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Jaswant’s Jinnah: Why of ‘Bharatiya’ furore

By NM Sampathkumar Iyangar,

Leaders of India’s Bharatiya Janta Party who were working overtime since two years to face the elections in early 2009 have lots of free time currently. BJP had dumped former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee, considered as moderate – as if there could be a ‘moderate’ fundamentalist! It projected foxy octogenarian LK Advani as its ‘strong’ candidate for Prime Ministerial berth to take on the “weakest Prime Minister ever” though the latter was much younger. Given the disarray of the Congress-led coalition that was in power since 2004, compounded by the loss of the ‘outside’ support from the Left Front, BJP-led National Democratic Alliance was widely expected sweep the elections. But as it turned out, Advani’s strategy for overthrowing the hotch-potch coalition government led by Congress party, by riding on a new wave of fundamentalist Hindutva, flopped miserably. So, the leadership doesn’t have to suffer the pains and pressures of running a government.

It was not strange, therefore, that Jaswant Singh, a veteran BJP leader who held senior positions as finance minister and defence minister in Vajpayee-led regimes, donned the robes of an author of modern history. Again, it was not surprising that his book on Mohd Ali Jinnah – “India-Partition-Independence” was squarely ridiculed by politicians of the ruling Congress. The ‘freedom fighter party’ attempted to score brownie points over BJP. Congress leaders dubbed BJP as Bharatiya Jinnah Party instantly because Singh had kind words for Jinnah – considered as no less than treason. According to ‘official’ Indian history, Jinnah is the bitterest enemy of the country. Spin doctors have doctored history, right from school text books, portraying party’s patriarch MK Gandhi as a ‘superhuman leader’ (Mahatma, which in Sanskrit means Rasul)). Only he could oust, with his Elysian powers, the British imperialists who were never to leave their colonies; Pakistan’s founder betrayed the Mahatma by challenging him on his choice of Nehru to inherit the whole of South Asia!

Yet again, it was not surprising that Jaswant Singh, in terming Jinnah “a great Indian”, was not adding much to the line taken by his boss LK Advani. In his autobiography ‘My Country, My Life’ released last year, Advani stood by his controversial remarks earlier on Jinnah, later putting it up on his website. He had to step down from his position of BJP President for offering flowers on Jinnah mausoleum during his 2005 Karachi trip. He had then recalled a speech made by Jinnah in 1947 and eulogized his “secular credentials”. That would have been the end of his political career After all, the militant ‘mother’ organization of BJP, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has been even more bellicose than Congress towards Jinnah.

According to RSS, anything ‘Pakistani’ must be ‘anti Hindustani’ automatically. There were vociferous demands among RSS-loyalists in his party for his blood. The strident Hindutva elements argued, “If Pakistan founder was a statesman with impeccable secular credentials, why did Mr LK Advani leave Sindh and come to India?” Only the intervention of the party supremo Vajpayee rehabilitated him. To show that he was not basically a pro-Pakistani traitor, a case registered against him was dug out! In the case filed in Lahore, Advani was accused of a role in a plot to assassinate Jinnah a day before independence, The ‘autobiography’ of Advani, running into some 1000 pages, describes the Jinnah controversy as a “truly humbling experience.”

Admittedly, Advani’s remarks demolished the hatred sown and nurtured among Indians for Pakistanis (and vice versa), albeit selectively. It was more by political accident than by design that he lauded Jinnah as a historic icon. The real objective obviously was to portray Jawaharlal Nehru as much less competent – indeed a “man of straw” as Winston Churchill described the so-called freedom fighters.

In fact, the team of not-very-scholarly ghost writers behind both the books may have been the same. Jaswant’s book, particularly, reproduced portions of research work done by others word-for-word. Prof CM Naim of University of Chicago terms it as an “epiphenomenal work” – respectable euphemism for gross plagiarism. The professor gave up looking for pirated passages after a casual browsing yielded at least five chunks of blatant copying – ranging from 20 to 40 lines each – from the web or print! The ‘ghosts’ did not even care to quote the source. No attempt to comply with grammar and readability norms of English was made while rehashing and connecting different quotes lifted wholesale.

Although Jaswant’s Jinnah was difficult to swallow in the light of “official” Indian history, it can be seen that the book only re-stated Advani’s position. Advani had survived despite the heat it caused and had reiterated it in his autobiography just a year ago. Therefore, the ferocity of the reaction from the BJP leadership came as a thunderbolt, particularly because Advani is still the party’s leader in Parliament. The party high command said “talaq, talaq, talaq” in one single telephone call – the way it projects Muslims as treating their womenfolk. Passing the blunt resolution to summarily expel the cofounder of the party at a meeting was none else than Advani. Jaswant Singh was not even shown the courtesy of being called upon to explain away his “misdeed” and retract. He would certainly have complied on behalf of his ghost writers’ team.

The main cause of the mercilessly harsh treatment to Singh can be traced to the shattering of BJP’s dreams of capturing New Delhi in 2009 elections. The party is in the process of donning its earlier tag as the savior of the 900 million Hindus, who, it says, are under grave threat from the minorities, together accounting for a population of 200 million. The coterie of hardliners under Advani faction that controls the BJP – such as Rajnath Singh, Sushil Modi, Arun Jaitley from the Hindi heartland of North India dubbed cow-belt – has reasserted itself. Rumblings among grassroots leaders complaining that rabid anti-Muslim rhetoric during the elections alienated even rational Hindus from the party have been silenced or shown the door. These critics felt fanatical outbursts from the likes of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Varun Gandhi, the estranged scion of the Nehru dynasty, during the campaign robbed party candidates of victory.

The cow-belt coterie is all for blaming Nehru and his heirs reigning over the Congress party – the Nehrus have craftily usurped the Gandhi surname– for all the ills plaguing the India despite their belonging to elite Hindu caste. But, it cannot countenance praising Jinnah for the purpose. The leadership is under pressure also from allies like Shiv Sena. Chief Bal Thackery of SS, who openly advocates driving out or massacring minorities who do not accept overlordship by Hindutva elite, was livid at Singh. “One day these leaders will not hesitate to praise Mughal kings like Babar and Aurangzeb and blame Maratha warriors like Shivaji for waging war on these invaders. The Mahatma and Pandit Nehru might have erred during the Freedom Struggle but that cannot be an excuse to put Jinnah on a pedestal!” the terminally sick but fiery octogenarian wrote in his party’s official organ.

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The second ground of the hubris that Jaswant Singh invited from BJP bigwigs can be traced to the irreverence he showed to ‘Sardar’ Vallabhbhai Patel, a key figure during the ‘freedom struggle’. His book gives somewhat more elaborate treatment to the former deputy Prime Minister of India than the autobiography of the erstwhile deputy PM Advani does.

Patel, a tough bureaucrat-turned- politician had been given the short shrift by fellow Gujarati MK Gandhi, who adopted his trade mark moral blackmailing tactics to sideline him. Patel had to settle for being India’s first home minister and as deputy of Gandhi’s protégé Nehru. The tide against Jaswant Singh was not so much due to the accolades he paid to Jinnah as the perceived ‘betrayal’ of Patel. BJP cannot afford to de-idolize Patel, particularly in Gujarat, one of the few States it is doing extremely well in.

No wonder, Modi got so enraged with Singh that he hurriedly banned the book in his fiefdom. His colleagues pointed out that circulating the book was “against national interests!” When the Supreme Court of India wanted to nullify Modi’s ‘vindictive’ ban, the State government submitted that more time was needed to invent the bona fides of the ban! Predictably, the State High Court, almost always obliging to the State government, said there was no restriction on the state government if it wants to come out with fresh notification.

Vallabhbhai is hailed as Sardar and Iron Man of India to signify his overbearing tactics, and was ideologically closer to present-day exponents of militant Hindutva. Patel is credited with the feat of terrorizing hundreds of ex-princes, who could have claimed back their territories from the colonial rulers, to accede to the Indian Union. He never hesitated to employ strong arm tactics and threat of force wherever persuasion failed. Patel openly bullied rulers of provinces like Hyderabad and Travancore and annexed Junagadh after driving off its ruler. It was largely due to him that the ruler of Kashmir succumbed to British viceroy Mountbatten’s design and acceded to the Indian Union – albeit belatedly after half the province was gone from his control.

When New Delhi mounted a campaign soon after independence to project the new PM as a statesman of international stature, spin doctors had to perforce black out the aggressive ‘unifier’ of the country from history books. It was no small job as Gandhi had brushed aside more competent and appropriate leaders of the party to anoint the romanticist protégé to the throne. Edging out Patel was easy as he got ill and died soon after. The amnesia at national level, however, did not extend to Gujarat. Gujarati voters have always held the ‘Iron Man’ of their ethnicity in awe. Congress politicians of the State made an idol of him bragged that ‘Sardar’ Patel would have “solved” the Kashmir dispute, like he did in other provinces, had he lived a little longer.

When the BJP captured power in the State, its satraps virtually deified him to play down Nehru. They started worshipping Patel for restoring the Hindu glory of Somnath temple targeting the majority vote. The ancient temple had repeatedly been raided by the armies of Mahmud Ghazni, Sultan Allauddin Khilji and Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. Patel, with the blessings of Gandhi, rebuilt the temple after driving away the Nawab of Junagadh to Pakistan by pressing the Indian Army. The ruins of a mosque that stood there were pulled down and it was shifted elsewhere. Advani made full use of the groundwork and selected the State to launch his infamous Rath Yatra, intended to demolish Babri Masjid and build a Ram temple. As the BJP stormed to power with this ‘feat’ at national level, Advani made Gujarat his constituency and Patel his role model. The BUP decorated him with the title of ‘Loh Purush’ (Iron Man) that applied to Patel. Narendra Modi became ‘chhota sardar’ to signify Patel’s aggressive righteousness.

It is interesting to note that Jaswant Singh, while exposing the realpolitik played by Nehru and Patel in singular pursuit of power, has conveniently winked at the dubious role of the so-called “father of the (Indian) nation” in the process. Both the neo-historians of BJP avoid recounting that Jinnah and Ambedkar demanded separate electorates for Muslims and Dalits respectively in an undivided federation. Gandhi and his Congressmen who wanted to herd all the people their way rejected the demands. Mountbatten had no qualms in splitting the colony on Hindu-Muslim lines to hand over the major chunk of the colony to Nehru. Thus, the ‘father’ of Indian nation has even more claim than Jinnah to the title of ‘father’ of Pakistan as well! The partition happened essentially because of Gandhi’s weakness for his protégé, which made him deaf to the sane counsel of competent leaders for a united federation.

The red carpet unrolled by self-styled secular parties of India, inviting the sacked BJP stalwart to their fold, reveals their real colours. They all subscribe to the ‘Gandhian’ doctrine of treating Dalits and Muslims as no different from the elite castes. Both ‘communal’ and ‘secular’ outfits refuse to see the wisdom in the since vindicated pre-partition stands of Jinnah and Ambedkar. The ‘equality’ between oppressors and the oppressed can never secure ‘equity’ to the latter. The farcical democracy of universal adult franchise has only led to vote bank politics and more agony for them. The post-independence generation of RSS too has been subjected to the indoctrination that deifies the hypocritical lawyer-politician as a sort of demigod. Projecting Gandhi as a paragon of virtue, ignoring his hypocrisy and outright favouritism, is okay not only to Congress but almost every political party of India, including BJP.

Had only Jaswant Singh glossed over the ‘Gandhian’ qualities of Vallabhbhai Patel while attempting to demote Nehru by using Jinnah, his book would not have opened a hornets’ nest.

[The author is an independent analyst of South Asian issues, based in Ahmedabad, India.]