Jaswant isn’t Jinnah’s Sole Spokesman
I’ve been travelling in Pakistan for almost a week; having arrived here on the day Jaswant Singh was expelled from the BJP for what the Sangh Parivar considered an act of political blasphemy! His prognosis of Muhammad Ali Jinnah might have caused a stir in India.
But it has touched a chord across the border— that despite the fact that his profile of Jinnah is a broad replay of the work a quarter century ago of a Pakistani-American scholar.
The original thesis with which Jaswant retrospectively agreed or has drawn upon stands in the name of sociologist-historian Ayesha Jalal who teaches at Tufts University. Her father, a civil servant, was a nephew of the famous Urdu fiction writer Sadat Hasan Manto.
I met Ayesha in a TV show in which she claimed that Jaswant’s book was different only in that it was penned by a founder-member of the BJP that held Jinnah responsible for the Partition.
I joined her in the panel discussion on the Pakistani channel, Duniya shortly after a meeting last Saturday with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. She regretted that serious reading was a rarity among Pakistanis. Or else they would have found striking similarities between Jaswant’s tome and her book The Sole Spokesman that hit stands way back in 1985.
Ayesha hadn’t read Jaswant’s book—- for it isn’t available yet in Pakistan— and was a trifle reluctant to discuss it in the show anchored by noted Pakistani editor Najam Sethi. She said the since expelled BJP leader met her while researching for his Jinnha: India, Partition, Independence. She wondered whether he was good enough to acknowledge reliance on her work: “I’m sure he must have. But I haven’t seen the book yet….”
It was interesting nevertheless to hear Sharif on the issue in a conversation lasting over an hour. He was cautious, like all seasoned politicians are, in not passing a judgment on Jaswant’s expulsion. But he endorsed the idea of a joint body of Indian and Pakistani historians for revisiting each others’ national heroes for a more objective view of their role in the freedom struggle.
“Whether you do it or not, the new generation will do it. You hardly have any control on them,” he remarked, making a strong pitch for the revival of the peace process halted by the Mumbai terror attack. One wasn’t all that convinced by Sharif’s faith in Gen-X, having heard that very morning a televised inter-college debate that had young students calling Gandhi and Nehru names.
The PML (N) chief has, like the slain Benazir Bhutto, the mass appeal and the standing to try changing mindsets. But it’s easier said than done, given that hardliners occupy as much talking space in India these days as they do in Pakistan. Sharif is at the receiving end already for his pro-peace remarks in the HT interview— the fringe elements mobilized by a newspaper group accusing him of betrayal and a sell-out.