Ramifications of Jaswant’s ‘Jasarat’ (Aug 21, 2009)

Exuberant Pakistanis celebrating the Jaswant Singh book “Jinnah – Indian partition, Independence” are missing some important issues that may arise in the ensuing debate. Though the book is not available in Pakistan at present many comments on the book and excerpts have appeared in the media in Pakistan and India.

Gleaning of the available material, particularly the in-depth interview of Jaswant Singh by Karan Thapur for CNN-IBN, highlights two facts: One, that ‘Mohammed Ali Jinnah did not win Pakistan as Congress leaders Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel conceded Pakistan to the Quaid-e-Azam with English acting as a helpful midwife’; and two Jinnah was a secular man and ‘not a Hindu basher’ or ‘Hindu hater.’ JS’s respect for Jinnah is not newfound, as he has also praised him in his first book “The call to Honour” published in 2006.

So what are the implications of furthering this debate afresh for India and Pakistan? And why the revival of these old historical facts is important? Before we move on to analyse this we have to admit there is nothing new in what Jaswant Singh is saying. Many historians and politicians have written that, had Nehru and Patel accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946, Muslim majority states of India would have been a part of an undivided Indian confederation. Maulana Azad’s “India Wins Freedom” new edition that includes the portions withheld by him previously says “one of those unfortunate events which changed the course of history. On 10 July (1946) Jawaharlal held a press conference in Bombay in which he made an astonishing statement ……Congress would enter the constituent Assembly ‘completely unfettered by agreements and free to meet all the situations as they arise.” (Emphasis mine).  When asked by a press correspondent if this meant that the Cabinet Mission Plan could be modified. “Jawaharlal replied emphatically that the Congress had agreed only to participate in the Constituent Assembly and regarded itself free to change or modify the Cabinet Mission Plan as it thought best.”

Jaswant Singh and many other Indian writers believe that Jinnah did not want to divide India but he wanted space for the Indian Muslims within the framework of India. Either this is true or Jinnah played a master tacticians stroke by accepting the Cabinet Mission Plan knowing fully-well that Congress would not go along with it. In both cases he emerges as a more astute politician than Nehru.

Jaswant Singh’s explanation about Nehru’s lack of vision is that “he came back from (1920s European tour) imbued with, as Madhu Limaye puts it a ‘spirit of socialism’ and he was all for highly centralized India.” Some Marxist analysts do not buy that Nehru’s centralist thinking was not because of his love for socialism alone; to them the slogan of ‘Akhand Bharat’ served the interest of the big Indian bourgeoisie. They wanted a united market without borders.

Going by Jaswant Singh’s thesis one can say that ‘space’ should be provided to the ethnic and religious minorities’ even if means agreeing to a confederation – a Greater India. Jinnah wanted proportional representation in the upper house and full control of Muslim majority states of India but it was not conceded by the Congress, which was the party of the majority of Indians. So the blame of dividing India according to Jaswant Singh was the result of “a contest between excessive majoritarianism, (and) exaggerated minorityism and giving the referee’s whistle to the British.” Perhaps it is this thesis of providing more space to minorities in this book that has appealed to Kashmiri leader Farooq Abdullah. He is the only one who has come to support Jaswant Singh so far. However the writer has been expelled from his party by the intellectually intolerant leadership.

Now if this debate is taken further we see that though population wise Bangladesh had the majority, it was not ceded space by the Pakistani establishment and the country was partitioned. Those who are exuberant about the book should also accept that the inherent message given by the writer is that the space demanded by the federating units should be conceded.  Otherwise after a few decades some objective writers like JS would be blaming the successive leadership of India and Pakistan for further partitioning of their respective countries for the love of concentrating powers in the center. In India it’s a burning issue in Kashmir and Assam. In Pakistan it is an explosive issue in Balochistan and to some extent in Sindh and NWFP.

Another narrative of the book is that some kind of confederation arrangement is possible in the sub-continent if the ‘excessive majoritarianism’ is shunned away by India, and Pakistan and Bangladesh shed ‘exaggerated minorityism.’

History of many countries and religions is full of this problem that the aspiration of the rising ethnic and religious groups is not respected by the majority. Look at the three monotheist religions, most probably they would have been one religion had the Jewish majority accepted the improvisation by the prophets who followed. Or at best they would have been sects of the same religion with local nuances.

Second assertion of the writer is that Jinnah was not in favour of mixing religion and politics. As a matter of fact this was one of his prime differences with Gandhi’s politics. Both he and Annie Besant had warned Gandhi about this. Besant according to JS cautioned Gandhi when the Home Rule League broke down: “you are going this path. This is a path full of peril.” That was the reason that Jinnah stayed away from the Khilafat movement. In his personal life, as Stanley Wolpert has narrated Jinnah was a secular man. The fact that he married a Parsee lady without changing her religion also proves that. That he did not allow his daughter to marry a non-Muslim is another story, because by that time he was using religion to establish the separate nation state for the Muslims is another story.

However, coming from Jaswant Singh, a stalwart of BJP a party which has been exploiting religion for political end, the book was expected to cause furor in the party and that it did. It also gives the other perspective more objectively than the Congress intellectual Dr. Rafiq Zakaria’s book “The Man Who Divided India.”

In Pakistan it would provide more material to establish that the father of the nation was committed to a secular state idea respecting the Muslim economic and political rights. This inconclusive debate has been going on in our country for the last six decades now. Whatever may be the stance of the founders we have to move on with democracy and a democracy that is not secular in character is half baked, if not raw. (ayazbabar@gmail.com)

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