By Yasser Latif Hamdani
Jaswant Singh’s 670-page book on Pakistan’s founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, has reignited the debate on Partition. From an academic point of view, however, he doesn’t seem to have said anything out of the ordinary. Much of this was first stated by Maulana Azad in his “India Wins Freedom”. In the intervening years between Azad and Jaswant Singh, several perceptive historians and authors, many from India, also presented a similar view of history, chief amongst them H M Seervai with his classic “Partition of India: Legend and Reality”. However, there is a new angle in Singh’s biography that is as much an indication of where things are moving in India as much as it is a historical context.
Not long ago I wrote a piece called “Jinnah’s India” which none of the websites and newspapers I wrote for then published. In that piece I argued that India today with its rising middle-class, secular constitution and a strong capitalist economy was Jinnah’s India not Gandhi’s or Nehru’s, whether Indians cared to admit as much or not. My argument was not a novel one though it seemed so to those who rejected it. Karan Thapar had written as much in an article back in the beginning of this decade. It wasn’t a surprise then that Thapar was the first one to interview Jaswant Singh after his book was released. My feeling is that India – with its economic gains and a confident new middle-class — is looking for an alternative founding father and more appropriately the founding father it lost. In the 1930s and the 1940s, the Hindu bourgeoisie was not nearly as mature – though much more so than its Muslim counterpart — to look up to a successful and secular barrister from the minority community as its leader. Things are different today though. The new middle-class in India finds itself alienated from its heroes – if only subconsciously.
Gandhi just doesn’t cut it – his rejection of materialism, his village philosophy, his glorification of poverty and his idealisation of ancient Hindu society, things that made him so popular in his time are exactly what are alienating him from this class. He can be revered but never emulated. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, though secular, has two major drawbacks: he was born to considerable wealth and he was a socialist. For many Nehru represents – despite his secularism and role as a global statesman — the wrong kind of politician, a politician who has never had to work a day and therefore holds those who do work for a living in contempt. The ironman, Sardar Patel, has been played up as an alternative but he has been appropriated by the Hindu nationalist crowd and the havoc Hindu nationalists wreak on not only minorities but most things western (for example, their opposition to Valentine’s Day) automatically distances this new class from Patel. Maulana Azad couldn’t possibly be an idol for this class because he was from the clerical Muslim class and represents in the Indian mind all the stereotypes associated with a Muslim.
Jinnah stands in contrast to all of the traditional founders of India. He was from the middle-class and was entirely self-made. Through sheer hard work and some luck he reached the top of his game both as a lawyer and a politician. Though a Muslim, he was entirely westernised – perhaps more modern in every sense of the word than most Indians and Pakistanis even today — and knew the ways of the world. He carved out his space in cosmopolitan Bombay through his own efforts and this is something that most in the Indian bourgeoisie have always admired about him even if they disagreed with his post-1937 politics. He was part of the Congress when Gandhi was still in South Africa and when Nehru was in boarding school in England. His legislative contributions to India are second to none. He might well have been the founding father of an independent India — as Sarojini Naidu had predicted — had Gandhi not arrived on the scene and pulled the rug from under him. Jinnah’s support for Bhagat Singh is also increasingly underlined. The latter is seen — despite his Marxism — as an icon of a new Indian youth. Now free men and finally successful, the Indian middle-class is doing what free men are known to do – questioning officially sanctioned views of history. It is to this class that Jaswant Singh has spoken.
This also indicates an internal struggle within the Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP has been successful in the past by bringing together the various anti-Congress elements in India. The party itself has two or more distinct groups — one of which is led by the RSS-inspired Hindutvist ideologues. Their vision of the BJP is that of a party of the Hindu right and this is the wing that champions crazies like Varun Gandhi – ironically a great grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru. The other group consists of those like Jaswant Singh who realise that for the BJP to remain relevant it needs to become a party of the centre or the centre-right. They have correctly analysed that in the 21st-century India it needs to pose an alternative to the Congress that is secular and business-friendly. It is they who want to re-package Pakistan’s founding father – hitherto abused, demonised and denigrated as a communal — as a secular founding-father of India who was lost to bad policies. This is a prospect that needs to be welcomed by all. India is too big a country to have one or two visions alone. That it is now welcoming back into its fold its prodigal son and one of its most successful patriots can mean good things for the future.
But where does it leave us Pakistanis? After all Jinnah of Pakistan did happen. And he did create our country. It certainly can’t be that we agree with Jaswant Singh’s biography and yet hold on to our bankrupt conception of Pakistan and Nazaria-e-Pakistan based on some undefined ‘ideology’ which our lawmakers take oath on. It is now time to dismantle the lies and build Pakistan on Jinnah’s vision. It would require taking back the ground given to those opponents of Jinnah, the maulanas and the ulema of South Asian Islam. The good news is that here too we have a bourgeoisie that is increasingly dictated by the global world and the more they realise the dividend that peace and modernity holds, the more they will underscore the vision given by Mohammad Ali Jinnah on August 11, 1947, and in several other speeches of a Pakistan that is inclusive, tolerant, secular and at peace within and without. There is no other way and the future belongs to Jinnah.
Courtesy The News