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Sunday, 30 August 2009

Well done, Jaswant!

Now that Jaswant Singh is all set to visit Pakistan with his book after Ramazan, let us await reactions there. Some will find Jaswant’s book heart-warming. But there are also those in the post-Zia-ul Haq establishment who will find Jinnah’s lukewarm approach to Islamism an affront

Lord Denis Healey, the best prime
minister Britain never had, told me a story some years ago which might be of interest now that India is in a scrum re-evaluating 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: Mohammad Ali 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 the history of the subcontinent.

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 visit 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 on Advani. Even Congress leaders did not spare him. This despite the fact that Advani returned with a huge sweetener to soften Hindu sentiment: 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 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 Jaswant’s 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: the Sangh Parivar’s villain, Jinnah, had been cast as a hero; their hero, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, had been shown as being complicit in partition. But what really drove them to distraction was something else:

Woh baat saare fasaney

mein jiska zikr na thaw

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 a full fifty years, the Sangh Parivar 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 fifty years of assiduously sustained propaganda is what jolted those assembled in Shimla. When BJP leaders charged Jaswant of “denigrating” the party’s “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 country’s partition at the crucial Congress Working Committee meeting,” retorts Jaswant.

It is conceivable that the Parivar has made an admission here: that 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 nation’s unifier. Ostrich like, they have simply buried their heads in the sand on Patel’s 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 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.

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

During the 1945-46 elections in UP, the total electorate was only 10.2% of the province’s 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 epicentre of 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 a 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 it?

And now that Jaswant is all set to visit Pakistan with his book after Ramazan, let us await reactions there. Some will find Jaswant’s book heart-warming. But there are also those in the post-Zia-ul Haq establishment who will find Jinnah’s lukewarm approach to Islamism an affront.

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