Opinion » Columns » Hasan Suroor

Updated: February 1, 2010 17:01 IST

Of Jinnah, BJP and “turban diplomacy”

Hasan Suroor
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“All political parties have a penumbra and if they lose that they lose their justification.” Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash
“All political parties have a penumbra and if they lose that they lose their justification.” Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

For Jaswant Singh, the success of his latest book is hardly a compensation for the loss of a successful political career.

“With friends like these, who needs enemies?”

That appeared to be the message Jaswant Singh wanted to give to the BJP when, last week, he spoke at some length about the runaway success of his book on Jinnah (Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence) which caused his expulsion from the party five months ago.

In retrospect, the BJP might be regretting kicking up a needless controversy over a book (a rambling 600-page tome with no significant new insight to offer) that may have struggled to sell had it been simply ignored. Instead, as a beaming Mr. Jaswant Singh pointed out, the book is already into its 23rd reprint and an international edition from Oxford University Press will be launched in London in March.

“I am told that Karachi was flush with pirated copies,” he gushed, speaking to a group of British Asian MPs and South Asian journalists.

The book's success, though, is hardly a compensation for the loss of a successful political career, not to mention the public humiliation of being expelled from a party that had been home to him for more than 40 years. And that is what makes him angry.

“They [the BJP leadership] knew that I was writing about Jinnah. It was no secret,” he said, clearly sounding hurt that even close colleagues whom he had expected to stand up for him left him hanging out to dry.

Mr. Jaswant Singh pointedly recalled how he “fought” for L.K. Advani when he got into trouble with the party over his own remarks about Jinnah. “I fought for Advaniji. I told them I would resign if action was taken against him,” he said.

While the former Foreign Minister is still struggling to come to terms with the way he was treated, he believes that the BJP acted the way it did because it would lose its ideological raison d'etre if it were to stop “demonising” Jinnah.

“All political parties have a penumbra and if they lose that they lose their justification,” he said adding that in the case of the BJP that “penumbra” is Jinnah.

Calling for an end to Jinnah-bashing, he said that Indians who treated Pakistan's founder as a “demon” were as wrong as the Pakistanis who demonised Gandhi. Jinnah was a “very straight” and “determined” man and had he lived to realise his vision of Pakistan it would have been a very different country today.

“I have no doubt about that Jinnah died before he was able to realise his vision,” he told a Pakistani reporter.

It was interesting to see how Pakistani journalists suddenly warmed up to Mr. Jaswant Singh when he praised Jinnah but sat back in sullen silence when he criticised Pakistan for its shock invasion of Kargil so soon after Atal Behari Vajpayee's historic bus ride to Lahore.

I remember being at the Wagah border on that balmy February afternoon in 1999 when Sada-e-Sarhad (as the bus was named) crossed into Pakistan amid a wave of euphoria on both sides of the border. Few would have imagined at the time that barely months later the two countries would be at war with each other.

Mr. Jaswant Singh shakes his head in disbelief at the turn of events. The Pakistani action caused him deep personal hurt because, he claims, the bus ride was his idea.

“Prime ministers don't ordinarily travel by bus. I suggested to Prime Minster Vajpayee - and it was in New York that this suggestion was made - that 'why not travel to Lahore by bus',” he claimed.

Mr. Vajpayee was so taken up by the idea that he declared: “Yeh lohe ya ispaat ki bus nahin hai, yeh jazbaat ki bus hai.” (This is not just a bus made of iron or steel; it is a bus of emotions)

Back in Pakistan though, planning for the Kargil adventure had already begun. Whether Nawaz Sharif, who co-hosted the Lahore summit as Prime Minister of Pakistan, knew about it is not clear (Pervez Musharraf insists that he did; he denies it) but Mr. Jaswant Singh has rather fond memories of his meeting with “Mian sahib”.

That Mr. Sharif has a taste in sharp suits and designer salwar- kameezes is well-known, but it seems he cannot resist a good Rajasthani “pagri” (turban) when he sees one, as Mr Jaswant Singh discovered.

“I wore a turban to visit a gurdwara in Lahore. He said: 'I like your pagri very much'. So, I told him: 'now that you have said this I must gift it to you' I then sent him 11 turbans,” Mr. Jaswant Singh recalled counting his fingers, though he did not quite explain the significance of 11. Why not 10? Or 12?

But then Kargil happened, putting an end to his quiet “turban diplomacy”. Indeed, one wonders if Mr. Sharif ever got to wear any of the turbans before he was sent packing by General Musharraf after staging a coup later that year.

So, what next for Mr. Jaswant Singh? Did he plan to form a political party?

“No, no, there are enough political parties,” he protested saying that he wanted to work for peace in South Asia which was going through its “most perilous” phase in 62 years.

“I want to work for peace in Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh - and I want to expand the constituency of peace in our land,” he declared.

Unless, of course, he is rehabilitated by the new BJP management. Never rule out anything in politics!

Mr Jaswant Singh had been with BJP for almost 3 decades. Can he not anticipate the consequences of praising Jinnah staying in BJP ? I strongly believe that a political party especially BJP has people having similar ideologies.Whether the ideology is correct or not is not the question here. But a senior leader like Jaswant Singh shouldn't have ditched the party especially when it is in trouble.

from:  Sravan Pradjumna T
Posted on: Jan 25, 2010 at 14:49 IST

The expulsion of Jaswant Singh is deeply saddening and reflective of the lack of tolernce in a political party that he had served with so much distinction for nearly 40 years. He was the most acceptable moderate face of the Vajpayee government, leading the secular rhetoric in international fora along with tremendous success in stabilizing the economy and putting it on a growth path. Yet falls come swiftly and suddenly for politicians and Jaswant singh is no exception, expelled for all the wrong reasons, yes, but it is not the first time that it has happened and neither will it be the last time.

from:  P Sathyasree
Posted on: Jan 25, 2010 at 07:35 IST

Well written article.

Wonder what he will do for peace in South Asia.

from:  Nikhil
Posted on: Jan 22, 2010 at 12:35 IST
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