History reveals itself. Sometimes, it is a bad happening that works as catalyst in bringing out some important historical facts to the fore that otherwise remain concealed under the veil of political prejudices, expediencies of power politics or the vote bank politics. What has been happening in the Aligarh Muslim University during the week is sad and bad. Nonetheless, the sad happenings have triggered a debate in India that not only is revealing but also has been demolishing a biased narrative indoctrinated to the post-1947 generation as sacred truth.
On 1 May 2018 the AMU Vice-Chancellor Tariq Mansoor received a letter from a BJP MP Satish Gautam questioning a picture of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah on the wall of the Students Union. Much before, the Vice-Chancellor would reply the letter, members of right-wing organization Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV), barged into the varsity, raising full-throat slogans against the portrait and wanted to remove it. It seemed a well-choreographed programme to send a louder signal, so it was synchronized with the visit of former Vice-president Hamid Ansari to the university to attend an event. Some students protested against the presence of highly charged activists of chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s HYV brigade on the campus resulting in a brief clash- many injured. On Saturday, when I am writing this column, the University is on a boil.
The man whose picture the BJP leadership want to remove has earned this distinction on two counts, one, he was accorded life membership of Aligarh Muslim University Students Union (AMUSU) and second for having been a founder member of the University Courts in 1920, and a donor also. Moreover, it has been there for past eighty years. There was nothing unusual about his picture adorning the walls, traditionally photographs of all life members are placed on the walls.
It is not a picture of some ordinary politician that they want to remove. But of a man who ‘looms in the history like a minaret over achievements of all his contemporaries.’ In words of Stanley Wolpert biographer of Bhutto, Gandhi, Jinnah, and Nehru, ‘Jinnah began his political career as a leader of the Indian National Congress and remained India’s best ambassador of Hindu Muslim unity. As enigmatic a figure as Mahatma Gandhi, more powerful than Pandit Nehru, Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah was one of recent history’s most charismatic leader.’ A nationalist to the core who in words of Sarojini Naidu, ‘Before agreeing to join the Indian Muslim League ‘had made Muhammad Ali and Wazir Hussain two League leaders to make a solemn preliminary covenant. That the loyalty to the Muslim League and Muslim interests in no way and no time imply even the shadow of disloyalty to the larger national cause, to which his life was dedicated.’ (Jinnah Creator of Pakistan Hector Bolitho p 57-58)
The question is why the BJP leadership wants to tear an important leaf of contemporary Indian history by removing the picture of such a charismatic South Asian leader from one of the important historical universities- a part of Indian Freedom Struggle. None of the leaders, even those who were not friendly with him after India and Pakistan were born as independent dominions ever expressed their discomfiture with the picture. Top Congress leadership Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Azad, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, C Rajagopalachari, Rajendra Prasad and Jawaharlal Nehru never raised a finger against it. Some observers, believe the BJP’s hullaballoo over a picture has a very myopic objective of keeping the pot of communal and caste politics boiling for preventing the re-ascendance of the Congress party. To an extent, it could be one of the objectives for making some short-term electoral gains, but by all standards, it is deep-seated anguish in the RSS cadres against the man who ‘significantly altered the course of history, modified the map of the world and created a nation-state through his indomitable will.’ Something that perhaps none other is credited with having done.
The question arises, will the removal of the picture of Jinnah from the AMUSU office, which is as good as chopping the head of B. R. Ambedkar statue or blackening the face of Mahatma Gandhi’s statue reverse the course of the history of the subcontinent. Jinnah is as good part of the Indian Freedom Struggle as any other towering leader of the subcontinent. And by removing his picture from the office of an educational institution we cannot erase him from the pages of history- he stands as towering as Gandhi, that is why Gandhi had titled him Quaid-i-Azam, greatest leader. There is need to recognize that Pakistan is a harsh historical reality, which the Congress leadership more particularly Nehru-Gandhi family could not do. Nehru continued with his doctrine about Pakistan which he shared with Sri Prakasa, India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan ‘that by escalating the Kashmir war, we could drain Pakistan’s resources.’ It did not happen instead the two countries became nuclear powers/
There is need to recognize; that it was the historical forces that caused the birth of India and Pakistan as an independent dominion in the same way as these forces had made the Moguls and British coalesce many independent states, with diverse language, cultures, faiths, and traditions into one unit called Hindustan or India. It was towering BJP leader, and former Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee who recognized this historical reality. Moreover, as a stateman manifested it by visiting the historic Minar Pakistan, a tower erected in commemoration of the Pakistan Resolution passed at the same place in 1940, then known as Minto Park now renamed as Allama Iqbal Park. Equally, endorsed by another towering BJP leader, L.K. Advani by visiting the grave of Jinnah and paying tribute to the founder of Pakistan. Jaswant Singh, a stalwart of right-wing politics in India by writing a political biography of Quaid-i-Azam and putting a big question mark on the dominant discourses orchestrated from both the right wing and the Congress platform about the man.
Instead, remaining bogged down by the orchestrated narrative there is need to revisit ‘Jinnah’s person and political legacy in an attempt to better understand the region’s history. The book ‘Jinnah and Tilk: Comrade In the Freedom Struggle’ by A. G. Noorani is good work on the subject that can help in improving understanding of the subject. Sudheendra Kulkarni, an important aid of Prime Minister Vajpayee two years back wrote in an article that ‘Jinnah-Tilak Lucknow Pact for its power of accommodation hundred years after was relevant for India-Pakistan talks. “The Kashmir issue can be easily resolved, and India-Pakistan normalization achieved if the governments of our two countries show the same spirit of compromise and mutual accommodation to pursue a loftier goal.”