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Jinnah and the partition of India

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Telegraph India reports:

Ideology could also take centre stage, they added, following the row over Jaswant’s book, Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence, where the former Union minister says Pakistan’s founder was a secularist and not responsible for Partition.

BJP general secretary Vinay Katiyar’s reaction to the book summed up the mood in the party. “Those who hail Jinnah should quit the BJP, settle in Pakistan and do politics there,” he said. “Those who hold Nehru and Patel responsible for Partition surely have no sense of history; they should get their mental balance checked in a hospital. We must decide at the chintan baithak whether the BJP will be run on Guru Golwalkar’s philosophy or on the views of those who do Jinnah idolatry.”

Many leaders grabbed the opportunity to corner those who wanted a dilution of the Hindutva ideology. Even senior leaders like Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley felt compelled to denounce Jaswant’s findings.

Meanwhile, Jaswant’s thesis has invited comments in many papers. For example BS carried an unsigned article which claimed:

Taking a fresh look at historical characters happens routinely in mature democracies. There have been enough historians re-evaluating the role of Nehru, and there is no shortage of interpretations of Gandhi. And the BJP leader Jaswant Singh’s book on Mohammad Ali Jinnah is not the first to say that Jinnah was not to be solely blamed for the partition of India in 1947. Ayesha Jalal’s The Sole Spokesperson, for instance, argued likewise, saying that he was merely using the threat of an independent state as a bargaining tool to ensure a better position for Muslims in India. For every view that Ms Jalal offers, however, there are others pointing to Jinnah being aided and abetted by the British who had played a game of divide and rule for decades and who did not trust “Hindu” India after the Congress launched its Quit India campaign at the height of World War II. Those in London with imperial visions of the future wanted a north-western frontier sliver under the control of “loyal” Muslims (such sweeping characterisations stand exposed today in all their silliness).

It is of course possible to take the position that the Congress made Partition possible through its many mistakes: the poorly timed Quit India movement itself, Nehru’s ill-considered comments at a critical juncture, the alienation caused by the failure to share power in Uttar Pradesh with the Muslim League, and so on. But it is hard to argue that a Jinnah who insisted that only the Muslim League and no one else could represent the Muslims, who launched the violent Direct Action Day in 1946, and who was a cat’s paw for the British throughout, can be absolved of primary responsibility for the partition of the country—which, as Jaswant Singh observes, solved nothing.

That Jinnah was a “cat’s paw” for Britain is also claimed in the following unsigned editorial [by Rajinder Puri; see comment below] from Statesman:

Jinnah was not a “great” man. He was articulate, highly intelligent and focused. He missed greatness by a wide margin because he willingly colluded with the British to create a Pakistan about which he had not even determined boundaries or shape. He mainly fulfilled British goals while satisfying his own vanity. Independence came first; the boundaries of the divided nations came later. The British had decided on Partition to serve their own strategic ends. On 29 March, 1945, after Viceroy Lord Wavell met Prime Minister Churchill in London he recorded: “He (Churchill) seems to favour partition of India into Pakistan, Hindustan and Princestan.”

Sir Martin Gilbert, the British biographer of Winston Churchill revealed that Churchill had asked Jinnah to dispatch secret letters to him by addressing them to a lady, Elizabeth Giliat, who had been Churchill’s secretary. This secret interaction continued for years. Jinnah’s key decisions between 1940 and 1946, including the demand for Pakistan in 1940, were taken after getting the nod from Churchill or Lord Linlithgow and Wavell, both Churchill’s admirers.

Jinnah admitted during the Simla Conference in 1945 that he was receiving advice from London. In other words, Jinnah was as much the British puppet on a string as were the top Indian leaders.

As the last sentence indicates, the rest of the editorial goes on to heap blame for the partition on every player involved, including Gandhi. In a sense, all the leaders of that time are implicated, just by not being able to prevent the partition, and by letting matters come to that pass. However, an accounting of affairs from 60 to 70 years ago should be more precise; some were actively involved, some supported it, some let it happen by their inaction, and some opposed it, however ineffectually. The differences are real, and count for something. But for a measured accounting it would be silly to depend on ephemeral writing like newspaper editorials.

The bottom line is drawn by an article in the TOI, which says:

That’s one part of Jaswant’s two-pronged strategy: make the Congress a scapegoat for the genesis of communalism. The second part was unwittingly stumbled upon by a Congress spokesman who, with heavy sarcasm, described the BJP as the Bharatiya Jinnah Party – little realising that this is precisely what it is and what it has to be. For Jinnah, the so-called founder of Pakistan, could just as easily be called the founder – or father – of the BJP and the rest of the parivar. Because if someone like Jinnah – and his creation of Pakistan – hadn’t existed the saffron brigade would have had to invent him in order to find a reason for its own existence. Fanaticism – in whatever form – always thrives on an equal and opposite fanaticism, each feeding on the other.

The predictable result is reported in Hindu:

The Bharatiya Janata Party on Wednesday expelled Jaswant Singh, its veteran leader and an MP.

Perhaps this implies that the BJP has a scale of values, and that it believes that Jinnah bears a greater responsibility for the partition than other major leaders of pre-independence India. However, the truth could well be more cynical: that the party wanted to get rid of Jaswant Singh in any case, and the book provided a handy excuse.


Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

August 19, 2009 at 5:07 am

4 Responses

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  1. i think it was wrong for Jaswant Sinha to be expelled so; he put forward a thought, backed it up with academic arguments, a thought which is so obvious… how can only Jinnah alone be blamed for an event like partition. I think there were many reasons for partion and if any one person can be blamed than it has to be british, they were playing the indian leadership left, right and centre.


    August 20, 2009 at 10:00 am

  2. i m not agree with honourable ex union minister Mr jaswant Sinha that in his book he says that Mr, jinah was great or he was secular.Indians who are faced or facing with this knotty problem of Pakistan if anyone wants to know what was the riddles in behind the issue of partition.i would like to suggest to indians and the people of pakistan to read the book titled “pakistan or partition of india” written by Dr.Ambedkar which is published by goverment press.


    September 27, 2010 at 10:55 am

  3. Your reference to an “unsigned editorial” in The Statesman which has been quoted is erroneous. The article was very much signed and written by me.

    Rajinder Puri

    July 1, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    • My apologies for not attributing authorship. Unfortunately, the web version now seems to be removed so I can’t check whether the attribution was missing in the version that I saw, or whether I made an error. Thank you for pointing this out.

      Arhopala Bazaloides

      July 1, 2011 at 1:37 pm

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