Mohammed Ali Jinnah is painted as the villain of India's partition in 1947, the man who stabbed the Indians in the back and walked away with a fifth of the ancient country's landmass. He's reviled as the traitor who created Pakistan, which has ever since been a festering wound in India's nationhood. But Jaswant Singh, an aristocratic former Indian foreign minister, shows there were several players more culpable - the British, the Congress Party leaders such as M.K. Gandhi, and Muslim leaders carrying the traits of today's Islamic terrorists. Look at it this way: when Kashmir (which is 90% Muslim) finds it impossible to secede from India, how could Muslims who comprised only 24% of undivided India have demanded Pakistan? The demand for Pakistan was made by elements that Gandhi encouraged and Jinnah initially abhorred. The responsibility for India's vivisection lies with the Congress and British, not with Jinnah.
Jaswant Singh's "Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence" gives a brilliant account of the machinations and mistakes that happened behind the scenes. You could call it the first book on Indian freedom that is a clean break from conventional history. A lot of books have been written (and some of them have taken the same view) but Jaswant Singh's words carry weight. He has no ax to grind, to use a cliche. He belonged to the right wing Hindu nationalist BJP party, so Jaswant defending Jinnah is a must read. In fact, he has been thrown out of the BJP after the publication of the book, leading to much turmoil in the party.
The Indian freedom movement was sweeping in its scope. From the tribesmen in remote hills to the broad streets of Mumbai, from the palaces of Indian maharajahs to the revolutionaries of Punjab and Bengal, all Indians were united in the belief that the oppressive British empire had to be defeated at all costs. But here Congress leader M.K. Gandhi differed from most Indians, including his colleague Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
When Gandhi returned from South Africa, he was in favor of continued British rule in India. In 1907 he wrote, "Should the British be thrown out of India? Can it be done, even if we wish to do so? To these two questions we can reply that we stand to lose by ending British rule and that, even if we want, India is not in a position to end it." These are the words of a man who was literally thrown out a train for sitting in a whites only coach. Indeed, Gandhi the votary of non-violence and peace urged all Indians to enlist in the British Army, which had been brutalising India for nearly two centuries.
Jinnah was frustrated by the tardiness shown by the Congress brass in demanding full freedom. Gandhi's non-violence exasperated him because it shielded the British from the wrath of the people. Jaswant Singh says that after the 1919 massacre in a public park in Punjab of over 2000 unarmed Indian men, women and children by British General Reginald Dyer, "Indian anger had reached critical mass, but Congress leaders failed to capitalize on it".
Next, the Caliphate Movement, which Gandhi backed to the hilt. While the Indian freedom movement aimed to replace British autocracy with Indian democracy, Gandhi shockingly wanted to replace Turkish democracy and nationalism with the caliph's autocracy. Few Indian Muslims had even heard of the caliph. It was an obscure battle between Turkey and Britain. By backing the Caliphate, Gandhi, who headed the Indian freedom movement, was ignoring the aspirations of the Arab states under Turkish yoke. Yet Gandhi, virtually alone among Hindu leaders backed it. Jaswant Singh writes: "In 1915 Gandhi told a group of students that politics should never be divorced from religion...The signal was picked by Muslims planning to marry politics with religion."
Jinnah had nothing but contempt for the Caliphate Movement. For the staunchly secular nationalist it was Indian nationhood alone that mattered, not an obscure European rivalry involving Britain and Turkey. Where Jinnah displayed farsightedness, wisdom and patriotism, Gandhi exhibited an opportunistic streak. Gandhi pigeonholed minority interests as separate from the larger national interest. Jinnah told Gandhi that the `Mahatma' had ruined politics in India by "dragging up a lot of unwholesome elements" and giving them "political prominence", "that it was a crime to mix up politics and religion the way he had done".
Jinnah's aversion for the Caliphate was vindicated when the Muslims of Kerala, a peaceful southern Indian state, massacred thousands of Hindu men, women and children. A chastened Gandhi soon gave up his support for the movement. He must have had egg on his face when the great Turkish nationalist Kemal Pasha abolished the Caliphate and banned the use of Arabic and the fez.
When Jinnah walked out of the Congress, it was not a walk toward Pakistan. Jaswant Singh says: "It could not be, for almost every Muslim was with Gandhi when Jinnah left the Congress."
Upon joining the Muslim League, Jinnah made it clear to its leaders that he would not compromise on the question of India's unity, that he would not attempt to break the union, that the League had to work with the Congress for India's freedom. He reminded them that the enemy was Britain not Gandhi.
Things, however, went horribly wrong. He wanted to create a new secular country of his dreams - Pakistan. The British - eager for a parting shot at the Indians - were only too happy to oblige. For over 80 years the British had been encouraging Muslim separatism. Perhaps they hoped to divide Hindus and Muslims and hoped to rule India ad infinitum; perhaps they were reconciled to someday having to leave India and did not want to leave this huge nation in peace because it would prosper and become a superpower. With an Islamic state to bait it constantly, India would be distracted from its great power destiny. Also, the British And their successors, the Americans) would have a satellite, a base, a vassal state in Pakistan. The British assuaged the humiliation of the retreat from India by carving a portion out of it for themselves.
Sadly for Jinnah, Pakistan has ended up becoming an albatross around the West's neck. More than that, the Indians who became Pakistanis have gained nothing from Pakistan. Would things have been better for Muslims without Pakistan?
It has taken a Hindu nationalist, Jaswant Singh, to defend the Muslim Jinnah. Now will a member of the so-called secular brigade do their bit to set right history? India's leftist scholars and leaders have turned history into hagiography, but facts rather than mythmaking should be the basis of history. As Jaswant Singh says in his book, "Facts are humbling. They prevent you from jumping to conclusions."