By Amulya Ganguli
Eighty years after Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s portrait was put up in Aligarh Muslim University, the BJP’s electoral compulsions in Karnataka have made the saffron apparatchiki call for its removal.
The delayed reaction is typical of the Hindutva camp. Its devotion for Lord Ram, for instance, came to the fore only in the late 1980s although the RSS was formed in 1925 and the Jan Sangh in 1951. It was only in 1989, however, that the BJP’s national executive endorsed the VHP’s decision taken four years earlier to “liberate” Ramjanmabhoomi where the Babri masjid then stood.
As for Jinnah, the BJP’s ambivalence was demonstrated when L K Advani praised the founder of Pakistan for his “secularism” in view of Jinnah’s celebrated speech at the first meeting of Pakistan’s constituent assembly on August 11, 1947, where the Quaid-e-Azam said, “you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques” etc.
However, the eulogy cost Advani dear for, according to Subrmanian Swamy, the BJP lost in 2009 because the party cadres would not support Advani as the prime ministerial candidate. In the same year, another senior BJP leader of the time, Jaswant Singh, was expelled from the party for writing in his book, Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence – that Jawaharlal Nehru was responsible for the Partition and that Jinnah had been demonised in India.
These views even within a party which reviles Jinnah underline the complexity of one of the most traumatic events in Indian history. The complexity is evident in the argument by a section of historians that Jinnah had used the demand for Pakistan as a bargaining chip and was never really serious about the division.
As David Page has written in his introduction to Prelude to Pakistan, “As late as mid-1947, Jinnah was still investing in shares and property in India and … he even had a plan to retire to Bombay after being Governor-General of Pakistan. He left his house and furniture there and in 1947 saw nothing illogical in the thought. It is the killings and riots … which set the seal on the new divided subcontinent and left Jinnah with a great sense of bitterness and betrayal.”
How deep his remorse was can be gauged from the passage in Alex von Tunzelmann’s Indian Summer, where he says that “according to his (Jinnah’s) doctor, Jinnah saw Liaquat and told him that ‘Pakistan was the biggest blunder of my life’. Further yet, he declared, ‘If now I get an opportunity I will go to Delhi and tell Jawaharlal to forget about the follies of the past and become friends again’”.
These were apparently the last wishes of a man who was wanted by Gandhi to be the Prime Minister of India in preference to Nehru in a last-ditch attempt by the Mahatma to avoid Partition.
But even as Jinnah is demonised by the saffron brotherhood, it can be argued that he deserves sympathy twice over – first, for his “blunder”, for not only had he authored an act of vivisection without considering what it might entail, and, secondly, for creating a country which is becoming increasingly “moth-eaten”, as Jinnah had said, and is disliked by the world today for harbouring terrorists.
Even as the RSS and the BJP hold Jinnah responsible for Partition, it is worth remembering that he was not the only proponent of the two-nation theory. Presiding over the 1937 session of the Hindu Mahasabha, V D Savarkar spoke of the centuries of antagonism between Hindus and Muslims and said that “India cannot be assumed today to be a … homogeneous nation, but on the contrary there are two nations … the Hindus and the Muslims”. According to M S Golwalkar of the RSS, the Hindus “had allowed themselves to be duped into believing … our old and bitter enemies (MuslimaPas) to be our friends”.
That these beliefs of Savarkar and Golwalkar still guide the BJP is evident from the party’s MP, Vinay Katiyar’s advice to Muslims to go to Pakistan or Bangladesh since they have no right to stay in India. However, the animus against the “old and bitter enemies” of the Hindus assumes a sharper intensity at election time, especially when the BJP is unsure of its prospects.
At such times, the party looks for opportunities to raise the communal temperature in an effort which, it believes, will make the Hindus vote for it. So, no matter how long an issue has lain forgotten, the saffron lobby revives it with its customary gusto. The Jinnah portrait is one of them.
The BJP’s advantage is that in raising such “emotive” issues, it can ride roughshod over the nuances of history, presenting the people involved in the intense politicking of an earlier period in the contrasting colours of black and white.
While transposing these protagonists and antagonists of the past to the present times, the BJP places their supporters and opponents in the mutually exclusive categories of nationalists and anti-nationalists to score a political point. In the process, the history of the period is blurred. (IPA Service)