So complete have been the state sponsored mythologies in the subcontinent that both Indians and Pakistanis are incapable of looking at the past objectively or with any kind of intellectual ability.
Consider for example jingoistic Indian columnist Kapil Komireddi’s piece for Daily Beast titled “Pakistan’s Mohammad Ali Jinnah is not Mandela”. As if Jinnah would care he would be compared to Mandela. Nelson Mandela is no doubt a great leader of our times and did a lot for his country and his people but the comparison is not an apt one. Behind Mandela were a people united against racial tyranny and Mandela”s own role while substantial was not central to the future of his people. Mandela was not handicapped by demands of religious orthodoxy and by divergent interests of his people. Jinnah on the other hand became the voice and legitimate sole spokesman of 90 million diverse multitude of people, rich and poor, divided horizontally and vertically with objectives often running cross purposes. Jinnah’s achievement was to bring together these people and despite divisions on almost all issues under one flag. Still I do not want to go into any inane comparisons or contrasts between Mandela and Jinnah. Who one likes can be a matter of choice. Jinnah’s aloof and cold temperament that was projected by all and sundry at the cost of Jinnah the deeply passionate and inwardly emotional man and this makes him rather uninspiring for the average joe who gets his history from Hollywood or fictional suspense thrillers like “Freedom at Midnight”. On the Mandela issue however, let us allow the former South African President, who is said to be similar to Jinnah in at least one sense – incorruptibility and honesty- be the last word:
‘Ali Jinnah is a constant source of inspiration for all those who are fighting against racial or group discrimination.’ (Mandela 1995 Visitor’s Book Karachi; on this particular trip Mandela had insisted on visiting Jinnah’s Mausoleum in Karachi even though the capital of Pakistan is Islamabad).
My concern is the deliberate butchery of history that Mr. Komireddi undertook in his rather mediocre and one sided piece. Komireddi writes: “Hindus and Muslims can [n]ever evolve a common nationality,” Jinnah had declared in 1940. Could a journey fuelled by such hatred and divisiveness possibly have culminated in a peaceful and pluralistic destination?’
Jinnah’s speech was not based on hate. He was forwarding an argument that political scientists in the last three decades have coined as “consociationalism” in divided societies. Jinnah had attempted as the leader of a minority community to change the vocabulary by saying that Muslims were not a minority but a nation thereby entitled to a share in the political and economic pie of India as equals. There was no hate in this. Quebecois in Canada have long argued for this. It was identity politics, but for Jinnah at least it was never anti-Hindu identity politics. In fact Jinnah was supported against the Congress by many lower caste, scheduled caste and other secular minded Hindu leaders including B R Ambedkar – who was the principal author of the Indian constitution- and E V Ramaswami Naicker. B R Ambedkar’s “Pakistan or Partition of India” was a classic text which explained what Jinnah was actually after. Jinnah through out his demand for Pakistan was also endorsed and supported by the Communist Party of India which was arguably the most secular party in India. This is not self deception; this is a fact of history. Jinnah brought under his big tent all kinds of Muslims, including a majority of Shias, Ismailis and Ahmadis (in addition to a majority of Sunnis). Meanwhile most – if not all- Muslims who stood with the Congress were orthodox Sunni religious conservatives – including the Ulema of Daruloom Deoband (the ideological seminary to which Taliban trace their routes). Standing with the Congress were religious fascist Muslims like Majlis-e-Ahrar-e-Islam who after partition played an important role in Islamizing Pakistan.
Secular liberal Jinnah – more than any other Muslim leader including Maulana Azad another religious scholar- had tried to keep India united. Much of Jinnah’s efforts were destroyed when Gandhi encouraged the Mullahs to come into politics in the form of Khilafat Movement. This too is a fact of history.
Congress Leader A Patwardhan had been honest and forthright to recognize this when he wrote:
‘It is, however, useful to recognise our share of this error of misdirection. To begin with, I am convinced that looking back upon the course of development of the freedom movement, THE ‘HIMALAYAN ERROR’ of Gandhiji’s leadership was the support he extended on behalf of the Congress and the Indian people to the Khilafat Movement at the end of the World War I. This has proved to be a disastrous error which has brought in its wake a series of harmful consequences. On merits, it was a thoroughly reactionary step. The Khilafat was totally unworthy of support of the Progressive Muslims. Kemel Pasha established this solid fact by abolition of the Khilafat. The abolition of the Khilafat was widely welcomed by enlightened Muslim opinion the world over and Kemel was an undoubted hero of all young Muslims straining against Imperialist domination. But apart from the fact that Khilafat was an unworthy reactionary cause, Mahatma Gandhi had to align himself with a sectarian revivalist Muslim Leadership of clerics and maulvis. He was thus unwittingly responsible for jettisoning sane, secular, modernist leadership among the Muslims of India and foisting upon the Indian Muslims a theocratic orthodoxy of the Maulvis. Maulana Mohammed Ali’s speeches read today appear strangely incoherent and out of tune with the spirit of secular political freedom. The Congress Movement which released the forces of religious liberalism and reform among the Hindus, and evoked a rational scientific outlook, placed the Muslims of India under the spell of orthodoxy and religious superstition by their support to the Khilafat leadership. Rationalist leaders like Jinnah were rebuffed by this attitude of Congress and Gandhi. This is the background of the psychological rift between Congress and the Muslim League’
Komireddi then goes on to lie – yes lie- about Direct Action Day. It was the Muslims who were butchered in Calcutta. Let me quote from an article I wrote on this subject:
The official Indian nationalist mythology conjures up two villains of the Direct Action Day fiasco — Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy — ironically two of the most liberal leaders thrown up by Muslim India. It is forgotten that in the good work Gandhi is rightly credited with in Calcutta and other places, he was aided by Suhrawardy, and yet Suhrawardy is directly blamed by Indian nationalist authors for planning and executing violence. Similarly, if Gandhi was the great non-violent agitator, Jinnah was constitutionally non-violent and incapable of violence.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had famously buried the Cabinet Mission Plan with his statement that Congress would go into the Constituent Assembly unfettered by agreements. Nehru had, during the course of his discussions earlier in the year, told the British that the Muslim League was not progressive enough to carry out ‘direct action’. He had calculated along with other Congress leaders that as a party committed to constitutional politics, the Muslim League did not have the organisation or the manpower to carry out a civil disobedience movement. Nehru was right of course except that it was precisely this fact that led to an otherwise peaceful civil disobedience movement degenerating into total communal breakdown in Calcutta. The Congress remained convinced that if they were firm, Jinnah would back down from the brink. Jinnah, on his part, seems to have been convinced that if he threatened civil disobedience, the Congress would reconsider. Thus, when Jinnah and Nehru met on the evening of August 15, 1946, both men expected the other to back down. Each made a terrible error by underestimating the other’s resolve.
Jinnah left the programme for the day vague in the hope that Congress and the British would relent. This view is corroborated by Maulana Azad who also wondered — in hindsight — how a constitutional politician like Jinnah resorted to mass politics and concluded that Jinnah was driven along a course that he was reluctant to and, at any rate, understood little of. On August 14, explaining that direct action did not mean direct action in any form but a peaceful hartal, Jinnah said, “I enjoin upon the Muslims to carry out the instructions and abide by them strictly and conduct themselves peacefully and in a disciplined manner.” H V Hodson, the British Reforms Commissioner and a student of Indian politics, wrote in his book The Great Divide that “the working committee followed up by calling on Muslims throughout India to observe August 16th as Direct Action Day. On that day, a meeting would be held all over the country to explain the League’s resolution. These meetings and processions passed off — as was manifestly the central League leaders’ intention — without more than commonplace and limited disturbance with one vast and tragic exception. What happened was more than anyone could have foreseen.”
The customary Indian accusation that the Muslim League planned and executed the massacre of innocents in Calcutta does not stand the test of facts. Lord Wavell wrote on August 21 that “the estimate of casualties is 3,000 dead and 17,000 injured. The Bengal Congress is convinced that all the trouble was deliberately engineered by the Muslim League ministry but no satisfactory evidence to that effect has reached me yet. It is said that the decision to have a public holiday on August 16 was the cause of trouble, but I think this is very farfetched. There was a public holiday in Sindh and there was no trouble there. At any rate, whatever the causes of the outbreak, when it started, the Hindus and Sikhs were every bit as fierce as the Muslims. The present estimate is that appreciably more Muslims were killed than the Hindus” (page 274, Volume VIII, Transfer of Power Papers).
This was confirmed by Sardar Patel’s letter, where he gloated about more, many times more, Muslim casualties than Hindus. This letter is quoted by renowned Indian historian Sumit Sarkar on page 432 of his book Modern India: 1885-1947. One of the big gaping holes in the Indian nationalist version of history is that while all accounts seem to indicate that Muslims were armed with sticks, according to Sir Francis Tuker, “buses and taxis were charging about loaded with Sikhs and Hindus armed with swords, iron bars and firearms” (‘While Memory Serves’, quoted on this website: http://www.globalwebpost.com/farooqm/study_res/bengal_india_history/tuker_calcutta_riot.html). Who then was arming the Hindus and Sikhs?The truth is that the Muslim League could not afford mass-scale Hindu-Muslim violence in Calcutta or in India. Suhrawardy was in power through a cross-communal ministry, which depended as much on Hindu support as it did on Muslim support. At the national level, after the collapse of the Cabinet Mission Plan, Jinnah’s strategy was to hold out from the interim government by pitching extreme demands. After being tainted with the same brush as Congress, Jinnah could no longer hold onto his earlier demand of Congress-League parity in the interim government or that, having swept Muslim seats, League alone had the right to nominate Muslims to the interim cabinet. Wavell — who absolved the League privately of the blame for Calcutta killings — used the killings as an excuse to go ahead with the transfer of power to a Congress-only cabinet.
Ironically, for all the later propaganda against the Muslim League on account of Direct Action Day blitz, the Congress mouthpiece in Bombay, declared a week later:
“The worst enemies of the Muslim League cannot help envying the leadership of Mr Jinnah…cataclysmic transformation of the League from the reactionary racket of the Muslim Nawabs, Noons, and Knights into a revolutionary mass organisation dedicated, by word if not be deed, to an anti-Imperialist struggle, compels us to express the sneaking national wish that a diplomat and strategist of Jinnah’s proven calibre were at the helm of the Indian National Congress. There is no denying the fact that by his latest master-stroke of diplomacy, Jinnah has outbid, outwitted and outmanoeuvred the British and Congress alike and confounded the common national indictment that the Muslim League is a parasite of British Imperialism.”
In fact, the opposite was true. Jinnah had been outwitted by both Congress and the British in Calcutta who had managed to sully the pristine reputation of a politician who throughout his life had been known for his secular and constitutional approach to politics. He was now branded a communalist, hate-monger and a mass murderer. Unsourced lines like “we shall have India divided or destroyed” are attributed to him even though there is no record of him saying any kind of it. Reliance instead is placed on the highly partisan account given by Margaret Bourke-White who was a devotee of Mahatma Gandhi and whose account fails verification not the least because she was actually not where she claimed to be that day. Thus a caricature.
Nor was Jinnah’s reaction as Komireddi reports it erroneously. The quote he gives is from Margaret Bourke-white from 29 July 1946. It is not as Komireddi says a reaction to what happened 18 days later. Jinnah’s condemnation of the killings was unequivocal and swift. Despite the fact that his own community was butchered and formed the largest part of the casualties, Jinnah started by condemning his party men for mishandling the situation.
It is a tragedy that the only politician to be called the best ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity, a man who for most of his life attempted to keep Hindus and Muslims together be denounced by an ignorant fanatic like Komireddi as a way to excuse the behavior of vile majoritatianism of Modi and others. Herein lies the rub though : Muslims were never the majority in India. Comparing Jinnah’s demands to Hindu Nationalists in India today is akin to comparing Black nationalists to White Supremacists in America.
It is not quite as simple as Kapil Komireddi with his simplistic outlook on life and history – denouncing everything he does not agree with as “self deception”- wants it to be. Some of the people who may oppose Modi today may have been in the Congress, but Modi’s own historical antecedents supported Gandhi and Nehru. It was on the behest of Hindu Mahasabha, the ideological forerunner of BJP, that Nehru had repeatedly shot down agreements with Jinnah and the Muslim minority, in 1929, in 1937 and 1946. It was at the behest of Hindu Mahasabha, that Congress had pushed for Hindi as the national language in 1937 instead of the secular Urdu language which was a perfect union between Hindus and Muslims, with its Sanskrit and Prakrit roots and Persian-Arabic script. It was at Hindu Mahasabha’s behest that cow slaughter was banned in several states in the name of Hinduism by the Congress from 1937-1939. Why do people like Komireddi deny history?
This is the umpteenth article Mr. Komireddi has written repeating the same untruths and lies that have formed the basis of much confusion and chaos. In any event, one wonders what possesses him to write so viciously if it isn’t jingoism and bigotry without a mask? The version of history Komireddi is trying to sell has been long discarded by objective writers and historians both in India and the West. One need only read H M Seervai’s Partition of India: Legend and Reality to see the facts about partition. H M Seervai was amongst India’s constitutional lawyers. Even Azad’s India Wins Freedom is a grudging admission of Congress’ flaws. Azad, who was too much of a party man, wrote in clear terms that Congress failed repeatedly to live up to the national ideal and discriminated against Muslims and Non-Hindus for cabinet positions. Pick up his book and read for yourself. Azad was the kind of person who would go along with that sort of thing, but Jinnah was too confident, too independent and too self made to play along with egoists like Gandhi and Nehru, who sacrificed Muslim and even scheduled caste Hindu interests at the behest of Hindus nationalists in Mahasabha.
Grow up Mr. Komireddi. The world has moved on. So should you. Update yourself. Educate yourself.