Gandhi and Jinnah - a study in contrasts

An extract from the book that riled India's Bharatiya Janata Party and led to the expulsion of its author Jaswant Singh, one of the founder members, of the party.

Comparing Gandhi and Jinnah is an extremely complex exercise but important for they were, or rather became, the two foci of the freedom movement. Gandhi was doubtless of a very different mould, but he too, like Jinnah, had gained eminence and successfully transited from his Kathiawari origins to become a London barrister before acquiring a political personality. Yet there existed an essential difference here. Gandhi's birth in a prominent family - his father was, after all, a diwan (prime minister) of an Indian state - helped immeasurably.

No such advantage of birth gave Jinnah a leg up, it was entirely through his endeavours. Gandhi, most remarkably, became a master practitioner of the politics of protest. This he did not do by altering his own nature, or language of discourse, but by transforming the very nature of politics in India. He transformed a people, who on account of prolonged foreign rule had acquired a style of subservience. He shook them out of this long, moral servitude. Gandhi took politics out of the genteel salons, the debating halls and societies to the soil of India, for he, Gandhi - was rooted to that soil, he was of it, he lived the idiom, the dialogue and discourse of that soil: its sweat; its smells and its great beauty and fragrances, too.

Jinnah and Gandhi: Shattered dreams

Some striking differences between these two great Indians are lucidly conveyed by Hector Bolitho in In Quest of Jinnah. He writes: 'Jinnah was a source of power'. Gandhi... an 'instrument of it... Jinnah was a cold rationalist in politics - he had a one track mind, with great force behind it'. Then: 'Jinnah was potentially kind, but in behaviour extremely cold and distant.' Gandhi embodied compassion - Jinnah did not wish to touch the poor, but then Gandhi's instincts were rooted in India and life long he soiled his hands in helping the squalid poor.

Not so Jinnah: for having been uprooted repeatedly in his childhood, then moved too frequently, he neither easily belonged nor did he relate with comfort. Besides being the quintessential constitutionalist, he had to follow a different course; for him to adapt to the changing times, to the dusty trails of rural India, was not at all easy. That is why he found it so difficult, by around 1920, to maintain his position at the national level given Gandhi's arrival and rapid ascendancy. Besides, there was no province, not one, not then, not later, that he could rely upon totally as his exclusive parish. His lack of ability to adapt to the integrative politics of the masses always remained a problem. Whereafter, his status as a Muslim, it must be accepted, further handicapped his position at the national level, for in nationalist politics the scene had already got crowded; as a Muslim, yes, there was a role for him to play but only in the second rank. For Jinnah, a secondary status was galling; what he had always sought and mostly attained was the centre stage; yet, now how could he, when so many factors constantly kept pushing him to the periphery of it?

* * *

Gandhi andJinnah: The two incompatible Kathiawaris

We have earlier, though very briefly, considered these two great but incompatible Indians, both born of Kathiawari trading communities but not endowed with much other similarities. One was devoutly and expressly Hindu, the other but a casual votary of Islam. One shaped religion to his political ends; the other shunned it on grounds of principle. Gandhi in a very real sense was deeply under the influence of Tolstoy (it is after Tolstoy that he had named his settlement in South Africa) and Henry David Thoreau; Jinnah recognised the political impress only of Dadabhai (Naoroji) and (Gopal Krishna) Gokhale. Gandhi led his personal life publicly; Jinnah led even his public life close to his chest. These two, in one fashion or another, not just deeply influenced events of those momentous decades of India's freedom struggle but actually shaped them. Gandhi admitted failure in his quest; Jinnah, it is apocryphally suggested, boasted that 'he won Pakistan with the help of just a typewriter and a clerk.' It is a fascinating theme, a study of these two great Indians. This sub-chapter can attempt no more than an outline sketch.

Although the families of both Jinnah and Gandhi had once lived just about 40 miles or so apart in Kathiawar (Gujarat), this adjacency of their places of origin did nothing to bring their politics close together. At their very first meeting, at the Gurjar Sabha in January 1915, convened to felicitate Gandhi upon his return from South Africa, in response to a welcome speech, with Jinnah presiding, Gandhi had somewhat accommodatingly said he was 'glad to find a Muslim not only belonging to his own region's sabha but chairing it.' Gandhi had singled out Jinnah as a Muslim, though, neither in appearance or in conduct was Jinnah anywhere near to being any of the stereotypes of the religious identity ascribed by Gandhi. Jinnah, on the other hand, was far more fulsome in his praise.

Gandhi had reached India by boat in January 1915 when many leaders, including Jinnah and Gokhale, went to Bombay to give him an ovatious welcome. By this date Jinnah had already engaged as an all India leader and was committed to attaining his stated goals of unity, not just between the Muslims and the Hindus, Extremists and Moderates, but also among various classes of India. To receive Gandhi, Jinnah had forsaken attending the Madras Congress meet of 1914. Gandhi, upon reaching Bombay, had been warmly welcomed by Jinnah who wanted to enlist his services for the cause of Hindu-Muslim unity. It was because of his popularity and standing that Jinnah had been invited to preside over a garden party given by the Gurjar Sabha, an association of the Gurjar (Gujar) community, arranged to welcome Mr and Mrs Gandhi, on his arrival on 13 January 1915.

In his presidential address, Jinnah 'welcomed... Mr and Mrs Gandhi, not only on behalf of Bombay but on behalf of the whole of India.' He impressed upon Gandhi that the greatest problem was 'to bring about unanimity and co-operation between the two communities so that the demands of India (from Imperial Britain) may be made absolutely unanimously.' For this he desired 'that frame of mind, that state, that condition which they had to bring about between the two communities, when most of their problems, he had no doubt, would easily be solved.' Jinnah went to the extent of saying: 'Undoubtedly he [Gandhi] would not only become a worthy ornament but also a real worker whose equals there were very few.' This remark was greatly applauded by a largely Hindu audience, accounts of that meeting report. Gandhi, however, was cautious and somewhat circuitous in his response. He took the plea that he would study all the Indian questions from 'his own point of view,' a reasonable enough assertion; also because Gokhale had advised him to study the situation for at least a year before entering politics. This, too, was all right but then, needlessly, he thanked Jinnah for presiding over a Hindu gathering. This was an ungracious and discouraging response to Jinnah's warm welcome and had a dampening effect.

Gandhi, somewhat hesitant at first, could, in that early phase, see no other route but of following Gokhale, Jinnah and some of the other moderate leaders. This was also because (Bal Gangadhar) Tilak had also, by then, come around to the moderate line. Gandhi did cooperate with all of them, but only until about 1920, after which he clearly became the prominent voice and position. Besides, by then (1920) Gandhi had won acceptance from the British government too, even though that was through the good offices of Gokhale, who 'exerted the full weight of his prestige and influence upon the Viceroy, Lord Hardinge, to bring the Government of India solidly behind Gandhi.' This was the period when the British government, very concerned about Jinnah, his Hindu-Muslim unity moves, was endeavouring hard to keep the All India Muslim League away from the Indian National Congress.

Courtesy The Telegraph, Calcutta. Extracted from the book Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence; by Jaswant Singh; Publisher: Rupa & co; pp: 669; Price: Rs 695

Jaswant challenges book ban

A former leader of India's opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has challenged the decision by an Indian state to ban his book.

The BJP government in Gujarat banned Jaswant Singh's book on Pakistan's founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Mr Singh has filed a case in the Supreme Court challenging the ban. He was expelled from the party last week.

Jaswant Singh defending his book

The state said it banned the book for "defamatory references" to India's first home minister Vallabhbhai Patel. The late Mr Patel is a political icon in his home state of Gujarat.

Described often as the "Iron Man of India", Mr Patel played an important role in the country's independence and the integration of the different states in the Indian union.

Jaswant Singh said he was "saddened" by the ban. "The day we start banning books, we are banning thinking," he said. The book examines the role of Congress party leader and the country's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Mr Patel in the partition of India in 1947.

Mr Singh writes that Mr Patel was "far off the mark" in many ways with his projections about the division and future of India. The BJP dissociated itself from the book and sacked Mr Singh from the party.

Jaswant Singh is a 71-year-old party veteran who has served as finance and external affairs minister in BJP cabinets.

The book has been selling well both in India and Pakistan. Courtesy BBC

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