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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 23 New Delhi May 26, 2018

Hamid Ansari, Jinnah’s Portrait and Turmoil in AMU

Saturday 26 May 2018

by Ram Puniyani

Recently (May 2018) Hamid Ansari, the ex-Vice President of India, was invited to the Aligarh Muslim University to honour him with life membership of the AMU Students Union (AMUSU). He had due security with him, still the Hindu Yuva Vahini-ABVP activists could reach near his place of stay. The pretext of the armed protesters was that Jinnah’s portrait has been put up to please Ansari and that they will not allow Jinnah’s portrait in the AMU. The usual violence followed a few arrests of Vahini volunteers, most of them let off. This has been followed by a series of statements from Yogi Adityanath, who incidentally is also the founder of this Hindutva group, saying that the portrait will not be allowed, Subramanian Swami questioned as to who will teach a lesson to the AMU! The students of the AMU are on protest against the violence unleashed by the Vahini and ABVP.

Too many angles to the story! First of all, how come the armed volunteers of the Vahini and ABVP reach near the place where Hamdi Ansari was put up? One recalls that on every occasion there has been an attempt to humiliate this distinguished scholar, diplomat who held the high office. His photo of not saluting the Republic Day parade, hinting he is disrespecting, was made viral only to bring in the realisation that he was following the rule book as only the President takes the salute and no one else. When he was given farewell Modi hinted at his being a Muslim, being attached to issues related to Muslims in a very humiliating way. In this light he being targeted is just the continuation of what the RSS combine has been doing to Ansari so far.

How come someone recalled that Jiannh’s portrait is there and on that pretext the armed volunteers sneaked into the AMU campus? Has the portrait been put up yesterday? The portrait has been there from 1938, as the AMU Students’ Union conferred a rare honour on him by giving him life membership of the AMUSU. The statement is that Jinnah divided the country, so how can we celebrate him?—was the slogan.

The role played by Jinnah in the freedom movement is not a linear one and is not uniform. He began as a part of the movement and was part of it in the beginning. He was to his credit the Chairman of the Reception committee which welcomed Gandhi on his return from South Africa. He was the one who fought the case, in which Bal Gangadhar Tilak was given the death sentence and it is due to his legal brilliance that he could save the life of Tilak. He was also the lawyer for the young revolutionary, Sardar Bhagat Singh, and to cap it all he entered a Hindu, Muslim unity pact with Tilak (Lucknow, 1916). India’s nightingale Sarojini Naidu called Jinnah as the ‘ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity’.

There is another side to the story also. He dissociated from the national movement once Gandhi launched the non-cooperation movement in 1920, in which for the first time the average people of the country were involved. This move-ment laid the foundation of the biggest ever mass movement in the history of the world. Jinnah was a constitutionalist and he felt involving average people in the struggle against the British is unwarranted. Similarly he opposed Gandhi’s role in the Khilafat movement and gradually dissociated from active involvement with it and left for London to practice law.

The second major flaw which transformed Jinnah, who was basically secular, was his associating with and leading the Muslim League. The Muslim League was given the status of being the representative of Muslims by the British. This was a basically a motivated exercise by the British as the Muslim League began from the Nawabs and Landlords, with feudal values inherent in it down to the core. His role as a leader of the Muslim League and his Lahore resolution of a separate country for Muslims, Pakistan, is what made him a communal leader. To blame him alone for the partition of the country is a distorted presentation of the history of modern India. The process of partition was begun by the British who pursued the policy of ‘divide and rule’. This was supplemented by communalists from both the Hindus and Muslims. Savarkar was the first one to articulate that there are two nations in the country, the Hindu and the Muslim. As per this under-standing, the country belongs to Hindus; so the Muslim nation will have to remain subordinate to the Hindus. This is where Jinnah falls in the communal trap and the logic he puts forward is: if there are two nations in the country, so why not two countries? So why not Pakistan?

Jinnah that way has been the subject of various biographies and interpretations. His August 11, 1947 speech in Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly states that people are free to follow their own religion, state will not interfere in that, elaborates his secular values. Advani quite late in his life after having launched the biggest attack on secular values by demolishing the Babri mosque, realised that Jinnah was secular. He called Jinnah secular and paid with his career as the RSS combine has built on the understanding of ‘Hate Jinnah’, has presented Jinnah as a symbol of Indian Muslims, Jinnah as a symbol of India’s enemy Pakistan!

With this AMU episode, Hindu nationalist politics is killing many birds with a single stone. First, to target Hamid Ansari, whom they can’t approve of as his credential is thoroughly secular. Second, is to create yet another divisive issue in the form of the portrait of Jinnah, to add on to other emotive issues manufactured so far. And thirdly, to intimidate the AMU campus in line with what has been done in the JNU, Hyderabad University to name a few.

One can say the Ghost of Jinnah, who can be called as a ‘Secular soul in a Communal body’, will keep visiting us, and the RSS combine through its efforts will keep propping up divisive issues one after the other!

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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