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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 38, September 5, 2009

BJP‘s Gift to Jinnah: A New Life

Wednesday 9 September 2009, by T J S George

Follies never cease. With great brouhaha, the BJP has given new life to its public enemy, Jinnah. In a double whammy, the BJP’s fanatic wing has given a marketing boost to the Jinnah book by banning it in Gujarat. Now it will sell like hot Satanic Verses.

All monolithic organisations feed on their collective myths. For the BJP-RSS ideology, survival depends on establishing Jinnah and Pakistan as evils. To allow any dilution of this doctrine will be like the Vatican allowing Catholics to question the infallibility of the Pope or, for that matter, the Congress party allowing its members to question the infallibility of Sonia Gandhi. Certain divinities must remain divinities. Or they’ll collapse.

Actually, Jaswant Singh is no sinner. He is essentially a soldier, not a scholar or a writer. What is said to be extensive research did not help him to say anything new. He merely restated what has been said repeatedly by different types of experts since 1947.

H.M Seervai, the celebrated authority on constitutional law, said in no uncertain terms that Jinnah never wanted the partition of India. Pothan Joseph, the famous editor who worked closely with Jinnah first in the Bombay Chronicle and later in Dawn in Delhi, said that Jinnah used the Pakistan/partition idea only as a bargaining point. Poonen Abraham, senior editor at Dawn, said pointblank: “I hold the Congress responsible for partition. A little bit of giving in to the Muslims would have won them.” Punishing Jaswant Singh for saying what is already on record is like punishing a schoolboy for saying that Aryans came to India from the Caucasus region.

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The silly controversy over the Jaswant Singh book will have one salutary effect: It will kindle new interest in Mohammed Ali Jinnah. That will be salutary because, by any standard, this was a remarkable man worth studying and understanding.

The most remarkable thing about him is that, while he had not really envisaged a divided India, the Pakistan that finally came into being was not something he approved. His inaugural address in the new Pakistan legislature clearly called for a secular state where citizens would not be defined by their religion. Obviously, this was not what the zealots behind the Muslim League wanted to hear. It is not idle to speculate that Jinnah was lucky to die of TB and lung cancer a year after Pakistan was born; otherwise he might have been assassinated as his conscience-keeper and Pakistan’s first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was in 1951.

Jinnah was not only secular, but also a gentleman with a keen sense of what was proper. He was the Chairman of the Board of Bombay Chronicle and Pothan Joseph records: “He never gave us the impression that we were employees….As an employer Jinnah was exacting but he had the gift of stimulating in those who served him a sense of pride. They could rely on him for a square deal.” Joseph should know. He worked for 36 employers and left 35 of them for lack of square deals.

Let Joseph also throw light on Jinnah’s human side. Joseph had joined Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram as a stay-in guest for a programme of detoxification. He took it for three weeks, then escaped. On a subsequent occasion, Jinnah also took up with Joseph the question of drinking. Unlike Gandhiji who stuck to goat milk, Jinnah enjoyed his whisky till almost the end of his life. So Joseph felt emboldened to say: “Mr Jinnah, your parents were thoughtful enough to put gin in your name. I have to fend for myself.”

May Jaswant Singh feel inspired to put more spirit into his second edition.

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