October 22, 2020
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'No Answer In Black And White'

The resignation soap-opera that followed Mr Advani's passage to Pakistan might be making different headlines now, but the old debate about Jinnah's secularism, continues among Indian and Pakistani historians.

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'No Answer In Black And White'

The complete transcript of BBC Hindi special programme Aapki Baat BBC Ke Saath with eminent historian and vice-chancellor of Jamia Milia Islamia, Professor Mushirul Hasan and founding director of Karachi based Qaid-e-Azam Academy, Professor Sharif-il-Mujahid on Sunday, June 12.

Nagendar Sharma: Was Mohammad Ali Jinnah secular ?

Professor Mushirul Hasan:  This is an old debate and a lot has been said about this both in India and Pakistan. In the present environment, I do not think this debate carries any significance. I also fail to understand why this debate has been initiated now.

Nagendar Sharma: But since the debate has taken off now, what are your views?

Professor Mushirul Hasan: In my view, there is no answer in black and white to this. You see, if you are talking in context of the freedom struggle, then the politics of Congress and Muslim League was different. And let us not forget that politicians take different lines at different times. If after nearly six decades of Partition, you were to begin a debate on somebody's secularism, then in my view it is not possible to give a correct answer to such a question.

Professor Sharif-ul-Mujahid: Let me make it clear that Jinnah saheb did not like to be categorised in any water tight compartment, whether it be secular or anything else. If you go back and look at the 14th July 1947 press conference of Jinnah saheb in Mumbai, he was asked whether he wanted Pakistan to be a secular or theocratic state. Jinnah saheb had said the democratic roots here are centuries old. Much is being read in his remarks; he believed in respect for all. His vision of a state included democracy, human rights and respect for all. When Lord Mountbatten had asked Jinnah saheb to follow the ideals of  Emperor Akbar, Jinnah saheb had replied, off the cuff, that it had been a tradition in this country to honour the feelings of all religions.

BBC listener from North Carolina : Sir, why did the Lucknow Pact of 1916 fail in resolving the issues between Hindus and Muslims, when Jinnah along with all other hardliners of Muslim League was present to strike a deal with the Congress leaders, as it was being called as the final solution?

Professor Mushirul Hasan: If you are talking about the 1916 Pact, then remember one thing -- it was not about Hindus and Muslims. It was about those who were in the political process at that time. It was a question of political representation. Y'see, the politics at that time was in the hands of the elite and it was their fight for representation, neither the Congress nor the Muslim League addressed the problems of the people correctly -- intentions of both the parties was right, but it did not translate into right actions. The politics of pact and politics of unity conferences could not solve any problem, as was proved later also in 1920s, therefore it was not a Hindu-Muslim problem. In my view the Lucknow Pact resulted in more problems than solutions.

Sharif-ul- Mujahid : I agree with most of what Mushir has said, but I cannot agree with the statement that Lucknow Pact resulted in more problems than solutions. The real thing in the earlier part of 20th century was that politics was elitist, and these elite were able to use people for their motives. Their fight was mainly on representation -- on who got what.  It was only in 1919 that we saw the first signs of mass politics in India. Gandhiji gave rise to mass politics in India. This trend of mass involvement continued and we saw that in 1937 Congress party won in six provinces first and then in eight provinces. So it was this, and we should not look at the pact of 1916 simply as a case of Hindus and Muslims.

BBC listener from Nainital : Isn’t it wrong to call Nehru secular and Jinnah communal? The fact is both wanted to be Prime Minister of India, and both were intelligent enough to hide their ambitions behind strong arguments to fool the people.

Professor Mushirul Hasan: Even a cursory look at Indian history proves your point wrong that Nehru was not secular. His entire politics and thought was in fact keeping in line with secularism. Nehru never aligned with communal forces, even after independence he maintained equidistance with both Hindu Mahasabha as well as the Muslim League. So far as political ambitions are concerned, history and present day developments both prove that anyone in politics has ambitions. Similarly, when you look at Jinnah you cannot give the answer in black and white. If you are talking about the independence movement, you have to remember that both the Congress and the Muslim League had different lines, which led to both of them committing mistakes.

Professor Sharif-ul-Mujahid: I think the debate is being taken to a wrong direction by trying to brand one leader secular and the other communal. Basically, if you look at the entire sequence, the tallest leader in the freedom struggle was Gandhiji. Now, if you look at his utterances and actions, isn’t it right to say that he had a tilt towards the Hindus? He spoke of the creation of Ram Rajya and wanted Hindus to be tolerant, therefore let us not get into categorisation of leaders, as I agree with Mushir that it was a complex situation and is not possible to give a black and white answer.

BBC listener from UAE : But how do both of you scholars read the remarks made by L K Advani? Is he trying to undo the damage caused by Partition or is it a mere political statement?

Professor Mushirul Hasan: As a historian, I say the basic question is, can this issue of secularism be seen so simply as Mr Advani has done, while giving a certificate of secularism? In Pakistan, this debate was settled long ago, after all Mr Jinnah is their founder – Qaid-e-Azam. In India, also, the debate is about Indian nationalism, and in that also, about secularism, communalism and revivalism and not about an individual’s role long after his death.

Professor Sharif-ul-Mujahid:  Jinnah saheb did not like to be categorised in any water tight compartment, whether it be secular or anything else. If you go back and look at the 14th July 1947 press conference of Jinnah saheb in Mumbai, he was asked whether he wanted Pakistan to be a secular or theocratic state. Jinnah saheb had said the democratic roots here are centuries old. Much is being read in his remarks; he believed in respect for all. His vision of a state included democracy, human rights and respect for all. 

Nagendar Sharma: But is it correct to say Mr Advani’s remarks reflect truthfulness?

Professor Mushirul Hasan: We would have to wait for a long time to judge the truthfulness of Mr Advani's comments. I am unable to understand myself, and to explain to others how and when Advaniji reached on this conclusion. Was he not aware what sort of criticism would he face from within his own party and other outfits of the Sangh parivar by making such remarks, and what I really find surprising is that he did not make these remarks within his own country. What I can say is that I do not agree with what Mr Advani said in Pakistan.

Professor Sharif-ul-Mujahid: I would like to give benefit of doubt to Mr Advani despite the storm created by his remarks in India. Such remarks cannot be made in a spur of moment. These were well thought out remarks, and I think that he chose the Mazar to reveal his mind. These remarks here are being seen as an after-thought in the BJP. We are here of the opinion that the BJP stand on the entire issue is undergoing a positive transformation. Nobody here is taking Mr Adjani’s views as a certificate of secularism for Mr Jinnah.

BBC listener from Bihar: Does it mean that Mr Adjani now has realised that acceptance at international level is important, and that is why Jinnah is now secular?

Professor Mushirul Hasan: One should go through the documents of 1939 and 1946, and read carefully about the speeches of Mr Jinnah regarding Deliverance Day and Direct Action, before simplifying the matter so much. Please look at the facts. Mr Advani’s party never accepted secularism in India. It has always been critical of the secular parties in Indian politics. Who was responsible for the destruction of Babri Masjid in 1992? Which party was in power at the centre and in Gujarat in 2002, when the worst communal riots of modern times took place in that state? Who has been the most vocal supporter of Narendra Modi government after the riots? All these facts speak for themselves, and moreover, Mr Advani never called Pandit Nehru or Maulana Abul Kalam Azad secular. When you did not find a secular politician in your own country, how could you find one in another country? Given this kind of anti-secular politics practiced by Mr Advani, can such a leader give a certificate of secularism to a leader of another country, and can this be taken seriously?

Professor Sharif-ul-Mujahid: I cannot say what is being said in India about Mr Advani’s Pakistan visit, but here his visit is being seen as a follow-up to Mr Vajpayee's 1999 Pakistan visit. It is a corollary to that. Mr Vajpayee had gone to Minar-i-Pakistan, in continuation of that Mr Advani went to Jinnah saheb's Mazar. This reflects the BJP support for the ongoing Indo-Pak peace process, which I think all would welcome.

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