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At Jaswant Singh's book launch, the case for and against Jinnah

By Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
Last updated on: August 18, 2009 22:23 IST
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Jaswant's Singh's bookAfter Independence, Jawaharlal Nehru lived at Teen Murti Bhavan in New Delhi. Now, it has been converted into the Nehru Memorial and Museum Library.

It was an irony that in the auditorium of this historic complex, where Nehru's personal memorabilia has been preserved, a book that implicates Nehru Nehru for his acts of ommission and comission in making of history of India during the independence struggle was released.

Bhartiya Janata Party's leader and former foreign minister Jaswant Singh's book on Mohammad Ali Jinnah was released in presence of scholar and writer Namvar Singh, Hameed Haroon, chief of The Dawn, the newspaper that Jinnah founded, M J Akbar, writer and author of Nehru, The Making of India and Sir Mark Tully, British journalist who has meticulously reported on India from the days of Indira Gandhi.

Along with them B G Verghese, fan of Nehru and Lord Meghnad Desai were also present. Jinnah – India, Partition, Independence has become controversial before it could launch.

L K Advani, who also re-invented Jinnah as a secular leader, did not come for the launch. George Fernandes, who is keeping fragile health, came with two assistants to help him walk.

The function that went on beyond listener's patience was about the book on Jinnah but few speakers stuck to the subject as is normally the case in such functions.

The book is likely to sell well because readers want to know Jaswant Singh's views on two questions. Was Jinnah secular? Was he the creator of Pakistan?

Namwar Singh, a highly respected author, gave a taste of his reputation to the audience. Instead of commenting on Jaswant's book he read out a passage from a Hindi writer's book and told Jaswant Singh that his book is published in footsteps of a Hindi book.

In the cover of Jaswant's book, the publisher has claimed that "no Indian or Pakistani politician or Member of Parliament has ventured an analytical political biography of Jinnah'. But Namwar Singh said that before Jaswant Singh, a retired income tax commissioner has written a book on Jinnah asking similar questions. Namwar Singh said, "Jinnah was considered a villain. This is a myth. To break this myth, Viren Kumar wrote a book and Jaswant Singh's book is in the same line."

He said in the Mahabaharat, Karna who was having Pandva blood was destined to fight on the side of the Kauravas.

What he probably meant was that Jinnah was wrongly demonised. He was secular but he was destined to fight the battle of Muslim League! Namwar complimented Jaswant that his book was written with a lot of emotion.

Hameed Haroon illustrated how like in India, even in Pakistan a fair evaluation of Jinnah has not been done. He said the young generation does not know the real Jinnah and just recently the electronic media is reinventing Jinnah.

He said that in India popular opinion is that Jinnah was responsible for Partition. Haroon pointed out that in Jinnah's August 11, 1947 speech in Karachi where he said that new nation Pakistan should have religious freedom. He says since Independence even in Pakistan there is some kind of censorship on information about Jinnah. During President Zia-ul Haq's regime Jinnah was criticised for drinking and for not being Islamic enough.

"In Pakistan there was political manipulation that tarred Jinnah's reputation."

Haroon alleged that Zia indulged in character assassination of Jinnah. As a result Pakistan's young generation lost Jinnah. He said, "The Partition was avoidable. It was a great crime that took place in 1947. Jinnah was falsely accused of that crime."

Haroon dwelt upon the developments before 1947 that led to Partition and how Jinnah lost patience due to those events"As a result the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity went with passion to create Pakistan." Haroon said, "Jinnah was a great Indian who was 'Pakistani' only for one year and a month till he died on September 11, 1948."

Noted lawyer Ram Jethamalani condemned Nehru and almost abused him. He said that all problems of India are due to Nehru. While praising Jaswant Singh, he said that he respected him before he wrote this book but now after reading this book his respect for him has gone sky high.

The controversial premise of the book is that, "Jinnah did not win Pakistan, as the Congress leaders -- Nehru and Patel finally conceded Pakistan to Jinnah, with the British acting as an ever helpful midwife."

Jaswant Singh has said in an interview on the book that, "Nehru believed in a highly centralised polity. That's what he wanted India to be. Jinnah wanted a federal polity. That even Gandhi accepted. Nehru didn't. Consistently, he stood in the way of a federal India until 1947 when it became a partitioned India."

Jethamalani said, "Yes, Jinnah was secular. I have no doubt on that." Jinnah was never found wanting on the issue of Hindu-Muslim unity, he said.

Jethamalani said Jinnah was such formidable lawyer that even the legendary lawyer Bhulabhai Desai used to get nervous when he faced Jinnah. However, he said, "Advocate Jinnah's greatest client was the Muslim community. He fought their case with consummate skill. He himself was amazed by his own success."

Jethamalani claimed, "But, his heart was not in it!"

When Jethamalani starts speaking he is unstoppable. While talking about differences between the Congress and Muslim leadership he said, "Historically Muslims were masters or slaves. They never had developed the political partnership which was required in the Congress."

Continuing his scathing attack on Nehru, Jethamalani quoted a March 12, 1937 meeting between Nehru and leaders of the Muslim community where he claimed that Nehru was arrogant. Jethamalani quoted Nehru saying that, 'The Hindu-Muslim question in India is an obsession of some power-seekers'.

He says that Nehru had no concern for the Muslim masses and their grievances. Jethamalani said the "arrogance and stupidity" of Nehru distressed Muslim leaders of that time

Jaswant Singh has said that the view held by many in India that Jinnah hated Hindus was a mistake and said the demonisation of Jinnah was a direct result of the trauma of Partition. Singh has said that Jinnah's principal disagreement was with the Congress party. He had no problems whatsoever with the Hindus.

But B G Verghese, former editor of the Hindustan Times and the Indian Express, gave a befitting reply to Jethamalini and hit out at Jaswant Singh's version in his speech.

Verghese said, "Jaswant Singh is little unkind to Nehru."

Verghese told, "Nehru was not responsible for Partition. The whole idea of two-nation theory and Jinnah's demand for minority rights and Muslims being given 'weighted' representation partitioned the heart of India. He said Muslims are different from Hindus and then he asked for a larger share. To my mind, from Nehru's point of view he had complete justification for taking the stance that he took. Also, they told the Congress that no one other than the Muslim League can represent the Muslims. Zakir Hussein can't, Maulana Azad can't."

On the issue of Jinnah's secularism, Verghese reminded the audience that Jinnah gave the call for direct action in 1946 and that resulted in violence and killings between Hindus and Muslims.

M J Akbar also put it succinct defence of Nehru. He said that in decision making processes that lead to Partition, Nehru was not alone. The Congress Working Committee took the decision. Akbar said that the Cabinet Mission Plan permitted secession and in that the Congress saw a plan for balkanisation of India.

Akbar said, "Jinnah accepted a moth-eaten Pakistan, but Nehru refused to accept a moth-eaten India."

Akbar said, "Mahatma Gandhi wanted a secular nation with a Hindu majority, while Jinnah wanted a secular nation with a Muslim majority".

A few years back, Akbar had written an essay on Jinnah and had quoted Gandhi.

Akbar wrote that, "On June 8, 1940, Gandhi said in The Harijan that, 'Quaid-e-Azam himself was a great Congressman. It was only after the non-cooperation movement that he, like many other Congressmen belonging to several communities, left. Their defection was purely political.' In other words, it was not communal. It could not be, for almost every Muslim was with Gandhi when Jinnah left the Congress."

The function was attentively watched by Pakistan High Commissioner Shahid Malik who was obviously pleased with Jaswant Singh's book.

Jaswant Singh's party has completely distanced itself from him and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is trying to figure out what is the real motive behind writing this book when the sangh parivar is passing through one of the worst crisis in decades.

The Congress is making mockery of Jaswant's attempt, sure that popular opinion in India would never accept any kind of projection of Jinnah as a secular hero. One of the members of audience termed it as 'suicidal' for the man who has been a member of the core group of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Recently, one of the readers of Jaswant's version of Jinnah had said, "The power to inflict painful self-goals is a profoundly Indian trait."

Jethamalani thinks that through this book Jaswant Singh has established that Jinnah was secular and Nehru was responsible for Partition and Nehru should be blamed for disregarding grievances of the Muslim community.

Jethamalani, a Sindhi by birth who lost his birthplace due to Partition and who once lived in a refugee camp in Mumbai, advised Jaswant Singh, "you should write an another book on where do we go from here?"

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
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