the basic perception that has sunk into the Hindu psyche over the past 62 years is that Muslims divided the country and also stayed on. It is just the sort of turf on which communalists pitch their tent.

Jaswants is a laudable effort. A pity he has not had access to Mushtaq Naqvis remarkable and much neglected book Partition: The Real Story. The following data from Mushtaqs book would have strengthened his argument:

During the 1945-46 elections in UP, the total electorate was only 10.2% of the Provinces Muslims. Of these only 52% of the electorate voted. In other words, nearly 5% of the total electorate. The Muslim League won only 37.3% of the total electorate.

UP was the epicenter of the Muslim League activity. If the returns of UP are superimposed on the rest of the country we end up with the startling truth that only three out of hundred Muslims wanted Pakistan.

How then did partition happen

Well done, Jaswant, for having opened up this debate. But who has the stamina or even the minimal interest to sustain the debate

And now that Jaswant is all set to visit Pakistan with his book after Ramadan, let us await reactions there. Some will find Jaswants book heartwarming. But there are also those in the post Zia ul Haq establishment who will find Jinnahs lukewarm approach to Islamism an affront.

The reviewer is a political analyst