Are we taking sides?

Lead review

Jinnah India-Partition Independence

Jaswant Singh
Rupa & Co,
2009, pp 669, Rs 695


“This is that account of Jinnah, the man and his heroic endeavours and of the others, too. And of these is a story written: but (then) Allah alone knoweth all?” Thus spake Jaswant Singh at the end of his book, Jinnah India–Partition Independence, the controversial tome which apparently earned him his expulsion from the party of which he was a founder over 30 years ago. There are wheels within wheels in the current episode involving his forced departure from the party as well as the historic saga of Partition 62 years ago that he seeks ‘to reveal’.

Political life is layered and so is history. Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s transformation from a modern-liberal persona (three–piece suits, cigars, cigarette holder, rebellious eating habits and King’s English etc) to a politician fiercely committed to a Muslim nation could be subject to many interpretations — depending on which side of the fence one is sitting on.  
At what point of time in history Jinnah muted a change in his personality (thinking and outward appearance — Sherwani and Jinnah cap) has been written umpteenth times by several historians as well as those participating in the freedom movement — a majority  of the accounts, rightly or wrongly, blaming Jinnah for the tragic Partition. Singh has joined ‘the minority of the writers’ in blaming Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru and the Congress party for causing the Partition.

Singh says the seed of the idea to write a book on Jinnah sprouted during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s historical bus journey to Lahore in 1999 and a visit to Minar-e-Pakistan where Muslim League adopted a resolution for the creation of Pakistan on March 23, 1940. In his well researched and finely documented book, Singh has been effusive in his praise of Jinnah even, perhaps, at the expense of Mahatma Gandhi. 

“The first meeting of Gandhi and Jinnah in January 1915 at the Gurjar Sabha was convened to felicitate Gandhi’s return from South Africa... Gandhi had somewhat accommodatingly said he was glad to find a Muslim not only belonging to his own region’s Sabha, but chairing it. Gandhi had singled out Jinnah as a Muslim, though, neither in appearance nor in conduct was Jinnah anywhere near to being any of the stereotypes of the religious identity ascribed by Gandhi. Jinnah, on the other hand, was far more fulsome in his praise.”    

On another occasion, the writer refers to Gandhi’s support to the Islamic Khilafat movement which many saw as retrograde step in the freedom movement. “While Jinnah had remained aloof from any involvement in pan-Islamic activities, Gandhi a proto-typical Hindu, chose to ride this tiger of the Khilafat agitation,” says Singh, alluding to the early progressive persona of Jinnah “who recognised the political impress only of Dadabhai and Gokhle.”

From a casual votary of Islam to the one staunchly propagating the two-nation theory and that of Muslim identity, Jinnah’s transformation has been explained by Singh in terms of Nehru-Patel and the Congress refusal to accede to Muslim League’s demands, leading to the Lahore resolution of 1946 when ‘direct action’ for creation of Pakistan was mooted by the League.

The portion of the book for which Singh courted controversy include Sardar Patel’s letter to Kanji Dwarkadas (March 4, 1947) where he, according to the author, for the first time, even if by implication, accepted Partition on condition of a division of the Punjab and Bengal by passing a resolution. Singh says the resolution was passed when Gandhi was away in his healing mission in Bihar, and Maulana Azad was ill and absent — the two could oppose the resolution.

Singh says this resolution was a fundamental change in the Congress party’s stand and strategy. Mountbatten, who had by then assumed charge as Viceroy, jubilantly assessed that Patel by accepting the division of Punjab had implicitly recognised the principle of India’s Partition too. Within a month of Mountabatten’s arrival in India on March 20, 1947, Nehru, until then a vocal opponent of Partition, had become a committed advocate of it. The resolution amounted to an acceptance of Jinnah’s two-nation theory, concludes the author.

In another indirect reference on the unification of the princely states, Singh quotes senior journalist M J Akbar from his yet to be published book The Major Minority, that the Muslims felt empowered in the princely state of Hyderabad with 84 per cent Hindu population as long as descendants of Nizam-ul Mulk, a Mughal governor, ruled the state. “In 1948, (as soon as) the Nizam was deposed and Hyderabad was absorbed  in the new Union of India, the same Muslims suddenly began to think of themselves as a minority.”

The writer broods that it is in this, a false minority syndrome that the dry rot of Partition first set in. The cure, Jinnah said, was Partition and Nehru-Patel and others of the Congress also finally agreed.

Singh quotes, among others, Ram Manohar Lohia, an arch critic of Nehru, saying that Nehru and Patel between themselves decided on Partition and sought not to scare Gandhi away before the deed was definitely resolved upon. As it turns out, Gandhi himself openly confessed that he represented nobody and at best could use his influence on the Congress. As against this, Jinnah saw none but himself as the sole leader and spokesman of the Muslims. 

Gandhi and Jinnah — both born into Kathiawaris trading communities in Gujarat, ironically failed and succeeded in their missions. Gandhi could not prevent Partition, though he remained wedded to a united India until his death, and Jinnah (described as an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity by Gopal Krishna Gokhle) ‘achieved’ Pakistan, but possibly failed in his original avtar of Hindu-Muslim oneness. Singh retells the epic story of the Partition in a scholarly and disciplined manner — a reflection of his own persona. But it does not breaks any new grounds. Who caused the Partition? There may be yet another book digging the layers of history to reach the bottom.

But the best is to draw again from the concluding wisdom of Singh’s book: “And of these is a story written: but (then) Allah alone knoweth all?”  

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