May Issue 2010
Interview: Jaswant Singh
By Ghazi Salahuddin | People | Q & A | Published 13 years ago
“Jinnah didn’t want Pakistan; he wanted greater autonomy for the Muslims of India”
– Jaswant Singh
While talking to Jaswant Singh the focus had to be his headline-making book on the Quaid, Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence, because it was its launch by the Oxford University Press (OUP) that brought the former external affairs minister of India to Pakistan in the middle of April. The book, seen as a rather deferential portrait of the creator of Pakistan by a leading Indian politician belonging to a party of hardliner Hindu nationalists, made flaming headlines in August last year when it was released in India. Singh was readily expelled from the BJP and his book was banned in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat. Hence, feverish attention was also paid to it in Pakistan. With the launch of the Pakistani edition of the book, many of the questions raised about it earlier were bound to resurface.
During the five days that he was in Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore, Singh was very much in the media and had to bear a punishing round of interviews. Here are some excerpts from a brief interview forNewsline held at the OUP head office in Karachi:
Q: Your book upset people in your party because it supposedly exalts Jinnah. But it doesn’t really, does it? Ultimately you state that he defied his Indian origin and opted for something that was a negation of it.
A: I have not written a hagiography. I have not written a book that is so full of praise for the Quaid-e-Azam that there is place for nothing else. It is a search; there are phases. But I have been very critical of the Congress party and its leadership.
Q: Haven’t you used Jinnah as some kind of an excuse to criticise Congress?
A: No, not at all. I cite Ibn Khaldun in the beginning: “I am not a historian. I am not a learned man.” Straight out of school, I went to the army — as a cadet.
There are two ways to address a challenge of this kind. I can look at historical events by sitting here in 2010 and looking back to, say, 1947. Or I can go back to the beginning of the 20th century and travel with those who embarked on this journey. I prefer the second route. I try and do this because I must live the passion of those times.
Q: Yes, but to relive that is quite traumatic?
A: Yes, it is. It’s very painful. The fact that this book has drawn the kind of attention that it has, be it criticism or acclaim, confirms my belief that the partition of the subcontinent was the most traumatic event of the 20th century for the entire subcontinent. And it continues to trouble us; I ask myself why it continues to trouble us.
Q: Could Jinnah have known that his Pakistan would become Zia-ul-Haq’s Pakistan?
A: No, absolutely not. And it wasn’t lack of insight. I try and hint at it because I do not wish to wound sensibilities. Quite often during the course of the book I state that the late Quaid-e-Azam didn’t actually want Pakistan. It was negotiating tactics. Others have said it too.
He didn’t want Pakistan; he wanted greater autonomy for the Muslims of India for their economic, social and political future. Now, for that purpose, he said give Muslims 30% of the seats in the central government and put at least six provinces under the rule of the Muslim League to balance out what he called the Hindu majority of the Congress. It’s astonishing that in retrospect, I find it was not such an unreasonable demand.
But 30% was pitched too high because it was not based on the percentage of the Muslim population. And if that was the only demand, then it was not weighty enough to agree to a partition, break a country and cause such destruction. Millions were uprooted and didn’t even know where they were to go. And we remain psychologically, emotionally and physically uprooted, partitioned and separated 60 years down the line.
Q: You have focused on Jinnah and in that context you’ve written about other leaders as well. I sense a certain ambivalence about Jinnah in your book. Have you come to terms with it? Here is a man with integrity, an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity, and then he believes in something that you totally reject — the two-nation theory.
A: I reject the two-nation theory. I don’t believe in it and I say so explicitly.
I do not think Muslims are a separate nation. They are a part of my cellular structure. I am from a village. Rural societies are integrated in a sense in which urban societies now are not. Your faith is your faith. I have nothing to do with your faith. I have no fight with your faith. I have a fight with the artificial division between one faith and another. That’s my fight. So I reject the theory that Muslims are a separate nation.
Jinnah was, above all, a logician. He realised after the 1937 elections of U.P. that he would not get what he wanted from the Congress party. He didn’t abandon hope; sadly, he played the Muslim card. He had to exploit the Muslim sentiment. If you reflect on the reality of the situation, Jinnah really had no province with him. Punjab was with the Union Party. The Frontier was with Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Balochistan with the Khan of Kalat and Sindh was fragmented and it was not his constituency. U.P. was not with him. Bengal was not with him. So what did Jinnah have? He had only an idea. And that idea is what I question, that Muslims are a separate nation. Jinnah sold that idea and the tragedy is that the Congress accepted it. That the Muslims would buy it, accept it and be persuaded by it was inevitable.
Two questions come to mind. One: why was there never a call for jihad in any of the Indian states during British rule? Two: when did the Muslims of India start feeling like a minority? These are two very important questions to think about.
Q: Do you think the wounds will heal?
A: For that we need to first acknowledge that there is a wound.
Q: I think most of us do.
A: I don’t know if we realise that there is a wound. If we saw this as an open wound that is bleeding, phir hum aik doosray ki marham patti karnay ko tayyar hotay. Hum to aik doosray pay aur ghav lagatain hain. Jahan pehlay zakhm hai us par aur churra martay hain.
I say we are not careful. I don’t say this with any sense of arrogance but with great sadness and concern, and also anxiety. If we — India, Pakistan and Bangladesh — are not careful, we will be colonised again and become subject countries.
Q: Colonised in real terms or metaphorically?
A: Not metaphorically. We will become colonised in terms of the 21st century. Not in terms of physical empires that conquer.
Q: I sometimes think that South Asian countries, under the shadow of the Himalayas, are jinxed. Look at the kind of mob violence we see here, random violence. Neighbours who have lived together for centuries suddenly come to blows. I’m not just talking about 1947 or 1971; the attack on the Sikhs after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, the Gujarat episode … isn’t there something different about South Asia?
A: No. It’s the stamp of the social uprooting of our society and a footprint of British imperial interests. I appeal to you to engage in an exercise. Find a pre-1947 map of British India. You will see that whatever was British was coloured in red. What was not part of British India i.e. the majority of the native states, was a different colour. About 40% of undivided India had nothing to do with the partition.
Now take a map of today’s India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and colour in red the portions that are socially unstable or tense. Put the two maps together, pre-1947 and post-1947, and compare.
Q: Is this some kind of an explanation of how it happened?
A: It is not an explanation. It’s a warning. It’s too painful a subject.
Read a review of Jaswant Singh’s book on Jinnah here.
Ghazi Salahuddin is a respected senior journalist in Pakistan. He currently works with the daily The News and the Geo television network.