Tuesday , Aug 25, 2009 at 0529 hrs
Now, it so happens that I profoundly disagree with Mr. Jaswant Singh’s assessment of Jinnah. Ever since I read the multi-volume Jinnah Papers — brought out by the National Archives of Pakistan; the two-volume, Foundations of Pakistan, edited by Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada; and the four-volume History of Partition of India, edited by the Pakistani historian, K.K. Aziz, Jinnah has seemed to me a pinched, narrow-minded, diabolic schemer — one who used and was used by the British to divide India. To use his words, he ‘forged a pistol’, the armed thugs shoring up the Muslim League. He unleashed them in his ‘Direct Action’ against Hindus. He paralysed the Interim Government through Liaquat Ali. From 1937 onwards, he worked stealthily and continuously with the British to thwart every scheme that might have preserved a united India. His contemptuous characterisations of India, of Hindus, of our national movement and its leaders, make one’s blood boil to this day. That he talked Islam and drank whiskey, ate ham, and the rest, that he hardly knew the Quran to say nothing of living by it, do not prove his secularism to me, they make him out to be a hypocrite. In a word, far from being ‘attracted’ by Jinnah, as my senior Jaswant Singh is, I am repelled by him.
And book after book that I have read regarding those decades since I wrote about him and his stratagems twenty-five years ago has etched that image even deeper. My perspective also differs for another reason from the one that informs Jaswant Singh’s book, and that, if I may add, of those who still dream of a ‘grand confederation of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh’, of those who still talk of Akhand Bharat. Having waded through the writings of Islamic leaders and clerics of the period, and seeing the direction in which Pakistan and Bangladesh have evolved — have inevitably evolved, given the principles on which they were founded, principles that Jinnah articulated and insisted upon incessantly — I have come to realise that Girilal Jain was the one who was right. You are dead wrong, he told me, after reading what I had written about Jinnah. The best thing that has happened for us is the Partition. It has given us breathing time, a little time to resurrect and save our pluralist culture and religions. Had it not happened, we would have been bullied and thrashed and swamped by Islamic fundamentalists. So, my lament is the opposite of Jaswant Singh’s today. And it also so happens that I am an adorer of Sardar Patel as of the Lokmanya, and a worshipper of Gandhiji.
But first the book, and a few extracts.
A glimpse of the contents
A chapter, ‘Compromise on national symbols’ — not by the British nor by Jinnah, but by the Congress leaders. By Congress leaders does the author mean, ‘Sardar Patel’, or even “Congress leaders, in particular Sardar Patel”?
A chapter, ‘Boost to Jinnah by Congress’.
A sub-heading: ‘Azad shocks Gandhi’ — when Maulana Azad, then Congress President, conveyed acceptance of the Cabinet Mission Plan, in particular of excluding non-League Muslims from the Cabinet, and his assurance to the British that he would carry the Congress with him, that they need not worry about any misgivings that some, including Gandhiji might have. All this without telling either the Congress or Gandhiji, and he ‘mis-stated’ the facts, to boot, to Gandhiji’s face, till he was confronted with the letter he had sent. The author sets out the ‘devastating effect’ of the episode on Gandhiji.
Citations from Sardar Patel
He recalls how the Congress Working Committee, in spite of the strenuous, indeed broken-hearted opposition of Gandhiji, accepted the British proposal to divide Punjab and Bengal. He quotes the letter that Sardar Patel wrote to a member of the Working Committee, and points out how very unrealistic the Sardar was in this case:
“If the League insists on Pakistan,” the Sardar wrote, “the only alternative is the division of the Punjab and Bengal... I do not think that the British Government will agree to division. In the end, they will see the wisdom of handing over the reins of Government to the strongest party. Even if they do not, it will not matter. A strong Centre with the whole of India — except East Bengal and part of the Punjab, Sind and Baluchistan — enjoying full autonomy under the Centre will be so powerful that the remaining portions will eventually come in.” The author remarks,
“Both Nehru and Patel surmised that by this counter-strategy Jinnah would be paid in his own coin; he would be made to realise that his argument would be turned against him; that what would be left to him ultimately was the ‘truncated, mutilated, moth-eaten Pakistan’ which he had scornfully refused to look at some years ago.”
Recounting subsequent events, the book records, “Patel was so fed up with the League’s tactics inside the Interim Government that he saw nothing but endless intrigue and troubles ahead in any kind of working with the League; it was better to have a clean separation rather than have pinpricks every day. Nehru too had lost all hopes of joint action with the Muslim League in any kind of arrangement; the League would never see eye to eye with the Congress on any of the issues. He felt, despairingly, that there was no way out except Partition. Rajendra Prasad came out with the same explanation: ‘It was the Working Committee, and particularly such of its members as were represented on the Central Cabinet, which had agreed to the scheme of Partition... (They) did so because they had become disgusted with the situation then obtaining in the country. They saw that riots had become a thing of everyday occurrence and would continue to be so; and that the Government... was incapable of preventing them because the Muslim League Ministers would cause obstruction everywhere... It had thus become impossible to carry on the administration.’”
“With Nehru and Patel finally acquiescing to the demand for Pakistan, the atmosphere, especially in the north, began to hot up as never before”, the book records, and elaborates what followed.
‘Benumbed mental state of Congress’
The book turns to what it calls “Benumbed Mental State of Congress”, and cites Acharya Kripalani’s admission to nail it. Kripalani, then the president of the Congress, wrote about the crucial meeting in which, unknown to Gandhiji, the Working Committee met, and endorsed the Partition Plan: “The Working Committee met in a tense atmosphere. Everybody felt depressed at the prospect of the Partition of the country. The Viceroy’s proposals were accepted without much discussion. As a matter of fact, Jawaharlal and Vallabhbhai were already committed to the acceptance of the proposals. There was no critical examination...” Kripalani noted the manifest infirmities in the Plan that had been drawn up, and which the CWC approved, and wrote, “It was quite natural for our foreign masters to ignore all these inconsistencies in order to favour the League; one cannot understand why we of the Working Committee did not even draw their attention to these important details.”
The Plan had been accepted behind Gandhiji’s back. He was dead-set against it even after Panditji and Patel told him that they had already agreed to it in their meeting with the Viceroy, and had already got the Working Committee to endorse it. Gandhiji was torn — telling his closest associates one moment that he would put up a last fight, telling them the next that he was helpless. At the crucial moment, he told Congressmen that, as their leaders had already accepted the Partition Plan, they should do so also. The book quotes Panditji sort of placing the responsibility on this falling in line by Gandhiji! Panditji told Leonard Mosley, “But, if Gandhiji had told us not to accept Partition, we would have gone on fighting and waiting.”
The book records that, given the extent to which it had been weakened by the Second War, the British had come to realise that their time was up, that there was no way they could impose their conditions on the Indians. So, they set about their fallback option — to divide India so that they would have a strategic foothold in Pakistan. Having documented the mirages and miasmas of the Congress leaders, the book remarks, “the Pakistan demand assumed prestige mainly because of the Congress vacillation on that issue and pampering of the League...”
The book shows how the rationalisation the Congress leaders advanced — that the only alternative to Partition was civil war — is blown by the massacres that followed. It recalls Panditji telling a New York audience two years later, that if they had known the terrible consequences of Partition in the shape of killings etc., they would have resisted the division of India. It recalls, Rajendra Prasad exclaiming, “If only we had known!” “As for Acharya Kripalani,” the book records, “his choicest epithets in later years were reserved for those in the Congress High Command on whom he put the entire responsibility for Partition — so far had his own mind traveled from the position he had taken (of defending the June 3 Plan) in that fateful session of the AICC meeting in June 1947.”
The book records Pyarelal’s telling assessment: “Pandit Nehru’s speech revealed — what had all along been suspected — that it was the Interim Government’s helplessness, owing to sabotage from within by the League members in the Government and retention of control by the British, to cope with the spreading anarchy that had driven the Congress High Command to desperation, so that they were glad to escape from the intolerable situation they found themselves in, even by paying the price of Partition. The Congress leaders were past the prime of their lives. After a quarter of a century of wandering in the wilderness they had come within sight of the Promised Land. They were doughty warriors and were not afraid, if necessary, to take the plunge once more. But they were afraid that it might not be given them to see another successful fight through, and the fruit of their struggle and the countless sacrifices of a whole generation of fighters for freedom might slip through their fingers when it seemed almost within their grasp. If the hour of decision had come earlier when the Congress was in the wilderness, when they were young and before their experience in the Interim Government and the exercise of power had coloured their thinking and outlook, their choice might have been different.”
But that was not just Pyarelal’s assessment. Panditji’s own assessment was harsher. The book records what he told Leonard Mosley in 1960: “The truth is that we were tired men, and we were getting on in years too. Few of us could stand the prospect of going to prison again, and if we had stood out for a United India as we wished it, prison obviously awaited us. We saw the fires burning in the Punjab and heard every day of the killings. The plan for Partition offered a way out, and we took it.”
A few questions
I can go on reproducing extracts, but the main theme of the book’s thesis will be evident. According to the book, while the British had the manifest design to partition India; while Jinnah and his Muslim League subordinates were manifestly working for Pakistan, neither of the two would have succeeded but for the vacillations, mistakes and compromises of the Congress leaders.
To assess the anger that the Gujarat government has worked up, ask three questions:
• Is it just this book alone that asserts that mistakes by Congress leaders contributed to the outcome? Was that fact not acknowledged by the Congress leaders themselves?
• When the book speaks of the vacillations, mistakes and compromises of the Congress leaders does it mean, “the vacillations, mistakes and compromises of the Congress leaders - excluding Sardar Patel”?
Manifestly not. So, is the author guilty of insulting Sardar Patel or not? Should the Gujarat government not, therefore, ban the book? And so, the final question:
• Whose book are we talking about?
The book is The Tragedy of Partition by one of the longest-serving and most revered pillars of the RSS, H.V. Seshadri. It is the standard text of the RSS on the Partition. It is sold at every RSS bookshop, and read, its message is internalised, by every RSS swayam sevak.
Now that the Gujarat government knows the name of the author, two further questions:
• Is there one passage in Jaswant Singh’s book, even one passage that casts the Sardar’s role into graver doubt than Seshadri’s book?
• Is the Sardar’s reputation, in the view of those prancing about to shield it, so fragile that such references as there are in Jaswant Singh’s book or Seshadri’s will undermine it?
Nor is Seshadri’s book alone in documenting the lapses of the Congress leaders. Professor R.C. Majumdar nailed the lapses extensively in lectures that the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan published. He nailed them in his three-volume study, History of the Freedom Movement in India. The lapses are nailed even more firmly in Struggle for Freedom, which forms Volume XI of the great series, The History and Culture of the People of India, ‘prepared under the direction of’, as the cover of each volume says, that other distinguished son of Gujarat, K.M. Munshi — one of the closest associates of the Sardar himself. And they are nailed — not as lapses, but as inexcusable blunders — in the work on the Partition of India of the greatest constitutional scholar we have had since Independence, H.M. Seervai. The self-serving speeches of the Congress leaders are available in Mitra’s Annual Register. The anguish of Gandhiji, his torment at what Congress leaders, in particular the two closest to him, Panditji and the Sardar, had done is recorded from day to day in his addresses at the daily prayer meetings and in Pyarelal’s searing volumes, The Last Phase — “The purity of my striving will be put to the test only now,” Pyarelal records him saying as he lay in bed, having awakened earlier than he was meant to. “Today I find myself all alone. Even the Sardar and Jawaharlal think that my reading of the situation is wrong and peace is sure to return if Partition is agreed upon...They wonder if I have not deteriorated with age... Nevertheless, I must speak as I feel if I am a true and loyal friend to the Congress and to the British people as I claim to be...”
As all these books, as well as many more, can be stretched to cast the same doubts on the role of the Sardar, as one of the principal leaders of the Congress, how many of them will the Gujarat government ban?
(To be continued)
The writer is a BJP MP in the Rajya Sabha