Home > News > Columnists > Saisuresh Sivaswamy
Advani puts Jinnah first
June 13, 2005
Poor Advani, did he really not anticipate the kind of storm his comments about the Qaid-e-Azam would unleash? In all his decades in public service, did he really have no clue about how India regards its former citizen? Forget India, even Advani's own Bharatiya Janata Party or its puppeteer, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh?
The fact is, for most Indians if not all, Jinnah represents everything reprehensible, for he chose to not only lead the subcontinent's Muslims to a separate homeland, but broke his existing one to create it. He, it is said, was the father of Muslim fundamentalism; from this popular perspective, Indians have little reason to love or cheer him. Ask a child in India who Jinnah was, and don't be surprised at the answer.
Advani's Trip & After
Those are the facts, but is that the truth about who was, till he chose to cobble his own path, one of Indian freedom movement's stalwarts?
Those who criticise Jinnah -- and they belong to all political persuasions -- do so on the basis of facts as they have been fed, or perceptions as they have been aired. Both may not necessarily be the truth. Saying so is an invitation for the worst possible calumny, and my e-mail id is given at the end of this piece.
How far is the RSS removed from the reality on the ground can be seen from its analogy that just as there can be no 'good Ravana', there can be no 'secular Jinnah'. A misplaced analogy, for there are swathes of land in south India that do not accept the popular version of the Ramayana which is derided as a north Indian epic denigrating Dravidian culture.
The Hindu outfit also needs a refresher course on the country's legends, which tell us that Ravana was the foremost Shiv devotee in his time who was gifted a piece of Shiva's own lingam; possessed such superhuman strength that he once lifted Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva; was a veena virtuoso non-pareil who so thrilled the Lord that he was granted his boon of invincibility at the hand of the Gods, which was why Vishnu came down as a human being to vanquish him. When Hanuman crosses over to Sri Lanka, he is amazed by the kingdom's prosperity.
Why did such a splendid man abduct another's wife -- for a 'demon king', he did not lay a finger on Sita -- and set off a chain of events for which he is today reviled as a demon and not a Shiv bhakt?
The RSS can also read the two most popular legends of this country, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, to find there are no blacks and whites in them. Those who we revere as gods had their many shades of gray; those who we revile as demons had their tints of absolute divinity. Parallels with our freedom movement, anyone?
If the RSS and others dig deeper, they will find there are others as well in our hoary past who refuse to fit into watertight compartments.
Do we today know Valmiki as a thief, or do we remember him for his ennobling work of poetry, the Ramayana?
Was the sage Vishwamitra a king by birth, and hence unfit for admittance into the hallowed ranks of Brahma Rishis, or could he overcome the circumstances of his life?
Was Karna on the side of the gods or was he against? What was he, a Pandava or a Kaurava? Why did Karna turn?
For that matter, why did Jinnah turn? Why and how did a suave, Westernised Liberal who pledged to work for Hindu-Muslim unity end up becoming Pakistan's Father of the Nation?
To know the truth, one needs to empty the mind of preconceived notions and pet theories, for often what seems is not the truth.
But propagation of the truth is not what, I suspect, led Advani to speak his mind on Jinnah. He needed to say what he did, despite the storm it would engender, even make him a villain to his own party.
If India and Pakistan are today seeing an unprecedented warmth in bilateral relations, part of the credit goes to the National Democratic Alliance and Prime Minister A B Vajpayee. (Incidentally, Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh are the only two senior BJP leaders who stood by Advani, both considered apolitical.) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government has ably run with the ball, and we can see evidence of furthering of the momentum in the peace bus that regularly traverses the Line of Control in Kashmir, and other people to people initiatives.
But there is only so far that these initiatives can go, without a -- I am tempted use a qualifying adjective here -- fundamental mindshift. Let me put it in terms that will be understood by the RSS and others who are gunning for Advani.
When do we think someone has accepted another culture? When they take to its cuisine? Fine arts? Speak its tongue? Marry into it? All of the above? None?
Sure, these are all entry points into a culture, and are important. But as you go down the walkway that these entry points show you, you come to the final step: the culture's pantheon of gods. And till you accept them, with and without their flaws, you remain an outsider, merely wetting your toes and not stepping into the pool.
It is the same with nations. Especially for peace between nations.
Ties between nations come with an enormous amount of historical baggage. We are seeing it in the case of two estranged democracies, the United States and India where vestiges of the Cold War -- during which the two were on opposite sides of the fence -- are exerting a brake on whatever forward movement takes place. Acceptance of the past is hard to come by between humans, and more so between nations.
Between estranged cousins India and Pakistan, there is far greater history, and geography, to come to terms with.
Are we ready to accept Pakistan's freedom movement as we do our own? And the counter-question: Is Pakistan ready to accept our national movement?
Can we go on demonising Gandhi and Jinnah in each other's country, and yet seek permanent, enduring, peace between us?
How can we accept each other if our pantheon of gods set off ire in the other's land?
Till we rise above bitter history, the peace initiative will remain superficial, subject to political and other vicissitudes.
You can fault Advani for many things, but he has brought the central issue in India-Pakistan relations to the banquet table. Knife and fork, anyone?
Do you agree with my assessment of Advani's comments? As always, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org