June 06, 2005

No more red flag

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
country: Pakistan.

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.


R. said...

I am not a big follower of politics or politicians but I find this move by Advani very interesting, could it be because the concience of the nation dictated such a move? Since this is an absolute U-turn in his policy. I would like to think that this was so. Hopefully this concience would also dictate the current government to run without the corruption of the past.

Vox Populi is very nice when its heard, even if it isn't quite yet Vox Dei (in most respects apart from election times).

Nice Post!

Anonymous said...

These days even Nazi party members can get voted as Pope so what's the big deal acknowledging Jinnah as secular.

The Tobacconist said...

I don't really know about you but I wouldn't jump the gun on this Advani thing. I am not sure he is back from his sojourn yet. I expect loads of pressure on the dude and an eventual retractment or at least a "clarification" when he gets back.

It is my opinion that every country has its demons. You can't really help it coz all you are ever told is there were 2 people to blame for partition and one of them was Jinnah. I don't really know if "relabeling" him secular or otherwise is of any consequence. Shit happened 60 odd years ago and there is little we can do about it. Was partition the right thing to do? You can never really tell can you?

On another note, something that surprises me is the lack of interest in general about our history. Especially with the freedom movement . "Freedom at Midnight" is the one book I base most of my info about partition on. Maybe this book you recommend would be a good read.

Anonymous said...

Some books that I have personally found useful to understand the complexities of Partition -
- Borders and Boundaries: Women in India's Partition (Ritu Menon & Kamla Bhasin)
- The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India (Urvashi Butalia)
- Sadat Hasan Manto's writings (Toba Tek Singh)
- India Partitioned (Mushirul Hasan)
and many more here:

- Aswin.

Nanana said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nilu said...

May be not restricting your understanding to 'black and white' might help :))

Grow up mate!!...accusing a politician of playing politics is just funny, not whatever you want it to be.

Suhail said...

Dilip, nice wishful thinking I say..but I don't believe in any of this "change of heart" crap. If 6th Dec was the saddest day of his life..then let him answer to the nation, why were they distributing sweets, and who was exchanging the congratulatory messages ? why did we see all of em in a jubiliant mood in the days to follow even as thousands were brutally murdered in riots, and why didn't he expressed his 'outrage' then ? Unless we get these explanations, everything else is bloody convenience politics. And we all know there is no such explanation, because history has recorded for posteirity all the black deeds. So pls hold on your thank you note. It's worth much more than to be wasted on Advani.
Read this interview on rediff where after being prodded, he says "Yes, I trust Musharraf (completely)". Now, wait till he comes back and whines "misquoted".

As for realising that whatever shit happened during partition and it's time to move on - I am all for it. Irrespective of whether Jinnah was secular or not.

Dilip D'Souza said...

r: I never know what to make of Advani. This time as well.

Sanketh, while "Freedom at Midnight" is a fine read, you shouldn't treat it as history. By the way, as another aside, mention of this book reminds me of the time in Austin when I attended a seminar on Kashmir where a Kashmiri on stage spent his time trashing India in every possible way (well, Pakistan too, and in fact more severely). Then he suddenly said, "you don't have to take my word for all these things I'm saying. You can read about it all in that book by two famous French historians -- 'Freedom at Midnight' by Dominique and Lapierre." (I swear this actually happened).

Suhail, I couldn't agree more with you. This "Saddest day of my life" is just so much BS -- after all this very man went on that rot yatra and whipped up passions, all that. This is why I say, I can never tell what Advani is up to, including now. And I couldn't care less whether Jinnah is secular or not. The "thanks" was solely for this: my hope that these comments allow us to look at Jinnah, and Partition, a little more dispassionately than we have managed.

Though I must say I am also thankful to LKA for the uproar he's caused in his famous Parivar.

Anonymous said...

Sigh...there are times when one envys the 'other parivar', i.e., Gandhi one.

You speak out, dang...the axe falls on you. Latest casualty: Dutt parivar.

Anonymous said...

I guess he hasn't come to terms with the fact that they did not win in the last elections.