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Home / Books / Review: Gandhi’s Hinduism: The Struggle Against Jinnah’s Islam by MJ Akbar

Review: Gandhi’s Hinduism: The Struggle Against Jinnah’s Islam by MJ Akbar

According to MJ Akbar’s new book, Jinnah was both overestimated and underestimated by Gandhi, Nehru, and Patel

books Updated: Feb 07, 2020 19:54 IST
K Natwar Singh
K Natwar Singh
Hindustan Times
Muhammad Ali Jinnah with MK Gandhi in 1946.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah with MK Gandhi in 1946.(Universal Images Group via Getty)
300pp, Rs 699; Bloomsbury
300pp, Rs 699; Bloomsbury

MJ Akbar began his career as a journalist. He soon made a mark. H became well known as a writer and editor. In 1989 he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Bihar as a Congress candidate.

He is a fine and sensitive author. His biography of Jawaharlal Nehru published in 1989 (Nehru’s birth centenary) is among the very best, so far. It compares favourably with S Gopal’s three volume life of Nehru.

MJ, as he is popularly known, is at present a BJP member of the Rajya Sabha.

His latest book, Gandhi’ Hinduism: The struggle against Jinnah’s Islam, appeared last month. A joint book on these towering individuals is not an undertaking free of perils. Even an accomplished writer could take the wrong road. Akbar has navigated the turbulent Gandhi-Jinnah waters with exemplary understanding and literary skill.

Gandhi’s fame and following have been worldwide. Not so with Jinnah. He is hardly known outside the Indian subcontinent. Their characters were as different as cheese and chalk. Neither could have been easy to live with. It was difficult to discern when Gandhi was being a saint and when a politician. Jinnah too would be a complex mixture of non-Gandhian obduracy and counterfeit Muslim fundamentalism.

It becomes evident from MJ’s book that, to a considerable extent, Jinnah was both overestimated and underestimated by Gandhi, Nehru, and Patel. For Gandhi he was Quaid-i-Azam. For Jinnah he was Mr Gandhi. Nehru and Jinnah had contempt for each other. Jinnah called Nehru “Peter Pan”. I have never been able to comprehend (neither has Akbar) why Gandhi, in September 1944, walked 17 times to meet Jinnah in his Malabar Hill House. Why did not anyone suggest to Gandhi that with his showing such Gandhian courtesy he was only enhancing Jinnah’s image and importance.

MJ Akbar
MJ Akbar ( HT Photo )

Akbar has a nearly-50-page chapter headed “Nehru’s Historic Blunder”. It is the most gripping in the book. He quotes Maulana Azad: “I have nevertheless to say with regret that this was not the first time that he (Nehru) did immense harm to the national cause... Jawaharlal is however very vain and cannot stand that anybody else should receive greater support or admiration than he.”

Akbar’s research is awesome. His description of Gandhiji’s 21 day fast in February-March 1943 is most touching. The Mahatma then was in jail in the Aga Khan’s palace in Poona. Churchill asked the wooden-headed arch conservative Viceroy Linlithgow if Gandhi was adding glucose to the water he drank. This was a false and despicable flight of Churchillian imagination. No glucose was added. Churchill kept nagging the Secretary of State for India, Leo Amery, why, “Gandhi had not died”.

Read more: Excerpt: Treasured Epistles by K Natwar Singh

Muhammad Ali Jinnah achieved his life’s ambition with the undoubted and well-documented help of the British – Churchill in particular. Gandhi became immortal, dying with the name of God on his lips.

This is a masterly book, with fresh insights and sound conclusions. It is judgmental in a very sophisticated way. Finally, no similar book has ever been written.