There have recently been several efforts to reinterpret and reassess Jinnah and Partition, especially in Pakistan. His original secular values as reflected in his inaugural address to the Pakistan constituent assembly on August 11, 1947, though rejected at the time, are being cited as the core ideal of the nation that must be restored. But what was Jinnah’s legacy as contrasted with Gandhi’s? Roderick Matthews, a British historian, sets out to contrast these two very different men in his Jinnah vs Gandhi. The result is a rewarding read with several analytical insights and vignettes nicely set out to make comparisons and show up contrasts. However, the “versus” in the title perhaps does not quite fit as Jinnah followed his goal of a Muslim homeland, Pakistan, first within and then separately from India with untiring zeal, whereas Gandhi was not versus anybody except in obedience to his “inner voice”.
The scheme of the book is interesting, juxtaposing contemporary facets of Jinnah and Gandhi’s political life and the two-nation theory; politics and religion; leadership; Gandhi’s rise (1919-29) and the Remaking of Jinnah after the Simon Commission and until the Second World War when the resignation of the Congress Ministries under the 1935 Act brought Jinnah to the fore with veto powers over future reforms against the backdrop of his newly announced goal of Pakistan.
Matthews blames Congress and Nehru for not forming a coalition ministry with the League after the 1937 elections as broadly agreed under the Lucknow Pact but he recognises that “separate electorates” placed identity before politics and policies. While this led to the Pakistan Resolution in 1940, the two-nation theory, a tactical ploy to achieve parity in all matters, differentiated between nationality and territoriality and hardened into a religiously polarised reality following Jinnah’s call for Direct Action in 1946, leading to the mass Calcutta killings, and reprisals there and in Bihar. While Jinnah claimed “guardianship” over all Muslims in India under the banner of the Muslim League, he ultimately found it difficult to countenance the partitioning of Bengal and Punjab by his own logic. Nor did he have any answer about what to do with the large number of Muslims who would remain in an independent India. This led to the League’s “hostage” theory that made minorities in each country hostage to fair treatment of minorities in the other.
Matthews critiques various books on Jinnah and comes down hard on Rafiq Zakaria, who espoused the “nationalist” Muslim point of view, and Stanley Wolpert, the American scholar, who was astonished by Jinnah’s “historic” inaugural speech to his constituent assembly on August11, 1947. But what Matthews does not explain is why the logic of the two-nation theory died the moment Pakistan was born with many mini-Pakistans or Hindustans in its womb. The essential secularist in Jinnah the man saw the perils of his political dogma but his compatriots simply ignored him and, in a sense, compelled him to return to the earlier path in subsequent speeches before his death. As a Moses figure, Matthews argues, Jinnah saw the Promised Land but lacked any Commandments as to what sort of nation Pakistan should be — except when he spoke on that August 11, only to retract. That he created a new nation entitles Jinnah to a place in history. Matthews believes he was for a united India with two autonomous weakly-federated entities and accordingly accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan, keeping Part A and Part C, with a united Punjab and a united Bengal and Assam (with very large minority populations) as part of a viable Pakistan. But surely that precisely is the fallacy: a less than one-third national minority demanding parity based on faith and not on political support, with only 11 per cent of a highly restricted electorate voting for the Muslim League. The Congress under Gandhi was a mass based party; the Muslim League under Jinnah a feudal/zamindari drawing room party of the upper classes.
Matthews believes that the British held the scales evenly and that Mountbatten was a wise statesman, rising above the fray. The facts are otherwise. Chandrashekhar Dasgupta’s War and Diplomacy in Kashmir, based on de-classified British archival papers, and Narendra Singh Sarila’s Shadow of the Great Game, which dips into the Mountbatten papers, are not cited at all. Nor the mischief of the Coupland Plan that called for a Christian Crown Colony in northeastern India. Most disgraceful of all was Mountbatten’s wilfully keeping back the configuration of the Radcliffe Line for three days until after the Independence celebrations. This prevented meaningful deployment of the Boundary Force, as urgently demanded by the Punjab and U.P Governors, which could have saved countless lives. Gandhi had opted out of day-to-day Congress leadership but he was the Mahatma, the soul force of the movement with his seemingly quirky ethical values that put right means, non-violence and peaceful struggle above ends. So Jinnah was the Great Advocate, more of “a great leader to Pakistan than a great leader of Pakistan”.
Looking back, Matthews adjudges Partition a disaster for which both the Congress and the League and the British were responsible. Pakistan was Jinnah’s legacy but it was a country for which he had made no plans, had no grand vision. He had been immersed in the process and not the outcome of Partition. So Matthews finds Gandhi’s political and spiritual legacy as much the more significant as a body of principles and values tested by example to guide a nation and the world beyond. Gandhi continues to influence India and the world in so many ways whereas Jinnah remains enigmatic in Pakistan amidst efforts to resurrect him and build on the secular ideals he personally professed but tactically jettisoned as Quaid-e-Azam — until past the eleventh hour, when events had passed him by.
Matthews’ conclusion is that “No matter who must atone”, Partition was not a success. The state of Pakistan has been poor and deeply divided within itself. This can give no joy to Indians whose best interest lie in help strengthening Pakistan’s democratic roots in whatever way possible.
JINNAH VS. GANDHI: Roderick Matthews;
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