Territory is not a big deal

People are.

From a liberal nationalist perspective, it is impossible to agree with Jaswant Singh’s judgement that territorial integrity of pre-Partition India was worth preserving at the cost of having “Pakistans within India”. His praise for Mohammed Ali Jinnah and his criticism of Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel is based on this notion. Yet a constitutional arrangement where citizens come in different types based on their religion and where different types of citizens have different rights and entitlements might not even preserve the territorial unity it set out to preserve. It would be impossible for such a state to achieve stability in its domestic politics and consequently, it would be impossible for such a state to operate with the unity of purpose necessary to protect its geopolitical interests. Indeed, it would be difficult to pin down a definition of its interests in the first place.

Territorial unity is meaningless unless it defines a state that realises individual rights and freedoms—the foremost among them being equality. Nehru might have had his faults—but his uncompromising stand on a liberal democratic constitutional structure was not one of them. If anything, his fault was that his liberalism didn’t go far enough to respect fundamental rights when they got in the way of his social reform project. [For a more detailed response to Mr Singh’s contentions, see GreatBong’s post]

Should this warrant Mr Singh’s summary expulsion from the BJP? Well, that’s the BJP’s call. It is entirely within its rights to take action against a member who it sees has having strayed from its values. Of course, you would expect the biggest opposition party in the world’s biggest democracy to do this with due process, decorum and dignity. That it didn’t speaks of the type of office-bearers it has. It also begs the question of the kind of values the BJP has when you consider that it stood behind a thug who spewed communal venom but thought it fit to expel an urbane statesman who expressed a heterodox intellectual opinion. If the BJP’s leaders wish to face the electorate with such a prospectus, then it is entirely their call. [See Rohit Pradhan & B Raman on this]

But nothing justifies the Gujarat state government’s decision to ban the book. That it is silly and impractical should not subtract from the fact that it is an assault on the freedom of expression. Under Narendra Modi, Gujarat has been among India’s better governed states. Even so, it is presumptuous for Mr Modi to impose his likes, dislikes and political compulsions on the the aesthetic and intellectual life of Gujarat’s residents.

Unlike Mr Singh’s expulsion, the Gujarat government’s ban is not an internal matter of the BJP. It must be challenged in court. If the ban is symbolic, its revocation will be more than that. It will set a precedent.

Finally, let’s be clear—as The Acorn wrote in 2005, Jinnah doesn’t matter (and there’s some empirical evidence too). The debate over Jinnah’s legacy is taking place on the wrong side of the border he created. For India, the question of whether or not he was a secularist is pointless—Pakistan is an Islamic republic. Besides, Jinnah’s fear of majoritarian rule was hardly based on principle—if it were, his Pakistan wouldn’t deny its own minorities the protection against majoritarianism that he sought in pre-Partition India.

Unsurprisingly, it is in India that fundamental rights—equality of all citizens the first among them—provide a bulwark against majoritarianism. This hardly means that the situation is perfect. Rather, it tells you how important it is to be intolerant to any attempt to erode, abridge or subvert those rights for reasons of low politics or high policy.

That’s why those who disagree with the argument in Mr Singh’s book must oppose any attempt to ban it.

26 thoughts on “Territory is not a big deal”

  1. Frankly, I think Jaswant’s book provided the opportunity to his rivals in the party to expel him.

    Of course, I’m also amused by this “intellectual” fixation with Partition. The youngest person to remember Partition as a living memory should be more than 62 years old. And such people can’t be more than 7% of our population (see Population Commission’s website). I for one would’ve better appreciated something more recent.

    Also banning a book is an insult to the intelligence of the average reader of such books. If the allegations are so obviously false, why ban it?

  2. Yet a constitutional arrangement where citizens come in different types based on their religion and where different types of citizens have different rights and entitlements might not even preserve the territorial unity it set out to preserve.

    Yes, but for six decades, India has muddled through precisely such an arrangement – caste-based quotas, proportionate allocation for minorities, religious-civil laws…- hasn’t it? And, at what cost to liberty and equality?

    As George Mason had observed, “It is ascertained by history, that there never was a Government, over a very extensive country [containing inhabitants so very different in manners, habits, and customs], without destroying the liberties of people”. [George Mason, Virginia Ratifying Convention, 4 June 1788]

    Naturally, book bans are not rare incursions on free speech rights, but a time-honored tradition in India.

  3. Absolutely agree with the recommendation that the book ban must be contested in the court. My first reaction when I saw the news about the ban by the Govt of Gujarat was that of dismay. Then I realised that the Govt of Gujarat did what it was expected to do given the political compulsions. But your recommendation to challenge the ban is the best way to ensure a precedent for strengthening freedom of expression.

  4. Nitin,
    Good post kudos. I think that the banning of the book should be challenged too. It conveys the right kind of message regarding the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution. People who contended the banning of ‘Da Vinci Code’ in Tamil Nadu should take up this cause too.

    BTW, I think that this deserves further analysis.

    -Pradeep

  5. This entire study of partition with jinnah as a main character and decisive factor is in itself

    dubious and flawed.

    The islamic separatism in India was itself around nearly 80 years old, beginning around

    1870 with the advent of syed ahmed khan – before it finaally culminated into calls for

    pakistan from 1938 onwards.

    Political movements are also expressions of the masses – the people on the ground are the footsoldiers, the real makers of the movement. Therefore to build up a single lone character, a kind of a cowboy – and say that he is to “blamed” for partition is completely dubious.

  6. For India, the question of whether or not he was a secularist is pointless—Pakistan is an Islamic republic.

    Agree. Jinnah, as a person, is irrelevant. That he spawned a virulent, schizophrenic state is entirely relevant. By fixating on Jinnah, and not on Pakistan, Jaswant lost the plot. His book probably reads like an Indian version of that weirdo, Stanley Wolpert’s, work. The book ban is ludicrous though.

  7. Great post

    I’d go even further. It ain’t about territory; it ain’t even about people. It’s about ideas — Nehru’s inclusive and secular vision versus Jinnah’s (and it seems Jaswant Singh’s) exclusive and religious nightmare. Mercifully, Nehru led India and Jinnah Pakistan

    Partition was a horrible event, with a million dead and over 10 million homeless in their own land of birth. Was there a way to avert this catastrophe? Perhaps lesser men may have been tempted to cut a deal to keep India whole. The consequences are unimaginable and would likely have been much worse than even the hell of partition

    Nehru, to his eternal credit, did not cut that deal. He was wrong on economics but, as you rightly note, it is he who safeguarded liberal democracy in India when most post-colonial states (incl. Pakistan) were quickly reverting to fascism of one sort or the other. Not sure if Mr. Singh wanted to accomplish this, but he has (from within the heart of the BJP) ended up strengthening Nehru’s place in Indian history!

    Best regards

  8. Nitin,

    Thanks for the post and the links. It looks to me, India was very fortunate to have had such great leaders to guide her during independence.

    Regards

  9. a virulent, schizophrenic state…

    What nonsense! And to say that on a ‘national interest’ blog – perhaps they are just thinking about their own ‘interests’ when they pursue ‘schizophrenic’ ideas? No?

  10. Then I realised that the Govt of Gujarat did what it was expected to do given the political compulsions.

    A singularly curious excuse. What compulsions?

  11. It’s a strange case to make that Nehru “safeguarded liberal democracy.” Then what exactly was he doing with the status of Jammu and Kashmir? Why would Shyam Prasad Mukherjee be killed fighting against Nehru’s actions on J&K?

    Fact is Nehru didn’t care for religious identities. Sure, he hated Hindus, but didn’t care for appeasing Muslims on religious grounds. Ironic Jaswant thinks he should have! That’s why BJP was right to turn their back on Jaswant.

    Also just because Jaswant is wrong on Jinnah, it doesn’t mean he’s wrong on Nehru too. If Nehru such a promoter of liberal democracy why would he amendment the constitution to restrict fundamental rights – not just fundamental economic rights – just few years after Ambekharji made sure they were included and defended to keep them in the constitution? We will now be told that commies too helped promote liberal democracy in India, despite their “misunderstanding” of economic issues, because they too hated Hindus and were not as agnostic as Nehru when it came to Muslims?

    Regarding the book banning, while not supporting banning of free speech, it is little better than agitating for a complete country wide ban because a group is apparently aggrieved, in this case Gujarathis. Surely, Sardar Patel himself would have disapproved such silliness.

  12. @Chandra
    I never heard of this incident where Nehru decides to amend constitution to curb fundamental rights. Would you care to elaborate it further ?

    Also why Gujratis should be aggrieved same argument can be applied to UP people they must be aggrieved with Nehru’s description. This really boggles the mind . Somebody in India is always ready to get emotionally hurt and people are always ready to defend the ban according to their leanings. Take the case of Taslima Nasreen and M.F Hussain almost everybody from masses to political parties have double standards on the harassment face by these two individuals.

  13. The book ban shows how fundamentally illiberal and insecure the RSS polity is – even here some was trying to understand the “compulsions” of the BJP in doing what it did. Btw, havent these BJP numskulls given this book the BEST PR ,money can buy by banning it ? I dont know of a better way of getting people curious about a book than by banning it !

    Since this is not an All India Ban – how difficult would it be for Gujaratis to order this online or get it in a bookstore in Bombay ? Would’nt this make the BJP look sillier ?

    Now, if only I could get to buy the Satanic Verses in India – oh,wait that book will offend the sensibilities of Muslims and therefore it deserves to be banned !

    Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, MF Hussain nude Saraswathi paintings and Jaswant Singh’s book on Jinnah are the three most prominent examples in the last two decades that i can think of with respect to thought policing – how much worse can it get ?

  14. Jaswant Singh should challenge it in court. But it also demands a PIL as it is not only Singh’s book that is the issue here.

  15. Perhaps lesser men may have been tempted to cut a deal to keep India whole. The consequences are unimaginable and would likely have been much worse than even the hell of partition

    PR this does not compute. What kind of deal? Jinnah as PM? What kind of consequences? Direct Action Day on steroids? Civil War? Hard to imagine alternatives that could be worse than Partition.
    Best Regards.

  16. Libertarian:

    No nation can survive and prosper with the cancer of identity crisis at its core. Jinnah wanted a Muslim nation in federation with a Hindu nation — this outcome would have left a country at conflict with itself, its citizenship implying vastly different things to different people (not just on personal affairs, but also on fundamental rights), and its future mired in an endless civil war.

    I fully understand how traumatic the partition was particularly for the people of Punjab and Bengal. But that heavy cost, borne by some, has created a liberal oasis for all of us in the midst of the political/intellectual desert of South Asia. Absence of liberalism would have been the worse fate than even partition.

    Best regards

  17. @primary red

    Indeed. Few realise the price we paid for our freedom. Almost criminal to see people fritter it away.

  18. @ Nitin

    I wish you and others commentators would stop calling it an ‘intellectual process’. If anything, it is bereft of an intellectual process.

    The man who creates a country on the basis of religion is secular? You can yonder all over the library to come up with instances that highlight how Jinnah WAS saying blah blah blah and blah. TALK IS CHEAP.

    And the man who unifies the country is divisive? And that to you is the result of critical analysis, research, and well reasoned judgment? Intellectual? Come on Nitin, you’re better than that.

    @ Primary Red

    “Nehru was wrong on economics.”

    Please elaborate. WW II was seen as being brought about by unbridled and unregulated capitalism leading to the great depression where the impoverished populace across Europe voted for regimes assuring a quick recovery and salvage of forsaken national glory. Post WWII the likes of Atlee, Nehru and Truman/Eisenhower instituted an economy with more state control over it. The Indian economy was chuging along very well for the first decade and a half.

    Blame Indira for the economy.

    The one thing we all can agree upon however, is that the book should not be banned. But Jaswant Singh certainly deserves to be expelled.

  19. No nation can survive and prosper with the cancer of identity crisis at its core. Jinnah wanted a Muslim nation in federation with a Hindu nation — this outcome would have left a country at conflict with itself, its citizenship implying vastly different things to different people (not just on personal affairs, but also on fundamental rights), and its future mired in an endless civil war.

    PR: very convincingly framed. Much food for thought. I’ll play devil’s advocate to draw out more of your thought-process.

    Your argument seems to imply either a weak-kneed Congress leadership bending to Jinnah’s stronger will, or even worse, a validation of the 2-nation theory? Or it might imply that the concept of Indian nationhood is not (yet?) inclusive enough to cajole/coerce/integrate Muslim-majority states into the Union. The last two thoughts are uncomfortable ones, Kashmir being a painful sore.

    Nehru also attempted to build intellectual dams to prevent Muslims from leaving India. The Muslim Personal Law is one such abomination. So we do have a weak version of the varying ideas of citizenship you refer to.

    But that heavy cost, borne by some, has created a liberal oasis for all of us in the midst of the political/intellectual desert of South Asia.

    Cannot agree that Partition was the necessary price to be paid for the creation of this oasis. India has been that intellectual (if not political) oasis through much of her history, including the area and the people of modern(!!?) Pakistan and Bangladesh. The intellectual desertification of Pakistan, and to a lesser extent Bangladesh, are largely self goals: the direct result of clinging longingly to that true wasteland called Saudi Arabia.

  20. Wouldn’t Jaswant Singh’s expulsion be the same as an employee being sacked for doing something which goes against his employer’s ethics policy (for e.g.)?

  21. Also, Arun Shourie, although correct is not sincere. What he is saying is spot on, but one should also look at the time when he comes out with this allegations. The BJP has been on the decline since 2005. He had all the time in the world to suggest changes earlier and explain his position. But he chose not to. He waited till things reached a boiling point. So yes, he is right but not without fault.

  22. For the first time, Nitin, I completely agree with your post – territorial integrity at the cost of having a “state within a state” means nothing. Nehru was right to let Pakistan go. It would have been great if we could have had a united India without separate electorates but that was never going to happen because the Congress could never win votes in Muslim-majority areas. Partition was hard but it had to happen. As you say, Jinnah was irrelevant – another man would have taken his place. What mattered was the Congress’s lack of popularity among Muslims.

  23. bans dont work .. the forbidden fruit is sweeter ….
    the best reply to an erroneous (facts or their interpretation or anything else ) book is another book that corrects those errors … rt?

    and my 2 cents abt a bjp – cong comparo is this regard …

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