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Sunday Sentiments


    Posted On November 21, 2021

    By Karan Thapar

    Last Saturday, at a rally in Azamgarh, the Home Minister asked the gathering: “Does anyone feel Jinnah is great?” Then, without a pause, he answered his own question: “No one”. I’m afraid Amit Shah is horribly wrong. I have no doubt millions of our countrymen would want to say yes – even if few, in today’s circumstances, would do so publicly. But I shall write about two who did say it publicly. They are revered former leaders of the Minister’s party. Indeed, men he claims to look up to and hold in high regard. It would be salutary to recall their view of Jinnah.


    First, L. K. Advani, a former BJP President, Shah’s illustrious predecessor as Home Minister and the Party’s original iron-man. In June 2005, in comments in the visitor’s book at Jinnah’s mausoleum, he wrote: “My respectful homage to this great man.” Recalling Sarojini Naidu’s description of Jinnah as an ‘Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity’, Advani proceeded to call Jinnah’s Constituent Assembly speech of August 11, 1947 “really a classic, a forceful espousal of a secular state in which, while every citizen would be free to practice his own religion, the state shall make no distinction between one citizen and another on grounds of faith”.


    I would say Advani’s admiration of Jinnah was most obvious when he wrote: “There are many people who leave an inerasable stamp on history but there are very few who actually create history. Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was one such rare individual”.


    Now whilst Advani’s views are based on his personal knowledge and understanding, the second BJP stalwart I want to cite, former foreign, finance and defence minister Jaswant Singh, spent five years researching Jinnah and in 2009 published a 658 page biography called ‘Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence’. He asked me to interview him before its launch. I did two, the only pre-publication interviews. Two days later he was expelled from the BJP.


    I asked if he thought Jinnah was a great man: “Oh yes, because he created something out of nothing and single-handedly stood against the might of the Congress Party and against the British who didn’t like him … Gandhi himself called Jinnah a great Indian. Why don’t we recognize that? Why don’t we see why he called him that?”


    Jaswant Singh revealed he felt personally drawn to Jinnah. “I was attracted by the personality … if I was not drawn to the personality I wouldn’t have written the book.” He then explained what he admired. “I admired certain aspects of his personality. His determination and the will to rise. He was a self-made man. Mahatma Gandhi was the son of a Diwan. All these (people) – Nehru and others – were born to wealth and position. Jinnah created for himself a position. He carved in Bombay, a metropolitan city, a position for himself. He was so poor he had to walk to work”.


    I asked if Jinnah hated hindus. “Wrong. Totally wrong”, Jaswant Singh replied. “His principal disagreement was with the Congress Party … he had no problems whatsoever with hindus”.


    So, I asked in conclusion, does this mean he doesn’t subscribe to the popular demonization of Jinnah. “Of course, I don’t. To that I don’t subscribe … I think we have misunderstood him because we needed to create a demon … we needed a demon because in the 20th century the most telling event in the sub-continent was the partition of the country.”


    However, the most powerful moment of these two half hour interviews was when Jaswant Singh spoke about India’s treatment of its muslim citizens. “Look into the eyes of the muslims that live in India and see the pain with which they live. To which land do they belong? We treat them as aliens.” And then he pointedly added: “Every muslim that lives in India is a loyal Indian and we must treat them as so”.


    Now let me end with a question for the Home Minister: How could you have forgotten about Advani and Jaswant Singh?

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