Idols of Division
Gandhi, Jinnah and Nehru
Syed Maqsud Jamil
BJP and Congress recently had a war of words about Jinnah and Nehru. The war was about who did it? That is, who was responsible for the partition of India, Jinnah or Nehru? Gandhi although not a principle character in this debate remains firmly placed on the pedestal. It was a historical drama. The time setting was the British Raj.
All three of them were role models of the time. They came from well-to-do families of varying degrees. Jawarharlal's father Motilal Nehru was the wealthiest and the most illustrious. While all three of them went to become barristers, their fathers came from different professions. Mohandas Gandhi's father was prime minister to the tiny western state of Porbandar in Gujrat. Although, grocers by caste the Gandhis rose by dint of merit and service. Jinnah's father Jinnah Poonja, originally from Kathiawar, Gujrat, was a prosperous merchant of Karachi. They belonged to the Khoja community and the Ismaili sect of Islam. Jawarharlal's father Motilal was a highly placed barrister of Allahabad High Court. He came from a cultured and enlightened family background.
Gandhi's family was the most devout in their faith. He was to become far more religious and developed into Mahatma. Cleanliness of soul and penitence was his way of attaining godliness. Gandhi applied himself to the fullest to attain the attributes of the Hindu god Rama. The path he travelled was 'Satyagrah' or firmness in truth. There was a spiritual content in his struggle. Ahimsa or non-violence, precisely passive resistance or what American writer David Thoreau calls Civil Disobedience was a method of protest, that earned lasting recognition.
Jinnah was a strictly private person modelled on the British. Not much is known about his religious beliefs and practices. For that matter the Ismailias are known to be more businessmen than Muslims. While Jinnah was not a businessman, he preferred doing things the way business is done. Like, 'tell me your business, do your business, and let me do my business'. The Jinnah who fought for Pakistan was for everybody to see, but Jinnah the person was off-limits. The Muslims of British India was his political agenda but he did not fight to establish Islam. Pakistan was to be a country for the Muslims but never did he speak of a land of Islam. He was not irreligious neither was he pious. Jinnah looked on the Islamic identity as a way of empowering the backward Muslims of India. He was much too a 'pucca sahib' to indulge in the obscurantism of religious bigotry and communalism. The most revealing of his statement on the issue was when he spoke in his inaugural address as the governor general of Pakistan. He said, 'You will find that in the course of time, Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense because that is the personal faith of each individual but in the political sense as the citizens of the state'.
Nehru on the other hand came from a Hindu Brahmin family. But he was a professed agnostic. Both Nehru and Jinnah shared western thought. He however imbibed himself with Hindu cultural heritage. Both Nehru and Jinnah responded almost in similar fashion regarding the marriage of their daughters Indira and Dina. Gandhi had to lend his family name to Feroz, a Parsi, while Jinnah was even harsh in never accepting Dina's marriage to a Parsi. Indira's marriage ended in separation and Dina as reported was not allowed by Jinnah to see him on his deathbed. Among the three, Nehru was the politician. He had the gifts for it and was influenced by Hindu tradition of politics. Besides, he was the brightest of intellectuals. His was the sharpest mind of the time. A Fabian (named after Fabian Maximus Verrcusos) Socialist one who believed in gradualist approach, Nehru applied cautious and dilatory tactics and proceeded by meandering ways. He believed in his destiny and worked accordingly. That he was destined to be the Prime Minister of India. If it meant adopting the populist approach, so be it, he gave up western Attire for Khadi. India got two national icons in loincloth-clad sanyasi Gandhi and the impeccably dressed Nehru in Gandhi cap.
The stand of the three against the British Raj was also different. The background and the social context of their participation in India's independence movement varied too. Gandhi was the populist of the three. His contact with the general people was more direct and personal. In fact, the years he spent in South Africa baptized him. Apartheid was not the best of social circumstances. The discrimination in it treated self-respect brutally. Gandhi was appalled by the denial of civil liberties. His soul was not however encumbered by the frailty of his physique. It ruled his spirit. His form of protest did not have a rebel in it but disgraced the wrongdoer by the loftiness of his spirit and the orderly method of his resistance. The world found an apostle of dignity in protest and the mighty were in distress in containing this peaceable form of passive resistance. Even the racist government of South Africa acceded to his demand for the recognition of Indian marriages and the abolition of poll tax imposed on them. Gandhi then returned to India. Among the three, he was the first to engage the British directly and he kept on doing so to the end of British Raj. His first encounter with the Raj was when the British Parliament passed the Rowlatt Acts in 1919 giving Indian colonial authorities the emergency powers to deal with the so-called Revolutionaries. Gandhi launched a non-cooperation movement, in his words Satyagraha and it spread through out India. Thousands were arrested and Gandhi was jailed. Swaraj (self-rule) or Swadeshi movement further emboldened Indian Freedom movement by spreading the call of boycotting imported goods and thef using homespun fabrics. He kept the freedom movement steaming with his populist form of passive protest. For the British he was not the ideal man to confer with. Gandhi's undying zeal and lofty spirit in spreading the gospel of self-rule made the British concede with every move. They however looked to it that they retreat with grace. For that, they had Pandit Nehru and Mr. Jinnah to talk to.
Jinnah was more a barrister than a politician. On return from England, he started legal practice at the Bombay High Court and befriended the Parsi community. He made his formal political appearance by acting as the private secretary to the then Congress President Dababhoy Naurozi at the Calcutta session of All India Congress held in 1906. There was very little Indian or for that matter Muslim in him. Leaving aside his origin, he developed his mind and lifestyle in the mould of an Englishman. Physically he was lean and upright with sharp features. Like his features, he was upright, precise, unbending, determined, quick and sharp. His wit and intelligence endowed him with the skill and showmanship of a swordsman. When he believed, he believed with all his faith and determination, leaving no room for doubt, indecision or delay. Those who came across him or had to engage him, it was a matter of black and white. Either to love or to leave him, or even to hate him. To Mountbatten he was a villain and a hero to those who wanted Pakistan. At the beginning, he worked for Hindu-Muslim unity and is credited for the success of Lucknow Pact in 1916 accepting the principle of separate electorate for the Muslims. He was a strict disciplinarian and rejected brinkmanship. All through he differed with agitation and expressed disapproval of precipitous methods that are destined to fail. By that account, he was never a populist and would not allow his followers to wake him up from sleep at the railway station to accept their adulation. When he came back from retirement in England in 1935, the Muslim League was in dire straits. He galvanized the Muslims of India uniting them in the faith of their separateness as a nation. It is the unbending nature of his resolve and straightforwardness of his method that established the separateness of the Muslims as a nation. The concept of Pakistan, which was in limbo, even few years before madeir into the agenda of Freedom for British India. It prospered with the niggardliness and hesitant approach of Congress. And there was Pakistan, even though moth-eaten as Jinnah called.
Nehru came from the best of circumstances and from a politician's family. Born into an illustrious and wealthy family, he had a privileged upbringing. He received his schooling from Harrow and obtained his law degree from Trinity College Cambridge. Afterward he spent seven years in England to widen his horizons of knowledge. As told earlier, Nehru was influenced by the sceptical and rationalist outlook of Fabian Socialism and drew his patriotic inspiration from Irish Nationalism. His western upbringing was complete. On returning from England, he got into politics as Gandhi's disciple and took part in the Non-cooperation Movement. He also held public office as the President of Allahabad Municipal Corporation and served for two years. Pandit Nehru was outstanding as a politician and remained so. His next move was everybody's guess. The vehicle that carried him forward was Gandhi's sequential engagement with the British. The voice that talked to the British was Nehru who possessed a charming personality. He had the advantage of remarkable enlightenment and a natural rapport with the British, particularly with Lord Mountbatten. The Congress had everything to gain through Nehru. He added all round balance to Gandhi's populist effervescence and spiritual naiveté. As a devoted disciple of 'Bapuji' Nehru protected Gandhi from the perils and pains of an errant protégé. He was a perfect foil for Jinnah's quick thrust, sharp, and unencumbered judgement. His privileged background and western education enabled him to walk the corridors of power with great ease and grace. He had all the elements in his favour, enlightenment, dignity, poise, confidence and a natural knack for office. He walked the corridors of power as if he had been there for a long time. And then eased into the office of the Prime Minister of India.
There is little doubt that these are the three most interesting personalities of British India-Gandhi, Jinnah and Nehru. These three outstanding leaders dominated a greater and in fact the most important part of the proceedings of the British India with their beliefs, thoughts, actions and utterances. The freedom movement of India was as diverse and complex in its ways as the land itself and the leaders who led it. It is natural that the three men cannot be to everybody's liking. They were patriotic men who judged and acted in accordance with what they believed to be right for the people they led. Those of us who live in a different time cannot, by our judgements of varying nature, take away from them what history has given them. All three of them became what history wanted them to be. A Mahatma, a founder of a new nation and the builder of the largest democracy of the world. They belong to the rank of all time great leaders of Asia along with Mao Ze Dong and Ho Chi Minh.
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