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Messenger, and not message, scores in Pak

world Updated: Aug 27, 2009 16:55 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times
Jaswant Singh

Jaswant Singh’s book on Jinnah might have left the Indian political right shaking with rage and disbelief. But in Pakistan, the expelled BJP leader is well on his way to acquiring celebrity status for his perceived “intellectual” courage and honesty.

Scholars and commentators aware of sociologist-historian Ayesha Jalal’s 1985 book The Sole Spokesman are questioning the originality of Singh’s work. But, as Jalal herself put it on a TV chat show with this correspondent that Singh’s Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence was unique in that it came from a founder-member of a party known for its vilification of Jinnah.

Singh met Jalal, who teaches at Tufts University, while researching the work. But she hadn’t seen the book that has since made it to a couple of stores in Islamabad.

Never mind the missing queues outside bookstores. That Singh’s Jinnah is a winner is evident from the welter of TV shows and newspaper columns by Indians who have read it and Pakistanis who haven’t.

“Serious reading is a rarity in Pakistan,” said Jalal, regretting the lack of awareness about her original work. If the BJP brass showed Singh the door without reading the book, Pakistani politicos have greeted it with a matching lack of inquiry.

“He claims he has brought out facts… I appreciate what he has written…,” said former PM Nawaz Sharif. He called for wider re-evaluation of the subcontinent’s shared history if the two sides were to end the 62-year-old deadlock.

Noted thinker I.A. Rahman agreed. But wasn’t unsure if Singh’s work would be a trendsetter. “We must accept facts and agree that everybody was responsible (for Partition) : the Muslim League, Congress, British, Communists and even the Americans who supported Partition if that were the condition for Independence.”

Rahman’s cautious approach reflects ground reality where an average Pakistani’s perception of Gandhi and Nehru is no different from that of Jinnah in India. A televised college debate on Pakistan’s Independence Day, August 14, saw participants deride Indian icons, one even called Nehru dishonest.

If he comes here to promote the book, Singh will need to travel wider to acquaint himself of the pernicious idiom.

For now, there is as much curiosity about him as about those who expelled him.

“I’d like to meet Jaswant,” said Zebunnisa Burki, who edits the South Asian Journal. But she’s more curious about those who gave him the boot.

The contradiction lies here. Singh’s book is considered a good effort. But its message is lost in his summary dismissal, symptomatic of the Indian perception of Jinnah.