Jaswant's Book And Partition

Yasser Latif Hamdani writing in The News

Jaswant Singh’s book “Jinnah India — Partition Independence” has elicited interesting reviews in Pakistan. They are interesting entirely because of how off the mark they are which shows how little our country’s so-called intelligentsia understands the finer points of political science, constitutional law and history, especially those deep wells from which Jinnah himself professed to have drunk. Much has been written about the book – including the justified criticism that has been levelled at it for terrible punctuation and grammar. If Jinnah was calling, from beyond the grave, for his definitive biographer, the definitive biography now calls for an able editor. However, not many critics have addressed the political theme which has made it so famous.

 The crux of the book is actually contained not in the main text — not that I want to drive down Jaswant Singh’s narrative — but in the author’s correspondence with Professors Susan and Lloyd Rudolph. It is a matter of great regret that Benedict Anderson and his theory of nation as an imagined identity come up only once in the appendix. This should really have been the starting point. Jaswant Singh only acknowledges it in passing when he mentions that Jinnah held the question of nationhood as a purely subjective one i.e. if Americans say they are a nation, they are a nation. The issue as the Randolphs point out is the inability to distinguish between state and nation. Once it was conceded – and I’ll venture to say it was conceded long before Jinnah, Gandhi, Nehru or anyone else showed up on the scene — that Muslims were a separate community, the hop from community to nation was a very small one. Jaswant Singh’s narrative shows abundantly when the said acceptance came. All subsequent arrangements had to proceed on that basis.

Jinnah came to accept it only later, having started his career as a Congressman who did not believe in religious distinctions and who was a strident opponent of the separate electorates. Here again the important journey for Jinnah is not as much from the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity to the Quaid-e-Azam, but rather from an Indian to an Indian-Muslim and from a Congressman to the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. Tactical acceptance of the separate electorates, Gandhi’s characterisation of Jinnah as a ‘minority Muslim’ as Gurjar Sabha and finally the Lucknow Pact are important milestones in this journey, not just for Jinnah but India itself. The roots of what has now come to be defined as ‘consociationalism’ by political scientists were firmly laid and Jinnah’s role had been only to guide this to the nationalist advantage. While religious identities had been non-negotiable even before, it was Gandhi’s use of the Khilafat Movement that introduced into India’s politics a fundamentalist element. Meanwhile, Jinnah’s role ever since he was hailed as the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity remained one that sought to reconcile the Muslim consociationalist position, most notably from Punjab and Bengal, with that of his nationalist colleagues in the Congress Party.

 A federal democratic solution could have been found had Jinnah’s original four amendments to the Nehru Report been conceded. They were not. Then came the conglomerate Muslim demands in the form of Jinnah’s 14 points. These were also rejected by the Congress by two polarising factors: One, the majoritarian attitude of the Hindu Mahasabha, and two Jawaharlal Nehru’s superficial understanding of Marxist thought. Contrary to popular belief, the Congress under Gandhi ended up delaying independence by at least two decades, as their civil disobedience campaigns were used by the British to stall responsible government and advance towards a dominion status.

Given that independence only came to a partitioned India and that too in the form of a dominion status makes one wonder why the Congress acted with such intransigence in the 1920s and the 1930s. The break between Jinnah and the Congress came after a series of such blunders. Till 1935, Jinnah still described Muslims as a minority with a number of secular concerns, not religious ones. The 1937 elections were contested as an alliance between the Congress and the League. And yet the Congress refused to make coalition ministry in UP despite having failed to win a single Muslim seat as opposed to Muslim League’s 29. This was the beginning of the break. The offer of reconciliation on the basis of one Indian nation that existed for twenty odd years was now recanted and the whole issue was restated in national terms — classic consociationalism — on March 23, 1940.

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