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Book Review: Jinnah vs Gandhi


Scholarship of Reduction
SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | New Delhi, September 6, 2012 14:02
Tags : Jinnah vs Gandhi Book Review |

For the West, Mohammad Ali Jinnah has remained an enigmatic figure. With little facility for independent research and relative absence of good literature, information on Jinnah, sadly, comes through books and articles written about other political players. Therefore, with the exception of probably a small section of educated elites, the West’s perception of Jinnah comes mostly through two hugely popular, but often biased, pieces of work: Richard Samuel Attenborough’s biopic Gandhi and Dominique Lapierre’s narrative account of the Indian freedom struggle, Freedom at Midnight. The only mainstream scholarly work about Jinnah that found traction was Stanley Wolpert’s Jinnah of Pakistan that came a little too late. Therein lies Jinnah’s misfortune.

In both Attenborough’s biopic and Lapierre’s narrative, Jinnah comes across as a snobbish, rigid, undemocratic, authoritarian leader who primarily, if not solely, was responsible for the partition of India. Also, in both these narratives, while Jinnah’s open Western lifestyle was shown with some prominence, it was done more to make a point about the alleged hypocrisy in his demand for a separate Muslim nation than to establish that his demand was political and not religious. This triggered a trend where not many of the mainstream Indologists or writers, with the exception of Wolpert and Patrick French, dared to deviate widely from this line. Economics come into play too. I might sound outright dismissive and callous, but a narrative line confirming the established Indian notion of a villainous Jinnah, assured good sales figures. Pakistan, with a smaller population and even lesser English speakers, was merely a blip on the marketing radar. Sadly, Roderick Matthews’ Jinnah vs Gandhi toes the same line.

Matthews has tried to compare the two stalwarts with respect to their stands on issues such as leadership, mixing of religion and politics, the issue of unity and complete independence, among others. To give Matthews his due, he has tried hard to remain impartial as far as narrating incidents are concerned. The problem comes during interpretation, and that in a big way. Take for example the often quoted incident in 1915 when Jinnah presided over a reception celebrating Gandhi’s return from South Africa. At the gathering, Jinnah spoke in English and Gandhi apparently stuck to his native Gujarati, adding for good measure that he was happy that a Mohammedan was chairing the proceedings. The incident is often quoted, and rightly so, as the trigger of a lifetime of rivalry. Matthews interprets it as an incident that was “not a clash of titans, but a commonplace outing in polite society” and that at the end “Nothing was achieved, nothing was decided; everyone went home happy.” Readers certainly have a right to expect better scholarship from an otherwise respected writer.

Similarly, the author also comes across as a reductionist  in suggesting a simplistic interpretation that India, created by collective leadership and built on the principles of diversity and tolerance, is thriving whereas Pakistan is paranoid, authoritarian and inclined to intolerance. “India was fortunate to inherit the best of Gandhi, Pakistan had to make to do with the worst of Jinnah,” the writer prompts, lest we forget. In fact, this interpretation comes on the heels of the assumptions that Jinnah was addicted to the end result where as Gandhi focused on means and while Gandhi fought the British, Jinnah merely fought the Congress Party (INC).

While I claim no superiority in my understanding of Jinnah, I will make a few points. When Jinnah was allegedly fighting the INC, he was also fighting narrow visions among his followers. Jinnah, time and again, declined the offer of alliance from Majlis-e-Ahrar, a group that was vehemently against the Qadianis, despite the short term gains they offered.

Similarly, when it was suggested that Jinnah started his public speeches with recitations from the Quran and the Nara-e-Takbeer he dismissed it without discussion. I need not even mention his opposition of the Khilafat movement, the Khaksars and the Ahrars. So the next time someone says Jinnah only cared for the end, take it with a pinch of salt.

65 years is a small time in the history of a nation and Pakistan’s current troubles are a passing phase, even if a painfully slow one. When India was burning in the 1980s while Pakistan was comparatively stable, the onus did not lie on Gandhi. So, if Pakistan burns today, Jinnah cannot be blamed. That Pakistan is suffering from sectarianism and bigotry is not because its Quaid was Jinnah. It is simply because like with many towering leaders in the world, while his pictures continue to adorn places and buildings that matter, his ideology, principles and conviction – not easy to follow anyway – were conveniently swept aside.  

Author: Roderick Matthews

Edition: Hardback

ISBN: 978-81-906173-9-0

Pages: 336

Price: Rs. 499

Publisher: Hachette

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017