Jinnah does not matter

The past is history

The second biggest threat to amicable relations between India and Pakistan is the tendency to dig up emotional events and personalities of the past and enter into a passionate debate over their legacy. Whatever his intentions were, L K Advani, the India’s leader of the opposition, succeeded in stirring up a debate over rather unimportant issues.

Whether Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of the Pakistani state, was a ‘secularist’ or not is none of India’s business. Furthermore, it is also not for a leader of an Indian political party to remind the Pakistani people of what he perceives as the true legacy of their founder. Indeed, the average Pakistani cares as much for Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan as his Indian counterpart cares for Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of India. For the most part, Jinnah and Gandhi are just mute adornments that grace currency notes and walls of government officials.

Jinnah’s death soon after the formation of the Pakistani state did not give him enough time to create lasting institutions. Without his towering presence, the Muslim League quickly fell apart. And unlike several leaders of twentieth-century anti-colonial struggles, Jinnah did not even leave behind a ruling dynasty. His influence, therefore, on present day Pakistani politics is negligible. Despite what the Indian Express writes, reopening the question of Jinnah’s place in history does not help the present day attempts to forge better relations between the two countries in any substantial way.

If there was a need to signal to the Pakistani people that India accepts the reality of Pakistan, then that was achieved years ago when Atal Behari Vajpayee, as prime minister, visited Minar-e-Pakistan in 1999. But there is really no need to resort to symbolism here. The best signal is for Indian politicians — of every stripe — to stop raking up the troubled past, and stop throwing about models of various federations and unions in South Asia for the future. These are invariably construed as repackaged attempts by India to turn back the clock on more than half-a-century of development as separate entities.

Debating whether Jinnah was a hero or a villain is of little practical importance, but debating the role Gen Musharraf is playing now is of vital importance. Advani has done India a disservice by diverting the focus of the debate from the objective present to the subjective past.

Tailpiece: Advani holds a constitutional office as Leader of the Opposition. It was extremely poor judgement on his part to inaugurate a Hindu temple complex in Pakistan. The big irony here is that soon after inaugurating the temple, he went on to qoute from Jinnah’s famous speech about separation of religion from the state.

Asking Advani to inaugurate the temple means harking back to the two-nation theory, under which the Hindus, and their temples, are supposedly the responsibility of India while the Muslims of the subcontinent are Pakistan’s — though Bangladesh will demur. Not surprisingly, soon after Advani’s visit to the temple complex, a suggestion was made by a Pakistani leader that Pervez Musharraf can return the favour by inaugurating a mosque in India! [Amulya Ganguli/Rediff]

18 thoughts on “Jinnah does not matter”

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  2. Nitin:

    Completely agree with the point you’ve made here.

    India’s problem with Pakistan problem can be compared to a situation where a relationship goes terribly dysfunctional and abusive, the abusive, high-maintenance spouse demands (& gets) a divorce, there are long-running ugly battles for child custody and asset sharing, and things could hardly get any worse.

    In this circumstance, like a melodramatic loser, Mr. Advani, & regrettably too many other Indians, seek to re-ignite the smothered flame by romanticizing even the messiness of our divorce? Hello — can’t we just move on?

    The only legit. concern one should have is if the divorced spouse moves into the house next door & starts peddling dope — well, there goes the neighborhood, doesn’t it? This is precisely what’s happened with Pakistan.

    Lets then focus on cleaning up our neighborhood of drug dealers, rather than singing (Bollywood style) sad songs of loss & longing? It makes us look rather foolish.

  3. “..a disservice by diverting the focus of the debate from the objective present to the subjective past…”

    Very beautifully put Nitin. Indeed have not most of the politicians been doing the same thing again and again….

    Lalu was amused that dolls looking similar to him have been made and were selling well.Soon we shall be having dolls resembling fake politician like Rabri also…

    At least the children should not hold resemblences of thieves in their hands.

  4. As perfectly as can be put. Its been 50 over years since Jinnah died, and he dies without achieving anything significant for his independant country. Whether he intended to make a secular or Islamic Pakistan is totally irrelevant. As you aptly pointed out, it is Pakistan’s present – Musharaf – who should matter. Once again Advani has proven that all he is ever interested in is hogging the spotlight in Indian politics. It is extremely naive and irresponsible of him to have ventured to given the RSS, Shiv Sena and other hardcore Hindu fanatics the chance to push the anti-Pakistan message yet again at a time when a majority of the 2 countries, and indeed of the whole world, are hoping that the 2 nations can coexist peacefully.

    Infact, I had happened to criticise Advani’s political stands just earlier in the day.

    PS: For some reason your blog is blocked by my office firewall for apparently ‘unauthorised content’ :-s Apparently after the Gulf, it my company – what have you been writing about :-p I haven’t encountered this problem with any other blog till date.

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  6. Seems all this is an elaborate contrived farce to fool the secular brigade. This jan he dissed jinnah and now suddenly he makes a total u-turn that would put musharraf to shame! Something smells mighty fishy here.

    Advani’s a smart man who’s well realized that coalitions are here to stay and that the BJP needs to be rehabilitated in the general public’s eyes, so to say. How better to begin than with a very public spat with founding mother RSS? I wouldn’t be surprised if the RSS and the BJP top brass are secretly laughing away at the foolishness of folks like Laloo and various paki commentators.

  7. Nitin, excellent analysis, as usual.

    Advani is not stupid. Of course, smart people do make stupid statements. But I think that Advani must have some good reason for doing what he did. This may be a false hope but there it is.

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  9. I can only guess what Mr Advani purpose was….

    Most probably extreme makeover.

    But I do disagree with you when you say that Gandhi and Jinnah are equivalent.
    Without Jinnah (A liberal, modern, secular demagogue ),Pakistan would have been fantasy of loony mullahs.
    Also Primary Red’s compariosion of Indo-Pak relations is pretty interesting, However at risk of sounding jingoistic I do think India is far better than Pakistan (and would be better still, but for loony left )

  10. Both Gandhi and Jinnah’s have seen many of their beliefs rejected by the nations they helped found, but it’s worth taking note of the divergent impacts that these rejections have had.

    For a liberal-minded Indian, I think the rejection of certain aspects of Gandhi’s value system has mostly been a positive – though posssessing many admirable qualities, Gandhi was more or less a socialist who came to condemn the Industrial Revolution, and his pacifism was often taken to absurd levels. So the fact that India has “rejected” Gandhi’s values by increasingly embracing capitalism and becoming a nuclear power with a modern military isn’t something to lose sleep over.

    For a liberal-minded Pakistani, however, there’s much to be distraught over the manner in which the country has rejected aspects of Jinnah’s value system. Though I don’t think that anyone can seriously consider the man a secular figure, by all accounts he was non-secular in much the same way that the founders of Israel were. That is, while he sought to create a country that would be a homeland for members of a particular religion, and in which that religion would be the official faith, by no means did he want it to resemble a fundamentalist theocracy. In addition, I can’t think Jinnah would be pleased to see the manner in which the Army has come to dominate Pakistani civil society.

    Keeping that in mind, and the fact that most Pakistanis continue to revere Jinnah, it’s not necessarily a bad idea to go to Pakistan and ask, “Is this what Jinnah wanted?”. But going as far as to call him a secular figure was clearly a mistake, given that majorities in both India and Pakistan know better.

    Would Partition have happened without Jinnah? Maybe not right away, particularly if a Muslim emerged as the first ruler of a united, post-Independence India. But between the divide-and-rule policies of the British, the history of Muslim insurrections throughout the world over the last 50 years, and the fact that even post-Independence Pakistan wasn’t able to keep itself together, I’m inclined to agree with Naipaul that religious uprisings would’ve been inevitable over the long run.

  11. Excellent points by Eric above. Also, I fully agree with Naipaul (as pointed out by Eric) that India would not have held together the way it did so far had the partition not happened. Kashmir, to my mind, is the litmus test of that conjecture.

  12. Eric,

    I’ve not been counting, but what you wrote counts as one of the best articulated comments on this blog.

  13. I will again say

    Mahatma to India is not same as Jinnah to Pakistan.
    India would be existing with or without Mahatma, but Pakistan would not.
    What propelled Jinnah was his personal peeve with Mahatma (for mixing religion with politics) , Nehru (personal ambition)and Congress (their mass movement approach as opposed to his elitist view).
    Ofcourse many intellectuals (including Mr NaiPaul)has said that partition was inevitable, but I dont like it, one I dont like venturing into What..Ifs..
    and second in that case partition business is still unfinished

  14. Atanu and Nitin, thanks.

    Gaurav, if you look back on a major historical event as avoidable, I think asking “What If?” comes with the territory. Also, I’m curious as to what you mean when you say that Partition is an unfinished issue. Are you suggesting that there’s still a chance for reunification? I think there’s an outside shot of that happening in 40-50 years, in the context of a South Asian Union, but not before. And even then, it’ll only have a chance of happenning if the political climate on the subcontinent has been secularized in a manner similar to most developed nations, and if economic integration is similar to that of the EU.

    Clearly, these conditions don’t exist today, nor did they in 1947.

  15. Eric,

    When I said partition was unfinished business then I was talking about further partition. There are still 16% muslims here (and which I am afraid are reluctant to join mainstream, BJP or no BJP).Is there any guarantee that we will not have a second Jinnah tommorow.
    Regarding reunification I dont think India needs any more jihadis than she already has.
    Regarding specultaing about alternative histories (What… If? for you), what I meant was while I am OK with speculating, I disagree about inevitability of any occurence.
    Muslims have lived under hindu rules (Shivaji, Ranjeet Singh etc.) and I think that if Congress had more guts and patience, we could have avoided partition

  16. Of course Advani had a good reason for saying what he did. The kindest way to interpret his actions is as he chose to present them–a sentimental reconciliation attempt in his old age in the city of his birth that was an honest coming to terms.

    A more cynical person (like me) might think that he orchestrated a public catharsis through which he was attempting to curry favor with moderates by expressing regret over the Babri Masjid (without actually taking responsibility) and more generally posing as Muslim- and secularism-friendly, thereby putting himself in better position for a run at the prime ministership (and helping the BJP’s image in the process).

    A really cynical person might take it a step further and believe that Advani knew what he was doing in stoking further nationalist and religious tensions by provoking this debate without sacrificing anything of substance of his own except some support from his hard right base (as opposed to, say, saying something conciliatory about Kashmir, which would probably not have gone over as well). As Nitin pointed out, his personal catharsis revolves around a historically interesting but contemporarily unimportant issue.

    I’m not Indian (in the context of this discussion), nor am I in India, so I don’t know which of these is the most accurate read…so I’ll leave that all to you.

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