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 (Healey’s 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, “don’t you think Indian history would have been different if Jinnah got the Labour ticket and won?”
Healey’s question is another one of those “what-might-have-been” quantities in sub continental history.
The hullabaloo that has followed publication of Jaswant Singh’s 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 Jaswant’s 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 Jinnah’s 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 BJP’s 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 party’s downhill acceleration. It would delay the ignominious departure of leaders who are so mesmerised by their own presence