Sunday, August 16, 2009

Jaswant on Jinnah

And now it is the BJP's Jaswant Singh (ex-foreign minister and current M.P. from Darjeeling) who has apparently woken up to the greatness of Jinnah, and has joined the bandwagon of those for whom partition was, above all else, Nehru’s fault (for the complete interview, click on the following links: PART I; PART II). The merits of this argument -- or mode of discourse, concerned with affixing responsibility rather than anything else -- aside, it is quite revealing that be it Advani or Jaswant Singh, some on the Indian right find it in their hearts to be more generous to Jinnah than to Nehru. This isn’t to deny Jinnah’s qualities; but the notion (as Jaswant Singh told CNN-IBN’s Karan Thapar) that all Jinnah wanted was a federal polity, and that the unacceptability of that plan to Nehru was basically responsible for partition, is ridiculously simplistic (not to mention that other Congress bigwigs, including the much-lionized-by-the-Sangh Patel, were similarly opposed to the sort of political arrangement that the Muslim League seemed prepared to accept). I would like to read Jaswant’s book on Jinnah, although, from the sounds of it the book seems like a recycled version of Stanley Wolpert’s Jinnah of Pakistan and Ayesha Jalal’s The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, The Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan. And I am certainly curious to see how Singh's apparent acceptance of the tenuous federation (short of partition) Jinnah's League might have accepted, squares with Singh's and his party's (as well as the Congress') unwillingness to countenance something more modest than that sort of federation where the state of Jammu & Kashmir is concerned (for instance, the Cripps proposal, which the Muslim League likely would have accepted, incorporated an opt-out clause as well; Jaswant Singh himself notes that by 1947 the Muslim League's demand was "parity" between Hindus and Muslims; not to mention that the experience of Lebanon holds lessons on the stability (or lack thereof) of constitutional arrangements apportioning political power between religious communities). [None of this is to deny that the likes of Jalal and Wolpert have done valuable service in contextualizing Jinnah's life and work, and in countering the simplistic demonization of the man in mainstream Indian nationalist historiography; and to the extent Jaswant Singh can help lay to rest the idiotic notion held by some that Jinnah hated Hindus or that he was some kind of maniac bent on dividing India, all well and good -- however, in India the revisionist pendulum has swung to such an extent that many Indian liberals (e.g. the constitutional scholar H.M. Seervai) as well as some on the right subscribe to the notion that Jinnah was left with no choice but to "settle" for partition -- a notion that would be strange, until one realizes that the notion internalizes, and is entirely consistent with, how Jinnah appears to have approached his politics: as an exercise in epic advocacy, not conventional political engagement. To conduct politics as if one were litigating might prove tricky even in ordinary circumstances -- raising the specter of (court-like) "decisions" one might not be happy about, but would have to live with given the "litigation" strategy one has pursued. In the sort of hyper-communal atmosphere of 1940s India, this sort of politics could be many things -- brilliant, clever, and even heroic. But (assuming the likes of Wolpert, Seervai, and Jaswant Singh are right that Jinnah never wanted partition), not wise or advisable.]

What explains the "discovery of Jinnah" move in India today? With the right, it might just be down to hypocrisy (never spare Nehru --and, by extension, his political heirs -- a barb if one can possibly help it; for instance, Jaswant Singh's claim that India did not get Dominion status in the 1920s because Nehru "shot it down" is ludicrous -- there is simply no evidence that the British were prepared to offer India the sort of Dominion status they had accorded Canada and Australia by the early 1930s; likewise, when he says that the likes of Gandhi, Rajagopalachari and Azad might have kept India together, citing to Gandhi's position that the British should just quit and leave the mess to Indians to sort out, he conveniently ignores the reality that that "solution" was utterly unacceptable to Jinnah, who (rightly) saw in it a ploy to present the Muslim League with a fait accompli; these sorts of attempted sleights of hand speak volumes about the aims of Singh's book), and to the fact that the Sangh Parivar's own ideological underpinnings pre-dispose adherents to greater acceptance of the Muslim League's two-nation theory (merely a mirror image, and a rather more polite one at that, of the ideology espoused by Savarkar and Golwalkar). As for more liberal-leaning journalists, I have previously written on the issue here.

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