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Akhand Bharat, the sequel

The BJP can’t get over the Partition because it regards it as unfinished business, writes Pratik Kanjilal.

india Updated: Aug 28, 2009 19:54 IST

What is it about Mohammad Ali Jinnah that draws pensive BJP leaders like moths to a naked flame? The Indian public is indifferent to the creator of Pakistan, but the BJP’s amateur historians can’t keep away from him. They must go on romantic quests for true, pristine secularism. They complain about not finding it in India, which is teeming with filthy pseudo-secularists, and then they get everyone upset by reliably discovering it in the Islamic State across the border. Inexplicable behaviour, for a nationalist party, and a source of needless excitement.

Following on from the LK Advani issue, the Jaswant Singh issue overshadowed two developments on Thursday that will change our political culture — the judges’ assets question was decided in favour of transparency, and 50 per cent of panchayat seats were reserved for women. The revelation that Pokhran II was a ‘fizzle’ should have made explosive news, but what is a highly technical damp squib compared to the baroque tragedy unfolding in the BJP?

Our attention was riveted on a string of leaders queuing up to rise in rebellion or to upset LK Advani, the strong man caught on the wrong foot, apparently prevaricating about his role in the release of terrorists during the Kandahar hijacking. The bomb designers of Pokhran II would have called this a “sustainable chain reaction”. It is not about to fizzle out.

It’s amusing to find Jaswant Singh lamenting that the BJP is a Ku Klux Klan, and Arun Shourie that it is headed by a reality-altering “Humpty Dumpty”. Did they imagine it was a society of free thinkers? It took a violent conflagration to bring out the truth about IC-814, but we are familiar with the Right’s penchant for manipulating history. It makes their amateur histories innately suspect projects, even when they are well-intentioned like Jaswant Singh’s book.

History is built on intellectual honesty and it calls upon the historian to be a disinterested observer. But behind the Hindu Right’s inexplicable passion for Jinnah lies a project in which it is an interested party: it regards Partition as unfinished business. In its realistic, constructive avatar, the BJP builds bridges, as the Vajpayee government tried to do until it was stabbed in the back in Kargil.

But it would also like to roll back Partition like a corrupt computer update and return to a mythical, pristine greater India in which everyone was Hindu by default. It also treats the Partition story like a whodunnit. Was it Jinnah? Nehru? Gandhi? Sardar Patel, as their own ideologue HV Seshadri has charged? Good God, was everyone involved? Of course everyone was.

They were actors in a world far removed from ours, cataclysmically altered by a world war, and it is not easy to judge them fairly. However, the scalpel of Partition, one of the most traumatic events in modern history, was wielded not by a South Asian politician but by the British Empire. On the brink of collapse, it redrew national boundaries along religious lines in undivided India (twice in Bengal, actually) and in Mandatory Palestine, creating Israel.

Sixty years later, both regions remain flashpoints. So if we must have a culprit, would the BJP’s historians please seek him in Whitehall? Really, he does not have an address in Islamabad or Delhi.

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine