Jinnah, Gandhi dreamt of federal India: Jaswant

Jaswant Singh

Singh, whose controversial new book 'Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence' led to his expulsion from BJP, repeated his claim that first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru along with the then Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and the Congress party had contributed to the partition of the Indian subcontinent.

A federal India was the dream of both Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi but "we let the country be cut up. Patel and Nehru agreed to what Jinnah demanded but in a truncated form. Today we would have been a global power," he said in an interview to Pakistan's 'Dawn News' channel.

However, he also said the future envisaged for India by Nehru, especially on issues like secularism, is yet to be realised. The "destiny of India Nehru spoke of had not been realised," Singh said responding to a question on the fate of secularism in India.

Apart from being reviled by his party for his stance on Pakistan's founder Jinnah, Singh's book has been banned in the BJP-ruled state of Gujarat. Singh referred to the ban and incidents of the burning of his book and said he felt "wounded" as if an "innocent child had been burnt."

The former External Affairs Minister also spoke on a wide range of issues during the interview, including relations between India and Pakistan. Singh refuted the impression that the two countries came close to a nuclear war during a military standoff in 2002 that was triggered by an attack on Indian Parliament by Pakistan- based terror groups Lashker-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.     

He dismissed the impression as a "canard" spread by the then US envoy in New Delhi. "We did not come close to nuclear war," he said. However, he acknowledged that relations between India and Pakistan had "experienced frequent fractures." Singh also pointed out that he did not subscribe to "nuclear apartheid" and said India and Pakistan have the sovereign right to pursue their own nuclear doctrines.    

 Asked about the 2001 summit in Agra between the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and ex-Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, Singh said Musharraf's "grandstanding" at a news conference before an agreement was due to be signed put off other Indian ministers and scuttled the pact.     

Referring to the fallout of the joint statement containing reference to Balochistan, which was issued last month after a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani in Egypt, Singh said: "Better drafting could have helped (prevent the) incident."  He added: "We have to tread the path very carefully. There are unseen hidden traps." India and Pakistan must stop living in the past as they "cannot change geography now," he said.

Countries in South Asia should look forward and work towards expanding a "constituency of peace" in the region, Jaswant Singh said, adding he wished Pakistan and Bangladesh the best.

"I want to work towards expanding the constituency of peace, not repeating the mistakes of the past and blaming each other," he said. Replying to a question on whether he was working for a liberal polity after being associated with a right-wing party, Singh said "a liberal mindset needs to return to South Asia if we are to thrive and poverty is to be alleviated.

"But it has to be our own interpretation of liberalism, not a Western concept," he said, adding that classifying the BJP as right-wing was "simplistic."  Asked if he regretted playing a key role in the release of three terrorists in exchange for the passengers of an Indian airliner hijacked to Afghanistan in 1999, Singh replied in the negative.
"Governance is an extremely testing challenge. (Sometimes) decisions have to be made between two great wrongs," he said.

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