India’s major opposition party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been in internal turmoil since the elections of May 2009. These tensions have once again come to the fore. In mid-August former Foreign Minister and Finance Minister Jaswant Singh released his book on Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father. Considering how most right-wing parties in India, including the BJP, blame Mr. Jinnah, and his party the Muslim League, for Partition which led to the ‘vivisection’ of ‘Mother India’ Mr Singh’s book created a furore. Not only was Mr. Singh expelled from the party but the state of Gujarat, led by a BJP Chief Minister even banned the book. What this incident reflects is the extent to which Partition still frames the discourse in India and Pakistan.
Most social scientists agree that while the blame can be apportioned on all three players, the British bear the lion share. By the 1940s as things stood, if the Congress desired independence as quickly as possible they had little political choice but to accept Partition as the price to pay for Independence. Similarly, Congress intransigence and British maneuvering left Jinnah and the Muslim League with few options besides Partition if the League hoped for a homeland for Muslims.
Jaswant Singh’s book is not new in championing the idea that Jinnah and the Muslim League were not the only ones responsible and that the Congress leaders too had a role to play. Mr. Singh is also not the only Indian to call Jinnah a secular ‘Indian nationalist.’ Bearing this in mind the reaction of the BJP of expelling one of their senior leaders for writing something that is not novel needs a deeper analysis.
Soon after the May elections Jaswant Singh was amongst the few BJP leaders who had sent a letter to the party leadership requesting a deep-rooted analysis of ‘what went wrong.’ The letter was leaked to the media and Jaswant Singh’s actions were seen as a challenge to the existing leadership of BJP Party President Rajnath Singh and Leader of Opposition Lal Krishna Advani.
Most analysts agree that Jaswant Singh’s dismissal from the BJP had less to do with the book he wrote and more to do with internal party politics of BJP. The fact that he wrote a book praising Jinnah came in handy as the reason for his dismissal. If that were the sole reason why was no action taken against L.K. Advani when during his trip to Pakistan in 2005, he called Jinnah a ‘secular’ individual.
That the Congress party used Jaswant Singh’s book to attack BJP was an added reason for why the BJP expelled Jaswant Singh. For the Congress party blaming Congress stalwarts like Nehru, Patel and Azad was reason enough to be upset with Jaswant Singh’s book.
Instead of allowing Partition and the events around Partition to act as a shadow over India-Pakistan relations and rather than harping on what Jinnah and Nehru said before Partition why do we not focus on their speeches after Partition for an idea of their vision for the future.
Jinnah hoped for good relations between India and Pakistan and stated, "Our own paramount interests demand that the Dominion of Pakistan and the Dominion of India should co-ordinate for the purpose of playing their part in international affairs. It is of vital importance to Pakistan and India as independent sovereign states to collaborate in a friendly way to jointly defend their frontiers both on land and sea against any aggression. But this depends entirely on whether Pakistan and India can resolve their own differences.” Nehru too said, “It is to India's advantage that Pakistan should be a secure and prosperous State with which we can develop close and friendly relations … Any closer association must come out of a normal process and in a friendly way which does not end Pakistan as a state but which makes it an equal part of a larger union in which several countries might be associated."
Fighting or quibbling about the past will not change what happened. Partition took place, India and Pakistan were created, and it is time they moved on. Whether or not Partition should have taken place, who were the people who were responsible for Partition are questions that should be left to historians to deal with. Just as the American Revolution, French Revolution or Russian Revolution are issues which are dealt with at a historical level, without the players – United States, United Kingdom, France or Russia- holding other countries or people responsible for them.
What everyone seems to have forgotten in the heat of the debate is that till August 14, 1947 Jinnah and the remaining Muslim Leaguers were Indians and nationalists. What this controversy also shows is that India and Pakistan will not be able to move on unless and until we learn to look ahead and move beyond Partition. India and Indians need to accept and acknowledge Jinnah not only as Pakistan’s founding father but also as an Indian nationalist and Pakistan and Pakistanis need to do the same for Nehru, Patel and Azad along with Gandhi. Harping on the past hurts everyone and helps solve nothing.
Aparna Pande is a doctoral candidate and lecturer in political science at Boston University.