Going Jinnah’s Way: An Indian Muslim’s View

By Jawed Naqvi

The expulsion of former Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh from the Bharatiya Janata Party could not have come as a surprise to him. He had said last week that having written an adulatory account of Mohammad Ali Jinnah in his seminal book on the Quaid-i-Azam, he was ‘prepared for the noose.’

In a sense the fate that befell Jaswant Singh — his marginalisation within the rightwing BJP followed by his ideological disengagement with the party — had similarities with the denouement as it evolved for Jinnah. The difference was that while Singh may have moved from the communal politics of the BJP towards a reaffirmation of secular historiography, the insidious caste politics of the Congress behemoth had forced an agreeably liberal Jinnah to resort to patently communal agitation.

After his expulsion from the BJP ahead of the party’s brainstorming session in Simla on Wednesday, Jaswant Singh told reporters that he regretted his party’s decision to remove him from the organisation’s primary membership but he was not about to vacate the political space he has nurtured. What does that mean?

To begin with, he has created a royal mess for India’s two main parties. Who would have thought that the BJP and its ideological fountainhead, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, would find themselves defending their main quarry Jawaharlal Nehru, over the arch quarry Jinnah? Jaswant Singh’s clever, almost impish, juxtaposition of the two stalwarts has all but achieved the hitherto unimaginable. In one stroke he has put the Congress and the BJP on the same ideological plane. It would require an extremely delicate surgery, which neither party appears equipped for, to separate the arguments that he has made for and against Jinnah and Nehru, Gandhi and the British. He has studded his book with references rare and familiar that disturbs the neat communal historiography, which the establishments in India and Pakistan had been used to.

Jaswant Singh feared that the book Jinnah: India — Partition — Independence would create problems in Pakistan more than in his own country. He believed the dichotomy that emerged between the Quaid’s vision and the evolution of a sectarian state in Pakistan would invite state-sponsored censure. But the first barbs came from within India. Early reactions from the BJP and the Congress to his research verged on intolerance of intellectual inquiry. This is not new. Books have been burnt and banned, artists and writers sent into exile even earlier in India.

But Jaswant Singh is not quitting politics, much less the country. In fact an endorsement of his quest will be palpable as early as this weekend when Ramazan, the month of fasting for Muslims, begins. In Lutyens’ Delhi, the hub of India’s power dynamic, the circus of feasts will see robed clerics from diverse Islamic clusters getting invited to the prime minister’s house to break bread. Government ministers, party leaders, MPs, power peddlers, middlemen, in a nutshell everyone who lives by the 13 per cent Muslim vote in India or those who need to flaunt their secularism will take turns to rustle up an appetising Ramazan menu. Of course, only a minority of India’s 150 million Muslims are mullahs and so a few of the less pious variety would also be given a slot in the meandering queue to rub shoulders with the high and mighty.

Had Jinnah had his way, there would be no need for the pathetic lottery of Ramazan invitations. There would be no need for the Justice Sachchar Committee, set up to investigate why Indian Muslims continue to be economically and socially backward six decades after independence from colonialism.

In other words, had there been no partition there would not be a need for communally driven dinner invitations, even though they are usually claimed to strengthen secularism. Indians would be less self-consciously tolerant and eating or not eating with each other of their free will in an India that Jinnah had dreamt of. Jaswant Singh has been penalised for implicitly asserting this.

As a matter of fact, Justice Sachchar offered remedies that reminded me of the crisis once faced by the International Committee of the Red Cross when its representatives visited prisons in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. They recommended hot water baths for the inmates, which startled the jail warden who hadn’t had the luxury of one in a fortnight himself.

There are, of course, no hard and fast rules in this. Political power does not flow from the numerical superiority of a community over another. The partition of 1947 wrote this in blood. As a maverick college friend remarked, in capitalism man exploits man and in socialism it was the other way round.

In predominantly Muslim Pakistan, Muslims are exploiting, and now killing, Muslims. Hindus have fared no better in India. Seventy per cent of India — predominantly Hindu India — has been marginalised to create the illusion of a superpower for the 30 per cent, possibly less. More Hindus — if the tribespeople inhabiting Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand or those fighting pitched battles in West Bengal with paramilitary men are considered Hindu — are the next targets of the state’s neocon agenda.

Jaswant Singh may not have listed these examples to make his case, but they do underscore the unacceptable failures of the founding fathers and their heirs in both countries.

If Jaswant Singh is lucky and has got the proposed Urdu translation of his controversial book on Jinnah out before the weekend, there is a good chance that the Ramazan iftars would become the battlegrounds between status quo and refreshing new ideas for India, and also possibly for Pakistan, to explore.

A Bengali edition of the book is expected to ignite debate in a region that has revelled in questioning everyone that we easily worship, be he Jinnah, or Gandhi, Nehru or Suhrawardy.

In this sense Jinnah’s inspiration may well have come from Rabindranath Tagore’s song: Jodi tor daak shuney keoo na ashey tobey ekla chalo rey. (If none heeds your cry to march together, just walk alone, no if or whether.)

Jaswant Singh may well have embarked on a lonely journey to begin with.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

Courtesy Dawn

22 Comments

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22 responses to “Going Jinnah’s Way: An Indian Muslim’s View

  1. sss

    “if the tribespeople inhabiting Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand or those fighting pitched battles in West Bengal with paramilitary men are considered Hindu ”

    i have been reading the articles of Mr Naqvi in Dawn. And he keeps posing this question that whether this or that community can be considered as hindus. I wonder why he does not go to Chhattisgarh and ask the tribes people what they consider themselves to be- hindus or nonhindus.
    I find attitude of Mr. Naqvi highly patronising and disrespectful towards tribals and dalits.
    How can you, me or Mr. Naqvi can define something as personal as someone’s religious affiations. Should we not go by their own definitions.

  2. sss

    one more question- We all know how indian muslims would have benefitted by united india. But what about hindus. What they would have got?
    United India would have been as unstable a country as present day pakistan with both hindus and muslims pulling it in opposite directions.
    Let it be known that civilization and culture of India is Indian with some muslim influences. It is neither persio-arabic nor central asian.

    Yes I know that both our countries are engaged in perpetual battle but it is better to have enemies outside than within. We don’t want more Shah Waliullahs.

  3. Bloody Civilian

    civilization and culture of India is Indian with some muslim influences

    muslim of india is not indian?

  4. YLH

    If by indian Muslims in India today then I agree that things might have been marginally better. However Pakistan has benefitted the Pakistani Muslims a lot and I don’t think as a whole South Asian Muslims would be better off.

  5. Hayyer 48

    BC’s question needs answering. What does Indian mean?

  6. sss

    Indian means anybody- Jain, Hindu, Budhist, Sikh. Christion or aethiest who has a sense of belongingness to the thousands of year old civilization of india and does not think him/her self to be bastard child of the union between soldiers of mir kasim’s army and raped indian women.

  7. stuka

    sss: are you Cobra from Chowk?

  8. sss

    no I am not Cobra from chawk. But how does it matter?

  9. Gorki

    sss:

    An what about others like the Sikhs whose may feel that their culture, folklore, philosophy, architecture and even history is a result of a syncretic fusion of Islam and Hinduism and are unwilling to give up any one?
    Are they Indians or Pakistanis or do they belong to the no mans land like Manto’s madman?

    Regards

  10. Gorki

    sss:

    “civilization and culture of India is Indian with some muslim influences”

    I guess what I am trying to say is this; since when did India and its culture become neatly divided into an ‘Indian’ and ‘Muslim’?

    According to Nehru’s vision, India and Indianness is an a ever ongoing and an evolutionary process spanning 5000 years of our history.

    There are many inputs into this fusion but there is no one mega influence. That vision is very powerful; and is embraced by a majority of Indians in the political center.

    Thus JS’s book or not, Nehru’s place in India and its narrative is secure; all those (in or out of Congress) who fear that telling the story of partition with all its warts will somehow diminish Nehru’s legacy are mistaken.
    They are infact shortchanging the legacy of the great man, or perhaps do not know him well in the first place.

    Regards

  11. D_a_n

    @sss

    you spake:

    ‘does not think him/her self to be bastard child of the union between soldiers of mir kasim’s army and raped indian women.’

    but hark! …in the post before that you had written the following:

    ‘…Should we not go by their own definition.’

    I have yet to meet any Indian Muslim who thinks he is from the stock that you describe…and you want people to be known by their own definitions….yet you choose to shove a label down a community’s throat that…for the most part does not desire it….

    so what am I to make of your contradiction? your not willing to extend to the Muslim what you are willing to the Dalit and the tribal?

    so my question is….did you think up that gem all by your lonesome? or was it at RSS summer camp for the mentally feeble?

    PS: what about the odd loose woman who might have given herself willingly to one of kasims strapping soldiers?

  12. Hayyer 48

    @SSS
    Examined from digital logic your answer (20 Aug 10.08) falls into the ‘and’ gate. For the output to be true both inputs must be true. it is easily demonstrated that both the inputs for your argument are untrue. Your conclusion is therefore untrue.

  13. kabir

    “However Pakistan has benefitted the Pakistani Muslims a lot and I don’t think as a whole South Asian Muslims would be better off”

    YLH: Which Pakistani Muslims? Can one seriously argue that the poor and largely illiterate masses of Pakistan are better off than they would have been in a united India? If you’re talking about the middle classes (bourgouisie), then yes Pakistan has benifited them, which is why they agitated for it in the first place.

    Regards.

  14. Re: “A Bengali edition of the book is expected to ignite debate in a region that has revelled in questioning everyone that we easily worship, be he Jinnah, or Gandhi, Nehru or Suhrawardy.”

    But not Bose: even routine books on Bose about his relationship with a European woman lead to bans in West Bengal…

  15. I disagree with Naqwi and many others (both on the Indian left and, like Jaswant Singh, on the right) about Jinnah. In the sense that the word “secular” and the concept of “good” have become so conflated in Indian political discourse (to the degradation of both) that it seems the moment people discover what they always should have known — that Jinnah was a secular, liberal man — that they immediately jump to the conclusion that the political agenda was also unproblematic. This is spurious logic: the notion that liberal/secular Muslims are “good” and religiously observant ones are “bad” and somehow associated with partition or pro-Pakistani sentiment has become deeply ingrained, whereas the truth is best (albeit simplistically) encapsulated in the opposite image of two men: Azad was with the Congress, and by the end, Jinnah was a proponent of the two-nation theory.

    [Note: I am not making a value judgment here, merely pointing out the confusion — Pakistan and the two nation theory were not initially the demand of the clerics or the religious, in fact the opposite is true, it was a thoroughly “modernist” sort of demand. One can be for or against this or that, but my point is that Jinnah’s secularism, liberalism, modernity, and brilliance are not the point.]

  16. Raj

    @ D_a_n
    so what am I to make of your contradiction? your not willing to extend to the Muslim what you are willing to the Dalit and the tribal?</i?

    Dalits are given reservations because my great grandfather looted his great grandfather. But Muslims looted my great grandfather so in short, Muslims in India need to get a -ve reservation.

    I have yet to meet any Indian Muslim who thinks he is from the stock that you describe…and you want people to be known by their own definitions….yet you choose to shove a label down a community’s throat that…for the most part does not desire it….
    thats the truth if they want to accept it or not, and is even proved by science.

  17. Gorki

    Raj:

    thats the truth if they want to accept it or not, and is even proved by science.
    …………………………………

    What science??

  18. kay

    There would be no need for the Justice Sachchar Committee, set up to investigate why Indian Muslims continue to be economically and socially backward six decades after independence from colonialism.

    Isn’t the median economic status of these “economically backward” Indian Muslims actually higher than that in Pakistan and Bangladesh?

  19. D_a_n

    @Raj…

    you spake:

    ‘Dalits are given reservations because my great grandfather looted his great grandfather. But Muslims looted my great grandfather so in short, Muslims in India need to get a -ve reservation.’

    Firstly, my comment was about labelling a community…NOT reservations…maybe your at the wrong forum perhaps?
    and secondly, what am I or anyone else supposed to make of this brain fart of yours? I am content to let you wallow in its stench for all to see…

    but wait there’s more:

    ‘thats the truth if they want to accept it or not, and is even proved by science.’

    terribly sorry to be the one to tell you this but RSS chappies sitting around all day jerking each other off is NOT science….

  20. D_a_n

    @kay..

    ‘Isn’t the median economic status of these “economically backward” Indian Muslims actually higher than that in Pakistan and Bangladesh?’

    Maybe the Sachar report people didnt get your memo that they needed to compare the status of Indian Muslims to Muslims in B’desh and Pakistan…..