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Published in the 1-15 July 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Freedom Movement, Politics and Partition

Jinnah's shadow over contemporary politics in India

By Syed Shahabuddin

The Milli Gazette Online

The question whether Jinnah was secular is meaningless unless one defines the term ‘Secular’. If to be secular means to be anti-religious or pro-religious, to have no religious inhibitions, to deny, ignore and not to practise religious duties, then Gandhi or Azad was not secular, Jinnah, in that sense was secular until he donned the Shervani and the Jinnah cap and became the Qaid-e-Azam. Nehru was but he professed to be a sceptic and not religious. But since Hinduism is impossible to define, he considered himself, and was considered by his followers, to be a Hindu.

If secularism is defined as non-discrimination on ground of religion, then the term is lifted from the common way of life to the lofty heights of power. Indeed Secularism is an attribute of the State which treats its citizens equally irrespective of religion. As an individual, any person is ever free to choose his friends, his spouse, the religion of his children, but as the law-giver, as a person in power, as a representative of the State he serves, he cannot import religion into his official life, in dealing with the people at large or his subordinates. So a religious or even orthodox person may well be secular as the holder of a public office. Conversely, an irreligious person may be anti-secular or communal in his public life.

Let us take a look at the problem from the conceptual angle of nationalism. Jinnah’s name is synonymous with the Two-Nations Theory; the theory covers Hindus and Muslims only but they are not the whole of India. It has followers of at least 4, if not 6 or 7, recognized religions: Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Jains, and the Parsis, and many ‘other religions’. The question was and is: if Muslims and Hindus constitute nations, then why should not the other religious groups also be regarded as ‘nations’. So Jinnah should have logically espoused the Many Nations Theory, all based on religion. What, in fact, he conceptually propounded after 1937 may be called the theory of Religion-based Nationalism or Religious Nationalism, in contrast to Territorial Nationalism which implies that all persons who inhabit a common territory constitute one nation. Territorial Nationalism tends to break down with the size of the territory as in a particular part, a minority group may command a majority. It also tends to break down with historically determined relations among distinct peoples inhabiting the territory. Territorial Nationalism implies a relationship of friendly intercourse between different peoples inhabiting the territory, participating in its governance, sharing the responsibility for development and defence, facing common perils and sharing joys and sorrows. But Territorial Nationalism whatever the size of the territory has to be secular nationalism if inhabited by more than one religious groups. On the other hand, Religious Nationalism which recognizes followers of a particular religion as nationals or citizens and the followers of other religions, living in the same territory, as the ‘others’ and discriminates among them is anti-secular and leads to a theocratic State. The anti-thesis of Secularism is Communalism, to place the interest of the religious group above the national interest or the common good.

Territorial Nationalism is essential for the liberation of a territory from foreign yoke or occupation because it has the potential to mobilize all the people for a common cause. So the Indian Freedom Movement was above all based on Territorial Nationalism promising freedom for the people of India of all religions, languages, races and castes. However, it is also a fact that, whatever the historical or political reasons, the Freedom Movement failed to accommodate the urges and aspirations, fears and hopes of several social groups. Above all, it could not resolve the communal problem which was essentially a Hindu-Muslim problem because Hindus and Muslims, the two biggest religious groups, meant 90% of the people of India. 

But Communalism, a pejorative term in Indian politics, needs also to be adopted. In the age of social justice and of identity politics every community has its right to an equitable share of national assets and resources. In the age of democracy, every social group has a right to demand and struggle peacefully for its rights, for its share of the cake, for its place in the sun, for its finger on the levers of power. Indeed it is in the national interest to have contented minorities, rather than to deny them their due and push them to the wall. Of course, the minorities, religious or otherwise, have to function within the bounds of democratic and constitutional legitimacy. In the long road, the nationalist movement traversed from the Lucknow Pact of 1916 to the Partition of 1947, it is impossible to absolve anyone totally and equally unfair to tar anyone wholly.

Separatism, leading to the Partition, a very imperfect and even irrational solution, emerged to fill the vacuum. Jinnah championed it, particularly after 1937 and it became his formal objective after 1940. In this sense Jinnah can be called a ‘separatist’. But on this ground alone he cannot be called anti-secular because till the very end he wanted a united India with constitutional safeguards in terms of federalism and minority rights because he knew that the two States of India and Pakistan, had the Partition not used blood to draw the new boundaries, would both be multi-religious, not mono-religious, States and in that sense, both would have no option but to adopt Territorial Nationalism and Secularism as their ideology. This is the dilemma that was given expression to by Jinnah in his 11 August, 1947 speech, which Advani quoted, as if he had discovered it! In any case, Savarkar coined the Two-Nation Theory 16 years before Jinnah used it. Lajpat Rai spoke of Partition at least 15 years before the Pakistan Resolution of 1940.

No doubt Jinnah held the brief for Pakistan, but did he believe in it? A lawyer does not have to believe in his brief. Yet after the failure of the All Parties Congress in 1928, followed by the rejection of a consensus on the Hindu-Muslim Question at the Round Table Conference, he retired from active politics, living in exile in London. The bitter experience of formation of provincial government after the 1937 elections under the 1935 Act, the rising Muslim fear of cultural submergence and religious assimilation and consequent loss of religious identity, Nehru’s philosophy of economic determinism, the slow but steady exit of Muslims from the Congress platform, the artificial, egoistic claim of the Congress to represent all Indians while it had few Muslims of eminence left and an array of leaders who believed in Hindu Nationalism and who were opposed to any constitutional safeguards for or political concessions to the Muslims gave Jinnah an opportunity to re-enter national politics as a Man with a Mission – to secure equality, if not parity with the Hindus for the Muslims. He used all available arguments – religious and pseudo-religious, realistic and sentimental, rational and irrational, historical and pseudo-historical, rational and irrational, to promote and plead his case. Denied negotiations, on equal terms as in 1916, in the late 30’s and 40’s, he forced himself and his party into all negotiations between the Freedom Movement and the Imperial power, at least cast his shadow over it. Yet it is doubtful whether Pakistan had become inevitable before the announcement of the Partition on 3 June, 1947. There could have been an agreement on a federal structure, with Centre limited to specific subjects like defence, external affairs, communication and finance and with autonomous provinces also enjoying specified powers plus all residual powers, a multi-level democratic system with a charter of fundamental rights and a uniform code for the treatment of religious and linguistic minorities everywhere. Perhaps the British wanted to weaken the successive State. Perhaps those who believed in united India had lost patience; even Gandhi had secluded himself from the march of events, the separatist had his way but the anti-separatists had their pound of flesh in the form of religious partition of Bengal and Punjab. And Jinnah had to bow to the logic of Partition and lump it and accept what he called and moth-eaten Pakistan.

Jinnah’s speech of 11 August, 1947 expresses his realization of the irrationality of the Pakistan idea and he could not refuse it when it was presented to him on platter. But he did not foresee the mass exodus and the bloodshed, nor could he stop it when it began. His speech was his last effort to stem the tide and he saw the theoretical foundation he had envisaged for the welfare of half the Muslims who remained in India though what has been inhumanly called ‘balance of hostages’, crumbling before his own eyes. This is, indeed, an irony of fate that those Muslims of the Sub-continent who needed no protection got protection and those who needed it more, were left unprotected!

Jinnah’s speech of 11 August, 1947 could not and did not abate the religious pressure for the transformation of Pakistan into a modern laboratory for Islam, an Islamic State. The Islamists of Pakistan accused Jinnah, the Father of Pakistan, of having strangled his baby at its birth! But the speech does not mean a reversal of course for Jinnah. He had gone too far. But, it is said that on his death bed, he regretted what he had done and wished to go to Delhi to plead with Nehru for annulling Partition.

It would be an injustice to Jinnah to give him the full blame, or whole credit depending upon how one looks at it, for the creation of Pakistan. Political developments beyond his control, since the late 20’s, the Hindu dominance of the nationalist movement through penetration of the forces of Hindu nationalism, majoritarianism or secular follies of his contemporaries, support by the British when it suited them, the sheer sentimentalism of the Muslim masses, the sidelining of the Muslim Ulema, all contributed to the Partition. A historic event is the culmination of a process and never the handiwork of such individual. So was it Jinnah? Or was it like the culmination of a Greek tragedy?
While Advani was wrong in attributing secularism to Jinnah, he was absolutely right and realistic in accepting the fact that Pakistan exists and Partition cannot be undone and, logically, supporting the cause of friendly and peaceful coexistence in the larger and common interest of all the peoples of the Sub-continent, perhaps, with ‘Muslim Pakistan’ and cooperating with ‘Muslim Indian’.

The RSS mindset, nourished on the concept of Akhand Bharat cannot accept Pakistan as a permanent reality; it cannot accept the assertion of religious identity by the Muslim Indians; it cannot accept Territorial Nationalism; it understands and accepts Hindu Nationalism, redefined cleverly by Advani who gave it a modern nomenclature as ‘Cultural Nationalism’.

What is interesting is to see the contrast when the RSS did not object when Prime Minister Vajpayee visited the Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore or when he played the Muslim card as a part of his electoral strategy to restore the Sangh Parivar to power. Today, out of power, it is up against Advani for the sin of visiting Jinnah’s Mazar in Karachi and eulogizing him as secular for his speech of 11 August, 1947. We can understand the RSS reaction particularly in the context of the on-going war of succession within the BJP and the continuing war of ideological supremacy between the RSS and the BJP. RSS wants to purge leaders of national eminence and place the BJP in the hands of dependable and obedient youngman who cannot take one step, win one seat, without the RSS support.

But what about Advani’s motives in going to Pakistan and saying what he said. Surely as an astute politician with 50 years of experience, he should have anticipated the reaction of his open and hidden adversaries. Did he wish to soften his image, emerge as the only possible successor of Vajpayee in the BJP, acceptable to the other members of the NDA as the Leader? Did he wish to play his own Muslim card? But he could have done both without visiting Pakistan and paying tribute to Jinnah. Did he think his gesture would impress the Muslims and the secular-liberal crowd? Didn’t he learn anything from the flop that Vajpayee’s Muslim Card proved itself to be in May, 2004? Doesn’t he realize that the Rath Yatra, the Demolition and the Gujarat Massacre have left deep scars on the Muslim mind? That no Muslim Indian regards Pakistan as a protector or as a guardian or accept it as its advocate, the defunct Nehru-Liaquat Pact of 1950 notwithstanding, that the Muslim Indians and the secular liberal Hindu shall judge the BJP (and Advani) not by token gestures but only by a clear change in its divisive and exclusive ideology, in its anti-Muslim policies, in its reduction of national politics to a zero-sum game between the Hindus and the Muslims, even when the Hindus form 82% and Muslims only 13% of the national population. A Muslim Indian does not imagine, as Mr. Advani does, that a Ziarat of ‘Pakistan Sharif’ climaxed by respectful homage to the Dargah of its patron-saint will wash away all the sins of omission and commission, like a dip in the Ganges does for an orthodox Hindu! But the RSS mindset which identifies Muslim Indians with Pakistan is convinced that the path to a Muslim Indian’s heart or mind passes through Pakistan.

The visit and the statements are bound to create a lingering controversy. These controversies will echo and re-echo. One hopes and prays that they do not reopen the wounds of Partition and regenerate the hatred, ill-will and hostility – the communal environment – that we have nearly overcome over the last 50 years. It would be a sad day if Hindu mobs begin reenacting Gujarat all over the country, calling the Muslim Indians ‘Jinnah ki Aulad’ and holding them responsible for Partition and begin hunting them.

But what was the motive of Pakistan in inviting Advani, the iron man, when, out of power, known for his opposition to Indo-Pakistan reconciliation, for his hard line on Kashmir and for his antipathy to the Muslim Indians? Until the other day Advani was held responsible for the fiasco at Agra. Today he is given a red carpet treatment. What did Pakistan hope to achieve from this show of hospitality and by raising his stature in his Hindu constituency for getting him to inaugurate the rebuilding of an ancient Hindu temple in Pakistan, associated with the Mahabharat. Pakistan establishment has publicly confessed to its disappointment at BJP’s defeat. Does Pakistan calculate that the UPA Government may fall and the BJP, with Advani as its head, may resume power? Or did Pakistan wish to soften the opposition of the Hindu Right to any deal with India which may mean a concession to Pakistan. Come to think of it, both the RSS and the Pakistan establishment are ready for yet another partition – of J&K – more or less on the same basis i.e. religion. Do they have a common objective? Yet Pakistan should know that the Hindu Right will oppose even the slightest concession by the UPA to Pakistan, though it may swallow bigger concessions, if the BJP was in power. In any case, for Pakistan, the Advani episode is an insurance, a gamble for the future. 
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