An unlikely Indian admirer of Jinnah: Jaswant Singh of BJP
The couplet is one of my favourite about the follies of war. The pithy lines go thus:
Jang me qatl sipahi hongey
Surkh roo zille ilaahi hongey
(In war, the foot soldiers die
For the halo, for which the monarchs vie)
Jaswant Singh’s hesitation in permitting a couplet to be recited at his news conference was understandable. Any notion of peace in the charged up atmosphere would be jarring for a middle class that was being prepared to tune in to the fanfare of war drums.
The foreign minister retorted brusquely, but not insensitively. He had been a soldier too, he said, and didn’t need a lecture on valour. He was familiar with the sufferings of the fighting men in war. Saying that, he brought the landmark press meet to a closure.
I suspect I formed a lurking soft corner for Jaswant Singh then, something I do not have for his colleagues in the Bharatiya Janata Party. They mostly have their roots in the obscurantist and dangerously rightwing Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). My feeling is that the RSS doesn’t care too much for Jaswant Singh either.
In July 2001, when the Agra summit between Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf ended without an agreement because the RSS took the view that elections in Uttar Pradesh, due in February 2002, required a continued state of hostility with Pakistan, Jaswant Singh was targeted in whisper campaigns for allegedly drafting a weak agreement from India’s point of view.
The RSS, or less accurately the BJP, anyway lost the Uttar Pradesh elections. The massacre of Muslims in Gujarat happened four days later and can be seen as a panic reaction by the RSS to similar signals of looming defeat for the BJP after several preceding contests in the state. The clinically supervised pogroms turned the tide for the party.
Not comfortable with sectarian party rivals dominating politics in his native state of Rajasthan, Jaswant Singh fought the April-May Lok Sabha polls in the communist bastion of West Bengal, which he breached to become the only BJP MP to do so in decades. I still remember his reassuring voice at the post-summit news conference in Agra, when rightwing hawks were having a field day. ‘The caravan of peace has stalled, but not overturned,’ he cautioned famously as Gen Musharraf’s plane headed for Islamabad.
Having held the portfolios of defence, foreign affairs and finance as federal minister Jaswant Singh wouldn’t want to be seen as anything but an Indian patriot. It is thus that he makes for an unlikely admirer of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the creator of Pakistan. His book Jinnah: India – Partition – Independence is due to be released on Monday. The following excerpts from an interview he gave to a private TV channel reveal as much about the author as about his least likely muse.
Did he subscribe to the popular demonisation of Jinnah in India?
‘Of course I don’t. To that I don’t subscribe. I was attracted by the personality, which has resulted in a book. If I was not drawn to the personality I wouldn’t have written the book. It’s an intricate, complex personality, of great character, determination.’
Did he see Jinnah as a great man?
‘Oh yes, because he created something out of nothing and single-handedly he stood against the might of the Congress Party and against the British who didn’t really like him … Gandhi himself called Jinnah a great Indian. Why don’t we recognise that? Why don’t we see (and try to understand) why he called him that?’
Did he see Jinnah as a nationalist?
‘Oh yes. He fought the British for an independent India but also fought resolutely and relentlessly for the interest of the Muslims of India … the acme of his nationalistic achievement was the 1916 Lucknow Pact of Hindu-Muslim unity.’
What did he admire about Jinnah most?
‘I admire certain aspects of his personality. His determination and the will to rise. He was a self-made man. Mahatma Gandhi was the son of a Diwan. All these (people) – Nehru and others – were born to wealth and position. Jinnah created for himself a position. He carved in Bombay, a metropolitan city, a position for himself. He was so poor he had to walk to work … he told one of his biographers there was always room at the top but there’s no lift. And he never sought a lift.’
Did he believe the common Indian lore that Jinnah hated Hindus?
‘Wrong. Totally wrong. That certainly he was not … his principal disagreement was with the Congress Party. He had no problems whatsoever with Hindus. I think we have misunderstood him because we needed to create a demon … we needed a demon because in the 20th century the most telling event in the subcontinent was the partition of the country.’
Jaswant Singh said had Congress accepted a decentralised federal country then, in that event, a united India ‘was ours to attain.’ The problem, he added, was Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘highly centralised polity.’
He said: ‘Nehru believed in a high centralised policy. That’s what he wanted India to be. Jinnah wanted a federal polity. That even Gandhi accepted. Nehru didn’t. Consistently he stood in the way of a federal India until 1947 when it became a partitioned India.’
Was it wrong to see Jinnah as the villain of partition as Indians are taught?
‘It is. It is not borne out of the facts … we need to correct it…Muslims saw that unless they had a voice in their own economic, political and social destiny they will be obliterated. That was the beginning (of their political demands) …For example, see the 1946 election. Jinnah’s Muslim League wins all the Muslim seats and yet they don’t have sufficient numbers to be in office because the Congress Party has, without even a single Muslim, enough to form a government and they are outside of the government. So it was realised that simply contesting elections was not enough… All of this was a search for some kind of autonomy of decision making in their own social and economy destiny.’
Speaking about Jinnah’s call for Pakistan, Jaswant Singh said: ‘From what I have written, I have found it was a negotiating tactic because he (Jinnah) wanted certain provinces to be with the Muslim League, he wanted a certain per centage of (seats) in the central legislature. If he had that there would not have been partition.’
Nehru’s heirs and the Congress party could find his claims unacceptable, he was told.
Jaswant Singh said: ‘I am not blaming anybody. I am not assigning blame. I am simply recalling what I have found as the development of issues and events of that period.’
Had Mahatma Gandhi, Rajaji or Azad –rather than Nehru – taken the final decisions a united India would have been attained?
‘Yes, I believe so. We could have (attained a united India).’
On Jinnah’s relationship with Mahatma Gandhi, he said: ‘Jinnah was essentially a logician. He believed in the strength of logic. He was a parliamentarian. He believed in the efficacy of parliamentary politics. Gandhi, after testing the water, took to the trails of India and he took politics into the dusty villages of India.’
Jaswant Singh explained that Jinnah had two fears of Gandhi’s style of mass politics. First, ‘if mass movement was introduced into India than the minorities in India could be threatened and we could have Hindu-Muslim riots as a consequence.’ Second, ‘this would result in bringing religion into Indian politics and he (Jinnah) didn’t want that.’
Jaswant Singh pointed out that Jinnah’s fears were shared by Annie Besant and added that events had shown that both were correct.
At the end of their lives both Jinnah and Gandhi died failed men?
‘Yes, I am afraid I have to say that … I cannot treat this (the outcome of their lives) as a success either by Gandhi or Jinnah … the partition of India and the Hindu-Muslim divide cannot really be called Gandhiji’s great success … Jinnah got a moth-eaten Pakistan but the philosophy that Muslims are a separate nation was completely rejected within years of Pakistan coming into being.’
Not too long ago when BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani visited Jinnah’s mausoleum in Karachi and scribbled something about his secularism, the RSS tore him apart.
Jaswant Singh rang me up the other day to invite me to the book launch. ‘I have said objectively what I had to say in the book about Jinnah, now I am ready for the noose.’
The verse about the pitfalls of war seems equally apt for the seekers of just peace. I can’t wait to read the book. (Dawn)
Editorial: Let’s agree on Jinnah’s role
In his new book, Jinnah — India, Partition, Independence, India’s former foreign minister who later also served as finance minister in the last BJP government, Mr Jaswant Singh, has given India a positive portrait of Pakistan’s founder, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Given the fact of Mr Singh’s BJP affiliation, the book is being treated as an extraordinary event in India.
Because of his rightwing credentials, no one in India can doubt Mr Singh’s patriotism. That is why the book is going to be an important Indian revision of a highly demonised Muslim leader. Some other Indians too have done the job of balancing the distorted Indian view of Mr Jinnah, but this time history may be reinterpreted more permanently in favour of an Indo-Pak détente through a “reinterpretation” of Mr MA Jinnah.
Mr Singh has been blunt in his promotional interviews: “[Jinnah was a great man] because he created something out of nothing, and single-handedly he stood against the might of the Congress Party and against the British who didn’t really like him…Gandhi himself called Jinnah a great Indian. Why don’t we recognise that? Why don’t we see (and try to understand) why he called him that?”
Perhaps more significantly than anything else he has said in praise of his subject, Mr Singh’s explanation of the last-minute rupture between Nehru and Jinnah will become important in the coming days: “Nehru believed in a highly centralised polity. That’s what he wanted India to be. Jinnah wanted a federal polity. That even Gandhi accepted. Nehru didn’t. Consistently, he stood in the way of a federal India until 1947 when it became a partitioned India”.
Although pointed out earlier by Ayesha Jalal and Sugata Bose in their book Modern South Asia, Pakistani writers have ignored this real foundation of disagreement which made Pakistan possible. Both Allama Iqbal and Mr Jinnah wanted a confederal or federal arrangement in which the Muslims could attain a measure of autonomy and freedom from Hindu majoritarianism. The Cabinet Mission Plan which promised this arrangement as late as 1946 was scuttled, not by Mr Jinnah, but by Mr Nehru.
Mr Singh puts forward a point of view rejected in the past as a “communal” stance: “Muslims saw that unless they had a voice in their own economic, political and social destiny they will be obliterated. That was the beginning (of their political demands). For example, see the 1946 election. Jinnah’s Muslim League wins all the Muslim seats and yet they don’t have sufficient numbers to be in office because the Congress Party has, without even a single Muslim, enough to form a government and they are outside of the government”.
Pakistan’s myth of Indian opposition to the existence of Pakistan is based on the frequently expressed Indian view that Partition was wrong and that it was brought about entirely by Mr Jinnah and British machinations. Where the great Parsi Indian judge Mr HM Seervai had failed to remove the bilateral myths of partition with his book Partition of India (1994), Mr Singh might succeed. If that happens, both Pakistan and India will have to “rationalise” their view of Mr Jinnah.
In Pakistan, the conservative right and the liberal intellectuals are hopelessly divided on the person of Mr Jinnah. But both tend to stand together when it comes to what they think is Indian prejudice against the great man. Now that Mr Jaswant Singh has set the record straight in India, it may be easier for Pakistan to frame Mr Jinnah in a more realistic national reference. The identity of the state of Pakistan has been consciously moulded over the years in relation to India as the “enemy” state.
The Quaid can save Pakistan from its internal crisis if Pakistanis are prepared to see that the terrorists hiding behind “Islam” are opposed to what he wanted Pakistan to be. Pakistan’s statute books that contain laws against the minorities should be revisited in light of what he really stood for. He was never an enemy of India; India can reclaim him now. And in the process, India and Pakistan can change their bilateral equation, abandoning the path of an arms race, and accepting the mutual cooperation and economic interdependence dictated by history and current circumstances. (Daily Times)
جناح کی تعریف پر جسونت سنگھ بی جے پی سے باہر
بھارتیہ جنتا پارٹی نے اپنے سیئنر رہنما اور سابق وزیر خارجہ جسونت سنگھ بانی پاکستان محمد علی جناح پر ایک کتاب لکھنے کی پاداش میں پارٹی سے خارج کر دیا ہے۔ جسونت سنگھ کو پارٹی سے باہر نکالنے کا فیصلہ بی جے پی کے پارلیمانی بورڈ نے کیا ہے ۔
بدھ سے پارٹی کا تین روزہ اجلاس شملہ میں شروع ہوا ہے۔ بی جے پی کے صدر راج ناتھ سنگھ نے شملہ میں صحافیوں کو بتایا ’ہم نے جسونت سنگھ سے کل ہی کہا تھا کہ وہ اس اجلاس میں شرکت کرنے کے لیے نہ آئیں لیکن اس وقت وہ شملہ کے لیے روانہ ہو گئے تھے اس لیے ہم نے آج انہیں پھر سے فون کر کے اس اجلاس میں شرکت نہ کرنے کو کہا تھا۔‘
حال ہی میں جسونت سنگھ کی شائع ہوئی کتاب کے سبب پارٹی کی جانب سے ان پر زبردست تنقید کی گئی تھی۔
جسونت سنگھ نے اپنی کتاب ’جناح – بھارت، تقسیم، آزادی‘ میں لکھا ہے کہ بھارت میں محمد علی جناح کی شخصیت کی غلط عکاسی کی گئی ہے۔ اس کتاب میں انہوں نے مزید لکھا ہے کہ ہندوستان کی تقسیم کے ذمہ دار بھارت کے سابق وزیر اعظم جواہر لعل نہرو اور کانگریس پارٹی تھی۔
اس کے بعد بی جے پی کے صدر رجناتھ سنگھ نے ایک بیان میں کہا تھا کہ اس کتاب میں جسونت سنگھ کی ذاتی رائے ہے نہ کے بی جے پی کی، اور انہوں نے پوری طرح لاتعلقی ظاہر کی تھی۔
جسونت سنگھ کی کتاب سترہ اگست کو منظر عام پر آئی ہے۔ اس کتاب کے حوالے سے جسونت سنگھ کےمقامی اور بین الاقوامی ذرائع ابلاغ میں انٹرویو بھی شائع ہوئے ہیں جس میں انہوں نے اپنا موقف مزید واضح کیا ہے
Jaswant Singh expelled
Friday, 21 Aug, 2009
A tearful, bewildered Jaswant Singh has been expelled from his party of old, the BJP, and his new book, Jinnah: India–Partition–Independence, has been banned in Gujarat. The reason? ‘Ideological deviation’, according to the BJP’s party leadership, because Mr Singh has praised Mohammad Ali Jinnah and criticised India’s first home minister and hero of the independence struggle, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
‘I thought this book would set Pakistan on fire. But it is troubling India,’ Mr Singh told reporters after his sacking from the party which he helped form nearly 30 years ago. The furore over the book, the ban imposed by the Gujarat state government and, not least, Mr Singh’s expulsion will be received in some quarters in Pakistan as yet more evidence that India remains congenitally allergic to the idea of Pakistan and that sections of its political establishment have, and never will be able to, come to terms with this country’s existence. The corollary: peace with India is not possible.
But that is far from the case. India does have its hawkish elements, but to tar everyone with the same brush of jingoistic nationalism is not fair. The reaction, indeed over-reaction, by the BJP is already being criticised in India itself and voices are being raised in favour of freedom of expression and the need to determine if sacrosanct ‘truths’ stand up to genuine scrutiny. Indeed, the fact that a stalwart of the BJP has once again praised Jinnah — L.K. Advani famously praised Jinnah on a visit to Pakistan in 2005 and was forced out as party chief as a result — is an indication of just how untenable a black-and-white view of history is.
Here in Pakistan, the more important question is: can we imagine a similar statement about India’s independence leaders? Mr Singh has been treated shabbily, but the whole affair demonstrates that India, or parts thereof, is at least trying to come to terms with the ghosts of partition and assess it in a frank, honest manner. Can anyone in Pakistani politics claim such boldness? (Dawn)
Going Jinnah’s way
By Jawed Naqvi
Thursday, 20 Aug, 2009
The expulsion of former Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh from the Bharatiya Janata Party could not have come as a surprise to him. He had said last week that having written an adulatory account of Mohammad Ali Jinnah in his seminal book on the Quaid-i-Azam, he was ‘prepared for the noose.’
In a sense the fate that befell Jaswant Singh — his marginalisation within the rightwing BJP followed by his ideological disengagement with the party — had similarities with the denouement as it evolved for Jinnah. The difference was that while Singh may have moved from the communal politics of the BJP towards a reaffirmation of secular historiography, the insidious caste politics of the Congress behemoth had forced an agreeably liberal Jinnah to resort to patently communal agitation.
After his expulsion from the BJP ahead of the party’s brainstorming session in Simla on Wednesday, Jaswant Singh told reporters that he regretted his party’s decision to remove him from the organisation’s primary membership but he was not about to vacate the political space he has nurtured. What does that mean?
To begin with, he has created a royal mess for India’s two main parties. Who would have thought that the BJP and its ideological fountainhead, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, would find themselves defending their main quarry Jawaharlal Nehru, over the arch quarry Jinnah? Jaswant Singh’s clever, almost impish, juxtaposition of the two stalwarts has all but achieved the hitherto unimaginable. In one stroke he has put the Congress and the BJP on the same ideological plane. It would require an extremely delicate surgery, which neither party appears equipped for, to separate the arguments that he has made for and against Jinnah and Nehru, Gandhi and the British. He has studded his book with references rare and familiar that disturbs the neat communal historiography, which the establishments in India and Pakistan had been used to.
Jaswant Singh feared that the book Jinnah: India — Partition — Independence would create problems in Pakistan more than in his own country. He believed the dichotomy that emerged between the Quaid’s vision and the evolution of a sectarian state in Pakistan would invite state-sponsored censure. But the first barbs came from within India. Early reactions from the BJP and the Congress to his research verged on intolerance of intellectual inquiry. This is not new. Books have been burnt and banned, artists and writers sent into exile even earlier in India.
But Jaswant Singh is not quitting politics, much less the country. In fact an endorsement of his quest will be palpable as early as this weekend when Ramazan, the month of fasting for Muslims, begins. In Lutyens’ Delhi, the hub of India’s power dynamic, the circus of feasts will see robed clerics from diverse Islamic clusters getting invited to the prime minister’s house to break bread. Government ministers, party leaders, MPs, power peddlers, middlemen, in a nutshell everyone who lives by the 13 per cent Muslim vote in India or those who need to flaunt their secularism will take turns to rustle up an appetising Ramazan menu. Of course, only a minority of India’s 150 million Muslims are mullahs and so a few of the less pious variety would also be given a slot in the meandering queue to rub shoulders with the high and mighty.
Had Jinnah had his way, there would be no need for the pathetic lottery of Ramazan invitations. There would be no need for the Justice Sachchar Committee, set up to investigate why Indian Muslims continue to be economically and socially backward six decades after independence from colonialism.
In other words, had there been no partition there would not be a need for communally driven dinner invitations, even though they are usually claimed to strengthen secularism. Indians would be less self-consciously tolerant and eating or not eating with each other of their free will in an India that Jinnah had dreamt of. Jaswant Singh has been penalised for implicitly asserting this.
As a matter of fact, Justice Sachchar offered remedies that reminded me of the crisis once faced by the International Committee of the Red Cross when its representatives visited prisons in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. They recommended hot water baths for the inmates, which startled the jail warden who hadn’t had the luxury of one in a fortnight himself.
There are, of course, no hard and fast rules in this. Political power does not flow from the numerical superiority of a community over another. The partition of 1947 wrote this in blood. As a maverick college friend remarked, in capitalism man exploits man and in socialism it was the other way round.
In predominantly Muslim Pakistan, Muslims are exploiting, and now killing, Muslims. Hindus have fared no better in India. Seventy per cent of India — predominantly Hindu India — has been marginalised to create the illusion of a superpower for the 30 per cent, possibly less. More Hindus — if the tribespeople inhabiting Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand or those fighting pitched battles in West Bengal with paramilitary men are considered Hindu — are the next targets of the state’s neocon agenda.
Jaswant Singh may not have listed these examples to make his case, but they do underscore the unacceptable failures of the founding fathers and their heirs in both countries.
If Jaswant Singh is lucky and has got the proposed Urdu translation of his controversial book on Jinnah out before the weekend, there is a good chance that the Ramazan iftars would become the battlegrounds between status quo and refreshing new ideas for India, and also possibly for Pakistan, to explore.
A Bengali edition of the book is expected to ignite debate in a region that has revelled in questioning everyone that we easily worship, be he Jinnah, or Gandhi, Nehru or Suhrawardy.
In this sense Jinnah’s inspiration may well have come from Rabindranath Tagore’s song: Jodi tor daak shuney keoo na ashey tobey ekla chalo rey. (If none heeds your cry to march together, just walk alone, no if or whether.)
Jaswant Singh may well have embarked on a lonely journey to begin with. (Dawn)
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.