Indian Historians are Either Dishonest or Opportunistic: AG Noorani
A.G. NOORANI is a famous author of history books and a lawyer at Supreme Court of India. He recently visited Calicut to receive CH Muhammed Koya Foundation Award for eminent writers. He talked to M NOUSHAD.
You are a regular reviewer of history books. How do you assess the academic quality of history writing in India in comparison and contrast with the history projects in foreign countries, especially the west?
Most of the history writing in India is dazed with nationalism; the history of the freedom struggle minimizes the role of everyone except Gandhi, Nehru and Patel. The role of great nationalists like Maulana Mohammad Ali, MA Ansari, Hakim Ajmal Khan and many others is ignored. Even Maulana Azad is not acknowledged as much he deserves. It feels like the freedom movement began with Gandhi. Gandhi came only in the second decade of the 20th century. The freedom movement was built up by, let us say, Raja Ram Mohan Roy to begin with. Leaders like Dadabai Navaroji and Surendra Nadh Banerji were there. Who talks about Badaruddin Tyabji? He had a very interesting debate with Sir Syed Ahmed Khan on why Muslims should join the Congress. I have written a biography of Tyabji, which is published by the publication division of India. There were many great leaders.
In Indian history writing, I am afraid, there is no critical scrutiny. There is either idolatry or denigration. Both are wrong. There must be informed and documented criticism.
Is this subjective history writing caused by Indians’ natural tendency for hero worshipping?
That’s right. There is a lot of Bhakti and cult of Bhakti in India. But in Pakistan it is much worse, though I must tell you that terms are changing in Pakistan. They published some criticism of mine in Pakistan on Jinnah and a book I have written on Jinnah will be published before long.
Muhammed Ali Jinnah has been debated in Indian media even now. The founding father of Pakistan is haunting BJP for quite some time. Why do you think Hindutva leaders like LK Advani and Jaswant Singh are attracted to Jinnah?
Both Advani and Jaswant are motivated. Lal Krishna Advani was advised that if you praise Jinnah, you’ll get a moderate image. Advani is a rank opportunist; he praised Jinnah, not because he believed it; even not to please Pakistanis but to have an image in India. Jaswant Singh’s book seemed to me absolutely lacking objectivity. Of course, he has departed from the national consensus that Jinnah doesn’t mean much. His book doesn’t deserve any comment.
One important thing is that the people who either praise Jinnah or attack Jinnah should submit themselves to a careful scrutiny of records on Jinnah. For example, the two-nation theory: he said the Muslim homelands are in Punjab, frontier and all that. What about Kerala? Islam first came to Kerala, and it’s believed that the first mosque here was built in the time of the prophet himself. Is it not a homeland? I am a Bombay man. Is not Bombay my homeland? Two-nation theory was built on falsehood, that these are homelands because you are in majority. Remember, there is homeland for Hindus also. There is greater respect for minorities in India that there has ever been in Pakistan.
As far as Muhammed Ali Jinnah is concerned, I am afraid, both Indian and Pakistani historians have agreed on one thing: Jinnah was politically born in 1940s when he demanded partition. There was a great Jinnah before that – from 1906 to 1936. In 38-39, he was treated shabbily by Gandhi as well as Nehru. And he became bitter. That shabby treatment doesn’t justify bitterness. The fact remains that he did much harm to India, he harmed the Muslim community in India. However, people don’t realize that he harmed Pakistan also. Because, the Kashmir settlement was possible on the 1st of November 1947 when Mountbatton offered a plebiscite in Kashmir and Hyderabad. Jinnah was very fond of Hyderabad and he refused. Had he done that there would have been no cold war between India and Pakistan; everything would have been settled there. Sardar Patel was prepared and Nehru would have been prepared, had he but agreed to plebiscite in Hyderabad. This is Jinnah’s shortsightedness. There is a couplet by Ghalib: “Lazim nahi ke Khizer ki ham payravi karen, jana ke ek buzurg hame humsafar mile”. It is not necessary that we should worship the wise man Khizer, but realize that he was the companion on the journey. So we must treat all the elders with respect, but we must take them to critical scrutiny.
While dissecting the role of Indian nationalist leaders in partition, do you think Indian historians have been honest? A typical and very common style is blaming Jinnah and the British.
Very many of our historians are either absolutely dishonest or simply opportunistic. You see the point is, in India, the State controls the universities. The State has a grip over the institutions of learning, the so-called think tanks – some of them may be autonomous by name – and other centres of research. You can’t invite foreign scholars for conferences without clearance from the Home Ministry, as well as the External Affairs Ministry. This is particularly strong on certain sensitive things, like Kashmir.
We must honestly acknowledge the historic role played by our leaders in partition. I’ll give you an instance: when there was a proposal for United Bengal, there was an agreement drawn out between Sarat Chandra Bose, the elder brother of Subhash Chandra Bose and HS Suhurawardi, the League Chief Minister of United Bengal. They say we’ll neither join Pakistan nor India. It was sabotaged by Gandhi, Nehru and Patel. Gandhi demanded terms for Hindus in Bengal which he would not have considered for Muslims in United India. That’s history. I respect Gandhi as he knew that he was playing with his life. He chose the path of martyrdom and I salute him as a martyr for the protections of Muslims. But his historical mistakes should be realized. They all realized their mistakes. Jinnah praised secularism in his famous speech in 1947 August; Nehru fought for Muslims after partition. Nehru was secular as the word go. But his secularism had a funny Marxist twist. He said there are no religious differences in India, there are economic differences. So, if you solve the economic problems, religious problems will also be solved. He was wrong. People in our country, irrespective of their economic status, are conscious of religious identities. We have to attempt to address that emotion as well as economic problems. Nehru was consistently secular, Patel was not. Patel was rabidly communal, I use the word rabidly. He even attacked the integrity of Maulana Azad in December 1947.
You mentioned Kashmir. You have written that the self-rule should be linked to the constitution and the cry for Azadi needs a sound response.
Kashmir is a sensitive issue. The fact is that the people of Kashmir are totally alienated. But as Prof. Hiren Mukherji said, even the best of us do not realize the depth of alienation. After a week’s stay I returned from Kashmir, only two days back. I can tell you that the alienation there is total. Even people who make pro-Indian noises admit that there is alienation. At the same time, it’s not that the people want to go to Pakistan. The pro-Pakistani settlement has declined. They talk of Azadi in a vague way. Azadi really means independence.
But I think we should give them the self-rule within the Indian union. You cannot settle this unilaterally, we need to involve Pakistan also. The Musharraf formula broadly was acceptable to New Delhi. It sounded mainly total self-rule to both parts of Kashmir, subject to central linking. A kind of joint mechanism involving two parts of Kashmir. The Line of Control (LoC) is to be opened up completely. As Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh said, it’s a line on the map. So there would be movement of goods, men and literature; demilitarization would come only after settlement. Here I must attribute to Dr. Manmohan Singh. I do not believe that Mr. Vajpayee was at all sincere in this matter; and he was head-locked. Otherwise he wouldn’t have held the Agra summit. Dr. Singh is sincere, but Pakistan let him down by the Bombay blast in 2006, then by the clumsy handling of judiciary crisis by Musharraf. In Mumbai blast Pakistan has to give a full account to India.
I must say that Dr. Singh is sincere in his Kashmir interventions in spite of the problems he faces from his colleagues in the cabinet and members in the party.
But the valley is still erupting with violence, especially after the Shopian tragedy.
The point is justice. Do you remember the people of Nepal erupted with violence over Hritik Roshan affair? They had nothing against Hritik Roshan. But India had handled it and continues to handle it in a very clumsy fashion. India had always been bad at behavior with neighbors. Look at Sri Lanka. Who armed the LTTE? We have to answer this. You know LTTE used to issue communication from Chennai on their offences here and there. India did that in Bangladesh. We have not been innocent in many things. I mean the Pakistani charges against us may not be correct. And certainly Pakistan has a lot to answer for, including the blast in Indian embassy in Kabul. I am sure certain elements in Pakistan are responsible for it, then you have the crime of Mumbai. Even if the attackers were non-State actors, Pakistan cant escape from its responsibility.
You’ve been a very strong defender of secularism for a long time, especially during the BJP regime’s fascist interventions. What do you think would be the task ahead for the civilian society – including Hindus, Muslims and Christians – to undertake in the fight for India’s pluralism?
Well, it has to be in both ways: the majority community has to show greater understanding of Muslims and other minorities. But the Muslims in turn, must discard the leadership of fake self-styled leaders. You take the case of Syed Shahabuddin. He has done enormous harm to the Muslim community. I had great hopes for him, as he was an educated man on the foreign services; but he has turned out to be a complete disappointment. For example, on the Babari Masjid, when he set up the action committee of Muslims, he asked for a boycott of official functions, including the Republic Day. The point is that you alienated the vast majority of non-Muslims. The best research on Babari Masjid’s history, archeology and law was done by non-Muslims. What’s the contribution of Muslim leaders? Nothing. All that they have done is that they promoted themselves. After 1992, Shahabuddin’s leadership has completely collapsed. He broke from Janata Dal and couldn’t cooperate with any other party. I am sorry for wasting time discussing this; I just want to show how Muslim leadership engages with sensitive issues.
The Babari Masjid was protected by an act of Indian Parliament as a heritage structure, an ancient monument. We should have taken a secular stand as the word go. There is a mosque and there is the chabutara. Let them build a temple on the chabutara, I have collected and published documents on Babari Masjid, I have studied it.
What the Muslim leaders should remember is that there are no separate electorates. We’ve joint electorate and everybody has to seek vote from everybody. Even BJP has to seek vote from Muslims, that’s why they have people like Shahnawaz Khan and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. They all need your votes. If you allow yourselves to be led by leaders who have no concern for you, then nobody can’t help it.
In Kerala, you have Muslim League, which is rooted in this soil. It was not a plant imported as per the orders of Liaqat or Jinnah. The local leaders in Kerala like Syed Bafaqi Tangal and CH Muhammed Koya could connect the party with Congress and take it to mainstream politics. That’s a very constructive point. Kerala is a blessing that you’ve temple, mosque and church in the same street and different communities live together.
After his disastrous involvement in partition, the last message Jinnah gave to Muslims in India was not to engage in unnecessary fights with Hindus. He asked to concentrate on education, technology, business, industry so that there is a hopeful future. And while setting up educational campuses, I think, they must not be isolated. Living in ghettos will make you perish. For the survival of Indian pluralism, Muslims must bring in Hindu students, Hindu teachers and cooperate with the State in building up these centres.
The only people who tried to create difference in Indian mind are RSS and BJP. Many riot enquiry commissions have found that they have been inciting hatred and violence in majority community’s mindset. Since partition to 1961, there was hardly any riot. It began with Jabalpur riots, then in Bhiwandi, Jamshedpur, Ahmedabad, countless other cities. There has been no end.
Don’t you think the Congress was unsuccessful in controlling the communal violence, and thus they too are responsible?
Absolutely, yes. The Congress is opportunistic and I’ll tell you the Babri Masjid would not have been demolished without the complicity of that dishonest man PV Narasimha Rao. He knew what is happening and he complied. And so did SB Chavan. But where were those Muslim leaders in the cabinet? People like Salman Khurshid and Ghulam Nabi Azad, the contractors who take Muslims’ responsibility?
BJP’s future depended entirely on two men’s partnership: Lal Krishna Advani and Atal Behari Vajpayee. Vajpayee is a man of many qualities, I am sorry he is unwell. Advani is totally, completely discredited. Now he is fighting to retrieve the position. But his credibility is gone. In 1991, he won the New Delhi constituency by narrow margin. He was certain to lose from New Delhi, but there was a lady called Manju Mohan, the wife of Janata Party leader Surendra Mohan, who foolishly contested elections only to split the anti-BJP vote. Had she not stood, Advani would not have won even by the narrow majority. That damage to his prestige apparently caused him to take up Radh Yatra again. He is an utterly unprincipled man, he has waged through human blood, he destroyed a heritage building, he created communal tension and some of the Muslim leaders played into his hand.
Do you think the current crisis in BJP is an organizational one or ideological?
It is a fatal illness; the young leaders hate one another more than they hate the Congress. The BJP may not remain as a core, but remember even before partition there was an anti-Muslim constituency in the country, after partition it got aggravated by riots, Babari Masjid, Shyama Parasad Mukharji and immature Muslim behavior.
BJP began its march in 1989 with Babri Masjid. It has been played out; 20 years later it is finished. The point is that the Hindus are a great people. They have produced great men who fought even their own community for their principles: men like Jayaprakash Narayan and Jawaharlal Nehru. You would not find such men in Pakistan or Bangladesh.
Though there are several setbacks for BJP in Hindi heartlands and even in Maharashtra in recent elections, new outfits of Hindutva are active: like Sri Ram Sena in South Canara, Sanathan Sanstha who managed blasts in Goa. And Gujarat is still ruled by Narendra Modi.
The BJP represents a constituency. That constituency existed even before independence. Men like Lala Lajpat Rai, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Bipin Chandra Pal and several other leaders were people who were inciting Hindutva. You study the politics of Malaviya and Goonje. RSS was born in 1925. In fact the first person who advocated partition of India was Lala Lajpat Rai. He did that in 1924. Savarkar wrote his essay on Hindutva in the same year and in 1939 he demanded Hindu nation. Later only the Muslim League reacted. Jinnah was such a fierce nationalist that he was constantly opposed for that reason by Punjabi Muslim leaders like Muhammed Shafi and Aga Khan. Jinnah was in those days, a mediator between Hindus and Muslims. Unfortunately the Hindus let him down and he became an advocate of Muslim rights. He took some of the further steps to acquire Muslim support. Nehru was the man who told the Cabinet Mission Plan that Jinnah had no place in this country. He said this in 1946. So how would you expel him form the country? Partition was the answer. Jinnah was prepared for the Cabinet Mission Plan, on Indian unity. Not only Nehru, Gandhi also sabotaged it. Vallabhai Patel sabotaged it. The only man who wanted the Plan to succeed was Maulana Azad. He knew that partition would ruin the country and the Muslims.
[Appeared in TwoCircles.Net / Madhyamam Weekly]