IT may not be a mere irony that two leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who have faced the maximum humiliation with the rise of Narendra Modi’s dictatorship are men who admired Mohammad Ali Jinnah as a secular leader.
Jaswant Singh who wrote an objective book on Jinnah has been denied the election ticket, period. Lal Kishan Advani who visited Jinnah’s mausoleum in Karachi where he expressed his soft corner for the Quaid’s innate secular worldview was humiliated by his party, being offered a battleground not of his choice.
As the intellectual and academic focus shifts to the Dalit worldview in India with Arundhati Roy’s fresh evaluation of Dalit mascot B. R. Ambedkar, who like Jinnah was also Mahatma Gandhi’s bête noir, fresh perspectives are expected to be unearthed from that largely masked historiography.
For all his sharp and often sympathetic assertions on Pakistan, and despite the fact that Ambedkar and Jinnah shared the laurels at the Round Table Conference and together won short-lived victories for their communities, the Dalit view of the freedom movement has been largely airbrushed at every stage of academia in both countries.
The deletion of Jaswant Singh’s and Advani’s perspectives on Jinnah is of a piece with the fate assigned to Ambedkar’s kindred bonding with Jinnah. But why has he been shunned in Pakistan? There will be hopefully a renewal of interest in the great Dalit intellectual not the least because of the interest shown in him by Ms Roy, whose word counts for something even among the most India-phobic Pakistanis.
Ambedkar’s appreciation of the Muslim quandary flowed from his view of the Congress as an upper caste Hindu party, not willing to do away with the horrors of the caste system in a free India.
“At the Round Table Conference, the Muslims presented their list of safeguards, which were formulated in the well-known 14 points. The Hindu representatives at the Round Table Conference would not consent to them,” notes Ambedkar dispassionately in his work Pakistan, or the Partition of India, which he wrote in 1940.
“There was an impasse. The British government intervened and gave what is known as “the Communal decision”.
By that decision, the Muslims got all their 14 points. There was much bitterness amongst the Hindus against the Communal Award. But, the Congress did not take part in the hostility that was displayed by the Hindus generally towards it, although it did retain the right to describe it as anti-national and to get it changed with the consent of the Muslims.
“So careful was the Congress not to wound the feelings of the Muslims that when the Resolution was moved in the Central Assembly condemning the Communal Award, the Congress, though it did not bless it, remained neutral, neither opposing nor supporting it. The Mahomedans were well justified in looking upon this Congress attitude as a friendly gesture.” Ambedkar’s observations were unbiased, neutral.
He then notes characteristically without fear or favour: “The victory of the Congress at the polls in the provinces, where the Hindus are in a majority, did not disturb the tranquillity of the Musalmans. They felt they had nothing to fear from the Congress and the prospects were that the Congress and the Muslim League would work the constitution in partnership.
“But, two years and three months of the Congress government in the Hindu provinces have completely disillusioned them and have made them the bitterest enemies of the Congress. The Deliverance Day celebration held on the 22nd December 1939 shows the depth of their resentment. What is worse, their bitterness is not confined to the Congress. The Musalmans, who at the Round Table Conference joined in the demand for Swaraj, are today the most ruthless opponents of Swaraj.”
What has the Congress done to annoy the Muslims so much?
Ambedkar answers his own question: “The Muslim League has asserted that under the Congress regime the Muslims were actually tyrannised and oppressed. Two committees appointed by the League are said to have investigated and reported on the matter. But apart from these matters which require to be examined by an impartial tribunal, there are undoubtedly two things which have produced the clash: (1) the refusal by the Congress to recognise the Muslim League as the only representative body of the Muslims, (2) the refusal by the Congress to form coalition ministries in the Congress provinces.”
There aren’t too many historians and other academics in India or Pakistan who could critique, even berate Gandhi and Jinnah in equal breath.
Ambedkar’s epilogue is titled bluntly: “We need better statesmanship than Mr Gandhi and Mr Jinnah have shown.”
On the Gandhi-Jinnah stalemate he suggests a way out: “It seems to me that arbitration by an international board is the best way out. The disputed points in the minorities problem, including that of Pakistan, should be remitted to such a board. The board should be constituted of persons drawn from countries outside the British Empire. Each statutory minority in India — Muslims, Scheduled Castes, Sikhs, Indian Christians — should be asked to select its nominee to this board of arbitration. These minorities, as also the Hindus, should appear before the board in support of their demands, and should agree to abide by the decision given by the board.”
Like him or reject him, at least let’s start to read Ambedkar. The Annihilation of Caste, with an introductory essay by Arundhati Roy, could be a beginning.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.