Sunday, June 19, 2005

Man of Irony

Edited & Brought to you by ilaxi

Byline by M.J.Akbar: Man of Irony

Could President Pervez Musharraf ever have imagined, when he asked us to think out of the box, that a BJP leader like Lal Krishna Advani would leap out of the box and land at the doorstep of Mohammad Ali Jinnah? Peace has its compulsions no less dramatic than war.

When irony invites paradox for dinner, you can be certain it will be a riotous feast. We underestimate the subtlety of irony if we see no further than the obvious. L.K. Advani’s epiphany on the road to Pakistan is not ironic. It is an evolutionary, well-conceived step designed to serve more than one purpose.

An immediate objective is evident. By going to Pakistan, and praising Jinnah’s famous speech at the Constituent Assembly, Advani stimulated the bipartisan peace process. It was proof that you do not have to be in power to contribute to policy. As Advani notes, peace is built on trust, and you cannot gain a Pakistani’s trust by demonising the father of that nation. But the episode is much more than a diplomatic gesture. Consciously or otherwise, Advani has also sought to exorcise demons from a discourse that has punished the subcontinent with war, and condemned Indian Muslims to trauma and riots.

The reaction within the BJP, which has milked belligerence against both Pakistan and Indian Muslims, confirms the power of the Advani swivel. Advani is not a traitor to his cause. He believes that it is time his cause grew up and acquired a more mature rationale for existence. The dialectic of conflict can take you only so far, and the BJP has reached that point. It must now seek a dialectic of inclusion. This fits in with a larger conviction that the only way forward for the subcontinent is within the secular space. He was also reminding Pakistan of the Jinnah that many Pakistanis prefer to forget, the Jinnah who wanted a democratic, secular Republic of Pakistan.

The irony lies not in the action, but in the reaction.

Let us examine the worst. Praveen Togadia, whose face boils over with hatred at less provocation, decided that Advani had become a "traitor". Acharya Giriraj Kishore, whose beard camouflages his feelings but whose eyes are a giveaway, was livid that Jinnah had been called secular.

Ours is a free country. We even allow the freedom to hate, though not the freedom to be violent. Such reactions from these eminences were predictable. What was interesting was how the term "secular" had become, almost surreptitiously, a positive word in their terminology. How? They hated the thought that Advani had praised Jinnah as secular; ergo, "secular" was a positive attribute which they wanted to deny Jinnah.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought that the one thing that the Togadias and Kishores hated was "secularism", that Gandhian concoction under which Muslims had been made free and equal citizens of a Hindu-majority India. "Secularism", a sort of Leftist-Congress disease, was, in their lexicon, a synonym for hypocrisy, anti-Indian and anti-Hindu behaviour. It was reassuring therefore to learn that Togadia and Kishore considered secularism a virtue, and did not want to extend the compliment to their favourite bogey, Jinnah.

Their compatriot in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Mahant Avichaldasji, has decided to launch a movement demanding the resignation of Advani from the Lok Sabha because he has "deceived" the Hindus. He is also upset that Advani called the day of the destruction of the Babri Masjid the saddest day of his life, and claims that the voters do not want Advani anymore.

Advani was elected from Gandhinagar, capital of Gujarat. What greater irony could there be than the fact that a city named after Gandhi, a Gujarati, should seek to reject Advani because he spoke a language that Gandhi would have understood? Gandhinagar has become a measure of Gujarat’s betrayal of Gandhi. The parallel irony of course is that Advani helped create such a voter, and now is being asked to pay the price of his own past.

Which, neatly, brings us to the next irony: Advani, who sparked the revival of the BJP in the second half of the Eighties with the Ram Mandir movement, had become to Pakistanis what Jinnah was to Indians, the object of a hate-cult. The role reversal has a particular piquancy. One can sense the depth of shock within the BJP. They had barely managed to digest the liberalism of Atal Behari Vajpayee, and now they were being confronted with a recast Advani. Who can remain stable when the world totters at both the North Pole and the South Pole?

The poles shook similarly when Jinnah made his speech on 11 August 1947: after having created a nation for Muslims, he rejected the idea of a Muslim nation in the sense of a theocratic state. Pakistan, he said, would become a great nation only if every citizen had "equal rights, privileges and obligations". He continued: "You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan… You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State… We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State…"

But of course the debate that Advani has started over Jinnah, is not a debate about Pakistan but a debate about India, which takes irony to unprecedented heights. It is a debate with many contours around a central question: was Jinnah solely responsible for the partition of India? Who destroyed the Cabinet Mission plan of 1946, often called the last chance for Indian unity? How much did newly-elected Congress president Jawaharlal Nehru’s press conference in Mumbai on 10 July 1946, where he withdrew from the Congress commitment, affect the unity of India? (Azad was deeply upset by Nehru’s remarks and Sardar Patel wrote to D.P. Mishra on 29 July that Jawaharlal’s "emotional insanity" had wrecked everything.) How justified was Nehru in his conviction that to provide guarantees to one community would open a Pandora’s box from which India might never recover. Was the Plan itself too fragile to last? These might seem, after all these years, questions of detail, the trees preventing us from seeing the wood. But there is a basic question we cannot escape: how did a man who never believed in communal politics deliver a nation for a community? Did he change? Was he driven into that corner? Such questions will never be answered satisfactorily as long as the politics of bias shapes our "facts".

A politician with an inclusive attitude often rejects certain facts for the larger good. Dr B.R. Ambedkar has become an icon to Dalits. Will any leader of an Indian political party, with any sense, seek to hurt the Dalits by picking on some elements of Ambedkar’s politics, like cooperation with the British, or will he woo Dalit sentiment by recalling the extraordinary contribution Ambedkar made to the psychological uplift of his people?

The debate has a second hinge: is our future best protected by a secular, inclusive spirit, or by separatist urges? This question is relevant internally, for all nations of the subcontinent are divided by competing identities, as well as externally, for only a common commitment to a secular spirit will enable India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to cooperate as politically sovereign and economically inter-dependent nations. So far, the separatist urge has controlled our fortunes, literally: "fortune" is a word of economics.

It is a question that Advani has addressed to his own party much more than to others, and legitimately so. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh, predecessor of the BJP, belongs to the third phase of the Hindutva movement. The first phase was a search for renaissance and reform, and came to an end with the death of Swami Dayanand Saraswati. The second saw the institutionalisation of this search. In 1907, a year after the Muslim League was created, the United Bengal Hindu Movement and the Punjab Hindu Sabha were born. At the Lahore Congress session of 1909 the Hindu Sabha was formally recognised as a Congress forum. The RSS replaced the Sabha as the institutional force after its formation in 1926. The third phase began after the tears of partition, with the birth of the Jana Sangh in 1952. It was a mirror-image of the Pakistan demand, for it sought power for Hindus in India in the way that Muslims had established their base in Pakistan. Five decades later the president of the BJP is telling his party to move away from the 20th century and into the 21st.

It is a debate that will be welcomed by Indian Muslims, who have long been burdened by the "guilt" of partition. The Congress, paradoxically rather than ironically, has been as insistent upon demanding this price as the Hindutva parties, creating a tribe of "Congress Muslims" whose rise to power has often been in direct proportion to their ability to pour venom upon Jinnah. Once again, it is time to move on.

I have been wondering which is the greater irony: that both Jinnah and Gandhi were Gujaratis, or that both Jinnah and Advani were from Karachi. Whatever the answer, of this I am certain. The BJP’s Man of Iron has become India’s Man of Irony.


Alto said...

Thank you Sir! for writing this article the way you did.

In all this cacophony about Advani and Jinnah, only You, by the grace and mercy of Lord Almighty could get closer to Truth and could put solace in minds and hearts of some readers.

If pen can be stronger than sword, pen can also bring mercy, solace and Peace.

Peace and Blessings be upon you.

Woman said...

After 1857, First Indian Independence Movement, which British call as Sepoy Mutiny, British were faced with multiple cultural groups-each with their own strengths.
British won because Punjabis were under British domination and fought British war against locals. Princes of Native Indian States did not bother to help our soldiers. The disconnect between indian soldiers in British Army and Rajahs of native indian state was too vast.

It would be interesting to know who was in control of communications during this period. Was there not enough time for sepoys to communicate to all Rajahs to ward off British in one go. Often it is mentioned this was a big chance to end British's occupation but instead 1857 became the moment of consolidation and of turning a company rule into British Queen's rule.

why? why? why? where was the cement lacking? There was no dearth of nationalist spirit amonngst the commnities ranging from north to south.

If Brtish had to survive and rule they had to orchestrate divisive politics. Read what one of the Indian Army officer of that time is writing.

Partition of Bengal was the most painful partition which Indian leaders of Independence couldnot take. Yet it happened.

All the current politicial parties talk about 1947 partition. How come everyone forgot painful first partition of 1905.

As daughter of Independent India, when I read all the events right from 1757, I want to ask one question to my current political leaders.

Why are we stuck in 1947? and that too just one person Jinnah?

Should we hate Punjabis today, for their support to British in 1857 and call them treacherous and reason behinf partition of Bengal?

Do we have to punish a community for it's forefather's role in history?

Is it only until 1947 farther back in history wea re able to go back and look who can be blamed most?

WHy are we not able to go back further and study history what leade to what and comapre it with what is happening now and why our current political leaders got deeply entrenched in hate politics.

Is it easy to blame just one person and wash off the responsibility of self blame or guilt of partition from one's soul? Is that what current political parties are doing ? Wasing off the blame?

Is that what current rich nations are trying to do? Blaming one person and diverting the attention of people away from truth and enchanting people with lies upon lies.

Is it one way of diverting the anger away from those who were actually responsible for partition?

If India's first Independence movement failed I can understand the control of communications was in hands of British or perhaps time was too less to co-ordinate between soldiers and rajahs.

But what is happening now?

Have we become robots who take lie upon lie as truth and support it for individual suvival.

What for? Money? Lack of courage to voice truth against those who orchestrate lies and keep people from various cultures tied up to their emotional attachments so that it is easy to challenge them later? or polarise them later?

Is that what is happenign now?

That has to break. Isn't it?

Who should do that?

Men of Mantle who claim their authority for their ability to act as saviours?

Men of Army too bored to protect the borders from one's own kith an kin not farther back in history, 50 years ago.

Men of Modern India who want to make India race like America at any cost by selling it piece by piece?

Men besseched and humbled too much of their weaknesses that society calls them Men and there is no more Manhood left after sacrificing nation piece by piece, once in the form of territory and some other time in the form of riots, and yet in times in between such events is spent in spewing venom on those who do not have enough strength to even respond to the accusations?

What should make sense to these men?

Has anyone got any idea?

Asian said...

Quad-E-Azam's policy towards NWFP for tribals living on the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan is much more human and inclusive than Nehru's way of dealing with Kashmir.

In today's Pakistan these tribals in Waziristan are on sacrificial altar to save the face of Pakistan aka, General Sadr Pervez Musharaf.
Any one from these tribal areas are picked up and sent to guatanamo bay because Pakistan agreed to perpetuate a myth called Osama and delivering this myth efficiently for Untied States of Amrica.

That is called Pakistan acting as intercessor for transgressor called UK and America, to justify occupation of America or to take way the privacy and freedom from individuals.

Compare and cotrast Quad-E-Azam's policy to protect tribals in Waziristan verses Nehru's policy of protection of minorities in India and Discuss?

If our UPSC commission is unbiased they will pose this question to the "would be" administrators of India, in next year's main question? Alas! biased narrow minded intellectuals with selective approaches which suits their convenience, I don't expect them to go that far.

Harsh said...

Hello Mr. Akbar...quite straight forward and honestly pened thoughts.

I used to be silent viewer of this blog till now, thought to join this being a gujju.

as alto said pen can be stronger than sword, its really took place here, this was among a very few articles against which one wont hav any argument.

I totally do agree with your points and the words dropped.

Thanks for makin people understand about the reality in a really polished way..

M.J. Akbar's Blog: Presented by ilaxi said...

Thank You for the posts on behalf of MJ Akbar. No excuse for no replies but he's been on Business tour recently. MJ reads all the posts and is a tech savvy person too.

Alto, peace is a process when the penned words are understood by a mass of communities.

Woman, I agree. After years since 1947, we are stuck up with Jinnah! Politics rule!

Asian, intellectuals ultimately have been found to use their intelligence for processes that favor their own thoughts! The UPSC commissions has to be unbiased in the first instant to pose a question to the so-called 'would be' administrators of India.

Harsh...Thanks for the Post, finally:-) Keep more comments flowing. I know 'silence speaks a thousand words' but than its said in gujarati (u r gujju, isn't it?) bole tena bor vechay!! Anyways, Mj's read your post and sure, his pen is stronger than sword.

- ilaxi
Official Blogger for MJ Akbar