And now it is Jaswant Singh
MR. Jaswant Singh's book Jinnah-India, Partition, Independence was released a few days ago. Jaswant Singh has traversed the same territory that Lal Krishan Advani did a few years ago while on a visit to Pakistan, calling Mr. Jinnah a great Indian.
Jaswant Singh went much further. He has written a book to show that Jinnah was a patriotic Indian and that Nehru and Gandhi drove him into a corner and forced him to become a communalist. While he was ready until May 1946 to have a united India, it was Nehru who shot down the Cabinet Mission plan that Jinnah had accepted -- and Nehru had earlier accepted.
What has happened to Jaswant Singh exceeds what happened to Advani: BJP hardliners have thrown him out of BJP altogether. Insofar as one can see he is made of sterner stuff. He will continue to stand by what he has written. After all it is a whole book. It is not an odd statement here or there. We must accept that the opinions expressed in the book are his firm opinions and that he is likely to stand by them.
BJP's election results have shown one consistency. It's the absence of Muslim votes. The Muslims as a rule do not vote BJP. It now seems that praising Jinnah could be a clever way of winning over the Muslim votes in future. The risks involved in this seem to have proved greater than the possible benefits.
Why should any rightwing Indian risk his reputation and position by praising Jinnah at this stage? Jinnah has been demonised in India, good and proper. Most Indians have a very low opinion of him. They think that he alone was responsible for the vivisection of Bharat Mata and he is not to be accepted as one of their own.
India and Pakistan have their own backwoodsmen, who continue to live in 1947. BJP's fortunes vis-à-vis Muslim votes will not turn so easily. The very fact that most BJP leaders were absent from the book launching function showed that they were going to dump Jaswant Singh and demonise him for his heresy.
But Mr. Jaswant Singh isn't a fool. He can be credited with a certain amount of courage and honesty of purpose. If he has written that Jinnah was a great Indian nationalist, he has to go on owning up to it. He has already paid a heavy price.
But the fact remains that Indian Muslims have written a certain history; they have never voted en bloc for any BJP candidate. That must set some of the more intelligent and thoughtful Indians thinking. The difficulty with the enquiry is that the answers are known to those who will be soul searching on the subject.
The BJP has a record of demonising Indian Muslims as a whole, not to mention incidents like 1969 Ahmedabad and the recent riots in Gujarat. It is hardly possible for Mr. Jaswant Singh to get any immediate political dividend from the book; Muslims are not going to make him their darling suddenly.
The reasons for this change in someone who has been BJP government's foreign and finance minister will have to be sought somewhere in his vision of the future. Somewhere in the recesses of his mind, there is the thought that some 18% to 20% Muslims of India cannot be ignored electorally and politically. More so as Hindu vote has been split.
Apart from the Left and Right, there are caste divisions. The caste-based parties will always ask: "Aren't we Hindu, why have the upper castes maltreated us over all the years, the Dalits, the Yadavs and others who have now joined politics?" There is no homogenised simple Hindu in India, there are Brahmins, Vashiyas, Kashtriyas and Banyas or lower castes.
There may be no simple, unexplained Hindu. BJP requires the unity of such homogenised Hindus who would put the minorities in their proper place. Where is BJP to find such Hindus? They are simply not there. All they have is hundreds of castes and sub-castes and sub-sub-castes.
BJP can be said to be a party of the richer Hindu middle class. That section of Indians has set its heart on making India a great power. To them India is already semi-superpower. What is standing its way to full superpowerdom? One realisation seems to be growing; unless India takes along its immediate neighbours, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal et al it may not reach the desired goal. It will have to stop short of that desirable destiny. Taking Pakistan and other neighbours along is a hard job; it requires a more inclusive politics at home, that BJP has not ventured into.
Men like Jaswant Singh, or even Natwar Singh, have been looking for more inclusive politics that can take in all the Indians. No doubt, they see the need for rapprochement or understanding or working arrangement with the Left. In fact Left is no longer one. It too is splintered into many schools.
A certain kind of politics, based on an amalgam of unalloyed globalisation of the economy with the kind that will allow the middle class to take some schools of the Left with them, might emerge. But caste politics threatens India's unity as radically as does religious communalism.
India and Pakistan have bickered for 55 years. They have tried to harm each other and have succeeded to an extent. The antagonistic politics and foreign policies that the two countries have run so far need also to be reassessed by fair-minded Indians. Can they do so?
I see there is a recognition, half-hearted so far, that a Pakistan yelping at the heels of India all the time, accusing India of injustice, cannot leave a good impression. So long as this goes on, India cannot come into its own. India's stature will stay smaller than it could be if India and Pakistan and Bangladesh were to operate as a team on the world stage. But the first thing they have to do is to un-demonise one another.
Apart from the fact that there is a valid case for India to court Pakistan, there is the question of judging what Pakistan is or what its significance is. It would be foolish to pretend that Pakistan does not suffer from many ailments, including Islamic terrorism. Pakistan is on a course for self-destruction. There is no doubt about that.
There are any numbers of insurgencies in the country going on. It has to set its house in order. Its more developed Punjab should lead because a change has to come over Punjab. Punjab is where a new industrial-commercial middle class has arisen, and wants a change in basic policies.
Apart from democratic space for itself, it now wants free trade with India, allowing India permission for overland trading with Afghanistan and Central Asia. They would welcome Indian investments. This is a great change and opportunity for India. It's bound to be reflected eventually in the foreign policy of the country. But if the Indians show any willingness to change and to be more accommodative, the change can come much earlier. It's for sober Indians to judge.