Jinnah, Nehru, and the Ironies of History

Courtesy SouthAsian blog, we are cross-posting this extremely insightful piece that adds to the debates that have taken place here. RR

Varun Gandhi is reported to have said some strong things about Muslims in India. So, I am told, did his father.

Let me use this as a peg to say something about Varun’s venerable great-grandfather whose maturity Varun seems unlikely to emulate. But beyond that, let me speculate about some neglected dimensions of the political history of the subcontinent.

Two remarkable statements made around the time of the partition of British India continue to intrigue me:

Here is Mohammad Ali Jinnah, addressing the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in August 1947:

You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State.

And here is Jawaharlal Nehru, writing to Chief Ministers of provinces in India in October 1947, pointing out that there remained, within India,

a Muslim minority who are so large in numbers that they cannot, even if they want, go anywhere else. That is a basic fact about which there can be no argument. Whatever the provocation from Pakistan and whatever the indignities and horrors inflicted on non-Muslims there, we have got to deal with this minority in a civilized manner. We must give them security and the rights of citizens in a democratic State.

How can we read these two statements given the history of which they were a part?

More here



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2 responses to “Jinnah, Nehru, and the Ironies of History

  1. Hayyer

    Varun’s father the late unlamented Sanjay Gandhi was, it is said, Indira’s favourite. There were reports of his hooliganism even before he displayed it during the Emergency from 1975-77. Maneka Gandhi is a street fighter. Varun is only perpetrating the parental tradition.
    Nehru woke up to the existence of Muslims as a separate community with differentiated needs only after 1947. Jinnah’s comments too must have been a shocker to vast legions of voters in Punjab who switched to the AIML in 1946 elections only on the strength of the intended ideal Islamic state.

    “When framed in this perspective, one can expect that moments of stress could cause the templates of inheritance to exert some residual influence on how one sees the world. So, one can understand Nehru seeing Muslims, in the aftermath of the carnage of partition, more as minorities needing to be given equal rights and less as Indians who were entitled to them.
    But we can now push this psychological analysis further and note the complexity of the interplay between the beliefs inherited at birth and the convictions that are inculcated and sustained through intellectual endeavor.
    Without the political imperatives that changed Jinnah’s beliefs, his descendants are avowedly secular. And without the intellectual rigor that characterized Nehru, his descendants are slipping back towards prejudice.”
    Jinnah’s descendants, and Nehru’s, both through the female line of descent are in India. The Wadias are in business not politics. They earn their daily bread. Nehru’s are almost wholly in the business of being rulers, or in training to rule.
    After Nehru his great grandson is the first one to graduate from college. Genes are inherited, not attitudes. Varun has adopted a posture I’m sure. Rahul is searching for one.
    Nehru was a Kashmiri Pandit; Kashmiri Pandits have many attributes of the Kayasth caste. Kayasths were hereditary civil servants, scribes and such like working with the ruling classes as assistants or officials. When the Pandits migrated outside the valley they tended not to stay in Punjab but moved on to Delhi and UP where they acquired the life style of local Kayasth communities. This meant, for the times, Muslim dress, culture and sometimes, in at least one case that I know of, observing the Ramzan fast and celebrating Eid. Kayaths were proficient in Urdu, Persian and sometimes even Arabic.
    Nehru belonged to this culture. Distinctions of caste and creed would be typical of the caste; i.e. Kayasth caste. But as a modern Indian, and after his tour of Europe in the 20s he was a leftist.
    He passed on his genes to his daughter but failed to transmit his attitudes, from what little we can make out of ‘Letters from a Father to his Daughter’. Obviously the daughter wasn’t that interested.
    It is quite usual to see Rahul Gandhi with a tilak mark on his forehead. In 1947 even Rajendra Prasad and Patel would not be seen publicly with it. Times have changed. Religion is now not a spiritual need, it is a political instrument. We need not imagine that Varun Gandhi really wants to cut off the hands of Muslims. In different circumstances, say if were in Pakistan, he could as willingly suggest cutting off Hindu hands to save Muslims.

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