Let Jinnah Stay Back

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by Dr Altaf Hussain Para

The disturbances and uproar in Aligarh Muslim University followed by assaults on its students by the gang lords of right-wing Hindu Yuva Vahini is yet another reminder of the dangerous trend of deliberately vitiating the social fabric of Indian society for cheap electoral gains. The unfortunate incident sparked after the BJP MP from Aligarh asked for the removal of a portrait of Pakistan founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, installed in 1938, in the Union Hall of the Aligarh Muslim University.

A M Jinnah with Kashmir alumni of AMU in Srinagar in 1944

The incident is not an isolated one, rather it is part of a well devised plan to rewrite and abuse Indian history and to reinterpret Indian heritage in a way so that it can be used as a cannon fodder for the propagation of a particular ideology.

Jinnah is an inseparable part of modern Indian history and particularly of its glorious anti-colonial movement. It is very unfortunate that Jinnah’s political career spread over five long decades has been reduced to only his role in the emergence of Pakistan. His contribution in the Indian freedom movement is much more than any of the celebrated freedom fighters and surely none of the Hindutva icons can be even compared with him in that capacity. His political outlook was initially shaped by the legendary moderate nationalist, Gopal Krishan Gokhale, under whom Jinnah received the first lessons of Indian politics. He successfully defended the renowned extremist Bal Gangadhar Tilak against the sedition charges in 1916. He was the architect of Lucknow Pact in the same year bringing Indian National Congress and the Muslim League on the same page in the anti-colonial struggle.

Unlike many other renowned national leaders, Jinnah never accepted any state titles. He was the face of the constitutional agitation against the draconian Rowlett Act. He not only delivered fiery speeches against the Act in the Central Legislative Council, but along with Madan Mohan Malviya also resigned from the prestigious Council in protest. Is this role of Jinnah that BJP wants us to forget?

Jinnah did not participate in the Non-Cooperation Movement [despite it being perceived as a Muslim Movement]for his strong belief in secular politics. He opposed Gandhi’s policy to use religion in politics. History vindicated him. It was the use of religion in anti-colonial struggle and the British policy of dividing Indians on the basis of religion that brought to the surface the religious identities and conflicts in Indian society. As a modern constitutional nationalist, Jinnah wanted a secular Indian society with a common constitutional citizenship and no use of religion in state affairs. He was at the forefront of the agitation against the Simon Commission in 1927.

Despite Jinnah’s differences with the Congress following the publication of the Nehru Report as an alternative reformation scheme in 1928, his stand against colonial occupation remained impeccable and uncompromising. He never apologized to British as Veer Savarkar did. Nor did he ever accepted the dictates of his colonial masters like Golwalker who stopped organizing parades and the use of khaki shirts at the best of the British. Is this the memory that BJP wants to erase from the Indian walls?

Jinnah was neither the architect of the two nation theory nor the originator of the concept of Pakistan. People like Savarkar [1938] and Iqbal [1930] were among the first who visualized separate homelands for Hindus and Muslims of India. Choudhary Rehmat Ali visualized Muslim homeland and coined the term ‘Pakistan’ in 1930 as a student in Oxford. Golwalker even went on to deny the Muslims citizenship in his concept of nation. There is a huge portrait of Savarkar in the Indian parliament and the army song of India, Sarey Jahan Sey Accha has been authored by Allam Iqbal.

Two of the founding members of the BJP, Lal Krishan Advani and the Rajput Jaswant Singh have spoken and authored scholarly books to assert that it was not Jinnah but the Congress whose religious politics and policies led to the creation of Pakistan. The interesting question to ask BJP is this: if Jaswant Singh was wrong, why was he readmitted to the party; and if he was right, why was he then expelled?

Now still the bigger question is this:  Why the Indian Right is so uncomfortable with the well documented Indian past? And also, why they want to revisit it through a singular perspective and with a preconceived notion? ‘History is’, according to a noted Marxist historian, Eric Hobsbawm, ‘the raw material for nationalist or ethnic or fundamentalist ideologies, as poppies are the raw material for heroin addiction. The past is an essential, perhaps the essential element, in these ideologies. If there is no suitable past, it can always be invented’.

Also, history legitimizes, and its distorted invocation gives a more glorious background to a present that does not have much to celebrate. It is for this reason that Hindutva loonies try to invent the past and rewrite the Indian history. They know the benefits of the fictionalization of history. They also know that prior to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, they were at the margins of history. The demolition, which was culmination of distortion, gave them both, power and place. They also know that a glorified past, based on myth, fantasy and invention, will make their appeal for Ghar Wapsi more effective and attractive.

The fact remains that India needs Jinnah to tell her future generations the tale of its glorious freedom struggle. And Hindutva ideologues also need him to stay in India for demonization. By erasing unwanted characters like Jinnah from Indian history, you will be left with a singular perspective on history and you will end up by creating a narrow minded future generation. Allowing Jinnah to stay back is in India’s own larger interest.

(Author is a scholar of modern history. Ideas expressed in this article are personal.)

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