Sunday,15 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1195, (1-7 May 2014)
Sunday,15 July, 2018
Issue 1195, (1-7 May 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Gandhi and Jinnah scrutinised

Jinnah vs Gandhi; Roderick Matthews, Hatchette Book, 2012. Reviewed by Gamal Nkrumah

Al-Ahram Weekly

“The two men are sitting in the back seat of a slow moving car. They are both politicians. Far away a war has been declared, and neither man yet knows this will affect his prospects. No words pass between the two. The taller man is legendary averse to small talk, and the shorter one has nothing useful to say to his taciturn neighbour. They have known each other for decades and were once allies, but conflicting ideas and ambitions have estranged them for decades,” author Roderick Matthews opens his Prologue to this intriguing study.

This is a gripping and finely textured double biography of the founding fathers of India and Pakistan: Mahatma Gandhi and Mohamed Ali Jinnah. Matthews’ study avoids psychobabble, yet it is tempting to conclude that he favours Gandhi. Yet, it was Jinnah rather than Gandhi that had his way. And, the author veraciously explains how and why.

Jinnah comes across as a less amiable character, but it is clear that Jinnah was not part of an Islamist zeal in the closing years of the British Raj. Yet, one detects how Pakistan came to symbolise the very heart of the conservative Islamic world. It was not Jinnah’s intention, but he could not stop the trend.

Criticisms of the two men are not overblown. From fellow freedom fighters the author ingeniously traces the political events that led to Jinnah and Gandhi becoming protagonists in subsequent developments in South Asia. Uncompromising Jinnah offered New Delhi nothing in the place of his Pakistan.

The author peruses the particular circumstances and historical events that led to the twin creation of India and Pakistan through poring over the personalities of the two men and scrutinizing specific aspects of their respective personalities.

Matthew’s work shows how the two great South Asian men were influenced politically by successive episodes in history. It demonstrates how they drifted apart, and a s a consequence how India and Pakistan became two separate nations with distinct identities. Matthew’s meticulous investigation into the two men’s personal lives, ideological convictions and political careers elucidated the defining aspects of the conflict pitting Islamist Pakistan against secularist India.

Relying on extensive research, Matthews has written a thought-provoking historical study. India’s Congress Party had long widened the circle of Muslim interlocutors with its all-inclusive policy and even attempting to woo Muslims who had long been at odds with the Congress Party’s secularist tradition.  

Jinnah, a secularist at heart, had hardly kept the phenomenon of Islamist fundamentalism at bay and instead used it to further his own political ends. He rejected the notion of a shared future for India’s Muslims and Hindus, and it was his political calculations and not an innate clash of civilisations, that ultimately led to the breaking up of the British Raj into India and Pakistan.

“To Jinnah, the whole direction of national politic seemed to be going off track. He was clear that resorting to extra-constitutional methods, whipping up ‘mob hysteria’, was a mistake. Along with Tagore, he also had serious reservations about the sacrifices that Non-Cooperation demanded of individuals. He saw no benefit in Indians denying themselves education, and he saw only suffering in the spectacle of poor people burning cheap foreign garments when they were barely able to clothe themselves,” Matthews extrapolates.

Jinnah, the author contends did not focus on the intricacies of state-mosque relations. Nor did he keep in mind the cultural specificities that divided the Muslim Bengalis from the Muslim people’s of the Punjab and other parts of the Indus Valley. As the failures of integration between the Bangladeshis and the peoples of the Indus Valley beca,e all too apparent in the years leading up to the bitter war that led to the independence of Bangladesh on 26 March 1971, let alone the emergence of the Bengali Language Movement, instrumental to the independence of Bangladesh, or to the Bangladesh Liberation War.

The very concept of Bangladesh as a distinct ethno-linguistic region was alien to Jinnah, who saw his Pakistan as a safe haven for all of The British Raj’s Muslims. That proved to be a grave miscalculation.

Matthews is an invaluable guide to the varieties of Islamic belief and politics that were reproduced in the dying days of the British Raj. Between 1905 and 1911, abortive attempts were made in vain, aimed to divide the province of Bengal into two zones, one Muslim and the other Hindu. Jinnah turned a blind eye, or perhaps he could not have foreseen the unprecedented popular uprising, the intense dissatisfaction with the central government in Islamabad over economic and cultural issues in what was to become Bangladesh. “India’s complicated regional politics tended to worked against the purposes of the All-India Muslim League in terms of trying to establish a nationwide organization, programme and identity,” the author stresses. “When Jinnah visited the Punjab in 1936 he got the political equivalent of a bloody nose. He was shunned publicly, while privately the locals were uninhibited in their derision.” Yet, Jinnah was undeterred. 

Matthews writes with eloquence and articulately shows off his deep knowledge of his subject matter. I purchased the book during my last trip to India, at New Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport. As I leafed through its pages, I was increasingly convinced that it does greatly add to the understanding of several interlocking political and ideological, not to mention personal conflicts of interest that led to the creation of India and Pakistan as separate nations.

“Having withdrawn from the Home Rule League, Jinnah could only challenge Gandhi within the Congress, but his prospects of changing the national direction were not good. There ad been an enormous upsurge of interest in the Congress among Muslims, so that the audiences at that year’s session at Nagpur were larger and more vociferous than usual. This did not bode well for moderate, secular voices. Jinnah spoke against Non-Cooperation but was constantly interrupted and even booed”.

Jinnah was not a man to give up easily. And, he strongly believed that he had a just cause. “He took the hint and walked out of the meeting, leaving Gandhi to carry the resolution adopting Non-Cooperation,” Matthews elucidates.

Ironically, Jinnah seemed to personify the very demons that Gandhi was combating.  The underlying and sometimes overriding themes in Matthews study are how the contemporary history of South Asia was shaped by the widely diverging personalities of the Sub-Continent’s two most prominent politicians, the Hindu albeit secularist Gandhi and the Muslim, albeit ironically irreligious, Jinnah.

The two men had much in common, they were both for instance, Western educated barristers. They both to begin with secular liberals, and Jinnah even far more so than Gandhi. The incredible similarities and ultimate differences” created two distinct nations. The “Remaking of Jinnah: 1930-39” is an intriguing and most revealing chapter. “As the new decade dawned, Jinnah isolated and ignored was at a personal and political low point, perhaps his very lowest. His wife had died in February 1929 and although they had been estranged at the end, he felt her loss deeply,” Matthews observes. In sharp contrast, “Gandhi was on an upward curve and would soon reach a new peak of popularity”.

Yet, amid these personal and political disappointments, Jinnah miraculously managed to reposition himself politically. It dawned on him that Congress was not the party that would make his name politically, and he succumbed to the idea of playing the Muslim card and creating a new political party.

With no consensus on the shape of the state they had in mind, India’s Muslims were at a loss, and Jinnah metamorphosed into something of a Messiah. “But the Nagpur session clearly demonstrated that the Congress was going to be a mass-based party, and a mass-based party had to be a Hindu party, Gandhi or no Gandhi. The popular Muslim element within Congress that year was temporary and contingent, and it was not the constituency to which Jinnah wished to appeal to,” Matthews notes. The thorniest problem for Jinnah was that many Indian Muslims actually favoured and identified with the Congress Party at the time and still do today.

Jinnah desired to give the Muslim Indian their full citizenship space and autonomy, with the public security of independent institutions. The very notion was in contradistinction to Gandhi’s plural Indian society in all its diversity. “This new aggressive Jinnah, with a national organization and powerful provincial backers, did not look like the dandy quibbler of the 1920s.”

Jawaharlal Nehru came across as a populist chameleon, but then he is not quite the subject of this particular book. “Nehru began a correspondence with Jinnah in January that lasted till April [1938]. In it Nehru constantly contended, or pretended, that he could not understand what Jinnah’s function in Indian politics was. What were his points, his demands? Jinnah did not rise to the bait,” the author notes.

The notion of a “Muslim Homeland” in South Asia was created and the Muslim League, a political party that posed as protecting the rights of Muslims in the Sub-Continent, emerged as paramount to Indian Muslims.

With Jinnah away in London, the annual session of the Muslim league was convened in Allahabad in December 1930. It was chaired by the poet Sir Muhammad Iqbal. He delivered a speech on creating a “Muslim Homeland” in northwestern India. “The subsequent importance ascribed to this speech demonstrates how the history of Pakistan has, in large measure been written backwards.”

Iqbal’s vision of a “Muslim India within India” was promptly rejected. He was addressing Punjabi politicians, whom he wished to pull away from their “small corner”, their “ruralism” into a wider context related to India’s other Muslims. Jinnah did not quite know, at the time, what to make of it.

Non-Muslim politicians, including Gandhi desperately wanted to know where exactly did Jinnah stand. “To further interrogate Jinnah, Gandhi went to Bombay in late April 1938 — Jinnah this time, would not go to Gandhi. Jinnah demanded that the Congress accept the fact that he and his League spoke for all of India’s Muslims.” The tables were turned and it was Gandhi that solicited the favour of Jinnah.

The author addresses a serious flaw in Gandhi’s character. “This was the perennial weakness in Gandhi’s style of negotiation: He was prepared to give up points that were very important to his opponents, provided that his own principles were sufficiently acknowledged in return”. He was even prepared to give the central government over to Jinnah and his Muslim League.

Needless to say, Jinnah took full advantage of Gandhi’s faux pas, or rather indiscretion. A federal India was considered as a solution to the country’s sectarian conflicts. Nevertheless, Jinnah and others especially the princely states that were strictly speaking not part of British India proper, rejected the very notion of a federal India. “Federation quickly lodt whatever charms it had ever possessed for all the important princes, and they repeatedly delayed any decision to join. Negotiations on the federal issue, long deadlocked, were finally suspended with the outbreak of war in 1939, and were never revived” the author points out.

This work is essentially a study of two contrasting characters, Jinnah and Gandhi, but other prominent personalities feature as well including Lord Louis Mountbatten, Nehru and Maulana Azad, “long the butt of Jinnah’s contempt”.

Gandhi was becoming ever more despondent about India’s future. “Gandhi was acutely aware of how important it was the untouchables, or Harijans ‘Children of God’, were considered to be Hindus. He was desperately afraid of an India not only divided between Hindus and Muslims, but also between Hindus and Harijans.”

To Jinnah, Punjab and Bengal would form the basis of Muslim Pakistan. “Ethnically and linguistically, the plural communities of Bengal and Punjav would be left in an undivided condition, although both would be in Pakistan”. As events unfolded, yes, most of the Punjab became part of Pakistan, there was a predominantly Sikh albeit much smaller Punjab in India, too. And, there was Haryana, a Hindu part of Punjab and both Indian “Punjabs” became the breadbaskets of the nation and the showpieces of the so-called “Green Revolution”. Pakistani Punjab provided the bulk of the generals that ruled the country as well as the civilian politicians. In short, South Asia became a study in re-invention.

Millions perished as a result of the division. And, there have been other gurus apart from Jinnah and Gandhi in the quest for independence. India never quite turned into Hindustan, it remains secular to this day. Pakistan, on the other hand, became an increasingly Islamist state where its leaders civilian and military strongmen alike offered short-lived results and long-term angst.

This particular book is especially poignant today as far as the Arab world, and the Middle East is concerned. Pax Americana is coming to and end, and religious strife threatens to redraw the map of the region. Would secularism, Indian-style prevail? Or, would nations be created according to sectarian affiliation? Whatever his merits, idealistic Gandhi did not succeed in imposing a federal solution for an independent India that included autonomous Muslim regions. The cynic, though, would say that neither India nor Pakistan really evolved beyond the legacies of Gandhi and Jinnah respectively. Unsurprisingly, South Asia is split for eternity is seems. There is no prospect of a reunited Sub-Continent.

In the end, India’s multi-religious reality could no longer be considered to have the salubrious effect of keeping India’s Muslim elite in check. On the contrary it spawned an aggressive quest for Muslim independence in certain quarters, most notably in Bengal and the Punjab. And, Jinnah took full advantage heralding the creation of Pakistan.

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