Written by: Ayesha Babar
I grew up believing that Jinnah was a sort of superhero, who hated the Hindus and the British and fough valiantly the super-villains in the form of the Gandhis, Nehrus and the Mountbattens to get us Pakistan. It was very surprising then to discover that this was a very distorted image of the truth. It was much later that I found out that Jinnah was a great ‘constitutionalist’ and once called an ‘ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity’ by Gopal Krishna Gokhale, one of the most revered Hindu politicians of the earlier 1900s and a favourite of Jinnah. The Quaid, who was eventually responsible for the creation of Pakistan, was a vocal, staunch supporter of the idea of a United Indian Federation till the last years of his political career. What made him change his mind? How did he become so disillusioned with the Congress that he became the biggest nemesis of the party he first joined and aspired to rise within? These are just some of the questions that I went to find answers to for the book launch of Jaswant Singh’s ‘Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence’ at the Royal Palm, Lahore on Friday, the 16th of April.
After some ‘food for the stomach’, probably keeping the Lahore audience in mind, the event formally started. A brief welcome address from Ameena Saiyid, the Managing Director of the Oxford University Press, Pakistan, heralded the start of an evening that answered a lot of questions and yet led to the emergence of many new questions in the minds of the audience members. The format of the evening was refreshing as instead of the usual speech by the author, there was a conversation that took place between Rashid Rahman, editor of Daily Times and Jaswant Singh, the author. Rashid, during the course of the evening, asked the author to delve deeper into many topics that he had covered in his book. From the reasons behind Jinnah’s change of heart to what Singh saw the impact of the book as within India and its ‘centres of tolerance and intolerance’, Rahman elicited Singh’s views on a wide range of topics. Singh, who was very candid with his opinions, was eager to emphasize that it was high time that India comes to terms with the irreversible reality that is Pakistan. He highlighted the importance of the two states working together to rekindle the kind of success that unified action brought about in the 1857 War of Independence. There are much bigger challenges such as poverty that plague the two nations and if they start behaving like good neighbours, both can focus their attentions on these issues of monumental importance.
The evening was especially important as it was the first time that an Indian as prominent at Jaswant Singh was in Pakistan speaking fearlessly about his opinion of Jinnah and the need on the other side of the border to develop an understanding of Jinnah’s personality, politics and achievements, not only for the Muslims of the Subcontinent but equally for all the people of the United India of the time. Many notable faces were also present to grace the occasion including the former Foreign Minister, Khurshid Kasuri, Sartaj Aziz and Bapsi Sidhwa among others. The evening proved to be a welcome step towards a better understanding of the common history that the nations that once made up the Indian Subcontinent share.