The Indian Analyst

Was Jinnah a Secularist?

The Jataka tales has an interesting story of blind men feeling different parts of an elephant and arguing that what they feel is what they say. As an old Tamil saying says that "what you see may not be the truth; what you hear may not be the truth; what you conclude by sheer logical reasoning is the truth." In an environment where most people are either blind, trained to be blind, want to believe in being blind, and where being blind is fashionable, the perspectives that we see are many while the bigger point is lost.


Lal Krishna Advani, the President of the centrist-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), returned to India after creating quite an uproar while in Pakistan. Contrary to widely believed "hardliner" image, he paid homage to Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the father of Pakistan, as a man who "created history" and who made "things happen." Interestingly, he also said that Jinnah believed in Pakistan being secular. His speech was too juicy for many journalists and stringers who immediately filed stories saying the Advani called Jinnah a secularist. If one were to carefully read the text, Advani did not call Jinnah a secularist. He quoted Jinnah's speech to the Pakistani Constituent Assembly glorifying the benefits of a secular state. Does that make Jinnah a secularist? Does quoting Jinnah's espousal of secular values make Advani an anti-Hindu?


Advani was not loved in Pakistan. He was the man accused by Pakistani President General Musharraff as the person responsible for scuttling the Agra summit. In response to India's list of most-wanted criminals living in Pakistan, the General named Advani him as the most wanted criminal in Pakistan living in India. His crime was an unsubstantiated and hurriedly made-up conspiracy theory to kill Pakistan's founding father. So why did Advani make the comments that he did? Surely, as a lifelong politician, he must have anticipated uproar from the far right elements that support the BJP.


Before one even begins to answer these questions, we must understand the context of the partition and the compulsions of Jinnah. Other than being born a Muslim, Jinnah was anything but one. He smoked, drank, did not perform the Namaz even once during the day, and did not speak Urdu. He was basically a good politician who fought the British colonization of India consistently and diligently. "I have nothing against the Hindus, only against the Hindu leadership" he once wrote Mahatma Gandhi. Generations of Indians grew to believe that Jinnah wanted an Islamic Pakistan while Nehru (with the Mahatma's support) wanted a secular India. What most never asked why is it that a non-Muslim Muslim wanted an Islamic state while a very Hindu Hindu (Mahatma) wanted a secular state.


Leaving aside Gandhiji's compulsions for the moment, Jinnah's was firmly rooted in his belief and desire that he deserved to be the first leader of an independent India. Unfortunately for him, he did not have the far right Islamic or Hindu support, nor, with Nehruji being the darling of the Socialists, did he have the leftist support. Most centrists were with Gandhiji and did not understand him or his opposition to the Mahatma. Isolated, relegated to the sidelines, and lacking support, he fostered the far right Islamist agenda asking for a Muslim state knowing well that he would soon die of cancer. This theory of a Muslim state is called the Two Nation Theory (TNT). Strangely, the far right Hindus also believed in this theory although they wanted to Muslims to either leave an independent India or convert back to Hinduism. Thus was a theory of creating a state based on religion foisted on an a-religious, if not a non-religious, man.


A religious state was probably against everything Jinnah believed in. Having been in politics, freedom struggle, and nation building throughout his life, Jinnah, the educated, suave, and charismatic leader probably could never see the benefit of a narrow Islamic state while the world was marching past the decades of war into industrialization and economic rebuilding. He must have known that creating a theocratic state would relegate the nation into decades of mediocrity, corruption, and hatred carefully nurtured, developed, and manipulated by the Mullahs who want to bring back the Moghul rule of India.


That is context of Jinnah, on who he was and why he said and did what he said and did.


As expected, those on the far right want Advani's head. Those on the far left call it a charade. Those in the center are confused. For the way-far-right like Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), whose only goal is to build the Ram temple in Ayodhya, Advani's remarks that the destruction of the Babri Masjid was the saddest day in his life, was gratuitous and  a clear departure from his long-standing position on promoting Hinduism. For the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Advani is too moderate and close to the center to be able to stand up to the communists. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) came out with very confused statements on this issue just as it does on others that are not as complicated. Some far left factions such as the Communists and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) led by Lalu Prasad Yadav have demanded that Advani do many more things that would essentially make him a Communist. The center-right group within the BJP seems to be gaining ground with the former Prime Minister Vajpayee and the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and former Foreign/Finance Minister Jaswant Singh coming in strongly in favor of Advani. So, after resigning from the BJP, he has predictably withdrawn his resignation.


From a pure newsworthy standpoint, the issue is over. However, we cannot let the issue die here. What we need is a debate on the questions raised earlier.  The question that begs clarity and answer here is what is secularism?


Conventional wisdom say that secularism is a doctrine that shows a calculated indifference to religion by the Government so religion is excluded from all consideration in civil administration and education. It is the separation of religion and state. It is the separation of public choice from personal choice.  What follows from this statement is that all citizens, irrespective of religion, are equals before the law. Therefore, the education, values, and culture of one religion is not foisted on another.


Gandhiji's wisdom departs slightly from this wisdom. He believed that while we do not foist one religion on the other, it is important for all to voluntarily and proactively embrace other religions so a multi-religious, multi-ethnic, and complex citizenry of the country would remain united. The doctrine of the center-rightists requires an overhaul of the Constitution to erase religious based references, exemptions, and homologation. The center-leftists want a status quo till they have figured out what they want. The  Communists would like to erase Hinduism and supplant it with another religion whatever. This is standard modus operandi for Communists where they would like to destroy any sort of order so they can create their own that they are able to manage.


In this confusion over terminology, values, beliefs, customs, and complications anyone who agrees, follows, or talks about Hinduism in public is labeled as being part of the "saffron brigade." Since most Indian media is either owned or run by Communists (overt or closeted), the name calling is routine and well accepted practice. Anyone espousing a status-quo is called a "pseudo-secularist" by the far right. That is why in the eyes of RSS and VHP, Advani looking like a "secularist" is a betrayal. And, in the eyes of Lalu Prasad Yadav this is high drama. In the eyes of the communists, this is opportunism.


In conclusion, we must see Advani's comment on Jinnah in the light of who we are and what are we forced to live by. This is perhaps a reflection of himself where he may not believe in radical religious politics but is coerced by the far right. No leader with a global outlook and forward thinking will celebrate the destruction of Babri Masjid. That destruction seriously dented our democracy, secularism, tolerance, and civilization. It polarized people, created hatred, made people more selfish, and compromised national security.


What we are witnessing is a power struggle within the centrist-right polity. Would center-rightist Vajpayee, Advani, Jaswant Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Shourie, Arun Jaitley, and Pramod Mahajan win or would far rightists like Narendra Modi, Preveen Tagodia, and Uma Bharathi win. What the center-rightists are doing is to move away from divisive politics and religion-based narrow constituencies; just like the Republican party in the United States did with Ronald Reagan. They have figured out that ultimately people need food, clothes, shelter, jobs, and development within the ambit of religion.

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