AMONG the very few historians whose scholarship and objectivity are beyond challenge, BR Nanda ranks very high and he has shown it time and again, especially in his biographies of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, MK Gandhi, the Nehrus (father Motilal and son Jawaharlal) and other leaders, recalling the times in which they lived. One is surprised that he has taken such a long time to write on one of the most controversial-and sadly, little understood-politicians of our times, Mohammad Ali Jinnah whose ancestors were Bhatias, considering that Nanda is now 91.
If nothing else, Nanda surely is one of the very few who have personally lived in those turbulent times when communalism under the British raj raised its vicious head and Jinnah was leading India towards Partition. How did it happen? Nanda has not only watched events at first hand but he has read practically every one who has written on the subject, like Penderel Moon, Akbar Ahmed, Hector Bolitho, Judith Brown, HV Hodson, Ayesha Jalal, Allan Campbell Johnson, Uma Raura, John Gunther, Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, Saleem Qureshi, Metlubal Hasan Saiyid, Stanley Wolpert, not to speak of Rafik Zakaria.
The research Nanda has done in writing this often heart-wrenching book is unbelievable. Nanda is not interested either in defending Jinnah or blaming him but in presenting him in the context of his times telling us how the man who was once adored as the perfect example of Indian nationalism and one who so strenously upheld Hindu-Muslim unity turned to be its exact anti-thesis. Why did this barrister, so devout a follower of Gokhale, Dadabhai Naoroji and one who defended Bal Gangadhar Tilak turn out to be a proponent of the Partition of the country? The answer is given in this work, pristine in research, sterling in analysis of events that followed one another from the day Jinnah was literally booed out from the 1920 session of the Indian National Congress held in Nagpur.
The year 1920, it has often been claimed, was a landmark in the history of the freedom movement. But when Jinnah was booed, it was not Jinnah, the Muslim who was booed but the Saville Row suit-clad leader who had become redundant in a fast-changing revolutionised society. Jinnah, unlike Annie Besant, BC Pal, Hasan Imam and Kharparde could not accept it. He took the booing as a personal insult and revenge was no all that he could envisage. It has been said that the second big mistake Congress had committed was when, following its victory in the 1937 Assembly elections in United Provinces, the party declined to accept the Muslim League in what would have been a coalition government. But fancy a party expected to go into for extensive land reforms taking as partners in the ruling cabinet nawabs and zamindars who would have stymied every attempt at socio-economic reforms.!
Nanda takes us step by step on how Jinnah functioned from 1920 to 1937, how he tried to build an independent party, how in failing in that attempt, he took leave from politics to spend some time in England and how, subsequently, events enabled him to reform the Muslim League which he went on to claim was the sole representative of all Muslims in India and he, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, no less, was the sole spokesman of the League.
Nanda does not go into all those all-too-well-known details. But a note to the reader: while reading this book, keep a couple of dry kerchiefs by one’s side. They may turn out to be useful to wipe tears while reading what an otherwise decent man can do when his enormous ego is hurt and murder presides in his soulless heart.
(Routledge, 912, Tolstoy House,15-17, Tolstoy Marg, New Delhi-110 001)