Sikandar Hayat’s study of Mohammad Ali Jinnah and his role in bringing about the partition of the Indian subcontinent — or the birth of a homeland for Indian Muslims, if you will — is an elegant exposition of both the Quaid-i-Azam’s personality and the historical circumstances in which it found space to flourish.
Much of the ground that Hayat covers — from the early years of the last century to the decisive months in 1947 when Partition became an inescapable reality — is ground covered in great detail by scholars on both sides of the divide and from beyond the subcontinent. The research is meticulous but does not provide by way of a historical narrative anything substantially new. What is new is the ‘theoretical’ spin he seeks to put on the narrative.
Hayat’s case is that Jinnah was, like many other leaders located in situations of rapidly unwinding colonial rule, a ‘charismatic’ leader. The charisma derived, in Hayat’s telling, both from Jinnah’s personality — in that circumstance his unique ability to combine a rationalistic pursuit of power — and from the historical situation, in which Indian Muslims faced the distressful situation of having to contemplate a substitution of British colonial rule with Hindu majoritarian rule from which there seemed no way out.
Jinnah’s emergence as a leader of men, Hayat further argues, was made possible (if not essential) by the vacuum of leadership the community faced especially from the beginning of the 1930s, by which time the communal faultlines and the difficulties of devising a constitutional modus vivendi had been exposed by the Motilal Nehru report.
It does not become clear after the reading of the last page whether the characterisation of Jinnah as a ‘charismatic’ leader in the manner of others such as Kwame Nkruma or Kemal Attaturk helps us to understand either Jinnah or the Partition of India in a substantially more insightful way, however elegant the exegesis.
But there is certainly a cavil, as there is with most historical narratives that see the elitist domain of politics (and history) as being the driving force of all change and progress or lack of it.
Hayat argues that the final proof or the final act in the development of Jinnah’s charisma came in 1940 when he pulled out the Pakistan demand as the final, non-negotiable solution to the decolonisation endgame. In Hayat’s telling this was Jinnah’s gift to the Indian Muslim nation, something only his genius was capable of bringing about and finally making real.
From another perspective, of course, one could as well see Jinnah as a prisoner of circumstance on his journey from ardent nationalist, to ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity and to ultimately champion of the two-nation theory. The final transformation was wrought by two things: the pressure of mass politics in the shape of the growing Hindu-Muslim chasm over which he had little control and the pressure of the Muslim elite, which wanted a patch of territory it could rule and conduct business in. In this Jinnah was not that different from the Congress leadership — and deserves no greater measure of demonisation or adulation. Nevertheless, Hayat makes his case well, though he does gloss over Jinnah’s partiality to cynical calculation, which, to be fair, could be condoned in any politician playing for serious stakes.
Providing considerable contrast to Hayat’s work is Jaswant Singh’s attempt to re-evaluate Jinnah. To begin with, it is sloppily argued, randomly researched and recounted as a barely coherent historical narrative. It does not help, too, that Singh has not been served with any particular distinction by his editor. In numerous stretches, his prose is barely intelligible. All that he manages to do is revisit a slice of history that is well known and which has been retold with far greater skill and ability by many others before him.
To be fair to Singh, he gets many of his conclusions right, though his short ‘philosophical’ digression into the meaning of ‘secularism’ can, at the most charitable, be described as kindergarten and his incessant attacks on Jawaharlal Nehru neither sustained by the evidence nor the argument.
Finally, Singh does deserve commiseration for the treatment he has got from his party. His re-evaluation has nowhere uncritically deified Jinnah, it has merely attempted to balance blind demonisation. And nothing he says about Vallabhbhai Patel merits the saffron hysteria in evidence. To say that Patel at the end of the long negotiations finally came to accept the inevitability of Partition is hardly saying anything other than the staggeringly obvious. Now expelled, Singh might well reflect that he is well out of the mess that is the Sangh parivar.
Suhit Sen is a Kolkata-based writer