|Jinnah, Jaswant and the BJP|
|Sunday, August 23, 2009
Jaswant Singh has not been expelled from the BJP for his book on Jinnah. He could not have been, because it does not say anything untrue. Very quickly, this is what his book says:
1) In 1940, Jinnah’s Muslim League proposed that Muslims should have self-government
2) Between 1940 and 1946, Jinnah gained electoral support and was open for negotiations. However, he was snubbed by Congress leaders whose actions were either illogical (Gandhi) or tactless (Nehru). They wanted to rule India as a unit; Jinnah wanted a federation
3) On March 8, 1947, as killings began in Punjab, on both sides, Vallabhbhai Patel and Nehru accepted Partition in a resolution they passed in Gandhi’s and Azad’s absence
4) Congress could have done more to prevent Partition
5) Jinnah was modern and secular and would have been appalled by how Pakistan turned out
None of this is wrong, or new. Much of it is taught in history books. Does Jaswant say Partition was a good thing? No. Does he blame Patel for it? No.
If there is one man Jaswant holds most responsible for Partition, it is in fact Jinnah and his “continued rigidity, his fixed stand on an ever-increasing charter of demands for the Muslims, an ever-larger share of power for them in Independent India (page 504).”
Patel is mentioned in the book in six places (pages 13, 289, 418, 459, 461 and 488). Not in one place has Jaswant said an unkind word about him, though he has been honest in reporting fact. So when BJP President Rajnath Singh is angry with Jaswant’s views on Patel, he must be hallucinating.
But he is not. And that is because Jaswant’s punishment is not for his book at all. It is about the elections that the BJP lost under Rajnath’s presidency, Advani’s candidacy and Arun Jaitley’s management. It was the second general election in a row that the party had lost. The only change that came about after the first defeat was that Atal Behari Vajpayee retired from active politics.
After the defeat this year, Jaswant Singh told the BJP’s Core Group at a meeting on June 10 that leaders should be held accountable if the party was to progress. They should not be rewarded for failure, he said, by hanging on to their party posts. Advani initially made a show of retiring (he is 82 and unlikely to lead another campaign). But none of the three men left. Rajnath Singh remains the BJP’s president, Advani is leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha and Jaitley leader in the Rajya Sabha.
They must deal with dissent and the Jinnah issue was handy. The book was released on the same day, August 17, as the BJP’s three-day meeting to introspect the election defeat began.
And so it is Jaswant Singh who must go instead. A minor royal from Rajasthan in western India, Jaswant won the election from Darjeeling in eastern India. Why Darjeeling? Because it has a large population of martial Gurkhas. They would vote for Jaswant because he fought nine years with the Central India Horse, including the wars of 1962 and 1965. For a soldier, raised on black and white certitude, Jaswant Singh has written a remarkable book. It is free of prejudice and the BJP should have been proud that one of their own wrote it. Instead they have punished him. Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne. But if it is so obvious that Jaswant Singh is right and Rajnath Singh is wrong, then how will Rajnath get away with it?
He will because he is confident that nobody will actually read Jaswant’s book. This includes the media which carried headlines like ‘Jaswant blames Patel, Nehru for Partition’. In India we like the idea of controversy, the details bore us. But what this episode has done is made Jinnah more accessible. It has thrown up things that we did not know about the man.
Asked in an interview whether he thought Jinnah was a great man, Jaswant said: “Oh yes, because he created something out of nothing and single-handedly he stood against the might of the Congress party and against the British who didn’t really like him… Gandhi himself called Jinnah a great Indian. Why don’t we recognise that? Why don’t we see, and try to understand, why he called him that.”
Indians are not used to this sort of language about him because for us Jinnah is the man who broke up our nation.
Jaswant discovered that Jinnah has an attractive personality. He does not come across as a normal Indian. This is because, for most of his life, Jinnah does not carry the prejudice of faith that we are burdened with. Secondly, his manner of dress and conversation is European and correct. This is also unusual. Europeans themselves might not find this characteristic remarkable, and this explains why Attenborough’s Jinnah is such a cardboard figure. But for us the man stands out.
The men around him in his early days, mainly South Bombay Gujaratis (Hindus and Parsis), were very fond of Jinnah and their memoirs of him, many written after 1940, have warmth and respect.
Jaswant says that Jinnah was a tough negotiator and should have been negotiated with. Instead the Congress tried to win him over because they thought his cause was futile. Gandhi, especially, made the mistake of going to him without accepting that he represented only Congress.
Indians are not taught the sequence of Partition in school. One reason is that the Congress’s role in the freedom movement is inviolate. Nothing bad can be said about Gandhi in particular.
The other reason is that the two-nation theory is still applicable in India which has 150 million Muslim citizens. Pakistan, which is now almost entirely Muslim, does not have to live with religious tension. Partition made Pakistan quite pure ethnically. But to Indians, Partition is easier explained away as something one man did, rather than say ‘Muslims think they are a separate nation’ because that is a formula for perpetual violence.
For Jaswant Singh the original sin is not Partition; it is the Morley Minto reforms of 1909. The concession of separate electorates to Muslims once, he believes, is what has made this problem a recurring one for India. No democracy in the world has separate electorates. Muslims, writes Jaswant, were willingly Indian as long as they ruled India.
By the end of the Simla conference in 1945, Jinnah wanted as many reserved seats for Muslims as there were for all other communities put together though Muslims were a quarter of the population. Jinnah rejected one-third representation that the Wavell plan gave Muslims. He said this was because “all other minorities” had the “same goal as Congress”. Jinnah’s Muslim nation did not include Christians because “ethnically and culturally they are very closely knitted to Hindu society (page 346)”.
The Congress was not, and is not, a religious body. It had no response to the cold logic of community that Jinnah presented to them as his argument. And then 1946 brought to Jinnah the sweeping electoral victories that settled the matter because the League campaigned on Partition. Would Partition not have happened had Nehru not been so tactless after the Cabinet Mission plan? It would have. The Congress alone struggled against the British (it is why the party still has presence on the ground politically). The League abstained, waiting for the struggle to end so that they could achieve their aim of Pakistan.
Exhausted and frustrated, having spent most of the 1940s in jail while the League gained strength on the ground, the Congress leadership gave in. But Indians are not taught that, because that would reveal weakness in figures like Gandhi, Nehru and Patel. And so one man was demonised.
Patel is a hero to the BJP, but Jaswant points out that Patel banned the RSS after Gandhi’s murder.
Jaswant Singh is one of the BJP’s founding members when the party was set up 30 years ago. He has served as India’s finance minister and foreign minister. It is extraordinary that he should have been executed without even a hearing (he was expelled over the phone). But this has given him the opportunity to take his case to the media. In the coming weeks, we shall hear a lot more about Jinnah the man in India, and that’s a good thing.
The writer is director with Hill Road Media in Bombay. Email: aakar @hillroadmedia.com