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“Why should truth be provocative?”

Jaswant Singhresponds to criticism that by writing a biography of Mohammad Ali Jinnah he has been playing with fire.

— FILE PHOTO: R.V. MOORTHY

JASWANT SINGH: “Core beliefs? What is so core that I have disturbed ...”

Edited excerpts from an interview with Karan Thapar broadcast by CNN-IBN:

Jinnah is a red rag to the BJP. Therefore, by writing a biography of the man you have been deliberately playing with fire and, if you have ended up burnt, then you have only yourself to blame?

Well, of course, I’m to blame for whatever I do. I don’t transfer the blame to anybody. But I can question the decision, which is different. There is a degree of simple-mindedness in my expulsion because a distinction has to be made between Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s personal attributes as a human being and his politics. The personal attributes are admirable. His equations with human beings of all communities were a real example. His politics were abhorable [abhorrent], particularly after 1940.

Except that you’ve gone much further. You’ve said Jinnah was a great man. You’ve said Indians have demonised him. You’ve said he is not the only one, perhaps not even the principal person, responsible for Partition. Now I put it to you that that is just not provocative, it’s asking for trouble.

Why should truth be provocative? Why should attempting to find what actually happened when Partition took place [be provocative]? You are a consequence of Partition because in essence the two provinces of India got divided. Punjab and Bengal. Both still call themselves Punjab. I’ll come to what you have asked. I’m not being provocative, I’m being inquisitive, and I wanted to find out for myself what caused it.

After 30 years in the BJP, after being in the Jan Sangh before that, there are certain red lines that one doesn’t cross. You have crossed it not just willingly, you crossed it almost deliberately. You defied a party.

I crossed it knowingly, but not as a red line. It is my understanding that in personal expression, finding out the truth about India’s Partition, no political party can lay down red lines. We are not living in Stalinist Russia. We are living in India where the tradition of shastrarth is foremost even in sanatan thought.

You’re saying that writing a biography of Jinnah, which challenges the way Jinnah is perceived both by this country and more importantly by your former party and also Pakistan, is your right in your personal capacity?

That’s a choice. I don’t want to go into which barrister or lawyer takes up which case because that would not be relevant to today’s inquiry.

The point I’m making is that parties have core beliefs and they expect their members to adhere and subscribe to them. If you want to question them, be it intellectually or emotionally, do so from outside the fold but you can’t expect to do it from within the party and then get away with it.

Core beliefs? What is so core that I have disturbed ...and, get away? I am not a criminal to get away.

The BJP believes Jinnah is a villain, you don’t share that. In fact, you question his demonisation. You end up saying he was a great man, that shakes the fundamental beliefs and they don’t like that.

Firstly he has been demonised in India. I stand by that statement. He is a ‘great man’ was a term used by late Mahatma Gandhi. In my book I’ve quoted Gandhi to say, it’s in ‘Cabinet Mission, Simla 2,’ and Gandhi says, “Mohammed Ali Jinnah was a great man and a leader of a great party.”

In the interview to me last week, you agreed that you personally think of him as a ‘great man.’

Yes, indeed I do.

But that sticks in the throat of your former party, and you knew it would.

I didn’t think they would be such small-minded as to hold a view against me which are the personal attributes of a historical person.

Do you really believe that as one of the most senior leaders of the BJP, you could afford in your personal capacity to hold views and write opinions of Jinnah and Patel, which the party itself does not endorse, and still expect the party not to take action against you?

I did, certainly. I didn’t think my party is so narrow-minded, so limited or so nervous about Jinnah and/or Patel as to get so riled by what I have written. I have a feeling which I voiced also that perhaps my former colleagues hadn’t really read the book when they passed the sentence on me.

The truth is that these views you hold run against party discipline, against what the party considers core beliefs. Were you being naive and thinking that you could say this and expect the party won’t take action?

No, I was not being naive. These are the views that I hold. I reiterate and I have not stated an untruth. On the contrary, the party should be worried if untruth becomes the core of the party.

One of the myths your party holds [on] to is the belief that Sardar Patel stood up against Partition to the end. You have questioned that myth by equating Patel with Nehru.

I’ve not denigrated an icon, I’ve simply pointed out the facts of history. Sardar Patel had his secretary in V.P. Menon. V.P. Menon was his adviser as well as Lord Mountbatten’s adviser, the plan for Partition was sold to Patel by V.P. Menon. It’s a fact of history. Jawaharlal Nehru, in the month of March 1947, asks Patel [in the context of the transfer or power]: “Please help me with the Congress Working Committee.”

The problem is that you are rubbing facts of history into the face of a myth the party cherishes, and demolishing that myth. No party expects it and you did it knowing that this was going to be the outcome. And therefore I put it to you, were you playing with fire or were you being naive?

No, I was neither. I was attempting to find the truth. It was a search for truth as to what lies or lay behind our Partition.

You called the man a ‘great man,’ you said India has demonised [him] and yet you completely overlooked and ignored the fact that he launched against India the first threat to Indian sovereignty and the first war that India faced. And he did it within three months of Partition. That doesn’t find a mention?

That would have required altogether a different and a separate book. Already it was running to 900 pages. The book had to be cut down. There are limits to it.

What happens if people turn around and say that by overlooking and ignoring this, you’ve not only written an one-sided account but you’ve exculpated Jinnah of the charge of launching war against India?

I haven’t exculpated because among the first of the sentences that I used in this interview was that a distinction has to be made between his personal attributes and his public conduct. These are two very different things.

What’s the difference between your calling Jinnah a great man and Advani calling him a great man?

One expression is by Lalji Advani and the other is by Jaswant Singh.

Are there double standards here?

I’m outside of the periphery of the BJP’s radar screen, I wished they hadn’t used the word ‘expelled’ and they had a better choice of phrases to use.

Have you lost respect for people like Rajnath Singh and Advaniji?

I don’t want to answer that. It’s a highly personalised comment. May god give them whatever they are looking for.

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