So the genie of Jinnah is once again out of the lamp of history, placing the entire nation of hypocrites that we are, at discomfort of the highest level. The BJP is groping in the dark cave to find the Aladdin who let this out. The writer in Jaswant Singh has come to haunt the party three years after his Call to honor led the media discuss frantically about the missing mole in Narasimha Rao’s government. Mr. Singh tried warding off the queries in interview after interview till his book slowly waned away from public memory along with the mole. But now the daring Rajput has committed another crime. He has shown the impunity to raise a finger at the pillar of the BJP’s ideology – Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The crime was unpardonable. He had to meet his political nemesis for this ideological thesis.
Since when did Patel become the icon of the BJP? After the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, Patel banned the RSS for a good two years. In the aftermath, all the RSS pracharaks, including L.K.Advani, who has been modeled around Patel as the Loh Purush of the BJP, went underground and lived a nomadic life for two years. It is another story that Patel, much to Nehru’s discomfiture, lifted the ban. Patel was one of the faces of the Congress then. Today, he has been conveniently pitted against Nehru in the pages of history as the right-wing face of the Congress. It is true that Patel differed with Nehru strongly on various issues. It is also a known fact that barring Gandhi and a few others, all the top leaders of the Congress, the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League were directly responsible for the partition and the riots that followed. Jinnah and Nehru were two lions, who could not be accommodated in the same den. Partition was a tool to accommodate the political passions of the men who called the shots those days. Patel was more of Gandhi’s protégé, who would do things as directed by Gandhi. This explains the easy ascendance of Nehru to the Prime Ministerial rank without a word of protest from Patel. The above adage proved to be too true in India with the Congress being polarized between Nehru and Patel. Perhaps India would have seen the rise of a strong opposition in the 1950s had Patel not died unexpectedly in 1950. It is this anti-Nehru, anti-dictatorial and pro-Swadeshi streak of Patel that the BJP has tried to associate itself with.
As far as Jinnah goes, his religious beliefs are well known. A London-educated barrister, he ate pork and drank liquor without the slightest ado and never professed faith in Islam. He joined the Muslim League only to bring the party closer to the mainstream agenda of the Congress and was hailed by Sarojini Naidu as the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. He loathed the idea of bringing religion close to politics and was unsurely fearful of the Khilafat movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi. In fact, the very word Pakistan was framed by a Muslim student in Britain named Rahamat Ali. But Jinnah was a man of ambition which made him switch sides, making him a pawn of the British Raj in the noxious game of Partition. He painted Gandhi as a ‘Hindu’ leader, who, with his Ram Dhun and Ram Rajya would create a Hindu Rashtra after independence. Jinnah knew to cater to the baser instincts of man and appealed to the faith in every Muslim in India, dressing the partition as a game of religion. Playing the political game on the other side were the Indian leaders led by Nehru, whose future seemed insecure in an Indian political setup inhabited by Mohammed Ali Jinnah. But Jinnah never foresaw the bloodshed that would follow and wanted his nation to be built on the ideals of democracy and secularism, which, whether we like it or not, is evident in the speech delivered by him to the newly formed nation of Pakistan on 14th August, 1947.
When the ghost of a leader who died 60 years ago gets precedence over the problems of today, be sure the party has lost its way. When the poor performance of the party’s cadre, succession plan, infighting and sycophancy should have been matters of concern, the party is fighting, like Don Quixote, an enemy which does not exist.
But we, as our instincts and actions betray, are a nation of hypocrites, ruled by people who deserve to rule over us for being even bigger hypocrites. We love carving heroes and villains out of human characters of history. We cannot accept shades of grey. And if someone tries to do it, he does so at the peril of facing the wrath of the goons, who have steadily vandalized the very though process of this nation. We are not allowed to question our heroes of history nor the actions which resulted in their apotheosis as heroes. Like intellectual eunuchs, pushed to the realms of impotence of thought, we are feeding on the same stale food cooked decades ago, when we were more open to reason and questions. The citadel of our civilization seems to crash with a few paintings, speeches and books. Is the saga of Indian civilization we were taught since childhood to be proud of, so feeble that a stroke of a pen or brush will wash it away?
If nothing, along with Jinnah’s genie has begun an urge for a serious debate on India’s intellectual voice. The BJP was known top be party which provided enough room for free expression of thought. Way back in the 1970s, Atal Bihari Vajpayee hailed Indira Gandhi as ‘Durga’. Did he demean the goddess, or did he eulogize a lady responsible for the breaking-up of India’s democratic set up? The BJP has completely alienated Arun Shourie for writing in The Indian Express, what can be called one of the finest pieces on Indian politics in recent times. The party admonished L.K.Advani for quoting Jinnah, when that was a rare opportunity for the party to reposition itself. Yashwant Sinha has been sidelined for all trying to show the way forward. When Sudheendra Kulkarni called for a renewed look at Hindutva, the party again prefered to let go of a chance to reform. With the imminent exit of Arun Shourie and the exit Sudheendra Kulkarni, the party has lost two of its foremost thinkers.
Jaswant Singh might be wrong with the timing of his book. But then, it means that a man in public domain is shorn of all his intellectual and creative self and should chop his body to fit the frame of the polity he is a part of. Narendra Modi, who himself seems to be lacking any intellectual capability now, has banned the book in Gujarat. But just as the gushing winds can never be stopped, knowledge too knows no walls. Mr. Modi, in an attempt to block the book has blocked a mighty river of thought. This will finally inundate his own territory and destory the very ground on which he stands. An objective discussion on partition is a need, whose time has come. A nation’s intellectual tradition prospers only by providing a room for multiple interpretations. Through a ban, we are slowly morphing into an insecure nation, basking in the glory of past which it feels confused about and trying to chart a future which it is least sure of. This is perhaps the end of India as we know it.
(A shorter version of this article has been published in the Op-ed page of The New Indian Express)