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Act of courage, it was Advani the intellectual

Thursday 9 June 2005

Advani does the histories of India and Pakistan a great service by reopening the Jinnah question.

L.K. Advani’s statements about the historical role and ideas of Muhammad Ali Jinnah have upset the Sangh Parivar. Jinnah is one figure in modern history few Indians have honestly come to terms with. Advani’s statements were a reminder that Indian history is not a simple black and white story of heroes and villains that it is often made out to be. Jinnah was at one time considered an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. Jinnah may be held responsible for furthering communalism in Indian politics by insisting on thinking of representation in communal terms and then pressing for partition. But that is not incompatible with the claim that Jinnah wanted a Pakistan that was not a theocracy.

Indeed, if anything, Advani’s references to Jinnah’s statements at the eve of independence were a reminder to Pakistanis about how far they had strayed from Jinnah’s ideals in their urge to embrace militant Islam. While Jinnah has been revered as a founder in Pakistan, many of his statements and pronouncements that suggest that he would have been uncomfortable with the kind of Islamic Republic Pakistan subsequently became, have been a subject of embarrassment for Pakistan’s rulers. Advani may have reignited the debate over the character of Pakistan. This is a far greater achievement than the Sangh, with its lack of historical sense, will ever acknowledge.

Of course Advani may have multiple motives in saying what he did. He could be positioning himself as being more statesman-like; he could simply be reciprocating the hospitality he received. And, in a back-handed way, he could be legitimising the BJP’s own ideology by suggesting that acknowledging that a nation has an identity that derives from a dominant religious group is not incompatible with allegiance to a secular constitution. After all, both Jinnah and the BJP want to run a parallel version of the same story: India as a Hindu state with a modern secular constitution; Pakistan as a Muslim state with a modern secular constitution. But we have become so enamoured of a simplistic history, with its easy heroes and villains, that we often fail to notice the complicated ways in which ideologies function, the ways in which seemingly secular commitments can unleash horrendous communal politics. Advani has done the histories of India and Pakistan a great service by reopening the Jinnah question. Just as Pakistan has to answer what Jinnah’s legacy is really about, Indians should have a more complicated view of Jinnah’s role in Partition. What we heard from Advani about Jinnah was not Advani the politician or the ideologue. It was Advani the intellectual. And he needs to be commended for showing intellectual courage, at least on this occasion.

See online : The Indian Express

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