Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

One can disagree with all or aspects of Jaswant’s Singh’s analysis. But one simply cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater. Long nurtured national sentiments are not easily forgotten and two hands must clap across the border to start the healing process.

Jaswant’s Jinnah: Understanding Pakistan

Singh’s singular effort to seek a new beginning in his book “Jinnah”, should trigger debate on how things can be mended rather than buried in barren acrimony.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 30 August, 2009

Jaswant Singh is to be congratulated rather than condemned for writing “Jinnah”, a biographical exploration that can scarcely be regarded as taboo in any consideration of India-Pakistan relations. The run up to Partition was so enveloped in passion and emotion that few of the actors and the millions affected by its sorry outcome could take an objective view. Yet the continuing relationship of mistrust, fear and even hate those events left behind cannot be accepted as a happy augury or permanent state of mind. The stand off does not represent a state of bliss and so anything that ameliorates this dismal situation is to be welcomed. Three generations down the road there must be a new understanding of what happened in history. There cannot be a going back; but there can be a course correction in the direction we are headed.

Singh’s singular effort to seek a new beginning should trigger debate on whether and how things can be mended rather than be buried in barren acrimony and petty party politics. The BJP does not want to learn or forget anything. If so, it will never emerge out of the ideological morass in which it has got bogged down. The answer to a Talibanised Pakistan – if that is where Pakistan is sadly headed – is not a Talibanised Hindustan, which is what the Sangh Parivar seems intent on replicating. Rather, it lies in reaffirming and celebrating an open, democratic and plural society that removes the myth of a historic Hindu-Muslim (India-Pakistan) antagonism and encourages Pakistan to walk with it to a new and better future to redeem the perhaps fugitive hope that Partition was a painful parting only accepted as a means of bringing two estranged brothers together again as partners in a future of amity and cooperation.

Is this not worth exploring, honestly and sincerely rather than hurl scorn and abuse at the author and all the earlier actors, each side choosing its own villains and heroes? One can disagree with all or aspects of Jaswant’s Singh’s analysis. But one simply cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater. Long nurtured national sentiments are not easily forgotten and two hands must clap across the border to start the healing process.

There was no real communal divide in India until the mid-19th century when Persian was displaced by English and Kazi courts by Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence. Later, a howsoever decadent and powerless Mughal Court was swept aside by the Raj. Muslim culture and patronage saw a decline while a new, reformist and modernising Hindu elite took to “English education” and established an ascendancy. Muslims, who had withdrawn into a shell, found themselves losing out in the new competition for jobs in the higher administrative services and professions with the further prospect of becoming a permanent minority in emerging forms of representative government by virtue of their smaller number. The equation between conqueror and subject had changed to a seemingly unequal competition between communities. Hindu social reform was accompanied by a surge of Hindu nationalism, spurred by fears of Christian evangelization and “de-nationalisation”. By 1906 the Muslim League had come into being and there followed the demand for separate electorates – with Muslim weightage. Bengal was partitioned. The brief revolutionary or “terrorist” movement made the British look for a balancer in the League. The communal problem emerged and with it vote-banks, riots and polarization. Jinnah’s call for “direct action” (the great Calcutta killings) in September 1946 made Partition irrevocable.

The Congress resisted this, as did the early Jinnah, who gradually emerged as the spokesman for entrenched and weighted Muslim rights within a united India. Failing to win the special Muslim dispensation he sought, which the Congress believed to be divisive in the common struggle for economic and social rights, he asserted demands on behalf of the Muslim “nation” of which he proclaimed the League (himself) as the sole spokesman, a proposition that the Congress found repugnant and regressive. Polemics were punctuated by riots and, harried by the war, Britain found the League a useful ally not only in balancing the Congress but in its post-war strategic design to keep Communist Russia and China at bay and retain control over “Middle East” oil and the Indian Ocean sea-lanes.

Uniquely, the Muslim majority provinces of united India, Punjab, Sind, the Frontier and Balochistan and even Bengal, for the most part rejected “Pakistan”. The battle for Pakistan was fought and won in the Muslim minority provinces that remained in India and the League leadership, including Jinnah, arrived in Karachi, the Pakistani capital, in 1947 as migrants (mohajirs) to take command of the new state whose social and economic contours and political philosophy had simply not been thought through. So Pakistan was created in an ideological vacuum and would have been undone by the logic of the two-nation theory and weighted minority representation in reverse. Hence Jinnah’s first address to the Pakistan constituent assembly on August 11, 1947 in which he applied closure to the two-nation theory only to find his stirring speech in defence of equal citizenship and secularism censored and secreted away by the minions of the new state. Helpless and trapped, Jinnah repudiated his secular confession on January 25, 1948, publicly declaring that Pakistan would adopt the Sharia “to make Pakistan a truly great Islamic state”.

The question of who is a true “Muslim” has never been resolved in Pakistan (with a ban on Ahmediyas and pressure on all minority and sufi sects) With the two-nation theory shattered by the creation of Bangladesh, Pakistan’s “ideology” has moved from territorial Islamic sovereignty to ever more extreme postures to defend the purity of faith. Hence patronage of the “Islamic Bomb”, the Taliban and jihadi terror as state policy.

Jaswant Singh’s argument is that the Congress, especially Nehru, perhaps did not always play fair with the Muslim League and reneged on engagements with Jinnah at critical moments, preferring a centralised authority where the Hindu majority would naturally always and ultimately prevail. While individual episodes may be cited that suggest “intransigence”, the broad picture and context cannot be ignored. Jinnah wanted Gandhi, Nehru and Patel to abandon their core beliefs in democracy, pluralism and social justice. It ii said that by 1946 the League had won virtually all the reserved Muslim seats and was therefore entitled to speak for Indian Muslims (rather than Muslim Indians). But this was on the basis of separate electorates and a greatly restricted franchise limited to the propertied class, income tax payers and graduates. The League was a drawing room party of elites and feudals, and its politics limited to petitioning the British. Unlike the Congress it was almost bereft of contact with the common masses who were interested in issues of bread, empowerment and justice.

Jaswant’s Singh’ “Jinnah” must be read alongside Farzana Shaikh’s recent publication “Making Sense of Pakistan” which dissects Pakistan’s lack of positive identity (beyond being India’s “other”). She rates this as the reason for its political and social incoherence and adventurism, having to embrace ever more radical Islam, jihad and Afghanistan for gaining ideological strength and “strategic depth” to undertake these crusades.

Three generations down the road, we in India need to analyse and understand these nuances and respond to them if we are to overcome the bitter trauma of partition and redeem the promise of independence. By running away from this exercise, the BJP and others are turning their backs on the future.

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