Could Mahatama Gandhi and Mohammed Ali Jinnah have had established a legal partnership in South Africa, 50 years before Indian and Pakistan were formed?
Yes, it could have been possible, according to noted historian and author Ramachandra Guha who made the deduction on the basis of available literature and archival records.
"A logbook at Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad maintains the record of letters sent to Gandhi between the years 1895-97. In this logbook, there are two letters from a certain M A Jinnah, and they are dated 21 January and 23 March, 1897," Guha said.
The historian launched "Gandhi Before India," the first book of his two-volume biography of Mahatma Gandhi, published by Penguin India here on late Tuesday evening.
While the contents of the letter are not available, Guha says he pieced together "this curious information," based on
existing documents in the public domain.
Jinnah's return from London in 1897, his visit to hometown Karachi and his struggles in Bombay to establish himself as a lawyer are facts well established.
Also documented are Gandhi's correspondences with the lawyer Kalihar Khan, based in India from where Bapu wanted to get an Indian lawyer to assist him, as well as his letters with a Durban merchant Parsee Rustomjee in South Africa.
"Jinnah was a briefless lawyer in Bombay in 1897. Gandhi had been a briefless lawyer five years ago in the same city. Gandhi was looking for a partner and Jinnah was out of work. Jinnah was Gujarati, so was Gandhi. Gujaratis in South Africa were both Hindus and Muslims," Guha said.
"Could it be that 50 years before India and Pakistan were formed, Gandhi and Jinnah almost established a legal partnership in South Africa?" Guha wondered.
The just launched book, claims Guha, is "the first thorough account of crucial formative years in the life of the Mahatma."
Covering the period from October 1869, the year of the Mahatma's birth till his return to India from South Africa in July 1914, the tome details his upbringing in 19th century Gujarat. Vivid details of Gandhi's student years in London right up till the two decades, he spent in South Africa have been written at length.
Guha said this crucial phase of Gandhi's life, which was instrumental in shaping the Mahatma from a run-of-the mill lawyer has very often got short shrift in existing literature.
"One of Gandhi's most original, compelling and still relevant ideas is the idea of religious pluralism. The emphasis on religious pluralism