Those opposing Jinnah’s portrait share an ideological heritage with him: An exclusive idea of nationhood.
Hindutva’s hooligans seem to have perfected the fine art of hounding and harming Muslims — Christians and Dalits too — without bruising their own little fingers. In Hindu majoritarian India with democratic pretensions, the saffron brotherhood’s job is made easy thanks to a blatantly partisan police under orders from above to treat victims of violence as the accused.
The law-breakers can also count on help from complicit sections within the media, who are experts in diverting public attention away from the central issue — police inaction against vigilante violence in brazen disregard for the rule of law — in some tangential direction. What is this if not a mockery of Article 14 — the right to equality and equal protection of the law — and Article 15 — prohibition of discrimination between citizens — of the Constitution?
The engineered controversy over the portrait of Pakistan’s founder-in-chief, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, on the Aligarh Muslim University Students Union’s wall of fame and the Haryana government-blessed targeting of namazis in Gurgaon are but the latest examples of the ominous intrusion of Hindu Rashtra in secular India. This is happening under the watch of BJP leaders in Delhi and the states who, after having sworn to protect the Constitution, are happy to preside over its dismantling brick by brick.
The students of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) are now damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they don’t remove the portrait of Jinnah, it will be “proof” yet again of the anti-national mindset of Indian Muslims. If they pull it down Hindutva’s hoodlums will jump with joy, look for the next stick to beat Muslims with. Where there is ill-will, there’s an issue to be found: Love jihad, cow slaughter, namaz on the streets, loud-speakers in mosques, hum panch-hamare pachees, Haj subsidy, pro-Pakistan, anti-national.. the list goes on.
Needless to say, the streets belong to the “nationalists” and so does the state. Thus, there never is a question about Hindu festivals clogging the streets or state subsidy for the Kailash-Mansarovar pilgrimage.
M S Golwalkar, the second and the longest serving sarsanghchalak(chief) of the RSS remains the most revered guru in Hindutva’s pantheon. “Guru” Golwalkar wrote in 1939 telling Muslims and Christians to expect nothing more than second-class citizenship in free India. In 1966, he wrote to warn Hindus to beware of the “three internal enemies” of the nation: Muslims, Christians and Communists. In the common sense of the sangh parivar, therefore, the Indian Muslim, the “enemy number one” will remain forever suspect.
Since the Aligarh episode, many secular-minded commentators have pointed out that the Jinnah portrait at AMU is just a pretext, that the real motive of the Hindu Yuva Vahini (private army of UP’s chief minister Yogi Adityanath) and the sangh parivar lies elsewhere. Yet, they end up talking mostly about Jinnah and Partition. When will we refuse to get diverted, stay focussed on the masterminds and perpetrators of hate politics who have taken India’s prevailing culture of impunity to a new level? Talk of Jinnah we will. But before we get to the long-departed “Quaid”, why not train the searchlights on those out to trap Muslims, Christians and Dalits in a pincer movement, between the Hindutva goons and the partisan police? Who can name one communal utterance or incident in the last four years in which someone from the BJP or the sangh parivar — the prime minister downwards — is not the main culprit?
Let’s turn to Jinnah and Partition. Who was (were) responsible for India’s partition? With no claims to being a historian or a history expert, permit me to venture a simple, even simplistic, explanation.
In the course of the freedom struggle, there emerged leaders among Hindus and Muslims who believed India belonged equally to all who were born in this land and consider it their watan. In sharp opposition to them emerged others, both among Hindus and Muslims, who subscribed to the notion that Hindus and Muslims belong to opposite camps and never the twain shall meet. Hindus who subscribed to this divisive theory — V D Savarkar, B S Moonje, K B Hedgewar, M S Golwalkar of the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS — argued that India belongs to Hindus alone. What about Muslims and Christians? They could go back to where they came from (in Hindutva’s version of history both are foreign invaders) or stay as second-class citizens. Jinnah, once adored as an “ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity”, later became the chief proponent of the two-nation theory on the Muslim side. Could it be argued that with their dogged refusal to concede equal rights to Muslims, the Mahasabha and the sangh reinforced Jinnah’s demand?
It follows then that a section of Hindus and a section of Muslims were equally responsible for creating a communal climate that finally led to the vivisection of India. No amount of invocation of the “secular Jinnah” can wash away the ugly fact that in the decade prior to Independence, he engaged in communal mobilisation of Muslims to the hilt. Unlike him, Gandhi, Nehru, Maulana Azad and Badshah Khan never did so even while Savarkar, Moonje, Hedgewar, Golwalkar and their ilk preached Hinduisation of the military and militarisation of Hindus. Not against the British but against Muslims. The common agenda of the Hindu Mahasabha, RSS and the Muslim League was not to pit Indians against the British but Hindus and Muslims against each other.
India’s bloody partition was the inevitable outcome of communal politics on both sides. Don’t point fingers at Gandhi and Nehru. Blame Jinnah especially because of his secular credentials. And blame the saffron brotherhood no less for denying equal space to Muslims under the Indian sun.
If Jinnah’s portrait is to be removed from AMU, what about Savarkar’s hanging in Gandhi’s proximity in Parliament? Didn’t the Kapoor Commission indict the man for complicity in the assassination of the Mahatma by Nathu Ram Godse? The same Godse whose statues are popping up in parts of India today?
Postscript: While speaking at AMU in March 1941, Jinnah declared: “As a self-respecting people, we in the Muslim minority provinces say boldly that we are prepared to undergo every suffering and sacrifice for the emancipation and liberation of our brethren in regions of Muslim majority”. Jinnah may have “insufficiently imagined” the idea of Pakistan. On the fate of Indian Muslims post-partition, however, he was neither unclear nor in the least concerned.