Boston : Years before veteran politician Jaswant Singh, who was expelled from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Wednesday, a well-known historian here was championing Pakistan founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s many admirable qualities, including his passion for a united India.
Ayesha Jalal, professor of history at Tufts University, has for long spoken about Jinnah’s failed quest to remain within a united India while guaranteeing the Muslim community equal rights.
Her book “The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and Demand for Pakistan” is widely regarded as the most definitive work on Jinnah and the circumstances that led to the creation of Pakistan.
“My understanding of Jinnah, and I have done substantial research on him, is that he never really abandoned the idea of a united India,” Jalal says in an upcoming documentary on Jinnah and the creation of Pakistan by US-based journalist Mayank Chhaya.
“A united India for him included a Pakistan. He invoked Pakistan based on the Muslim majority provinces of the northwest and northeast as a way of acquiring substantial amount of power at the all India centre,” Jalal says.
In tracing the history of developments that she says led to the movement for Pakistan as a separate state, Jalal focuses on the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 whose mandate was to discuss the transfer of power from the British rulers to Indians as well as discuss the framing of the constitution.
In a sense the Cabinet Mission Plan was about “layered or shared sovereignty”, Jalal argues. She was referring to a three-tiered arrangement proposed in the plan which included a federal union of India, the grouping of provinces as the middle tier (which Jinnah supported) and provinces as the third-tier.
“Throughout the discussion of the Cabinet Mission the Congress Party was not willing to have the centre reduced to three subjects — defence, foreign affairs and communication. They wanted a broader vision.
“When Jawaharlal Nehru made his famous statement that there is nobody who can stop the Constituent Assembly from enhancing the powers of the centre and we do not believe in grouping, it became untenable for Jinnah to accept the Cabinet Mission Plan. It was at that point that you begin to see a movement for a Pakistan as a sovereign state,” Jalal explains.
She says what the Cabinet Mission gave Jinnah was “an option of a Pakistan that is based on a partition of Punjab and Bengal or remaining within the all India union with no necessary assurance of Muslim share of power at the all India centre. He accepted that, he accepted something less than a sovereign Pakistan.”
What made Jinnah “revert back to the idea of a sovereign Pakistan”, according to Jalal, was the rejection of the grouping by the Congress Party and once “it became clear that the Congress had no intention of sharing power”.
In Jalal’s telling, Jinnah was still “hoping against hope that the British will make an award and give him an undivided Punjab and Bengal”.
Jalal’s point that it was Nehru and the Congress Party that was unwilling to share power with Muslims tallies with what Jaswant Singh has said in his interview with Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN. “Nehru believed in a highly centralised polity. That’s what he wanted India to be. Jinnah wanted a federal polity,” Singh has been quoted as saying.