Special Reports

Partition-Jinnah debate: don’t demonize Jaswant Singh

By Firoz Bakht Ahmed

The ghost of Partition is haunting us even today. Though I am a staunch supporter of Maulana Azad and not Jinnah, I feel that Jaswant Singh, the erstwhile Bhartiya Janata Party leader has a point not necessarily about Jinnah being a ‘great man’ but to peel off the years and years of falsification of the truth behind Partition through his path-breaking research, Jinnah - India, Partition, Independence. Singh rightly describes the Partition of India as the “defining event of the 20th century” for this entire Subcontinent.

Jaswant has done nothing historically wrong other than raising curtains from some otherwise embarrassing but true facts leading to the vivisection of the country besides the “epic journey of Jinnah from being the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity, the liberal constitutionalist and Indian nationalist to the Quaid-e-Azam of Pakistan”. Jaswant Singh strongly contested the popular Indian view that Jinnah was the villain of the 1947 Partition or the man principally responsible for it with proven facts. So, why all this hue and cry?

Calling a spade a spade, Singh raises several pertinent and thoughtful questions on Partition. “...How can you divide a geographic (also geo-political) unity?” Azad asked a question of the same sort, “How can you divide water into two?” True, a nation like India was not to be slashed into two through a surgical operation.

The BJP leaders’ affinity to Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah is not a newfound love. In the past too party heavyweights like — Advani and Vajpayee — while on their Pakistan tours — have expressed similar sentiments.

We also pity the way the BJP has demonized a man of   Jaswant’s stature in the same manner as Jinnah is demonized in India. Jaswant is victimized today ironically by both — the Congress and the BJP which have reasons common for doing so. The way his book was banned in Gujarat and the way he has been thrown out of the BJP, is tragic. Advani too went gaga over Jinnah but he was not meted the same fate as Jaswant. In fact the very ban will give the book a cutting edge. It’s human nature.

Partition is a very complex and complicated jinx to understand. However, it couldn’t be understood unless we go into the details with Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, quite a few of which were confided into me by his nephew (and my father), Ghulam Yasin’s son, Nooruddin Ahmed at the time when 30 unpublished pages of Maulana Azad’s India Wins Freedom were published in 1988, as per his wishes, 30 years after his death. Nooruddin was brought up by Maulana like his own son as Azad had no issue.

While on the other hand, similar allegations had been recorded by Maulana Azad in his last 30 pages of India Wins Freedom that were to be published 30 years after his death (February 22, 1958) in 1988 by Orient and Longman. The real pages seem to have been removed by either in Nehru or the Janata Party’s regime as claimed by Laila Kabir, daughter of Humayun Kabir, and by Nooruddin.

When the author visited Nooruddin at his house at his Kolkata (32 Bright Street), he was told by him of certain glaring realities about Partition that hadn’t seen the light of the day that got published in major newspapers and magazines of that time, like The Times of India, Deccan Chronicle, The Illustrated Weekly, The Telegraph, Sunday (Weekly). A lot of Azad’s unpublished works had been thieved or destroyed by some distant relatives of my father living as a recluse in Calcutta during the controversy of India Wins Freedom. It was a time when dirty linen was washed by some relatives of Azad to grab the royalty rights of India Wins Freedom.

Maulana Azad was quite aggrieved about Partition on Nehru-Edwina front. He had accused Nehru of being lured into Partition by Lady Edwina Mountbatten. Maulana had clearly stated that there were times when Pandit Nehru, Mountbatten and Lady Mountbatten were seen sitting together while at others only Nehru and Edwina were seen together.

Azad had also written a book Jashn-e-Azadi ya Taqseem-e-Hind that never got published and contained some glaring truths on Partition as per a page 1 report in The Times of India (10 October 1992) by Sakina Yusuf Khan. My father told me that the book was basically a retort against Nehru, Patel and Gandhi regarding their roles in Partition.

Since Maulana had a tremendous regard for these people and he didn’t want to hurt them during their lifetime, he had made a will that these last 30 pages of that book be published 30 years after his death — a time when all these people too would be no more.

Azad thinks that Patel was the one mainly responsible for Partition. Page 201 of the 1988 edition of India Wins Freedom states, “I was surprised that Patel was now an even greater supporter of the two nation theory than Jinnah. Jinnah may have raised the flag of Partition but now the real flag bearer was Patel.” That proves Jaswant’s point.

The diary of Maniben, Patel’s daughter, who used to accompany him to almost every place, from June 8, 1936 till Sardar’s death on December 15, 1950 serves to highlight the deep regard Patel held Gandhi in and also his serious differences with Nehru on a host of issues, including Hyderabad, Kashmir, foreign policy, especially with regard to Tibet, Hindu-Muslim problems, particularly the problem of refugees who were being driven out from East Pakistan, the Nehru-Liaquat Pact notwithstanding, and on corruption, socialism, centralized planning, Nehru’s autocratic style of functioning, etc.

Mani’ben’s diary reveals differences between Sardar Patel and Maulana Azad, particularly with regard to Maulana’s “secret” dealings with the Cabinet Mission and later in respect of the Hindu-Muslim problem.

Jaswant isn’t wrong when he states that Jinnah was a nationalist leader. The fact is that prior to the misunderstanding and bad blood created first in 1929 on the issue of “Separate Electorate” and then in 1946, regarding the Cabinet Mission Plan, Jinnah was head high above shoulders of all the nationalists. “He fought the British for an independent India but also fought resolutely and relentlessly for the interests of Muslims of India... the acme of his nationalistic achievement was the 1916 Lucknow Pact of Hindu-Muslim unity,” Jaswant has rightly written.

The seeds of discord for the Partition were sown in the mismanagement of the Cabinet Mission Plan as per the facts recorded in eminent scholar and editor-in-chief of Salar Urdu daily, Bangalore, B Sheikh Ali’s book Maulana Azad: Vision and Action. He states that according to the federal system, both Hindus and Muslims were to be given their due and both were satisfied about that.

During 1946, even Maulana Azad was in favour of the Cabinet Mission Plan as the populace was sensibly categorized into three areas, namely, A, B and C. ‘A’ represented the areas with Hindu majority while ‘B’ stood for Muslim dominated areas and ‘C’ stood for areas with Muslim majority in the North East. This was a plan that had eased communal conflagration and aimed at cementing communal concord.

It was all harmonious till a time when Maulana Azad sensed that Sardar Patel had instigated Nehru to not only make changes into the Cabinet Mission Plan but his intention to completely shelve it. Azad ran to Gandhi at 10 AM on March 31, 1947 to report to him that the danger of Partition was lurking and that he must interfere. He was told by the Father of the Nation that no changes would be effected into the Cabinet Mission Plan and if that happened it would be on his dead body. A panicky Maulana got pacified.

Nevertheless, by 4 PM the same day, no one knew what had transpired between Nehru and Sardar Patel that they had finally decided for Partition. Azad was a man of unsurpassable intuition and got the feeler that Partition was on cards.

Jolted and jarred, Azad again ran to Gandhi realizing that Partition had become inescapable. Gandhi who had said that Partition would take place on his dead body, was now a totally changed man and he too sided with Nehru and Patel on the issue of Partition.

According to B Sheikh Ali, Azad said at that, “What shocked me to the smithereens was the fact that Gandhi too started quoting the same ideology for effecting Partition that was Patel’s.” In fact, it was this moment that took all life out of Azad who had doted on Gandhi particularly and on Nehru for warding off vivisection.

After that, Maulan Azad became a living dead body. Aruna Asif Ali, pioneer of Independence, once told me in her daily Patriot office at Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg how inconsolably Maulana Saab wept on the midnight of August 15 at a truncated freedom.

It’s time that the reality of Partition dawns upon people and the blot from the Muslim community held responsible for the Partition is washed.

The author is a Delhi-based commentator
on social, educational and religious issues