Jaswant seems to think that an internal debate on Pakistan's creation would set the country on fire. — Jaswant Singh was foreign minister in India’s last BJP government that held power for nearly five years until 2004, and was regarded as a stalwart of the party.
He has just published a laudatory biography of Mohammad Ali Jinnah that has created quite a sensation in India and beyond. Over the years, not only Hindu extremists but probably also a cross-section of Indian society have demonised Jinnah in the context of the partition in 1947.
Jinnah has been described as a communal-minded, fanatical and obstinate Muslim leader who had a personal agenda of his own in breaking up India. Moreover, Hindu fundamentalists have always considered the 1,000-year Muslim rule over India as a period of national humiliation. Many continue even now to view Muslims with suspicion.
The BJP is a fundamentalist party and the political face of the Sangh Parivar, a loose collection of parties and organisations in which the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has been a kind of spiritual leader. The Parivar has had a philosophy of glorifying Hinduism and denigrating Muslims.
It is against this background that Jaswant Singh’s book has come like a bombshell. He is full of praise for Jinnah and describes him as a fascinating but complex character of great integrity and honesty. Jaswant Singh argues that Jinnah was a secular-minded leader who did his best to promote Hindu-Muslim unity. Though never anti-Hindu, Jinnah sought to protect the rights of Indian Muslims within a united country.
The demand for Pakistan and the partition of India were basically bargaining tactics that Jinnah was willing to abandon, even as late as 1946 when he had persuaded the Muslim League to accept the Cabinet Mission Plan that conceded Muslim rights within a united India. It was Jawaharlal Nehru, the Congress leader, who rejected the plan. In fact, Nehru had all along refused to accept the minimum demands of Muslims for the protection of their political, cultural and economic rights.
Thus, Jaswant Singh argues, the onus for the division of India must be laid mainly on Nehru, though he also puts some blame on Sardar Patel and Mahatma Gandhi. Jaswant Singh is, therefore, critical of the persistent demonisation of Jinnah by many Indians, which he thinks is based on a lack of information and objective analysis.
Jaswant Singh’s book has been strongly denounced by the BJP and led to his immediate expulsion from the party. In effect, he has questioned the validity of the long-held beliefs of the party. If Jaswant Singh’s thesis is accepted, then it would seem that extremists in the Hindu community have been barking up the wrong tree. They also stand to lose at least some of the ammunition that has long fuelled their anti-Muslim feelings.
But the real question is: why has Jaswant Singh chosen to write this book? He says he was drawn to Jinnah’s fascinating personality and found, on research, that Jinnah had been largely misunderstood. This might well be the truth. But then, there are the political realities. Jaswant Singh must have known that telling this kind of truth would be akin to stirring up a hornet’s nest and could cause him serious harm. Still, he thought it worthwhile to take the risk.
In writing this book, I suspect, he had two motives. Firstly, he wanted to discredit Jawaharlal Nehru whose personality cult remains strong in India and has all along benefited the Congress party, the main rival of the BJP. The love affair of the Indian people with Nehru as yet shows no sign of ending. He is seen not only as the hero of Indian independence but also as a leader who gave the country a solid start.
The Congress has all along cashed in on Nehru’s popularity. It has also kept the Nehru dynasty in power: his daughter Indira Gandhi, followed thereafter by Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and the-soon-to-come Rahul Gandhi. If Jaswant Singh’s book does damage Nehru’s political standing, that would be to the BJP’s advantage.
The second motive of Jaswant Singh in writing this book might have been to create an uproar and divisions inside Pakistan. Following his expulsion from the BJP, he did remonstrate, ‘I thought this book would set Pakistan on fire.’ Jaswant Singh evidently thought that his book would lead to a deep controversy in Pakistan about the rationale for the creation of Pakistan as also about the thinking of its founder, and that such a controversy might shake the very foundations of the country.
The fact of the matter is that many in Pakistan have lost track of the rationale for the creation of Pakistan. There has been a systematic distortion of facts and a rewriting of history with a view to impose religion in matters of the state. The historical record shows that ever since the Muslims started their political struggle in the latter half of the 19th century during the British colonial period, their demand was for the protection of their political, cultural, religious and economic rights in a united India.
However, it is notable that no Muslim leader of note, since the days of Sir Syed, ever demanded either the division of India or the establishment of a Muslim state based on the rule of Sharia. Some people think that in the Allahabad address of 1930, Allama Iqbal had demanded the creation of a Muslim state in the northwest, but Iqbal himself had clarified that ‘Pakistan is not my scheme. The one that I suggested in my address is the creation of a Muslim province i.e. a province having an overwhelming population of Muslims in the northwest of India. This new province will be, according to my scheme, a part of the proposed Indian federation.’
The question arises as to why then was the demand for the division of India made by the Muslims in 1940? This happened because all of their efforts for reaching a national consensus failed due to the persistent refusal of the Congress to accept the minimum Muslim demands, notably one-third representation in the central legislature and in jobs.
The final blow was the shocking treatment of Muslims under Congress rule (1937-39). That forced Muslims to demand, in the Lahore Resolution of March 1940, the breakup of India and creation of independent Muslim states in the northwest and eastern zones of India where Muslims were in numerical majority. The truth is that the division of India (and creation of Pakistan) was not the first preference of the Indian Muslims. It was rather the last preferred option.
It is also notable that the Lahore Resolution made no mention of the proposed Muslim states being based on the rule of the Sharia. Jinnah was undoubtedly a secular leader.
Jaswant Singh is right to bring out some of these facts in his book. However, his motives are questionable since he seems to think that an internal debate in Pakistani society on the rationale behind the creation of the country and the secular ideas of Jinnah would set Pakistan on fire and presumably destabilise it.