Friday, September 4, 2009

Pakistan’s unlikely hero: Jassubhai

Inder Malhotra ISLAMABAD, pakistan Sept.02 : During a week’s stay in Islamabad and Lahore, I was not at all surprised at the tremendous excitement, even elation, over Jaswant Singh’s book on Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah and India’s Partition at the time of Independence. But it did seem to me that the reaction in the neighbouring country was rather excessive and even lopsided — an impression that some of the thoughtful Pakistani friends shared not just privately but also publicly. Remarkably, none of those leading the applause for Mr Singh and his book had had an opportunity to read it. For, the first 150 copies of the 670-page volume arrived in Islamabad when I was leaving for Lahore and were snapped up almost instantly. More copies were expected from Delhi and the Pakistani edition is in the works. Yet, rare was a newspaper that did not publish a couple of articles on "the book" every day. The chatter on it on 24x7 TV channels was endless. It was also obvious that lionising of Mr Singh was fuelled by two factors. First, the oversimplified summary of his findings, especially the verdict that the secular and nationalist Jinnah did not want Partition that was "gifted" to him by Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The high praise of Jinnah, combined with the denigration of Nehru and Sardar Patel, was music to most Pakistani ears. Secondly, and no less importantly, the shabby, indeed stupid, decision of the "Right-wing, Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party" to expel Mr Singh without even giving him an opportunity to defend himself made him even more of a hero. An astute observer of the Pakistani scene said to me that Mr Singh’s popularity in Pakistan was, "for the time being, even greater than that of Arundhati Roy". Implicit in this remark was the suggestion that the current effervescence would die down before long. On the other hand, TV images showing some of the Sangh Parivar’s cadres "frothing at the mouth, bringing out rallies and beating Mr Singh’s pictures with shoes" have helped blacken the Parivar’s visage more than ever before. Some commentators here have understandably attacked Narendra Modi’s government very sharply for having banned Mr Singh’s book in Gujarat. Banning and burning of books, said one of them, was the work of the Nazis. I agreed with him but pointed out that General Zia-ul-Haq had banned Stanley Wolpert’s biography of Jinnah merely because it included references to the Quaid-e-Azam’s liking for Scotch and occasionally for ham sandwiches. Thoughtful Pakistanis also concede that much of what Mr Singh has to say is not new. Ayesha Jalal, in her book The Sole Spokesman, had said it more sophisticatedly and at shorter length 25 years ago. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad had said it even earlier. However, as several academics stated, Ms Jalal, on arrival in Pakistan after the publication her book, was "pilloried" for calling the Quaid-e-Azam secular and implying that he was not really the founder of Pakistan. It is in this context that the eminent Pakistani journalist Ejaz Haider, who had the benefit of a live one-to-one interview with Mr Singh on TV, has raised some pertinent questions in his weekly column in Daily Times (August 24). He has praised Mr Singh for his "courage", "sincerity" and "objectivity". He has also acknowledged that the former external affairs, defence and finance minister in the Vajpayee government is hurt by the way his party has treated him. But Mr Haider adds: "Hurt he might be but he couldn’t have not known the Parivar’s reaction". More pointedly, Mr Haider asks: "So, what are we going to do? Praise him (Mr Singh) for implying that India played a bad hand in East Pakistan and chide him for implying that Kashmir’s boundaries should not be redrawn? Praise him for placing Mr Jinnah on a higher pedestal than Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel, and reject his contention that Partition was bad and didn’t solve anything?" Another contributor to the same newspaper has taken an even more forthright and longer view. Many Pakistanis who subscribe to the "Muslim-centric historical point of view", writes Syed Mansoor Hussain, "believe that Jinnah was a devout Muslim who for the sake of greater glory of Islam wanted nothing less than a new Muslim nation to fulfil the greater destiny of Islam in the subcontinent of India. Interestingly, most people who subscribe to this point of view support Islamist political parties that opposed the very creation of Pakistan!" "For most Pakistanis", adds Mr Hussain, "it all starts with Muhammad bin Qasim and the conquest of Sindh in the early 8th century, skips through and around the Muslim domination of India and then jumps to the 19th century and the foundation of the Muhammedan Anglo-Oriental College (MAO) College at Aligarh by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. It then jumps another 65 years to the Lahore Resolution in 1940. In the middle, the Ali Brothers and the Khilafat Movement get a passing reference. The rest revolves around Jinnah as (the) founder of Pakistan with Allama Iqbal lurking somewhere in the middle as an ideologue of Pakistan. It ends effectively with the death of Liaquat Ali Khan, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan". There is nothing in the subcontinent that does not evoke some humour somehow. The Jaswant Singh extravaganza in Pakistan is no exception. The humourous aside on him takes the form of a TV clip. In it, a burly qawwal and his acolytes are lustily sing a qawwali. Roughly translated into English its words are: "Whether anyone listens or not we will sing this qawwali/For we are sure someone somewhere would appreciate us/Just see what Jaswant Singh has said about Quaid-e-Azam/The self-appointed guardians of his party have given him short shrift/So ‘Jassubhai’ come and accept an accolade of a 21-gun salute". This brings me to the subject of Mr Singh’s postponed visit to Pakistan. He was due to reach Islamabad when I was due to go to Lahore. However, it was announced that he could not come. This, as all Pakistani newspapers and TV channels reported, was because he could not get "security clearance". Who perpetrated this blatant falsehood no one knows yet. But the wide world knows that no Indian needs "security clearance" to visit Pakistan or any other country. Every Pakistani wanting to visit India certainly does. Source : Asian Age

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