Nehru, Jinnah Responsible for Partition
Jaswant’s Book on Jinnah Creates a Storm

 

Monday saw the publication of a biography of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah which challenges the way people in India have seen the founder of Pakistan. It reassess Nehru's role in Partition, it sheds fresh light on the relationship between Mahatma Gandhi and Mr Jinnah.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Jaswant Singh’s book is likely to attract considerable attention and may be even a fair amount of controversy. Karan Thapar, in a special interview with the author, discusses the book with Singh, a former defense, foreign and finance minister of India and also a former soldier.

Karan Thapar: Mr Jaswant Singh, let's start by establishing how you as the author view Mohammed Ali Jinnah? After reading your book, I get the feeling that you don't subscribe to the popular demonization of the man.

Jaswant Singh: Of course, I don't. To that I don’t subscribe. I was attracted by the personality which has resulted in a book. If I wasn't drawn to the personality, I wouldn't have written the book. It's an intricate, complex personality of great character, determination.

Karan Thapar: And it's a personality that you found quite attractive?

Jaswant Singh: Naturally, otherwise, I wouldn't have ventured down the book. I found the personality sufficiently attractive to go and research it for five years. And I was drawn to it, yes.

Karan Thapar: As a politician, Jinnah joined the Congress party long before he joined the Muslim League and in fact when he joined the Muslim League, he issued a statement to say that this in no way implies “even the shadow of disloyalty to the national cause”.Would you say that in the 20s and 30s and may be even the early years of the 40s, Jinnah was a nationalist?

Jaswant Singh: Actually speaking the acme of his nationalistic achievement was the 1916 Lucknow Pact of Hindu-Muslim unity and that's why Gopal Krishna Gokhale called him the Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity.

Karan Thapar: In your assessment as his biographer, for most if not the predominant part of his life, Jinnah was a nationalist.

Jaswant Singh: Oh, yes. He fought the British for an independent India but he also fought resolutely and relentlessly for the interest of the Muslims of India.

Karan Thapar: Was Jinnah secular or was he communal?

Jaswant Singh: It depends on the way you view the word 'secular' because I don't know whether secular is really fully applicable to a country like India. It's a word born of the socio-historical and religious history of Western Europe.

Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this. Many people believe that Jinnah hated Hindus and that he was a Hindu basher.

Jaswant Singh: Wrong, totally wrong. That certainly he was not. His principal disagreement was with the Congress party. Repeatedly he says and he says this even in his last statements to the press and to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan.

Karan Thapar: So his problem was with Congress and with some Congress leaders but he had no problem with Hindus?

Jaswant Singh: No, he had no problems whatsoever with the Hindus. Because he was not in that sense, until in the later part of his years, he became exactly what he charged Mahatma Gandhi with. He had charged Mahatma Gandhi of being a demagogue.

Karan Thapar: He became one as well?

Jaswant Singh: That was the most flattering way of emulating Gandhi. I refer of course to the Calcutta killings.

Karan Thapar: As you look back on Jinnah's life, would you say that he was a great man?

Jaswant Singh: Oh yes, because he created something out of nothing and single-handedly he stood up against the might of the Congress party and against the British who didn't really like him.

Karan Thapar: So you are saying to me he was a great man?

Jaswant Singh: But I am saying so.

Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this. Do you admire Jinnah?

Jaswant Singh: I admire certain aspects of his personality: his determination and the will to rise. He was a self-made man--Mahatma Gandhi was a son of a Dewan.

Karan Thapar: Nehru was born to great wealth.

Jaswant Singh: All of them were born to wealth and position, Jinnah created for himself a position. He carved out in Bombay a position in that cosmopolitan city being what he was, poor. He was so poor he had to walk to work. He lived in a hotel called Watsons in Bombay and he told one of the biographers that there's always room at the top but there is no lift and he never sought a lift.

Karan Thapar: Do you admire the way he created success for himself, born to poverty but he ended up successful, rich?

Jaswant Singh: I would admire that in any man, self-made man, who resolutely worked towards achieving what he had set out to.

Karan Thapar: How seriously has India misunderstood Jinnah?

Jaswant Singh: I think we misunderstood because we needed to create a demon.

Karan Thapar: We needed a demon and he was the convenient scapegoat?

Jaswant Singh: I don't know if he was convenient. We needed a demon because in the 20th century the most telling event in the entire subcontinent was the partition of the country.

Karan Thapar: I’ll come to that in a moment but first the critical question that your book raises is that how is it that the man, considered as the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity in 1916 had transformed 30 years later by 1947 into the 'Qaid-e-Azam' of Pakistan?And your book suggests that underlying this was Congress' repeated inability to accept that Muslims feared domination by Hindus and that they wanted “space” in “a reassuring system”.

Jaswant Singh: Here is the central contest between minoritism and majoritarianism. With the loss of the Mughal empire, the Muslims of India had lost power but majoritarianism didn't begin to influence them until 1947. Then they saw that unless they had a voice in their own political, economical and social destiny, they would be obliterated. That is the beginning. That is still the purpose.

Karan Thapar: Let me ask you this. Was Jinnah's fear or anxiety about Congress majoritarianism justified or understandable? Your book in its account of how Congress refused to form a government with the League in UP in 1937 after fighting the elections in alliance with that party, suggests that Jinnah's fears were substantial and real.

Jaswant Singh: Yes. You have to go not just to 1937, which you just cited. See other examples. In the 1946 elections, Jinnah's Muslim League wins all the Muslim seats and yet they do not have sufficient number to be in office because the Congress party has, even without a single Muslim, enough to form a government and they are outside of the government. So it was realized that simply contesting election was not enough.

Karan Thapar: They needed certain assurances within the system to give them that space?

Jaswant Singh : That’s right. And those assurances amounted to reservation, which I dispute frankly. Reservations went from 25 per cent to 33 per cent. And then from reservation that became parity, of being on equal terms. Parity to Partition.

Karan Thapar : All of this was search for space?

Jaswant Singh: All of this was a search for some kind of autonomy of decision making in their own social and economic destiny.

Karan Thapar: Your book reveals how people like Gandhi, Rajagopalachari and Azad could understand the Jinnah or the Muslim fear of Congress majoritarianism but Nehru simply couldn't understand. Was Nehru insensitive to this?

Jaswant Singh: No, he wasn't. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was a deeply sensitive man.

Karan Thapar: But why couldn't he understand?

Jaswant Singh: He was deeply influenced by Western and European socialist thought of those days. For example dominion status would have given virtual independence to India in the 20s (but Nehru shot it down).

Karan Thapar: In other words, Nehru's political thinking and his commitment to Western socialist thought meant that he couldn't understand Jinnah's concerns about majoritarianism? Nehru was a centralist, Jinnah was a decentraliser?

Jaswant Singh: That's right. That is exactly (the point). Nehru believed in a highly centralized polity. That's what he wanted India to be. Jinnah wanted a federal polity.

Karan Thapar: Because that would give Muslims the space?

Jaswant Singh: That even Gandhi also accepted.

Karan Thapar: But Nehru couldn't.

Jaswant Singh: Nehru didn't.

Karan Thapar: He refused to?

Jaswant Singh: Well, consistently, he stood in the way of a federal India until 1947 when it became a partitioned India.

Karan Thapar: In fact, the conclusion of your book is that if Congress could have accepted a decentralized federal India, then a united India, as you put it, “was clearly ours to attain”. You add that the problem was that this was in “an anathema to Nehru's centralizing approach and policies”.

Do you see Nehru at least as responsible for Partition as Jinnah?

Jaswant Singh: I think he says it himself. He recognized it and his correspondence, for example with late Nawab Sahab of Bhopal, his official biographer and others. His letters to the late Nawab Sahib of Bhopal are very moving letters.

Karan Thapar: You are saying Nehru recognized that he was as much of an obstacle.

Jaswant Singh: No, he recognized his mistakes afterwards.

Karan Thapar: Afterwards?

Jaswant Singh: Afterwards.

Karan Thapar: Today, Nehru's heirs and party will find it very surprising that you think that Nehru was as responsible for Partition as Jinnah.

Jaswant Singh: I am not blaming anybody. I’m not assigning blame. I am simply recording what I have found as the development of issues and events of that period.

Karan Thapar: When Indians turn around and say that Jinnah was, to use a colloquialism, the villain of Partition, your answer is that there were many people responsible and to single out Jinnah, as the only person or as the principal person, is both factually wrong and unfair?

Jaswant Singh: It is. It is not borne out of events. Go to the last All India Congress Committee meeting in Delhi in the June of 1947 to discuss and accept the June 3, 1947 resolution. Nehru-Patel’s resolution was defeated by the Congress, supported by Gandhi in the defeat.

Ram Manohar Lohia had moved the amendment. It was a very moving intervention by Ram Manohar Lohia and then Gandhi finally said we must accept this Partition. Partition is a very painful event. It is very easy to assign blame but very difficult thereafter. Because all events that we are judging are ex post facto.

Karan Thapar: Absolutely, and what your book does is to shed light in terms of a new assessment of Partition and the responsibility of the different players. And in that re-assessment, you have balanced differently between Jinnah and Nehru?

Jaswant Singh: All vision which is ex post facto is 20/20. It is when you actually live the event.

Karan Thapar: Quite right. Those who have lived it would have seen it differently but today, with the benefit of hindsight, you can say that Jinnah wasn't the only or the principal villain and the Indian impression that he was is mistaken and wrong?

Jaswant Singh: And we need to correct it.

Karan Thapar: Let's turn to Jinnah and Pakistan. Your book shows that right through the 20s and the 30s, or may be even the early years of the 40s, Pakistan for Jinnah was more of a political strategy, less of a target and a goal. Did he consciously, from the very start, seek to dismember and divide India?

Jaswant Singh: I don't think it was dismemberment. He wanted space for the Muslims. And he could just not define Pakistan ever. Geographically, it was a vague idea. That's why ultimately it became a moth-eaten Pakistan. He had ideas about certain provinces which must be Islamic and one-third of the seats in the Central legislature must be Muslims.

Karan Thapar: So Pakistan was in fact a way of finding, as you call it, 'space' for Muslims?

Jaswant Singh: He wanted space in the Central legislature and in the provinces and protection of the minorities so that the Muslims could have a say in their own political, economic and social destiny.

Karan Thapar: And that was his primary concern, not dividing India or breaking up the country?

Jaswant Singh: No. He in fact went to the extent of saying that let there be a Pakistan within India.

Karan Thapar: A Pakistan within India was acceptable to him?

Jaswant Singh: Yes.

Karan Thapar: So in other words, Pakistan was often 'code' for space for Muslims?

Jaswant Singh: That's right. From what I have written, I find that it was a negotiating tactic because he wanted certain provinces to be with the Muslim League. He wanted a certain percentage (of seats) in the Central legislature. If he had that, there would not have been a partition.

Karan Thapar: Would you therefore say that when people turn around and say that Jinnah was communal, he was a Hindu hater, a Hindu basher that they are mistaken and wrong?

Jaswant Singh: He was not a Hindu hater but he had great animosity with the Congress party and Congress leadership. He said so repeatedly: I have no enmity against the Hindu.

Karan Thapar: Do you as an author believe him when he said so?

Jaswant Singh: I don't live in the same time as him. I go by what his contemporaries have said, I go by what he himself says and I reproduce it.

Karan Thapar: Let's come again to this business of using Pakistan to create space for Muslims. Your book shows how repeatedly people like Rajagopalachari, Gandhi and Azad were understanding of the Jinnah need or the Muslim need for space. Nehru wasn't. Nehru had a European-inherited centralized vision of how India should be run. In a sense was Nehru's vision of a centralized India, a problem that eventually led to partition?

Jaswant Singh: Jawaharlal Nehru was not always that. He became that after his European tour of the 20s. Then he came back imbued with, as Madhu Limaye puts it, 'spirit of socialism' and he was all for highly centralized India.

Karan Thapar: And a highly centralized India denied the space Jinnah wanted.

Jaswant Singh: A highly centralized India meant that the dominant party was the Congress party. He (Nehru) in fact said there are only two powers in India -- the Congress party and the British.

Karan Thapar: That attitude in a sense left no room for Jinnah and the Muslim League in India?

Jaswant Singh: That is what made Jinnah repeatedly say but there is a third force -- we. The Congress could have dealt with the Moplas but there were other Muslims.

Karan Thapar: So it was this majoritarianism of Nehru that actually left no room for Jinnah?

Jaswant Singh: It became a contest between excessive majoritarianism, exaggerated minoritism and giving the referee's whistle to the British.

Karan Thapar: Was the exaggerated minoritism a response to the excessive majoritarianism of Congress?

Jaswant Singh: In part. Also in response to the historical circumstances that had come up.

Karan Thapar: If the final decision had been taken by people like Gandhi, Rajagopalachari or Azad, could we have ended up with united India?

Jaswant Singh: Yes, I believe so. It could have. Gandhi said let the British go home, we will settle this amongst ourselves, we will find a Pakistan. In fact, he said so in the last AICC meetings.

Karan Thapar: It was therefore Nehru's centralizing vision that made that extra search for united India difficult at the critical moment?

Jaswant Singh: He continued to say so but subsequently, after Partition, he began to realize what a great mistake he had made.

Karan Thapar: Nehru realized his mistakes but it was too late, by then it had happened.

Jaswant Singh: It was too late. It was too late.

Karan Thapar: Let's end this first interview there. In the next part I want to talk to you about the relationship between the early Gandhi and Jinnah, the questions you raise about Partition and the predicament of Indian Muslims. (Courtesy CNN-IBN)

 


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