The leader of the Indian opposition travels to Pakistan, and opens cans of worms all over the place. December 6 1992 was "the saddest day of my life" (to be fair, this is something he has often said); Jinnah was "secular" and "great" too, a man to pay "respectful homage" to; the Gujarat violence was a blot; for people in public life like him, "the image and the real persona are not quite identical" ...
What oh what is that man Advani up to?
Answer: it's hard to tell, because it's always hard to tell with Advani. I never know what he's up to. But whatever it is now, it's got his own ideological (if that word applies, which I'm not sure it does) pals, in his party and among its brethren, struggling to cope with the twists in their knickers. All their proferred wisdom and assumed truths are in question because of Advani in Pakistan: Jinnah the evil partitioner of a subcontinent; that December 6, when a mosque was shattered and killing erupted all over the country, was actually a "day of honour"; Gujarat (post-Godhra) was a "spontaneous and understandable reaction" of "angry Hindus" to the atrocity at Godhra ...
And of course: those of us, like me, who disagreed with such assessments are "anti-Hindu". Perhaps even "psecs" (pronunciation preferred by moi: "sex") and yes, "anti-Indian".
But now Advani himself is on the verge of having those epithets heaped on him. What is going on here?
Answer (#2, in case you're counting): these brethren are caught up in the tangle caused by their own hatreds, and using those hatreds as a vehicle for political gain. Meaning, they didn't necessarily feel those hatreds themselves, but they knew very well the political payoffs from milking them. Advani included.
I don't know if it's that Advani senses that the wheels are falling off that particular political bandwagon, and that's why he thinks he can return to some "real persona"; I don't know if there is a real persona in there in the first place. What I do know is that nearly six decades on, it is time we started considering Partition more dispassionately than we have managed so far.
In particular, since Advani brought it up, it is time the very name "Jinnah" stopped being the red flag it is to so many Indians.
Here's a paraphrase of an argument I find thought-provoking. Jinnah and his Muslim League did not start out by demanding a separate Pakistan. Their original demand was for constitutional guarantees for Muslim safety and security in free -- and Hindu-dominated -- India. What shape these guarantees took could be worked out, but this was the demand. The response to it was that a one-person one-vote democracy was all the guarantee of safety that Muslims needed, and could expect, in free India. This was not acceptable to Jinnah, and over time, he began to ask for a separate
This is the barest gist of the argument. But it is made persuasively and forcefully in HM Seervai's "Partition of India: Legend and Reality", a book I believe every Indian must read. Seervai, of course, was one of India's greatest constitutional scholars, and his book is impeccably researched. A minor classic.
Six decades on, it should be possible for Indians to read and understand it -- not necessarily agree with it, but understand Seervai and therefore Jinnah. It should be possible for Indians to accept at least this much: that the blame for the great tragedy of Partition is not all Jinnah's, and it serves for nothing to keep believing as much.
My belief is that understanding that much will give us all a far better sense of our own country today; more than that, it will make us a far better country.
So if what Advani said in Pakistan sets even a small ball rolling on these lines, we will owe him. I don't often have good things to say about this man. But this time, I say: Thanks.