Book review: Creation of the state of Pakistan —by Iftikhar Ahmad
By Jaswant Singh Oxford University Press; Pp 565, Price Rs 995
It is claimed that Jaswant Singh’s book, Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence, attempts an objective evaluation. It is for the impartial reader to pass a verdict. The focus of the author is on a number of factors, including the partition of India in 1947, an event labelled as the most “wounding trauma” of the 20th century. The questions raised are: why did the partition of the subcontinent take place at all? Who was responsible? Jinnah’s political journey began as an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity and ended with his becoming the “sole spokesman” of the Muslims in India, the creator of Pakistan and the Quaid-e-Azam. How and why did this transformation take place? Jaswant Singh asks where and when this questionable thesis of ‘Muslims as a separate nation’ first originated and where it led the Indian subcontinent. He believes that for the return of lasting peace in South Asia there is no alternative but to first understand what made Muslims ‘abandon’ us in the first place.
Like many others in India, Jaswant Singh seems to not have reconciled with the reality of the partition of the subcontinent. He calls partition a “disruptive and destructive path” and rejects the call that “Muslims are a separate nation” to finally emerge as Pakistan, even if “moth-eaten”. For the partition in 1947, he blames Nehru and Jinnah. He writes, “In India our having once accepted this principal of reservations, Circa 1909, then of partition, how can we now deny it to others, even such Muslims as have had to or chosen to live in India?”
Jaswant Singh writes, “We have all been born of partition; we were one, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, until the third quarter of 1947, now we are three separate entities, but are we truly all that different? I cannot help querying so.” Perhaps the answer lies in the circumstances stated by the author himself in chapter three (‘The Turbulent Twenties’) of the book. Similar circumstances have prevailed in India for over 63 years after partition. The Indian government failed to provide protection to minorities (especially Muslims). The equality as mentioned in the Indian constitution neither lives in the minds of the Hindu majority nor the government authorities.
Many years before the Pakistan Resolution (1940), Lala Lajpat Rai, a very astute politician and staunch Hindu Mahasabhite wrote, “I am inclined to think it is neither possible nor practicable to achieve Hindu-Muhammedan unity. Assuming that we can unite against the British, we cannot do so to rule Hindustan on British lines. We cannot do so to rule Hindustan on democratic lines.” Although Hindus and Muslims had been living together for centuries in the Indian subcontinent, yet there had never been any signs of a merger between Hindu and Muslim societies, or any serious attempt to develop a working relationship between the two major religious groups. The two always remained two distinct social systems, distinct cultures and different civilisations. The Hindu customs and their hatred for Muslims was the main factor against developing a working relationship between the two major communities.
If the leadership and majority in India failed to create the conditions to prevent violence against minorities, the birth of Pakistan has conclusively proved Jinnah’s thesis (Muslims — a separate nation). The core of this ideology is full and will never ever be empty. Bangladesh continues to be a Muslim state, independent from the fright of Hindu domination. In India the BJP itself provides support to this ideology. Analysts have observed how the BJP, with impunity, has been turning to prove that the Two Nation theory was after all right. The BJP extends practical support to the view that politics and religion in India cannot be divided. This further speaks volumes of the true nature of Indian secularism and what they call the ‘world’s biggest democracy’.
Referring to the book once again, let it be put straight: Jinnah should not be blamed (now) that he took advantage of or exploited or made much of the Hindu-Muslim riots (1946 in Bengal, Bihar, etc.) to prove the incapacity of Congress governments to protect Muslims. Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a cool and composed personality and therefore, unlike many other politicians, he would never attack Hindus or Hinduism as such. As a mature politician and strong believer in peaceful and constitutional means, his opposition to Congress was on the basis of principles and not personal motives.
Jaswant Singh’s authorship no doubt reflects his patriotism as an Indian citizen and an important political personality. His writing is powerful. But to arrive at valid conclusions the assumptions, to start with, should be realistic. Sincere deliberate efforts are required to persuade peace to return. Return of lasting peace in South Asia, especially in relation to India and Pakistan, is possible only if the leaderships of both countries put the past in the past and avoid conditions that could possibly lead to conflicts. Where there is a will there is a way. If both countries resolve to find a way forward and learn from past mistakes, there should be no reason that peace cannot be persuaded to return. Jaswant Singh may like to consider that what made peace abandon us in South Asia in the first place was the absence of positive thinking, a spirit of cooperation and feelings for others. This task involves accepting the reality of partition, recognising the ideology of Pakistan and existence of Hindus and Muslims as separate entities with distinct cultures and way of life. Tolerance, patience and cooperation are the necessary ingredients of peace. A new beginning is essential for friendship between India and Pakistan. Mutual respect and understanding is essential for good neighbourly relations and peace in the region. We need to put the past in the past. But it requires a spirit of reconciliation to admit that the creation of the state of Pakistan was the only just, honourable and practical solution of the most complex constitutional problem of the subcontinent.
As Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah put it, “Pakistan is a moral and intellectual achievement. Pakistan is now a fait accompli.” For meaningful progress it is absolutely essential that peace must be restored and assured and order maintained in both India and Pakistan. We have to put the past in the past despite all that has happened. Sincere deliberate effort is required.
The writer is former director, National Institute of Public Administration (NIPA), Pakistan, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org