Devil's Advocate with Jaswant Singh: Part II
Karan Thapar: Let us start this second interview with the portrait you paint of the relationship between the early Gandhi and the early Jinnah.
You say of their first meeting in January 1915 that Gandhi's response to Jinnah's “warm welcome” was “ungracious”. You say Gandhi would only see Jinnah “in Muslim terms”, and the sort of implication that comes across is Gandhi was less accommodating than Jinnah was.
Jaswant Singh: I have perhaps not used the adjective you have used. Jinnah returned from his education in 1896. Gandhi went to South Africa and was returning finally--in between he had come once--to India it was 1915 already.
Jinnah had gone to receive him with Gokhale and he referred fulsomely to Gandhi. Gandhi referred to Jinnah and said that I am very grateful that we have a Muslim leader. That I think was born really of Gandhi's working in South Africa and not so much the reality of what he felt. The relationship subsequently became competitive.
Karan Thapar: But you do call that response “ungracious”?
Jaswant Singh: I don't know whether I call it ungracious?
Karan Thapar: You do.
Jaswant Singh: But I might have. Jinnah is fulsomely receiving Gandhi and Gandhi says I am glad that I am being received by a Muslim leader.
Karan Thapar: So he was only seeing Jinnah in Muslim terms?
Jaswant Singh: Yes, which Jinnah didn't want to be seen.
Karan Thapar: Even when you discuss the impact of their political strategies in the early years before 1920 you suggest that Jinnah was perhaps more effective than Gandhi, who in a sense permitted the Raj to continue for three decades. You write "Jinnah had successfully kept the Indian political forces together, simultaneously exerting pressure on the government."
Of Gandhi you say “that pressure dissipated and the Raj remained for three more decades”.
Jaswant Singh: That is a later development, because the political style of the two was totally different. Jinnah was essentially a logician.
He believed in the strength of logic; he was a Parliamentarian; he believed in the efficacy of parliamentary politics. Gandhi, after testing the water, took to the trails of India and he took politics into the dusty villages of India.
Karan Thapar: But in the early years up till 1920 you see Jinnah as more effective in putting pressure on the British than Gandhi.
Jaswant Singh: Yes, because entire politics was parliamentary.
Karan Thapar: The adjectives you use to characterise their leadership in the early years suggests a sort of, how shall I put it, slight tilt in Jinnah's favour.
You say of Gandhi's leadership that it had “an entirely religious, provincial character”. Of Jinnah's you say he was “doubtless imbued by a non-sectarian nationalistic zeal.”
Jaswant Singh: He was non-sectarian. Gandhi used religion as a personal expression. Jinnah used religion as a tool to create something but that came later. For Gandhi religion was an integral part of his politics from the very beginning.
Karan Thapar: And Jinnah wanted religion out of politics.
Jaswant Singh: Out of politics. That is right--there are innumerable examples.
Karan Thapar: In fact, Jinnah sensed or feared instinctively that if politics came into religion it would divide.
Jaswant Singh: There were two fears here. His one fear was that if the whole question or practice of mass movement was introduced into India then the minority in India would be threatened.
There could be Hindu-Muslim riots as a consequence. The second fear was that this will result in bringing in religion into Indian politics. He didn't want that--Khilafat movement, etc are all examples of that.
Karan Thapar: And in a sense would you say events have borne out Jinnah?
Jaswant Singh: Not just Jinnah, Annie Besant also. When the Home Rule League broke up--resigning from the League, Annie Beasant cautioned Gandhi you are going down this path, this is a path full of peril.
Karan Thapar: Both Jinnah and Beasant have been borne out.
Jaswant Singh: In the sense that mass movement, unless combined with a great sense of discipline, leadership and restraint, becomes chaotic.
Karan Thapar: As you look back on their lives and their achievements, Jinnah, at the end of the day, stood for creating a homeland for Indian Muslims. But what he produced was moth-eaten and broke up into two pieces in less than 25 years. Gandhi struggled to keep India united, but ended up not just with Partition but with communal passion and communal killing. Would you say at the end of their lives both were failures?
Jaswant Singh: Gandhi was transparently a honest man. He lived his political life openly. Jinnah didn't even live his political life, leave alone his private life, openly. Gandhi led his private life openly--(in) Noakhali with a pencil stub he wrote movingly “I don't want to die a failure but I fear I might.”
Karan Thapar: And did he in your opinion.
Jaswant Singh: Yes, I am afraid the Partition of land, the Hindu-Muslim divide, cannot be really called Gandhiji's great success.
Jinnah, I think, did not achieve what he set out to. He got what is called a moth-eaten Pakistan, but the philosophy which underlaid that Muslims are a separate nation was completely rejected within years of Pakistan coming into being.
Karan Thapar: So, in a sense, both failed.
Jaswant Singh: I am afraid I have to say that. I am, in comparison, a lay practitioner of politics in India. I cannot compare myself to these two great Indians but my assessment would lead me to the conclusion that I cannot treat this as a success either by Gandhi or by Jinnah.
Karan Thapar: Your book also raises disturbing questions about the Partition of India. You say it was done in a way “that multiplied our problems without solving any communal issue”.
Then you ask “if the communal, the principal issue, remains in an even more exacerbated form than before then why did we divide at all?”
Jaswant Singh: Yes, indeed why? I cannot yet find the answer. Look into the eyes of the Muslims who live in India and if you truly see through the pain they live--to which land do they belong?
We treat them as aliens, somewhere inside, because we continue to ask even after Partition you still want something? These are citizens of India--it was Jinnah's failure because he never advised Muslims who stayed back.
Karan Thapar: One of the most moving passages of your biography is when you write of Indian Muslims who stayed on in India and didn't go to Pakistan.
You say they are “abandoned”, you say they are “bereft of a sense of kinship”, not “one with the entirety” and then you add that “this robs them of the essence of psychological security”.
Jaswant Singh: That is right, it does. That lies at the root of the Sachar Committee report.
Karan Thapar:So, in fact, Indian Muslims have paid the price in their personal lives.
Jaswant Singh: Without doubt, as have Pakistani Muslims.
Karan Thapar: Muslims have paid a price on both sides.
Jaswant Singh: I think Muslims have paid a price in Partition. They would have been significantly stronger in a united India, effectively so--much larger land, every potential is here. Of course Pakistan or Bangladesh won't like what I am saying.
Karan Thapar: Let us for a moment focus on Indian Muslims. You are a leader of the BJP. Do you think the rhetoric of your party sometimes adds to that insecurity?
Jaswant Singh: I didn't write this book as a BJP parliamentarian or leader, which I am not. I wrote this book as an Indian.
Karan Thapar: Your book also suggests, at least intellectually, you believe India could face more Partitions. You write: "In India, having once accepted this principle of reservation, then of Partition, how can now we deny it to others, even such Muslims as have had to or chosen to live in India."
Jaswant Singh: The problem started with the 1906 reservation. What does Sachar committee report say? Reserve for the Muslim. What are we doing now? Reserve. I think this reservation for Muslims is a disastrous path. I have myself, personally, in Parliament heard a member subscribing to Islam saying we could have a third Partition too. These are the pains that trouble me. What have we solved?
Karan Thapar:In fact you say in your book how can we deny it to others, having accepted it once it becomes very difficult intellectually to refuse it again.
Jaswant Singh: You have to refuse it.
Karan Thapar: Even if you contradict yourself?
Jaswant Singh: Of course, I am contradicting myself. It is intellectual contradiction.
Karan Thapar: But you are being honest enough to point out that this intellectual contradiction lies today at the very heart of our predicament as a nation.
Jaswant Singh: It is. Unless we find an answer, we won't find an answer to India-Pakistan-Bangladesh relations.
Karan Thapar: And this continuing contradiction is the legacy of Partition?
Jaswant Singh: Of course, it is self-evident.
Karan Thapar: Mr. Jaswant Singh, let’s come to how your book will be received. Are you worried that a biography of Jinnah, that turns on its head the received demonisation of the man; where you concede that for a large part he was a nationalist with admirable qualities, could bring down on your head a storm of protest?
Jaswant Singh: Firstly, I am not an academic. Sixty years down the line someone else--an academic--should have done it. Then I wouldn't have persisted for five years. I have written what I have researched and believed in. I have not written to please--it's a journey that I have undertaken, as I explained myself, along with Mohd Ali Jinnah - from his being an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity to the Qaid-e-Azam of Pakistan
Karan Thapar: In a sense you were driven to write this book.
Jaswant Singh: Indeed, I still search for answers. Having worked with the responsibilities that I had, it is my duty to try and find answers.
Karan Thapar: And your position is that if people don't like the truth as you see it - so be it, but you have to tell the truth as you know it.
Jaswant Singh: Well, so be it is your way of putting it, my dear Karan, but how do I abandon my search, my yearning and what I have found? If I am wrong then somebody else should go and do the research and prove me as wrong.
Karan Thapar: In other words you are presenting what you believe is the truth and you can't hide it.
Jaswant Singh: What else can I do, what else can I present?
Karan Thapar: In 2005, when L K Advani called Jinnah's August 11, 1947 speech secular he was forced to resign the presidentship of the party, are you worried that your party might turn on you in a similar manner?
Jaswant Singh: This is not a party document, and my party knows that I have been working on this. I have mentioned this to Shri Advani as also to others.
Karan Thapar: But are they aware of your views and the content of the book?
Jaswant Singh: They can't be aware unless they read it.
Karan Thapar: Are you worried that when they find out about your views, and your analyses and your conclusion, they might be embarrassed and angry?
Jaswant Singh: No, they might disagree, that's a different matter. Anger? Why should there be anger about disagreement?
Karan Thapar: Can I put something to you?
Jaswant Singh: Yes.
Karan Thapar: Mr Advani in a sense suffered because he called Jinnah secular. You have gone further, you have compared him to the early Gandhi. And some would say that Gandhi is found a little wanting in that comparison. Will that inflame passions?
Jaswant Singh: I don't think Gandhi is found wanting. He was a different person. They are two different personalities, each with their characteristics, why should passions be inflamed? Let a self-sufficient majority, 60 years down the line of Independence, be able to stand up to what actually happened pre-47 and in 1947.
Karan Thapar: So what you are saying is that Gandhi and Jinnah were different people, we must learn to accept that both had good points.
Jaswant Singh: Of course.
Karan Thapar: And both had weaknesses.
Jaswant Singh: Of course. Gandhi himself calls Jinnah a great Indian, why don't we recognise that? Why did he call him that? He tells Mountbatten "give the Prime Ministership of India to Jinnah." Mountbatten scoffs at him, "are you joking?" He says, "no I am serious, I will travel India and convince India and carry this message".
Karan Thapar: So if today's Gandhians, reading the passages where you compare between the two, come to the conclusion that you are more of praise of Jinnah than of Gandhi.
Jaswant Singh: I don't think I am. I am objective as far as human beings have ability to be objective. As balanced as an author can be.
Karan Thapar: As balanced as an author can be.
Jaswant Singh: Indeed, indeed. How else can it be?
Karan Thapar: Your party has a Chintan Baithak starting in two days time, does it worry you that at that occasion some of your colleagues might stand up and say - your views, your comments about Jinnah, your comments about Gandhi and Nehru have embarrassed the BJP?
Jaswant Singh: I don't think so, I don't think they will. Because in two days time the book would not have been (read). It's almost a 600-page book. Difficult to read 600 pages in two days.
Karan Thapar: No one will have read the book by the time you go to Simla!
Jaswant Singh: Yes (Laughs).
Karan Thapar: But what about afterwards?
Jaswant Singh: Well, we will deal with the afters when the afters come.
Karan Thapar: Let me raise two issues, that could be a problem for you. First of all, your sympathetic understanding of Muslims left behind in India. You say they are abandoned, you say they are bereft, you say they suffer from psychological insecurity. That's not normally a position leaders of the BJP take.
Jaswant Singh: I think, the BJP is misunderstood also in its attitude towards the minorities. I don't think it is so. Every Muslim that lives in India is a loyal Indian and we must treat them as so.
Karan Thapar: But you are the first person from the BJP I have ever heard say, "look into the eyes of Indian Muslims and see the pain." No one has ever spoken in such sensitive terms about them before.
Jaswant Singh: I am born in a district, that is my home--we adjoin Sind, it was not part of British India. We have lived with Muslims and Islam for centuries. They are part.... In fact in Jaisalmer, I don't mind telling you, Muslims don't eat cow and the Rajputs don't eat pig.
Karan Thapar: So your understanding of Indian Muslims and their predicament is uniquely personal and you would say...
Jaswant Singh: Indeed because I think what has happened is that we try and treat this whole thing as if it’s an extension of the image of the UP Muslim. Of course the UP (Muslim) is...Pakistan is a stepchild of UP in a sense.
Karan Thapar: The second issue that your book raises, which could cause problems for you, is that at least theoretically, at least intellectually, you accept that their could be, although you hope their won't be, further partitions. Could that embarrass you?
Jaswant Singh: No, I am cautioning. I am cautioning India, Indian leadership. I have said that I am not going to be a politician all my life, or even a member of Parliament. But I do say this – we should learn from what we did wrong, or didn't do right, so that we don't repeat the mistakes.
Karan Thapar: In other words this is – how shall I put it, a wake up call?
Jaswant Singh: Wake-up? Shaking....
Karan Thapar: A shake-up call!
Jaswant Singh: Yeah (Smiles)
Karan Thapar: My last question. Critics in your party, allege that you are responsible for the party losing seats in Rajasthan, they allege that you are responsible for asking questions about the sanctity of Hindutva. Now, after this book, have you fed your critics more ammunition against yourself?
Jaswant Singh: Time will tell (Smiles).
Karan Thapar: But does it worry you?
Jaswant Singh: Do I look worried? (Smiles)
Karan Thapar: With that smile on your face Mr. Jaswant Singh. Thank you very much for these two special interviews.
Jaswant Singh: Thank you very much.