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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Jaswant Singh’s graceless,baseless expulsion will haunt BJP for long

Having just completed a near non-stop reading of Jaswant Singh’s magnum opus on Mohammed Ali Jinnah for two days,cover to cover and scribbling comments...

Written by Sudheendra Kulkarni | New Delhi |
August 22, 2009 5:13:52 am

Having just completed a near non-stop reading of Jaswant Singh’s magnum opus on Mohammed Ali Jinnah for two days,cover to cover and scribbling comments on almost every page of it,more than on any other book I have ever read,I cannot but exclaim: “Stupendous achievement,Jaswantji!” I cannot think of any other political biography authored by a practising politician that is so exhaustive,erudite,penetrating and well-written.

If admiration for Jaswant Singh is one thought that fills my mind,the other is utter stupefaction at his unceremonious expulsion from the BJP,a party that he served for three decades,serving as a close colleague of its two tallest leaders,Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani,within two days of the release of the book.

The expulsion is as graceless as it is baseless.

Anyone who reads the entire book with an unprejudiced mind will conclude that the charge that he went against the BJP’s “core ideology” is bunkum,perhaps a smokescreen for extraneous reasons for the unprecedented action against him. Actually,it adds ballast to many of the underpinnings of the party’s nationalist ideology: its total rejection of the Two-Nation theory,its rejection of “minorityism”,its concept of genuine secularism. The book has many nuggets about Jinnah that the RSS would be happy about: for example,his July 1947 appeal,“in no uncertain terms”,to Muslims who remained in India “that they should be loyal to India,and that they should not seek to ride two horses”. Isn’t this what Guruji Golwalkar used to say to Indian Muslims?

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If the BJP can take such drastic disciplinary action against someone who served in three important portfolios in the BJP-led NDA government — finance,defence and external affairs — without even showing the normal courtesy of a showcause notice,one can only conclude that the party has done a grave disservice to itself by yielding to the Stalinist culture of purging “ideological deviationists”.

One may not agree with every argument of Jaswant Singh in the 653 pages of Jinnah: India – Partition Independence,but to slap the charge of blaspheming the BJP’s ideology can only be done by those who have not cared to read it and,instead,jumped to the conclusion,and action,by relying on initial press reports about it.

What a déjà vu! Isn’t this how Advani was pilloried over his remarks about the founder of Pakistan after his visit to Jinnah’s mausoleum in Karachi in 2005? “Advani calls Jinnah secular,” TV channels hollered in their ‘breaking news’ back home in India,all hell broke loose in the BJP and the Sangh Parivar. Advani had only referred to Jinnah’s historic and iconoclastic speech on August 11,1947 before Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly,describing it as “a classic,a forceful espousal of a Secular State.”

The thoughtless media-generated controversy was taken to such extreme limits that Advani was asked to step down from presidentship of the BJP. It was an action that enfeebled both the party and its leader,and became one of the major reasons for the BJP’s defeat in the 2009 elections. To his credit,Advani neither regretted his action nor retracted his utterances about Jinnah. Instead,he elaborately articulated his views on Jinnah in his autobiography,and these views have so far not been refuted,point-by-point,by those who had then adjudged him to be guilty of grave ideological deviation.

There is essentially no basic difference between Jaswant Singh’s characterization of Jinnah and Advani’s,except that the former has dealt with his subject in a far more expansive and in-depth way.

Firstly,Jaswant Singh has not eulogized Jinnah. Rather,he has erected a political portrait of the principal architect of Pakistan based on irrefutable facts,showing both his positive side (Jinnah was a staunch votary of Hindu-Muslim unity until the mid-1930s) and his undeniable and unforgivable negative side (he,along with the cunning British,being the chief authors of the Partition tragedy).

But were only Jinnah,his Muslim League and the British colonial rulers responsible for India’s blood-soaked vivisection,which Jaswant Singh rightly describes as the greatest calamity in the history of South Asia? What about the role of the Congress party,of Jawaharlal Nehru in particular?

Secondly,there is nothing in the book that either denigrates Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel or,much less,projects him as a villain of Partition. It merely records a fact of history that,after a certain point in time,Patel,along with several other Congress leaders of the time,acquiesced in the Partition plan when it began to look inevitable? Jaswant Singh’s conclusion,based on a searching analysis of the events of the time,is incontrovertible: “It has to be said,and with great sadness,that despite some early indications to the contrary,the leaders of the Indian National Congress,in the period between the outbreak of war in 1939 and the country’s partition in 1947,showed in general a sad lack of realism,of foresight,of purpose,and of will.”

The sole exception was Mahatma Gandhi,who,yet again,emerges as the sole hero,albeit with some imperfections,in this book on Jinnah.

It must,however,be stressed that there cannot be any equivalence between the blame to be shared by Jinnah and the Muslim League,on the one hand,and Nehru and fellow Congress leaders,on the other. The former were guilty of a “crime”,both against India and Muslims. The latter were mostly guilty of errors,misjudgements,and missteps.

Those who have banned the book in Gujarat,and are now clamouring for an all-India ban,should take the trouble of reading socialist leader Dr Rammanohar Lohia’s Guilty Men of India’s Partition.

Unlike Jaswant Singh’s bulky work,this 1960 booklet is just 93 pages. No Indian politician or historian has packed more passion,patriotism,anguish,anger and reason into such a slim book on Partition as Lohia has. He too brings out the “guilt” of Nehru,Patel,Maulana Azad and other Congressmen. He also criticizes “right nationalists”,a reference to the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha. Will some BJP leaders seek a ban on Lohia’s book,too?

But before they do that,here is a sobering reminder: It is with the same Rammanohar Lohia that Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya,the most revered ideologue of the BJP,held prolonged discussions on how to achieve lasting peace with Pakistan and,at the end of the dialogue,signed,on April 12,1964,a historic joint declaration calling for the formation of an India-Pakistan Confederation.

It is sad that neither of India’s two principal parties wants an honest and thorough debate on Partition: why it happened,who was responsible,could it have been averted. Let’s remember that this debate is not merely about Jinnah,nor about India’s past. Rather,as Jaswant Singh’s final chapters argue with palpable pain and concern,it is about India’s,and South Asia’s,present and future.

Says Jaswant Singh,“Our ‘past’ has,in reality,never gone into the past,it continues to reinvent itself,constantly becoming our ‘present’.” Hence,there are lessons to be learnt by all: Pakistan,India,Bangladesh,Muslims,Hindus,Congress,BJP,all of us who belong to this oldest and largest civilisational entity in the world.

(Kulkarni,who has worked with A B Vajpayee and L K Advani,is a columnist with The Sunday Express)

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