Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Jaswant on Jinnah -- II

Previous post HERE.

The other thing to note -- and that has gone largely unremarked in the English-language Indian media -- is that, while Jaswant Singh holds Nehru responsible for ensuring partition by insisting on a centralized state (rather than being sympathetic to, as he put it to CNN-IBN's Karan Thapar, the Muslim desire for an adequate space within the Indian political system), he seems to have drawn the opposite lesson from this than one might have expected. In his interview with Thapar, Singh went on to express hostility towards the whole idea of reservations, warning that they might herald a further partition of the country. One would have thought that Jaswant Singh's own claims about the historical record would make precisely the opposite point, namely that resisting such demands might have grave implications for the Indian polity. Evidently, Singh's stick is only good to beat Nehru with -- not to stir the contemporary status quo pot.

[The disconnect undermines Singh's historical argument in a different way as well, by shedding light on his caste-shaped blind spots. In his interview, Singh (rightly) pointed to the aftermath of the 1937 provincial elections in British India as a watershed -- the Congress' breach of faith with the Muslim League convinced the latter that the absolutism of the former meant it was determined not to allow non-Congress political formations any space -- and suggests that this demonstrated to the Muslim League that even contesting elections would not be enough to safeguard Muslim interests. On the contrary, the Congress' short-sighted cynicism (and lack of ethics) aside, the lesson Jaswant Singh wishes to draw (and that the Muslim League did draw) has not been borne out by history. That is, the rise to power and prominence of various regional "lower-caste" formations in recent years, typically turning on electoral coalitions between Muslim voters and particular caste-groupings, offers a glimpse of the road not taken by the League, a road that might well have yielded far greater dividends in the context of an un-divided India than of the post-1947 Indian union. Of course, given the disproportionate influence of ashrafi Urdu-speaking elites in the Muslim League; not to mention of the landlord classes; that was one of the least likely roads for the Muslim League (in short, the latter countered the Congress' ambition not by attempting to subvert it -- as the Left, Periyar, the Punjab Unionist Party, wittingly and unwittingly, and in their own ways, all sought to do -- but by positing a rival totalizing principle, a rival nationalism. That sort of competitive absolutism inevitably raised the temperature, and made compromise less and less likely). Jaswant Singh's continuing blindness and insensitivity to the caste/class question -- i.e. the fact that it apparently plays no role in his study of Jinnah, and the fact that the great lesson Singh appears to have drawn is that reservations are divisive -- over six decades after 1947, shows how little he has learnt.]


Szerelem said...

For the few days after the book release that the BJ was quiet, I was rather stunned. Perhaps, they won't make a big deal and there will be an actual civilized debate. Of course too much to ask for, given the noise they started make soon after and now the expulsion.

It does make me wonder wether Singh too expected greater maturity from his party - perhaps wrongly based on their track record. Also, I Iove how just the mention of Jinnah in India in the slightest positive gets everyones knickers in a knot. Still.

Szerelem said...

BJP, I meant.

Qalandar said...

I think Jaswant, given his criticism of the BJP after the election defeat, had long wanted to leave the party, and now perhaps he feels this gives him the "secular" credentials to jump onto some other party. Don't mean to sound too cynical, since no-one writes a 600 page book for purely cynical reasons, but the timing etc. might have been affected...

The thing that bothers me is that the book/work has been and will be criticized and defended for all the wrong reasons: saying Nehru was as responsible is one of the liberal calling cards these days (it has long been a right-wing calling card, for different reasons obviously) -- but the contemporary implications that Jaswant is drawing will go unremarked. Moreover, the juvenilia of this mode of historical discourse ("let's determine who the real villain is") will also go unremarked. [That is, Indian liberals and right-wingers simply want to change the identity of the villain; but no-one wants to get out of this structure of heroes and villains. Or to de-personalize things, such that people can appreciate the wider forces at work.] Obviously at an academic level this isn't really an issue any longer, but India is bereft of intelligent popular histories, for a lay audience, and it is sad to see that gap filled by these sorts of books.

Speaking of books by politicians, another (often overlooked_ contribution is "Facts are Facts" by Khan Abdul Wali Khan (the "Frontier Gandhi"'s son)...

Szerelem said...

Well that exact cynical thought about party switching was the first that popped in my mind too. Of course, the Congress will not be interested - though who knows, though I doubt Singh has any love lost for them.

I am always surprised by just how much venom Nehru manages to generate - in both extreme circles and find it immensely idiotic how this has somehow translated into some kind of Jinnah love. Though the TV channels were on today about how the BJP had an issue not with the Jinnah praise but with the conflation of Patel with Nehru. And in a moment of mad ranting Chandan Mitra on CNN IBN went on about how Jinnah was a Nazi and should have been tried for war crimes and how praising Jinnah was like praising Hitler. Having villains and heroes is so convenient, I doubt parties have any incentive to move away from these set narratives at all.

I remember reading a post on the book (if I am not mistaken) here - will check it out. My cousin recently also recommended On the Salt March by Thomas Weber, saying it gives a good idea about the tone of the political campaigns at the time and why the muslim leaders started feeling rather isolated. Too many books to read, too much back log.

Anonymous said...

What do you think of this post by Greatbong on the Jinnah issue :


Raza Rumi said...

Good point and well argued

kaivalyam said...

most history books are written by the JNU types and to oppose them we have the RSS types : not much help is it!!