We will either have a divided India or a destroyed India,' Mohammad Ali Jinnah thundered as Muslim League members cheered him lustily. This was in late July 1946, a fortnight before Jinnah's 'direct action' to force India's colonial rulers in London to concede his demand for a separate Muslim homeland.
By then, Jinnah had decided to boycott the Constituent Assembly and had rejected the initial plan for transfer of power to an interim regime that would include the Congress and the Muslim League. This was not what the Muslim League desired; it was definitely a repudiation of Jinnah's two-nation theory that laid down, in stark black and white, his vision of Muslims as a nation separate and distinct from Hindus. The two, Jinnah decreed, could not live together.
A day before declaring that he and his Muslim League would settle for nothing less than 'a divided India or a destroyed India,' he had railed against the 'Hindu-dominated Congress.'
Today, much is made of Jinnah's partiality towards constitutionalism. On that July day, he had set aside all such partialities and declared: 'We are forced in our own self-protection to abandon constitutional methods... The decision we have taken is a very grave one.' If India's Muslims, Jinnah added, were not granted their separate Pakistan, they would launch 'direct action.'
Any doubts that may have lingered about the true intentions of the Muslim League under Jinnah's leadership, any uncertainties that may have remained about what exactly he meant by 'direct action,' were washed away by the blood-letting that began on August 16, 1946, in Calcutta when Muslim League activists, observing 'Direct Action Day,' butchered men, women and children with chilling cruelty.
Huseyn Shaheen Suhrawardy, a shining star in the Muslim League firmament and head of the government of Bengal, did not lift his little finger to stop the killings. By the time the silence of the dead descended on Calcutta, 6,000 people had been slaughtered. Unofficial estimates pegged the figure at 16,000. The truth will never be known.
More importantly, the great Calcutta killings marked the beginning of Jinnah's 'direct action.' The massacre at Noakhali, the depredations inflicted on Hindus and Sikhs in the North West Frontier Province and the horrendous communal violence that swept through Punjab directly resulted from the Quaid-e-Azam's questionable decision to 'abandon constitutional methods' in his search for a homeland for the subcontinent's Muslims.
Jinnah was no mullah in a cleric's robe with a flowing beard. Margaret Bourke-White, a correspondent and photographer for Life magazine, was in India in 1946. She was present at the press conference where Jinnah had announced the League's decision to go for 'direct action' and was struck by the oddity of it all.
In her book, Halfway to Freedom: A Report on the New India published in 1949, she described Jinnah as 'cool, calculating, unreligious... a thoroughly Westernised, English-educated attorney-at-law with a clean-shaven face and razor-sharp mind.' That someone like him should have agreed to 'direct action' was, to a Western observer, an oddity.
Not really, though. Never mind Jinnah's fondness for drink and food forbidden by Islam. Forget too his so-called liberal worldview. He saw himself as distinctly separate from his erstwhile Hindu colleagues in the Congress; he saw no place for Muslims in Hindu majority India. His politics was hinged on the ideology of communal separatism.
The homeland he fashioned -- a 'moth-eaten Pakistan' as he was to regret later -- for his constituents in the Muslim League was his riposte to Congress' Hindustan. He did not desire a secular state nor did he want a large happy family of squabbling Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Parsis. Had it been so, he would have been satisfied with India as it existed before Sir Cyril Radcliffe drew indelible blue lines on its map.
None of this is unknown to even the most casual reader of books that deal with India's history. And, Mr L K Advani is no casual reader. He is neither unaware of the birth of Muslim separatism in British India nor of the treacherous politics of those who provided leadership to the separatists gathered under the banner of the Muslim League.
Yet, he has chosen to praise Jinnah, the chief architect of India's Partition and the man who called for 'direct action' to put his two-nation theory into practice. It is understandable that Mr Advani should have made the right noises --after all, he was on Pakistani soil, he was visiting Jinnah's mausoleum, and, he was expected to provide a fillip to the ongoing peace process between India and its hostile western neighbour.
But to quote a snatch from Jinnah's August 11, 1947 speech, in which he made a passing reference to Pakistan as a liberal Muslim state -- 'You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan' -- to assert that the 'Sole Spokesman' of Muslims in pre-Partition India was 'secular,' to say the least, is extremely astonishing.
Equally astonishing is his assertion, albeit made in an indirect manner, that there's a 'bit of Pakistan in every Indian.' That is simply not true: Most Indians, including many of those who are not given to demonising Pakistan and Pakistanis and cheerfully spend winter nights at Wagah border holding aloft candles, would find this preposterous.
Mr Advani may have very valid reasons for saying what he did, but he has not shared them with either his colleagues or with those who have been voting for the BJP influenced by the ideology that he espoused with such fervour till recently. That is, till he felt the need to seek a certificate from those whom he has berated, and encouraged his party to berate, as 'pseudo-secularists,' all these decades.
If a vast number of people who believe in Hindu nationalism feel affronted by Mr Advani's strange utterances in Pakistan and his inexplicable idolising of Jinnah, his colleagues in the party that he has almost single-handedly built over the decades, are equally incensed that he should have given a go-by to political realities that demand carefully nuanced statements by the BJP on sensitive issues, especially those to do with Pakistan.
Mr Advani could have calmed the disquiet by offering an explanation -- he owes it to the country and to the party, in that order -- but he did not do so. Instead, he recommended a debate on whether Jinnah was secular.
Apart from the fact that there is no immediate necessity for India and Indians to revisit their past and reopen old wounds, it is shocking that he should have been so facetious in his response, knowing full well that the issue at stake was not merely about the finer points of Jinnah's politics of crude communalism, but about the future of the BJP's ideology that he has so gravely imperilled by so casually quoting Jinnah out of context.
The Quaid-e-Azam has long departed for his heavenly abode. If any of his original band of admirers are still alive, they can truly claim vindication of their 'great' leader's pernicious politics.
Meanwhile, the Congress has provided some comic relief to those rendered glum by Mr Advani's misplaced exuberance. Practitioners and promoters of Muslim separatism all, Congress leaders have the gumption to describe Jinnah as 'communal.'
If Jinnah fanned Muslim separatism to further his politics, the Congress indulges in Muslim appeasement for the same purpose. Had it not been for the abject capitulation of Congress leaders, Jinnah's Pakistan would never have been a reality.