Jaswant’s Book And Partition

Yasser Latif Hamdani writing in The News

Jaswant Singh’s book “Jinnah India — Partition Independence” has elicited interesting reviews in Pakistan. They are interesting entirely because of how off the mark they are which shows how little our country’s so-called intelligentsia understands the finer points of political science, constitutional law and history, especially those deep wells from which Jinnah himself professed to have drunk. Much has been written about the book – including the justified criticism that has been levelled at it for terrible punctuation and grammar. If Jinnah was calling, from beyond the grave, for his definitive biographer, the definitive biography now calls for an able editor. However, not many critics have addressed the political theme which has made it so famous.

 The crux of the book is actually contained not in the main text — not that I want to drive down Jaswant Singh’s narrative — but in the author’s correspondence with Professors Susan and Lloyd Rudolph. It is a matter of great regret that Benedict Anderson and his theory of nation as an imagined identity come up only once in the appendix. This should really have been the starting point. Jaswant Singh only acknowledges it in passing when he mentions that Jinnah held the question of nationhood as a purely subjective one i.e. if Americans say they are a nation, they are a nation. The issue as the Randolphs point out is the inability to distinguish between state and nation. Once it was conceded – and I’ll venture to say it was conceded long before Jinnah, Gandhi, Nehru or anyone else showed up on the scene — that Muslims were a separate community, the hop from community to nation was a very small one. Jaswant Singh’s narrative shows abundantly when the said acceptance came. All subsequent arrangements had to proceed on that basis.

Jinnah came to accept it only later, having started his career as a Congressman who did not believe in religious distinctions and who was a strident opponent of the separate electorates. Here again the important journey for Jinnah is not as much from the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity to the Quaid-e-Azam, but rather from an Indian to an Indian-Muslim and from a Congressman to the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. Tactical acceptance of the separate electorates, Gandhi’s characterisation of Jinnah as a ‘minority Muslim’ as Gurjar Sabha and finally the Lucknow Pact are important milestones in this journey, not just for Jinnah but India itself. The roots of what has now come to be defined as ‘consociationalism’ by political scientists were firmly laid and Jinnah’s role had been only to guide this to the nationalist advantage. While religious identities had been non-negotiable even before, it was Gandhi’s use of the Khilafat Movement that introduced into India’s politics a fundamentalist element. Meanwhile, Jinnah’s role ever since he was hailed as the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity remained one that sought to reconcile the Muslim consociationalist position, most notably from Punjab and Bengal, with that of his nationalist colleagues in the Congress Party.

 A federal democratic solution could have been found had Jinnah’s original four amendments to the Nehru Report been conceded. They were not. Then came the conglomerate Muslim demands in the form of Jinnah’s 14 points. These were also rejected by the Congress by two polarising factors: One, the majoritarian attitude of the Hindu Mahasabha, and two Jawaharlal Nehru’s superficial understanding of Marxist thought. Contrary to popular belief, the Congress under Gandhi ended up delaying independence by at least two decades, as their civil disobedience campaigns were used by the British to stall responsible government and advance towards a dominion status.

Given that independence only came to a partitioned India and that too in the form of a dominion status makes one wonder why the Congress acted with such intransigence in the 1920s and the 1930s. The break between Jinnah and the Congress came after a series of such blunders. Till 1935, Jinnah still described Muslims as a minority with a number of secular concerns, not religious ones. The 1937 elections were contested as an alliance between the Congress and the League. And yet the Congress refused to make coalition ministry in UP despite having failed to win a single Muslim seat as opposed to Muslim League’s 29. This was the beginning of the break. The offer of reconciliation on the basis of one Indian nation that existed for twenty odd years was now recanted and the whole issue was restated in national terms — classic consociationalism — on March 23, 1940.

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Filed under History, India, Jinnah, Jinnah's Pakistan, minorities, movements, Pakistan, Partition, Politics

34 responses to “Jaswant’s Book And Partition

  1. Gorki

    I read the entire article with interest in The News by YLH.

    It is an article written by a Pakistani and for the Pakistanis therefore I do not feel it would be proper for me to comment upon its merits here. How ever I was stuck by the scope of YLH’s challenge not only to his own countrymen but to the entire world in the following concluding paragraph.

    “We Pakistanis must make a clear choice now: do we want a Pakistan that is hailed as a ghetto and hotbed of terrorism or a country working towards peace and prosperity not just of itself or the subcontinent but the entire world, as envisaged by Jinnah? The latter presents a grand opportunity for Pakistan to revisit the legacy of its founding father and if it does, it will stand as a proud and respectable member of the comity of nations. This will be a welcome outcome of Jaswant Singh’s book, not just here but in all concerned capitals in the world. Perhaps this is why one hopes that Singh’s book is on the reading list of the current occupant of the White House, who is known for his vociferous reading habits.”

    What ever one may accuse YLH of, no one can accuse him of thinking small; he thinks on a grand scale and is unwilling to compromise on the scope of his vision.

    He reminds me of another young man who lived a long time ago yet who was equally uncompromising in his vision and who also thought of things on a similarly grand scale.

    An anecdote about him is recorded in history. After he won a major battle against the ruler of the World power of his day his adversary offered to him the hand of his royal daughter in marriage and half his kingdom.
    His close friend and advisor named Parmenion suggested to him that it was a very good deal and he would accept it right away if it was him. The young victor gave an answer to his advisor which still reverberates in history as a testament to his audacity and self confidence:

    “So would I, if I was Parmenion, but I am not you” said the young man.

    He rejected the offer in effect saying that he was not going to settle for half measures and went on to win a complete victory. He is remembered today as Alexander the Great and was about the same age then as YLH is today, when he gave that famous answer.


  2. Majumdar

    Gorki sb,

    And I hope when Yasser-e-Azam has conquered the whole world he will not forget his humble khadim who has faithfully served as his Sole Spokesman on chowk.com


  3. yasserlatifhamdani

    did I really write “vociferous” reader… I really should quit the English language altogether.

    Thank you for the kind words Gorki sb as usual… wholly undeserved… no comparison possible between the collossus that Alexandar was … and someone like me stuck in mundane inanities of life.

    And thankyou Maj the sole spokesman.

  4. enkhan

    I’ve been following this whole thing since the Masters of Mutiliation post, and this whole slamming over each other’s head is quite an interesting read.

  5. karun4

    wapis fir se………………..ya allah! madad!

  6. karun4

    @ majumdar

    And I hope when Yasser-e-Azam has conquered the whole world he will not forget his humble khadim who has faithfully served as his Sole Spokesman on chowk.com

    aapko BDSM pasand hai kya??

  7. enkhan

    Ahem… Now that’s a different sort of discussion started on here.. 😛

  8. karun4


    He rejected the offer in effect saying that he was not going to settle for half measures and went on to win a complete victory. He is remembered today as Alexander the Great and was about the same age then as YLH is today, when he gave that famous answer.
    keke :p

    i hope you do not look for more similarilites

    a) otherwise he will have to die at a very young age
    b) his sexual orientation (given that you have mentioned parmenion) would be circumspect.

  9. bonobashi


    You remind me of a Shakespearian character, in your scope and breadth of expression, and the full range of emotion which you display in your postings. Amazing stuff, worthy of an Olivier or a Gielgud.

    What impressed me most was your generosity of spirit when Gorki praised YLH, and when Majumdar claimed his dues. It takes a great and noble mind to allow homage to others.

    Do take a look at your original: Thersites, from Timon of Athens.

  10. karun4


    hahaha……this is amazing…i had a premonition that neither gorki or majumdar will retort…you will come to the rescue..

    very predictable my dear….

  11. D_a_n

    @ Karun (1, 2, 3, 4, ………whatever)

    If the following is your major worry for YLH:

    ‘b) his sexual orientation (given that you have mentioned parmenion) would be circumspect.’

    My advice to you would be the following: dont pick up any pennies you might drop…..

    PS: your history is dodgy….no pamenon. Hephaestion.

  12. D_a_n

    @ Karun…

    If you understood what I was referring to…you wouldnt be smiling….
    im sure somewhere…the constant-ness of your banal rubbish is a source of comfort to some.

  13. karun4

    thanks for your concern….i dont get offended easily…

  14. bonobashi


    You should – considering your limited horizons. Your remark about Parmenion, or Parmenio, for instance. Do you even know who he was? And his significance in military history and separately in Macedonian history? From your allusion, that is doubtful.

  15. karun4

    Yes i recollect parmenion was that old general…..faithful to alexanders father….who refused to agree to alexanders plan for the battle at persepolis…perhaps this dialouge was uttered there….a day before the plans were being finalised.
    Gorki if u can pls check…..
    @bono…stop being abusive….have some stomach for humour

  16. Majumdar

    Actually I wish to put a rejoinder on two points.

    One was on Gandhi delaying independence by a couple of decades. This assumes that the Brits by 1919-20 (that was really when MKG became the numero uno of the alleged freedom movement) were ready to give independence to India or at least Dominion Status in the medium term say by 1923-25 but that Khilafat/NCM delayed it.

    But the Rowlatt Act and Jalianwala Bagh and what followed hardly suggest that Britain was in any mood to give anything near Dominion Status anytime soon. In fact Britain’s conduct worldwide in the phase following 1918 hardly shows any retreat from imperialism.

    I guess it is no coincidence that GoI Act, 1935 was passed after the Great Depression. By this time Empire was becoming an unprofitable and prolly even an embarassing business. Then the German satyagrahis delivered the final blow.

    Two, was that JS’s book is more relevant to Pakistan than India. While the author has correctly pointed out that understanding the Partition is importnat for Hindoo-Muslim relations within India (and incidentally I have been harping on this on PTH and chowk for a long time), it is really irrelevant for Pakistan.

    For the simple reason that what why Pakistan was created has no bearing on what it wishes to be – that is the prerogative of current and future generation of Pakistanis and not of Mr Jinnah or Maudoodi or whoever else. Provided neither of the two competing factions- the kanjaroons or the Taliboons- misinterpret history to suit their goals.


  17. yasserlatifhamdani

    1. Had there been no non-cooperation movement, the round table conference would have happened in 1921. It certainly would have come before the 1940s- self rule that is.

    2. The truth is that the people are told and they believe – since the 1980s- that Pakistan was founded as an Islamic state… and therefore any secular option would automatically be against Pakistan. History has already been distorted and untill we throw out the fake nazaria e Pakistan, we cannot set about making Pakistan a democratic state.

  18. bonobashi


    Nothing personal. It’s just it’s so satisfying abusing you.

    I’m curious about two points: if you knew that Parmenion was a crusty middle-aged man, what was the homosexual allusion about? Second, what humour? I must have blinked.

  19. yasserlatifhamdani

    Correction in the article- where it says “randolph” read “rudolph”.

  20. Bloody Civilian

    the taliboons have had their day and done their worst. it’s the closet-taliboon amongst the kanjaroon who need to be flushed out.

    there is a third kind as well. i’d leave it to majumdar da to come up with a colourful name for them. they’re the ultra-nationalists. almost fascist. the so-called ‘dispossessed mughal syndrome’ types are only one part of that class. luckily, this class is small… and can only piggyback on the taliboon (ultimately).

  21. karun4


    rhne de yaar…bas yahin band karte hain….peace!!

  22. karun4

    no good has ever come form the alexanders of the world…there is only one lesson from his life….Human greed is insatibale and destructible!!

  23. Hayyer

    The constitutional path that Jinnah advocated and Gandhi muddied would have led inevitably to Dominion status. The Statute of Westminster need not have excluded India-the first Round Table had already been held. If Gandhi had been able to carry Hindu opinion on the points agreed with the Agha Khan India could have been a self governing dominion much earlier than 1947. It was the prospect of Hindu Muslim unity that frightened the British and that is what was thwarted by the Congress in the 30s.
    I find very interesting JSs perception of an eternal India. There are other similar presumptions that YLH has not touched upon.
    One of the keys to the whole action is the quote from Lord Acton: “By making the state and the nation commensurate with each other in theory, (nationalism) reduced practically to a subject condition all other nationalities that may be within its boundaries…”. But JS has not quite internalized this despite having written a book. He calls India a non-territorial nation (interview with Rudolphs). ‘…..India has always been there [as] an indistinguishable constant’ he says.
    Lloyd Rudolp had already quoted to him the view of Sudipto Kaviraj (“The imaginary institution of India against anachronism, imagining tht the Indian nation as created by the words and actions of he nationalist movement from 1885 onward existed in that form in earlier centuries ). And he has read Rudolphs on”The prevalent state form on the Indian subcontinent under Mughal and British rule from the sixteenth through the mid twentieth centuries was the sub continental empire rather than the regional kingdom.”
    Some regret the division of the country (country it was, even if not a mulk), others feel it was for the best despite the holocaust. There was a consociational solution possible, the Congress would have nothing to do with it.-All that is done. But Jaswant Singh still lives in the gray zone.
    What is one to make of the following? Talking of the suppression of the Mutiny he says, “It was here, in the middle of the nineteenth century that the symbol of our sovereignty was finally seized and trampled underfoot by British boots.” Whose sovereignty, considering that the Mughal ruler controlled only Delhi, and the subcontinent was no longer under its rule?
    The Mughal empire had been extinct for over a hundred years, and the Mughal emperor a pensioner of the British since 1806 when Lord Lake finally defeated the Maharathas near Delhi. Behind Jaswant Singh’s book is the imperial idea of India and it is I think the only idea possible, unless you accept the Brahminical idea, which is only textual if not mythological.
    Jaswant Singh’s India is cartographical and coterminous with empire.

  24. yasserlatifhamdani

    Remarkable analysis.

    Please put this in an essay form as a review for us.

  25. bonobashi


    The analysis is good, but some aspects of characterisation of India make me faintly uneasy. Of course these are presumably a Rathor point of view; but they are a bit quease-making, all the same.

    I’ll wait for your review.

  26. stuka

    “And thankyou Maj the sole spokesman.”

    HAHA..Yasser does owe a debt of gratitude to Majumdar. Ironically, so does Masadi..

  27. Hayyer

    Thank You. I dont know if I am up to a full review but I shall give it a thought.

  28. Gorki

    Karun: The quote is supposed to be after the battle of Issus; (which came before Gaugamela which completed Alexander’s victory over the Persian emperor.)

    Bonobashi: The reference to Thersites was an inspired one.
    I wonder what Archaeo is upto these days. 😉


  29. bonobashi


    It was so apt as to be irresistible. The man’s a mean, clench-fisted, narrow-minded scoffer at everyone but himself.

    For the rest, I must refer you to The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

  30. Umair Javed

    I might come across as a conspiracy theorist in the traditional Pakistani mould, but my initial reading of various passages in Singh’s book made it seem quite logical as to why a member of a right-wing Hindutva dominated party would want to present Jinnah as an Indian nationalist. After all any such assertions pointed at the Quaid would theoretically delegitimize the concept of Pakistan and the two-nation theory. In fact Jaswant Singh probably wanted to hit two birds with one stone i.e. the first bird being that delegitimize the concept of Pakistan by claiming that its poster leader was against the concept of partition itself and then secondly blame Nehru and throw dirt at the Congress for the partition itself, the amputation of Mother India and the millions who died with it. I dont think anyone actually took this particular view of the book.

  31. hayyer

    Umair Javed:
    I don’t think the concept of Pakistan ‘needs’ delegitimation in India; and especially not for a right wing Hindu party. The TNT has never been taken as gospel in India and no one would think it needed running down, including Indian Muslims. All that has been discussed on PTH many times.
    The book was not directed at Pakistani readership as such.
    Jaswant Singh, the truthfulness or otherwise of his views excepted, may have been aiming at Nehru and the Congress. Government sponsored post colonial half truths sanctified by the educational system conceal their incompetence and prejudices. The heroic sacrifices and selfless wisdom of our leaders is etched in stone, even celebrated in bronze. No one reads Ayesha Jalal here. Jaswant Singh has, very properly, set the secular cat among the pseudo secular pigeons. JS’ expulsion was a mere aside in the shambolic implosion of the BJP. Nothing I fear will ever be the same again for the official history of the freedom movement and for the BJP. This time too, as in the 20s and the 30s the Hindu right willingly served as a red herring for the Congress. Not for the last time either I imagine.

  32. yasserlatifhamdani


    First of all Nawai waqt and the Urdu media is full of that line of thinking.

    However the book itself doesn’t do any such thing. Two Nation Theory itself does not lend itself to interpretation that Nazaria e Pakistan associates with it.

    While restating Indian objections to TNT, Singh’s book only proves what is already known – that Jinnah in 1927, 1929, 1937 and 1946 gave the Indian majority golden opportunities to keep India united. That is it.

    Pakistan did not necessarily mean a partition of India. And nothing can de-legitimize Pakistan’s legal status as a recognized nation-state.

  33. PMA

    Gorki (September 24, 2009 at 9:54 am):

    You sly. You made me laugh. I think there was an other general who said some thing similar about a pompous emperor. I will let you guess who.