Book review: Jinnah Vs Gandhi

Book Review: Non-fiction/ Jinnah vs. Gandhi by Roderick Matthews, Hachette, 330pp; Rs499 (Hardback)

Whether India was fortunate to inherit the best of Gandhi and Pakistan has had to make to do with the worst of Jinnah couldn’t be understood as simply as Roderick Mathews suggests, otherwise through his commendable research on these two decisive but confronting figures. In close notice on the reasons of confrontation between these two, this book comes out with an alternative mandate and proves better read than most of the other works on the similar chunks of history in past.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi were undoubtedly the two most influential figures of the Indian independence struggle. Jinnah shaped an important course in the history by consistently demanding Pakistan, and Gandhi continued his tryst with the largely non-violent nature of the campaign. Each made their contribution felt by coming in terms and refashioning a national political organization, lately they were imbued to personify their respective institutions as well.

Surprisingly we see few books about Jinnah in English, which could take into account of his works in proper light-Hector Bolitho’s Jinnah: Creator of Pakistan and Stanley and Wolpert’s Jinnah of Pakistan, opened certain specialties of Jinnah but both these works lack the holistic account and authenticity of purpose. Roderick Matthews’s Gandhi vs. Jinnah does the opposite.

He also differs from S.K.Majumdar, who in his “Jinnah and Gandhi: Their Role in Quest for Freedom (1966)” feels Partition was more Gandhi’s fault than Jinnah’s, and could be undone. Roderick escapes such generalization and puts effort to see the things beyond of easily found construct. The beauty of this book lies in the lucidity of thought and civility of presentation, through which author forward a serious debate on the role of Jinnah and Gandhi in India’s struggle against the British Empire.

In reading this book, its author appears a person who has spent decades in overviewing the decisive phases of 20th century, which changed the nerve and geography of Indian subcontinent forever. With lesser baggage of hyped success and clear understanding on the chosen theme, Roderick presents refreshingly original perspectives on Gandhi and Jinnah-how they acted at par, or against of their own wisdom on various occasions for heeding the emergent compulsions.

Though blurred in general consciousness, Jinnah intensely disliked mixing of politics with religion. He had standard liberal faith in institutions that inclined him to see the government, even the colonial government of India, as a natural front. He even married a Parsi woman, against the wishes of her family. What he advocated was a tolerant state-He did not want a secular state because he did not want secular people. Probably, his vision was not different for Pakistan, but unfortunately he died very early to shape his dreams on ground.

In1913 he told the Islington Committee on administrative reform that: ‘I do not see why a Hindu should not be in charge of a district where the majority happens to be Mohammedan’ (page-71). In fact, this was Jinnah’s basic instinct, which in later years faded but not entirely died to reach below the level of ‘reasons’. Gandhi noticed the change, writing in February 1938 to say: ’I miss the old nationalist. Are you still the same Mr.Jinnah?”

The young professional Jinnah was hardly interested in Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s conservative emancipation of Indian Muslims, as he was indeed a modern man and had unconventional leaning for liberal ideas, and so was he attracted to the Congress. He attended the 1904 Congress session and joined the party in 1906. When the Agha Khan’s delegation met Viceroy Minto in 1906, Jinnah responded by demanding to know what right ‘these gentlemen’ possessed to speak for Bombay. Who elected them? That was like an establishment of a new pole in old horizon.

Though actual notion for separation took place years later, but the rift between Gandhi and Jinnah surfaced much earlier. The maneuverings for models of separation began to appear from the early 1930s, notably by poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal and others. Jinnah returned to the Muslim minority as a ‘separate entity in the state’ in a speech in the Legislative Assembly in early 1935. By 1937, Jinnah himself publicly adopted the narrative of Two Nations. He found the theory very simple-: it was five words, as Jinnah told the British writer Beverly Nichols in 1942: ‘The Muslims are a nation.”

After Sir Muhammad Iqbal’s speech in December 1930, the next important attempt to attract public support for a Muslim ‘homeland’ came from Chaudhary Rahmat Ali, then a student at Cambridge, who published a radical pamphlet in January1933 titled ‘Now or Never’ to infuse new momentum on separation. Rahmat Ali (1895-1951) was a strange, unnoticed figure. From 1938 he came up with many geographical schemes for the expression of separate Muslim identity. He was a man in love with Islam, maps and neologisms, whose achievement was the invention of the word ‘Pakistan’, meaning land of pure in Urdu.

The book conclusively comes out on crucial matters like this…

“The centerpiece of Congress philosophy had always been that the march towards independence was a collective journey towards a collective destination. The Second World War advanced this common cause only indirectly, but six years of global conflict allowed Jinnah the opportunity to turn that cause into a personal journey, in a vehicle of his own choosing, with himself at the wheel (Page-5).”

But in balancing efforts, Roderick asserts his opinion very firmly on the divertion of extraneous authority rested in an individual at the cost of institutions…

“Ultimately, for all its quirks, the two nation theory turned out to be more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than an intellectually competing idea. It held a deep attraction for enough of its intended audience to ensure that once it became familiar it acquired a force beyond intellectual persuasion. It also gradually lost correspondence with objective reality, and though undoubtedly convincing (and useful) in the short term, in the longer view it was proved conclusively wrong (page-35).”

Consciously or unconsciously, Jinnah was in the process that led to partition, as if he had reached agreement with the Congress the moves that led to partition would have been altered, or even avoided. In actual, it was in the person of Jinnah that the demand for partition was concentrated. It was not surprising, once Gandhi understood the essentiality of Two Nation Theory and he began carving out plans for Pakistan, then the same Jinnah appeared reluctant for his own dream. On 14th-15th August, Jinnah was another man other than Gandhi, who could feel the sadness of unfulfilled or badly attained dreams of long painful struggle.

There is now a long list of writers who are prepared to accept that it was the Congress that pressed for Partition in the final days, and that Jinnah was reluctant to accept the reality he had brought about. Some of the formidable amongst them are M.N.Roy’s Divide and Quiet (1961), Kanji Dwarkadas’s Ten years to freedom(1968),  Brian Lapping’s End of Empire (1985), Ayesha Jalal’s The sole spokesman (1994) and Dr Ajeet Javed, in her Secular and Nationalist Jinnah (2009).

On Gandhi, lot of works have already done and many more are in progress, albeit in study on ‘confrontation’ with Jinnah, some remarkable finding are coming through this book. Primarily, it shows the candid and unbiased historiography could assess the themes in various shades, and without pontificating or watering over the nuances to deal with.

Because of this, Jinnah and Gandhi have not shown only in the tailor-made frames of ‘hero or villain’ here, rather much progressively, their works are treated conditionally and no amounts of fairness have ever stopped by the author till the conclusion approaches.

The book is purposeful in recalling these two giants and their individual impact on the major constituents of South Asia. The author promises less and delivers more, and that should delight the freethinking knowledge seekers and to those, who love the letters for keeping in ties with rational and impartial views. For them, territorial boundary does not matter everything!

Atul K Thakur

(Atul K Thakur is a New Delhi-based journalist, literary critic and editor of ‘India Since 1947’/Niyogi Books.)