Jinnah: A controversial figure decades after his death

Security personnel stand guard as Aligarh Muslim University students stage a protest over Jinnah portrait issue outside the university gate in Aligarh on Friday. PTI Photo

Almost seven decades after he died, Pakistan's founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah continues to trigger controversies -- be it over praise by some BJP leaders or merely because of a portrait of him hanging on a university wall.

The BJP is working overtime to put a lid on a row, which was ignited after its leader and Uttar Pradesh minister Swami Prasad Maurya called Jinnah a "great man" after some party leaders sought removal of his portrait from Aligarh Muslim University, but it is only a reminder of the bigger storms Pakistan's founder has caused in the saffron party.

Jinnah, who became the Governor-General of Pakistan after partition, died in September 1948.

His praise of Jinnah in 2005 had cost L K Advani -- the longest-serving BJP president -- his job as the party chief eventually and, many believe, it caused a permanent strain in his relations with the RSS from which he could never recover.

The BJP stalwart's tall stature within the party and impeccable Hindutva credentials as the leader behind the Ram temple movement helped him weather the storm and remain a formidable force for several years.

There was no such comfort for party veteran Jaswant Singh, who was summarily expelled from the organisation in 2009 for his praise of Pakistan's founder.

On a sentimental trip to Pakistan in June 2005, Advani, who was born in Karachi in 1927, had showered praise on Jinnah, calling him a great man and suggesting that he was a secular leader.

In a visit to the Pakistan founder's mausoleum in Karachi, the then BJP president wrote, "There are many people who leave an inerasable stamp on history. But there are very few who actually create history."

Advani further wrote, "Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah was one such rare individual. In his early years, Sarojini Naidu, a leading luminary of India’s freedom struggle, described Mr Jinnah as an ‘Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity’."

Continuing with his encomium, he said, "His address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947, is a classic, a forceful espousal of a Secular State in which every citizen would be free to practise his own religion but the State shall make no distinction between one citizen and another on the grounds of faith. My respectful homage to this great man."

Still reeling from its shock defeat in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP was convulsed from its president's praise of a man, who has been a hate figure for the Hindutva movement.

The party tried to distance itself from his comments while its ideological mentor RSS publicly expressed its disagreement with Advani's statement.

Taken aback, he declined to withdraw his statement but offered to resign immediately upon his return to India. He continued for some months before Rajnath Singh replaced him in December 2005.

Many believed at that time that Advani's lavish praise of Jinnah was driven by his desire to shun his Hindutva hardline image and project a soft and moderate image of him as a leader of a party keen to mend relations with Pakistan.

The ghost of Jinnah came back to haunt the BJP again when Jaswant Singh, a party veteran who held external affairs and finance portfolios in the Vajpayee government between 1998-2004, showed praise on the man blamed by most Indians for the division of India in 1947.

In his book 'Jinnah- India, Partition, Independence', Singh blamed the Congress and its stalwart Jawahar Lal Nehru for the partition and said Jinnah was "demonised".

Gujarat had also banned the book for its critical reference to Sardar Patel. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was then the state's chief minister.

Singh, never a favourite of the party hardliners, was expelled from the party. Advani later played a key role in admitting him back into the party.

BJP leaders believe that praise for Jinnah by leaders like Advani and Singh underlined their discomfort with the party's hardline image as they believed that it affected the party's adversely in elections.

Under Modi and Amit Shah, the BJP is unambiguous and unapologetic about its stand on Jinnah, that he was the man responsible for India's division.

Asserting this line of thinking, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath yesterday said in a TV interview, in the midst of the AMU controversy, that "Jinnah divided this country and How can we celebrate his achievements?"

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Jinnah: A controversial figure decades after his death

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