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Why Mr Advani is spot on

June 13, 2005 11:15 IST

Here is a little-known fact that the secularists of the Congress, and its sympathisers in the extended Left Parivar, have been trying to obliterate for the last 60 years.

In the 1937 election, when the time came for what would be called seat adjustments today, Jawaharlal Nehru, who was in charge of UP, had the option of tying up with the Muslim League or the Jamaat-e-Islami. Guess who he chose?

Had he tied up with the League, the course of history may well have been different. Certainly, when it came to what is called communalism now, the League at the time was no patch on the Jamaat.

It was only because Nehru was adamant about not having anything to do with Jinnah, rather than generally with any overtly Muslim organisation, did Jinnah pull out all the stops.

The usual ifs and buts of history aside, did that decision make Nehru communal? Or did it not make his politics as communal as that of Jinnah?

Why, the Congress still ties up for elections with Muslim political organisations and yet claims to be secular. Does that make, say, Mani Shankar Aiyar communal?

Although it is important to draw this distinction in the case of Jinnah too, we Indians have never been taught to do so. His politics, that too only after 1937, may have been based on exploiting communal differences. But as a man he was as secular as Gandhiji and Nehru.

This elementary point has never been understood in India because our politicians have not told us any differently. The result is that political postures and personal beliefs are treated identically. This is responsible for 99 per cent of the confusion about Jinnah.

Nor has the Congress allowed the blame for Partition to be placed where it properly belongs: British policy. It has, instead, always tried to project itself as the saviour of Indian Muslims (or should I say Muslim Indians?) and kept the wedge driven in by the British in place.

The result is that instead of the blame being directed outwards, it has been directed inwards. Is it not ironic that Indians and Pakistanis hate each other but love the British as though they were completely blameless? For this, all political parties are responsible.

How many Indians have heard of Harcourt Butler? How many have heard of Principal W A J Archbold of the Anglo-Oriental College of Aligarh? How many know about the role played by these two in the formation of the Muslim League in 1906?

Here are also some facts that the Sangh Parivar has not heard of, such as the role played by Jinnah in the Lucknow Pact (1916). It brought the Hindus and Muslims together in a joint scheme for postwar reforms by conceding Muslims the right to separate electorates. No less a person than Sarojini Naidu then called him 'the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity.'

How many Indians know Jinnah started out as a Congressman, as private secretary to Dadabhai Naoroji?

How many Indians know that he worked and worked and worked to bring about formulae that would lead to Hindu-Muslim unity? Let me give you a list.

There were his 'Proposals' of 1927. In 1928 he begged and pleaded for basic Muslim demands to be included in the Nehru Report.

In 1929 he formulated the 'Fourteen Points' as minimum Muslim demands for a constitutional settlement.

He participated in the Round Table Conference that started in 1930 in London. Finally, fed up with the Congress, he quit politics altogether. This was not a 'communal' man.

Nor has it taught Indians that Jinnah's political career had two phases here, one before 1931 and the other after 1935. Few Indians know that Jinnah retired from politics in 1931 and went off to England to practise law.

Fewer still know why he came back at the end of 1934 after Liaquat Ali pleaded with him to return to lead the League in the elections that were to follow the passing of the Government of India Act in 1935.

What brought him back was not the fear that the Congress would defeat everything in sight. It was the fear that the liberal Muslim political opinion in India would go unheard.

The Muslim League at that time was actually the least 'communal' of the Muslim political outfits.

It was not until 1940 that Jinnah asked for Pakistan. And that was a result of Congress policies over ministry formation in UP, where it refused to take League ministers unless the League was dissolved.

It is worth noting in this context that the Congress tried to split the League when Nehru sought to entice some major UP Leaguers by offering them ministerships! But he had a pre-condition: they must quit the League and denounce it. None did.

The import of all this was not lost on Jinnah. Even so, as Ayesha Jalal, the US-based Pakistani historian, has asked: when he demanded Pakistan, did he really want a theocratic State, or was he just using it as a bargaining chip to get the Muslims a better political deal?

Nor is the class dimension of the Hindu-Muslim antagonisms taught properly. How many Indians know that Muslim separatism was fuelled largely by the big zamindars of Punjab, Bengal, and UP?

How many know that they determined to get a separate country only when the Congress turned explicitly 'socialist' at the behest of Nehru after the Nowgong Congress of 1937, when land reform became an integral part of the programme?

Had they known that land reform would stop in India in 1950, they may not have asked for a separate country. How many know that they used Jinnah as an interlocutor with the British?

Does any of this make Jinnah communal?

Let me end by giving another little-known fact, one that the Congress has been at pains to downplay. How many Indians know that when the time came to choose a prime minister in the interim government of 1946, out of the 20 DPCC members who voted, 19 voted for Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and that it was only after Gandhiji asked him to stand down in favour of Nehru that the latter became prime minister? But that is another story.

The short point is that Jinnah was no more communal than Nehru or Gandhiji was. He became an instrument of forces that he thought he could control but could not eventually. But that is not so unusual, is it?

T C A Srinivasa-Raghavan