Jinnah, Nehru and partition

August 23, 2009

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MR Jaswant Singh, a former foreign minister of India, has been expelled from BJP for writing a book on architect-founder of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah and describing him a secular person. He was a senior leader of the BJP and has been associated with it for long.

He was known for being an independent-minded leader. Mr Jaswant Singh has thrown responsibility for partition on Jawaharlal Nehru.

Earlier Mr. L. K. Advani, another senior leader of the BJP, had also described Jinnah a secular leader while visiting Jinnah's mausoleum in Karachi and had paid heavy price for his remark as there erupted a controversy on his status in the party and RSS asked him to resign as president of BJP. However, the matter was settled after Advani's explanation which convinced the leadership.

No doubt Jinnah is a highly controversial figure in India. He is greatly admired and is father of the nation in Pakistan. He is often referred to as Baba-e-Qaum by Pakistanis. But he is hated by many in India and is considered mainly responsible for creation of Pakistan and hence a villain of the piece. Such extremes can never adequately define a person, let alone being understood adequately.

The motives for describing Jinnah as secular by two top BJP leaders may be different but there is an element of truth in what they say.

Shri Advani was speaking as a politician during his visit and may be he tried to please his hosts in Pakistan. Mr. Jaswant Singh is under no such obligation and is speaking as a scholar as he is known to be of fairly independent mind and would not be much concerned about what RSS and BJP leaders would say.

It is not only in India that Jinnah is subject to various interpretations, some hate him for dividing India while others absolve him of total responsibility for partition. He is also presented in different lights in Pakistan itself where some moderate and liberal Muslims describe him as secular and often quote his speech in the Constituent Assembly as a proof of his secularism. The conservatives and orthodox Muslims, on the other hand, project him as a believer in two-nation theory and a true Muslim who created Pakistan for Islam and Muslims.

We have the same problem with Mahatma Gandhi in India. Some Dalit and RSS leaders hate him but for different reasons. Dalits do so for he was an upper caste Hindu leader who upheld the concept of caste, if not of untouchability.

And RSS leaders hate him, though they may not take such a position publicly for obvious reasons. They hate him as they consider Gandhi as betrayer of Hindu cause and supporter of Muslims. They even indulge in propaganda that Gandhiji was responsible for partition of the country.

Many people hold Nehru responsible for partition and among them are all types of people — secular as well as communal. The question arises who is really responsible? It is interesting to note that Indians and Pakistanis while holding their leaders responsible have completely exonerated the British rulers of their responsibility in partition.

Though secular elements at times do refer to the role of the British, communal forces in both the countries have completely absolved the British. In RSS perception main culprits are Muslims led by Jinnah while in Pakistani propaganda it is Hindus led by Gandhi who are mainly responsible for partition. If one studies the complex developments carefully which took place in mid-fifties it is difficult to fix total responsibility on any one person or party. Different actors played different roles adding up to partition of the country.

First, let us see the role of Jinnah since he is at the centre-stage of partition issue. Before this we will also have to look at him whether he was a secular or communal. It must be noted that we cannot go by western definition of secular and communal.

We have accepted these terms in our own sense and in our own context. Gandhiji was secular despite being highly religious in his attitude. Nehru, of course, was secular more in western sense than in Indian sense.

Similarly, Jinnah was also secular more in western sense. Both Nehru and Jinnah were never as much religious as Gandhi and Maulana Azad were. Nehru was closer to Jinnah than to Gandhiji and Maulana Azad was closer to Gandhiji than to Jinnah. Maulana Azad was also a deeply religious person like Gandhiji though he was more liberal in religious matters than Gandhiji.

Jinnah was a thoroughly westernised person right from his younger days. He never had any religious training. He did not strictly avoid things that were deemed as taboos in Islam. He never observed religious rituals.

He even disagreed with Gandhiji about involving Ulema in politics and he opposed Gandhiji's idea of taking up Khilafat question. He believed in separation of politics from religion. He was described as Muslim Gokhale by friends. Gokhale was liberal and so was Jinnah.

Jinnah was certainly a secular leader in this sense. Until 1935, he described himself as Indian first and then Muslim. And, until 1937 he had never thought of partition even in his dreams. He even entered into an informal understanding with the Congress in 1937 elections in UP. His differences with Indian National Congress had begun from 1928 onwards when his demands were rejected by the Nehru committee set up by the Congress to solve communal problem. He had even ridiculed the concept of Pakistan initially propounded by Rahmat Ali, a Cambridge University student.

The two-nation theory was deeply flawed and Jinnah had formulated it as a sort of political revenge against the Congress leaders like Nehru who refused to take two Muslim League nominees in the UP cabinet after Muslim League lost 1937 elections and Nehru was responsible for this.

Maulana Azad tried to persuade Nehru to take the two nominees but unfortunately Nehru did not budge. Some scholars suggest that Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, an influential Congress leader from UP, prompted Nehru. Whatever the reason, politically it was unwise not to take the two Muslim League nominees in the cabinet. Maulana Azad has pointed this out and has criticised Nehru on this count in his political biography India Wins Freedom.

Jinnah took it as an outright betrayal and he decisively turned against Congress and gradually this attitude of Nehru led Jinnah to propound the two-nation theory. Thus, the two-nation theory was a politically contingent proposition rather than any religiously grounded proposition.

Had Nehru shown some political sagacity this theory would not have come into existence at all. And in no sense of the word Jinnah ever wanted to establish an Islamic state in Pakistan. He would not have even approved of Pakistan having Islam as its official religion.

That was not his bent of mind. If one goes by Jinnah's speech in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly it is doubtful if he wanted even a Muslim state, let alone an Islamic state. He was all for a secular state in Pakistan.

Then if we call Jinnah communal in what sense can he be described as one? Or can he be? In those days when we were fighting for freedom of our country communalism was not opposite of secularism, but of nationalism. Anyone who was anti-national was described as communal. Thus, if at all Jinnah could be described as communal it is in this sense. And as pointed out above, Jinnah opted for partition not as part of his conviction but as a result of political contingency.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was responsible in a way as he was not very happy with the Cabinet Mission Plan which he though would have resulted in a weak centre and that ex

cept defence, foreign policy and communication all residuary powers would have rested with the federating states.

Both Nehru and Sardar Patel were not happy with this scheme. And as Azad has pointed out in his book Nehru, on being elected as president of the Congress in 1946, gave a statement that Cabinet Mission Plan could be, if necessary, changed. This infuriated Jinnah as Muslim League had accepted the Plan and a composite government was formed after 1946 elections.

This finally drove Jinnah to accept nothing less than partition. The greatest culprit were British rulers as they also wanted India divided so that they could easily establish intelligence and military base in Pakistan to stem the tide of revolution which by then had become a certainty in China. Nehru government would have never allowed such bases in United India. Lord Mountbatten got Nehru, through his wife Advina to endorse the partition plan.

Thus it would be seen that apart from Jinnah the British and Nehru were also responsible for partition of the country. In my opinion the greatest responsibility of partition lay on the British shoulders. They cleverly manoeuvred the complex situation in a way to make partition a reality. Partition, as Maulana Azad also pointed out, was neither in the interest of India nor in the interest of Muslims themselves.

The ultimate result of partition is that Muslims of Indian subcontinent stand divided into three units and Kashmir problem is also an offshoot of this event. And both the countries are spending billions of rupees on their armies and now such powerful interests have developed in keeping conflict between the two countries alive that all efforts to hold peace talks are not succeeding.

If European countries could form a viable union despite the fact that they were at each other's throats until late forties why can't we in South Asia?

The writer is an Indian scholar and also chairman of Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai.

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