Jaswant Singh’s Jinnah


by Rumbold
11th March, 2010 at 9:47 am    

On Tuesday evening I attended the UK book launch of Jaswant Singh’s biography of Jinnah, founder of Pakistan. The buzz around the book had been created by the reaction to it in India. One state banned it (no prizes for guessing who runs that state) and Jaswant Singh was expelled from the BJP as a result of writing it, despite being a former defence minister and a current MP.

Mr. Singh’s crime? To have absolved Jinnah from some of the blame for partition and instead criticised Nehru and Vallabhai Patel. Not that this was a one-sided book, as the British, Jinnah, and Congress rightly all come in for plenty of criticism. Mr Singh bemoans the failure of all sides to step back from the detail and take in the bigger picture, which is fair to a certain extent, but fails to take into account that at this point the devil really was in the detail.

The book was well sourced and contained some material I hadn’t come across before. It calls for both India and Pakistan to have a greater understanding of one another’s ‘growing pains’ in the immediate aftermath of partition. It is written in a nice style, but I was disappointed with his reluctance to only briefly touch on the impact Jinnah has had on India’s psyche today. As we have seen with the treatment of minorities in India (such as the Sikh massacres of 1984), India in some senses still hasn’t come to terms with minorities who are aggressively or confidently pushing for reform or more autonomy. Somewhat of a generalisation perhaps, but with ongoing conflict in areas like Kashmir and the Naxalite heartlands, it is still an important topic.

What does the reception to the book say about free speech and enlightened debate in India? The effigy-burning mob has become somewhat of a cliché, and Jaswant Singh isn’t the first BJP grandee to lose his head over Jinnah, with L. K. Advani becoming a pariah after praising Pakistan’s founder a few years ago. Other writers, artists and intellectuals have suffered (such as M. F. Hussain) as a result of this general atmosphere. Yet underneath the public reaction, the book just reinforces the notion of the strength in depth of Indian researchers and thinkers, given the vast numbers working in areas from history to science and the amount of research which they produce. Nor, as in most cases, does the vocal minority reflect the silent majority (at least not in actions).

It is a shame that the impact and legacy of Jinnah can’t be discussed more calmly, but as the scars of partition fade over time, the material for such a debate will already be out there.

Many thanks to Suki Dusanj of Newzevents for inviting me along, and to Daunt Books for hosting it.


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Filed in: History,India,Media,Pakistan






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  1. pickles

    Blog post:: Jaswant Singh's Jinnah http://bit.ly/aNgYh0




  1. Ravi Naik — on 11th March, 2010 at 11:44 am  

    Great post, Rumbold – and I will get this book. I should learn a bit more about what happened in this period. My feeling was that Gandhi believed in a multicultural nation governed by a democracy where people of different ethnic and religious groups lived side by side. This is something that Britain adopted 30 years ago, but at the time of the partition, it seemed like a foreign concept for British Raj.

    What I do not understand about the BJP is their animosity towards Jinnah. Clearly they both agreed that India is a Hindu country, and that Muslims would probably be better if they lived elsewhere.

  2. Laban — on 11th March, 2010 at 12:12 pm  

    “India in some senses still hasn’t come to terms with minorities who are aggressively or confidently pushing for reform or more autonomy”

    Now be fair. Very few nations would come to terms with a minority whose “pushes for reform or autonomy” encompassed the murder of their Prime Minister.

  3. Parvinder — on 11th March, 2010 at 12:35 pm  

    I too look forward to reading this new biography of Jinnah. Good post.
    Anyone manage to catch delightful Mishal Husain’s ‘Gandhi – Road to freedom’ back in November?
    What was so interesting and a surprise to me was when she uncovered Cabinet Records on the Pre-independence Roundtable Conference held in London.
    Particularly regarding the demands by minorities like the Muslims, represented by Jinnah, of separate electorates and seats within a united India.
    Gandhi was set against any separate representation for minorities and wasn’t even prepared to compromise. It is argued that Gandhi ‘bears some responsibility for partition’.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y815_a8k4Rg

  4. Dalbir — on 11th March, 2010 at 2:34 pm  

    Very few nations would come to terms with a minority whose “pushes for reform or autonomy” encompassed the murder of their Prime Minister.

    You talk like this minority came from Mars or something.

    Besides, the Prime Minister wasn’t exactly an angel either.

  5. Ravi Naik — on 11th March, 2010 at 3:00 pm  

    Particularly regarding the demands by minorities like the Muslims, represented by Jinnah, of separate electorates and seats within a united India.
    Gandhi was set against any separate representation for minorities and wasn’t even prepared to compromise. It is argued that Gandhi ‘bears some responsibility for partition’.

    In my view, that would be a disaster. How can you build a secular democracy with that sort of arrangement?

  6. persephone — on 11th March, 2010 at 3:03 pm  

    “Now be fair. Very few nations would come to terms with a minority whose “pushes for reform or autonomy” encompassed the murder of their Prime Minister.”

    How fair is your comment? It infers that the entirety of the minority were pushing for reform and (loosely) associates that push to encompass murder of a PM by said entire minority.

  7. Chris Williams — on 11th March, 2010 at 3:42 pm  

    “she uncovered Cabinet Records on the Pre-independence Roundtable Conference held in London.”

    Why ‘uncovered’? Why not just ‘read’?

    Sensible point: does historical research always need the to be wrapped up in the langauge of revelation? For one thing, that makes it sound more difficult than it really is.

  8. Jai — on 11th March, 2010 at 3:43 pm  

    Very few nations would come to terms with a minority whose “pushes for reform or autonomy” encompassed the murder of their Prime Minister.

    What happened to that Prime Minister wasn’t a “collective decision” by India’s Sikh population, and it certainly didn’t justify the retaliatory massacre of thousands of ordinary Sikhs in some kind of misbegotten notion of “collective guilt and collective punishment”.

    My feeling was that Gandhi believed in a multicultural nation governed by a democracy where people of different ethnic and religious groups lived side by side.

    Correct. That’s one of the reasons that he regarded Partition as being such a tragedy, and the reason that he didn’t celebrate the day of Independence in 1947.

    This is something that Britain adopted 30 years ago, but at the time of the partition, it seemed like a foreign concept for British Raj.

    Exactly. The notion of a populace consisting of ethnically, religiously and culturally diverse peoples isn’t exactly a new concept in the Indian subcontinent. It goes back thousands of years.

  9. Parvinder — on 11th March, 2010 at 8:34 pm  

    Ravi @5: ‘In my view, that would be a disaster. How can you build a secular democracy with that sort of arrangement?’

    Reading further into this I would agree. It’s a shame Mishal Husein didn’t care to mention Jinnah’s 14 points:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourteen_Points_of_Jinnah

  10. zak — on 11th March, 2010 at 8:34 pm  

    Pakistan and India’s internal problems tend to be opposite ..something which is a consequence of partition. India tends to struggle with religious issues..Pakistan struggles with ethnic issues.

    The Indian establishment view of Jinnah is pretty much the exact opposite of Jaswant Singhs..the Pakistan establishment does not tend to demonise Gandhi as much..it rejects his concepts of non violence ( how badshah khan was treated is a case in point) but tends to look at Nehru more negatively.

  11. Rumbold — on 11th March, 2010 at 8:38 pm  

    Thanks everyone.

    Laban:

    As others have pointed out, Indira Gandhi was hardly a saint (more of a quasi-dictator).

  12. Laban — on 12th March, 2010 at 11:55 am  

    Jai, Dalbir – Rumbold wrote :

    As we have seen with the treatment of minorities in India (such as the Sikh massacres of 1984), India in some senses still hasn’t come to terms with minorities who are aggressively or confidently pushing for reform or more autonomy.

    The immediate cause of the 1984 massacres was the murder of the Prime Minister.

    I’m not suggesting that the massacres were anything but an evil, that the killers of Indira Gandhi represented all Sikhs, or that Indira was an angel. I’m just saying Rumbold’s being unfair to blame the massacres on India not having “come to terms with minorities who are aggressively or confidently pushing for reform” – unless he includes assassination among the means of pushing for reform (which I hope he doesn’t).

  13. Rumbold — on 12th March, 2010 at 7:39 pm  

    Laban:

    The killing of Indira Gandhi was the trigger, but clearly trouble was brewing before.

  14. toni — on 16th March, 2010 at 3:17 am  

    Typical piece of snide from Laban there – keep it up lad.

  15. toni — on 16th March, 2010 at 3:18 am  

    Pakistan struggles with ethnic issues

    Pakistan certainly does struggle with religious issues.

  16. sofia — on 18th March, 2010 at 12:55 pm  

    I agree with Toni on the point of Pakistan struggling with religious issues. The only thing holding Pakistan together is this notion of it being a state for muslims. There is very little else that people from balochistan will have in common with people from Lahore. Yet you will find plenty of things in common between Punjabis in India and those in Pakistan.

    What I find amazing is that there is a new generation of Indians and Pakistanis who have no clue about their recent history. I’m of Indian heritage and I’m muslim, yet pakistanis ask if I’ve converted and Indians think I’m pakistani..or don’t know much past the ‘muslim’ label…when my father attended friday prayers in old delhi, a friend’s son asked him why an indian went to the mosque. The other day I was confronted by one of the stupidist 19 year olds I’ve ever met…asking if I had converted to Islam because automatically I must have if I’m of indian heritage. Clearly, something is going wrong with the education system in both countries. Do they not teach these stupid kids history or general knowledge…or is this the fault (in India’s case) of the muslim ‘voice’ not being heard past the ‘terrorism’ ‘post partition loyalty’ debate. I find each side to be equally militant in their unwillingness to debate calmly and without blaming the ‘other’. Everytime a bomb goes off it Pakistan, they’ll blame the taliban but then ultimately blame the americans and Indians for the war and terror and Kashmir. Across the border, saying the word ‘Pakistan’ makes you an automatic traitor..and let’s not even discuss human rights abuses in Kashmir against a predominantly muslim population.

    I believe India is secular to an extent, but in recent times has caved in to pressure from neo fascist religious organisations or turned a blind eye to ‘communal’ violence as in Gujarat.

    Instead of demonising Jinnah, we should have looked at when his policies actually changed from a united India to a separate ‘muslim’ state…i’m sure modern pakistan is far from what he envisaged..

  17. dogra — on 19th May, 2010 at 2:42 pm  

    People pre partititon lived together as fellow human beings before the fascists spread communal poison, primarily Jinnah and the muslim league party, buit also Hindu Mahasbha:
    http://www.voi.org/books/mla/

    http://iref.homestead.com/DirectAction.html

    “Excerpted from Margaret Bourke-White’s book, Halfway to Freedom: A Report on the New India, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1949. White was a correspondent and photographer for LIFE magazine during the WW II years. In 1946 she was in India. The following is her account of the Direct Action Day launched by the Muslim League in Calcutta on August 16 of that year. Tens of thousands died from communal riots that started in Calcutta and then spread to other places all over India. This was a prelude to the carnage of partition that followed a year later.

    Why had the fearful Great Migration come to pass? Why were millions of people wrenched from their ancestral homes and driven toward an unknown, often unwanted “Promised Land”? For years Hindus and Muslims had struggled side by side for independence from British rule. With freedom finally on the horizon why should India begin to tear herself in two along religious lines?

    The overt act that split India began in the streets of Calcutta. But the decision was made in Bombay. It was a one-man decision, and the man who made it was cool, calculating, unreligious. This determination to establish a separate Islamic state came not — one might have expected — from some Muslim divine in archaic robes and flowing beard, but from a thoroughly Westernized, English-educated attorney-at-law with a clean-shaven face and razor-sharp mind. Mahomed Ali Jinnah, leader of the Muslim League and the architect of Pakistan, had for many years worked at the side of Nehru and Gandhi for a free, united India, until in the evening of his life he broke with his past to achieve a separate Pakistan”

  18. dogra — on 19th May, 2010 at 2:43 pm  

    Jinnah could have saved the situation by not demanding partition as this was the last thing Nehru wanted, but no Jinnah is primarily responsible, but the apostles of pacifism betrayed majority of Indian people.

  19. dogra — on 19th May, 2010 at 3:14 pm  

    “Gandhi was set against any separate representation for minorities and wasn’t even prepared to compromise. It is argued that Gandhi ‘bears some responsibility for partition’”

    was he, then why did he have Muslim representatives in his chose at 1946 cabinet mission.
    Ghandhi was set against having to not be allowed to have muslim reps in his Congress as Jinnah wanted

    This is what Allah Baksh said in contradiction to Jinnah:

    http://www.sasnet.lu.se/allahbaksh.html/portal/
    “Historians have rightly held the Muslim League, led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, basically responsible for this unnatural and tragic Partition which became a kind of license for both Hindu and Muslim communal elements to indulge in mass butchery of innocent children, women and men.

    “Allah Baksh in his address defended greatly the composite Indian culture, ”When they talk of Muslim culture they forget the composite culture which the impact of Hindus and Muslims has been shaping for the last 1000 years or more and in which is born a type of culture and civilisation in India in the production of which Muslims have been proud and active partners. It can not now merely by creating artificial States be withdrawn to segregated areas. To art and literature, architecture and music, history and philosophy and to the administrative system of India, the Mussalmans have been contributing for a thousand years, their share of coordinated, composite and syncretic culture which occupies a distinctly distinguished place in the types of civilisations which hold a prominent place in the world. It would be a disastrous loss to civilisation if it was proposed to withdraw all this to two corners of India and leave nothing behind the ruins and debris of this contribution. Such a proposal can only emanate from defeatist mentality. No, gentleman, the whole of India is our motherland and in every possible walk of life we are co-sharers with other inhabitants of the country as brothers in the same cause, viz., the freedom of the country, and no false or defeatist sentiment can possibly persuade us to give up our proud position of being the equal sons of this great country.””

    India should award a posthumus Bharat Ratna to Allah Baksh, Bhagat Singh, Annioe Besant and of course Shubhas Chandra Bose

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