Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Jaswant Singh saga would haunt for long

Jaswant Singh saga would haunt for long
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Jaswant Singh’s book 'Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence' that interprets events leading to India’s independence and Partition differently than the official NCERT version has triggered a huge debate in the country.

The book praises Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and calls him a secular Indian. This is contrary to the popular in the country that holds Jinnah solely responsible for the Partition of India, The book equally holds Congress leaders Sardar Valbhbhai Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru responsible for India’s Partition. The 71-year-old ex officer in Indian Army also asserts in his book that Indian Muslims are treated as ‘aliens,’ in the country, a fact unacceptable to many Indians.

The Bhartya Janata Party, to which the author belonged as member for three decades, called his formulations ‘hearsay’ that went against the core ideology of the party and expelled Singh from its primary membership. The Gujarat Chief Minister Nrander Modi took this matter a step further and banned his book in this BJP ruled state, after burning some of its copies.

All this has once again opened the Pandora box of the debate that has been in circulation for time now in India. The issues involved are tolerance towards academic freedom, plurality of thought, breaking the stereotypes, the guts to circulate new ideas and so on and so forth.

Its not long ago, this debate ranted the air when a section of Muslim community protested Salman Rushdie’s book Satanic Verses, Taslima Nasreen’s controversial writings and caricature cartoon of Prophet Mohammad by a Danish newspaper.

A large number of liberal and enlightened souls in the country rebuked at those whose beliefs were sullied by irreverence of some adventurers. They called the protestors; bigots, reactionaries, non liberal, non tolerant people belonging to a particular community.

In this bandwagon were a large number of Saffron activists that took a pot shot against the believers of Islamic faith and sided with the liberals who were beating their chest at the murder of freedom of expression.

In an ironical twist of tale, Jaswant Singh’s book has turned the tables against those ‘kettles’ who called the ‘pot black’. There was hardly any distinction between the two and behaved in the same fashion when it came to negotiate with any plurality of thought. However, the former could get away with their protest under the nationalist cloak, the later could never remove the stigma of being religious bigots.

Let’s leave this matter and come to point, what does Jaswant Singh’s book try to signify? The most important message he tries to convey goes beyond the demolishing many stereotypes in circulation for long in India.

One of it is that he denounces demonizing Jinah, and calls it a conspiracy hatched by Nehru and Patel to put the entire blame on Muslims for Partition of India. This is so as to project Muslims a hallucination for unifying the divergent Hindu society.

The Congress was successful in this venture and kept Muslims under psychological fear so that they would resign themselves to their subordinate status in Indian polity. It was the reason of this ugly legacy that political assertion by Muslims has always been construed as communalism.

The Congress experiment was so successful that different so-called political parties which emerged during the course of time including the BJP also deliberately followed this experiment so as to perpetuate this myth and reduced the status of Indian Muslims as mere vote bank.

Its impact was so pernicious that the whole concept of ‘secularism’ in India has come to revolve around Muslims communal identity, and the community has remained content with the false promises of ‘security’ and safety. For Muslims parties may come and go and they may rush from one to another, their fortune did not changed except for getting a few doles grants.

It is precisely for this Mr. Jaswant Singh deserves all the praise. He is the first political leader in India that too from the party of Muslim baiters, who has brought to the fore the grave reality of the alienation of Indian Muslims perpetuated since the Partition of the country. He deserves a special place in the annals of Indian political history.

Now lets divert the attention and compare BJP’s response to Jaswant Singh’s book with Varun Gandhi's hate speech against Muslims during the last Lok Sabha elections.

In case of Varun Gandhi, the BJP without associating with his speech backed him to the hilt and did not oppose him or accused him of disturbing communal peace in the country. Whereas in case of Jaswant Singh’s book that narrated some historical facts, the BJP members were up in arms and even without reading the content of the book, distanced with its author, who happen to be party member for 30 yrs and had served it with distinction.

While in BJP’s Ayodha plot, Varun Gandhi was not even a ‘Ram Biriksh’, Jaswant Singh, was hailed as ‘Hanuman’ of the party. Like the mythical ‘Hanuman,’ Singh had gone to Kandhar and save the lives of many innocent Indians held hostage by the terrorists in the high-jacked Indian Airlines plane. Yet when it came to evaluating the services of the two characters, the BJP leadership rejoiced at Vaun Gandhi’s speech, its blood boiled at Jaswant Singh’s book.

Singh who was one of the founding members of the BJP in 1980 was not even considered to give explanation nor was asked to go through the motion of trial by the party that swears by democracy. In his case the BJP simply donned the fascist mantel and summarily sacked from the primary membership of the party.

Why such special favors were bestowed to a rabble rouser and why a Muslim sympathizer was shown the door? It is because Varun Gandhi;s speech synced with the Muslim bashing ideology of the BJP, and the objective assessment of historical facts by Jaswant Singh was considered as against the core ideology of the party.

What does the BJP wanted to convey sacking Jaswant Singh? Does it mean that it is going to rule this country from Dashrath’s throne at Ayodhya, or its wants to alter the democratic framework of the country?

The people of India have given the mandate time and again not to alter the secular and democratic character of the country. Even the BJP’s strident campaign for Hindutva to alter the core characteristics could not gave it a majority to rule the country. This truthful reality of Indian politics has been conveyed through 15 parliamentary elections spread over a time frame of 60 years in the country.

Even while every Indian is convinced about the composite character of Indian politics, the aging BJP leadership does not seemed to be charmed by this point of view. They continue to believe of coming to power on the anti Muslim plank with the help of Hindu votes that constitute 80 per cent of the Indian population.

It seems these make believe world view is rattled by Jaswant Singh’s book 'Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence.' Jaswant Singh’s saga would definitely linger on and would haunt the Indian politics for time to come.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He is also author of the book “The Demand for India’s Partition.” He can be contacted at


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