Aug 20, 2009

Going Jinnah’s way

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.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

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