Struggles against the British force for Freedom of India and later partition of it into two parts, India and Pakistan, and further partition of Pakistan giving result in the freedom of Bangladesh are matters of great debates in our history writing. The issue revolves around whether the division of India was a historical necessity or a mistake, whether it has been good or bad for its people who are divided into two major and many minor religions, why it had to happen this way and who played what roles. Hundreds of books have been written down by Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, British and other historians and many more will be coming out in the future. Raahman Chowdhury’s Bharot Bhag: Jinnah Ebong Gandhir Rajniti (Division of India: Politics of Jinnah and Gandhi), published by Samhati Prokashan in February this year, is a new valuable addition to that treasure trove of the sub-continental history.
Raahman Chowdhury has shed light on the two most central figures in analyzing that history which has influenced and been influencing millions of lives with and without their knowledge in many ways, both good and bad. The author has sought to find out the roles of the key players like Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Subhas Bose, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Ghanshyam Das Birla, Liaquat Ali Khan, Lord Wavell, Lord Mountbatten, Radcliffe and others in that great theater of happiness and tragedy, freedom and partition, dreams and distress, laughs and cries and heroes and villains. All the big and small characters, however, have revolved around the two—Jinnah and Gandhi—in this book.
But there is a particular viewpoint of Chowdhury in shedding light upon the two giant figures of our history. Giving equal space to both of them he has illuminated one brighter, painted in more favorable color and proved politically and ideologically more correct than the other. Throughout this book Jinnah has emerged as a hero while Gandhi as a villain except in the last chapter where both turned into two great tragic figures, looked helpless in trying to undo things already done through their roles. Gandhi’s role in this book is, in fact, almost to prove how Jinnah’s politics were right and his wrong until he turned around towards the end of the drama making both himself and his arch political rival equally great.
What were the key issues of contention between them? In short these are: Jinnah never wanted to mix religion with politics; Gandhi presenting himself as a Hindu spiritual leader did it from the beginning of his political career. Jinnah wanted an India established as a united states with the central government enjoying very limited power and in which all its states would be sovereign with the right to break away anytime they think good for them; Gandhi and his acolytes favored a strong central government with no right for its member states to leave. Jinnah saw Congress as a party representing Hindus and Muslim League as a party representing Muslims of India and demanded their equal participation in the rule of the country; Gandhi saw Congress as a party of all Indians and did not consider the same status for the League. These basic differences made the two leaders incapable of standing united against the British policy of divide and rule.
Yet, Jinnah and Gandhi were comrades and met each other many times for creating a united front of struggle against the British. They were made to fail by the British rulers and big and small players in Congress politics. Neither of them wanted division of India, but both used the two nation theory and the creation of Pakistan as a bet in the gamble against each other and their enemies. Unfortunately both lost and Nehru, Patel, Birla and Mountbatten, who replaced the well-intentioned Lord Wavell, emerged as the final victors with their macabre roles in the theater of power. Both Jinnah and Gandhi wanted a secular country and fought for that but ended up in creating countries where people of minority religions began to face systemic discriminations and deprivations. Democracy vanished into air and both initially slipped into conditions worse than before. Each of the two greatest leaders of India faced tragic deaths, Gandhi assassinated by a Hindu fanatic and Jinnah ignored and neglected on his deathbed.
The core truth this book of 400 pages has extracted from the facts of history is that Jinnah was the person who was most adamantly against the partition of India. He was shocked to know the conspiracy of dividing Bengal and Punjab on the basis of religion. The responsibility of the two nation theory has been slyly and conspiratorially shoved on the shoulders of him and his followers. Jinnah never believed that India was a single nation and so he fought for a free India as a united kingdom of many independent nations. But he strongly believed that Bangalis and Punjabis separately were distinct nations and so none should ever be partitioned.
Gandhi and Congress leaders, on the other hand, insisted on India being a single nation and so should be centrally governed. The basis of this idea of Gandhi was that it would be a Ramrajya (kingdom of the god Rama) and slaughter of cows would be prohibited across the country as per the wish of the fanatic Hindus. Muslim sentiment regarding Ramrajya and slaughter of cows had little value to him. The author has unequivocally proved that, not Jinnah, rather Birla, Patel and Hindu Mahasabha are the inventors and promoters of the two nation theory and along with Mountbatten are the architects of the eventual partition of India.
To make a point that must not seem biased, Chowdhury has taken words of writers and leaders belonging to the Hindu community for references. No Muslim writer or leader came as his source of information except Maulana Azad who throughout his life was a Congress leader and was a most trusted disciple of Gandhi. The author, however, expresses his discomfort in using the word ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ for writers and leaders but could not do otherwise to make his arguments clear and free his points from any question of biasness.
It may seem to readers that the author has become too harsh on Gandhi and too soft on Jinnah. But in the end one must admit the force and truthfulness of his arguments and Gandhibadis and anti-Jinnah people in this part of the continent are likely to be shaken to the foundation of their set belief and conviction. Readers who have lack of patience and academic interest may find moving through the middle of the book a bit difficult and boring due to its large amount of references to make the author’s points convincing. Pleasure in reading the preface and the last chapter including the author’s last words will compensate them with the smooth enjoyable style and valuable summary of ideas.
Raahman Chowdhury’s Jinnah Ebong Gandhir Rajniti will shake many beliefs, reestablish historical truths and lead us to search for further details. It will let us see Jinnah and Gandhi in a new light and make us realize how these two great leaders influenced our lives before and after they also met with their own tragic ends. Using them as pawns Mountbatten and Birla finally snatched the priceless victory away from the hands of the peoples of India and Pakistan. The root of Modi-style fanaticism in today’s India lies in great part in the politics of Mahatma Gandhi soaked in Hindu spiritualism a century ago.
Alamgir Khan: Writer and critic, Editor of Biggan O Sangskriti.