Making a mountain of a molehill

Jinnah Controversy

By Poonam I Kaushish

Question: Name the latest con word that can divide a nation on communal lines?
Answer: Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder and hence responsible for India’s Partition.
Question: What is it about him that our politicians have retouched his portrait with a fresh coat of stereotypes and suspicions about Indians Muslims?
Answer: Vote bank politics. Whereby, all communal-secular additions, subtractions and divisions put together provide manifold hope for our polity and is their bread and butter to power.
Never mind that in the process they debauch everyone and everything many times over. Conveniently, forgetting that Jinnah was once a nationalist and rose to become an important figure in the Indian National Congress.
The controversy has its genesis in the BJP’s Aligarh MP writing to the Chancellor of renowned Aligarh Muslim University last week raising objections to Pakistan’s Qaid-e-Azam’s portrait inside the Students Union Hall hanging there for decades to be removed questioning this seat of learning’s patriotism and claiming the portrait’s presence was proof the AMU harbouring anti-national elements. Earlier the Hindu Yuva Vahini had demanded RSS shakhas on the campus and accussed it of producing jihadis.
Adding to the fracas UP Chief Minister Yogi asserted, “Jinnah divided the country there is no question of celebrating or eulogizing him in India. His photo might be coming off for good.” Added Union Minister Naqvi, “the issue would be resolved with a sensitive approach.” Countered the Congress, Pakistan’s Qaid-e-Azam was a freedom fighter and we should respect him just as Shaeed Bhagat Singh is respected in Pakistan. And NCP Chief Sharad Pawar dared Yogi’s Maharashtra counterpart Fadnavis to demolish the Jinnah House, once the Mumbai residence of Pakistan’s founder.
Questionably, why should the university which started in 1875 be forced to disown and distort its own history? How does AMU become ‘anti-national’ by keeping Jinnah’s portrait merely as a sign of its past? Is it the Saffron Sangh’s modus operandi to effectively erase historical data which it does not agree with and inert their own narrative in its place? Since AMU is a Central University why has the HRD Ministry not removed it till now?
Is the NDA trying to tell us that a portrait in a university tantamounts to being anti-national? Is it trying to light up strong Hindutva policies by reigniting old communal passions? Does this have a more vote-winning potential? Should this become litmus of one’s patriotism? Is this the Sangh’s way of teaching us a lesson in rashtra prem and desh bhakti?’ Replete with ‘It’s my way or highway’ attitude.
Undoubtedly, one can argue that universities and other educational institutions are established to impart learning and skills to students and arm them with the requisite knowledge to prosper later in any sphere they desire. Further, as these institutions are heavily subsidized it stands to reason that the students study and not create nuisance, fan hatred or ignite communal fires.
Certainly, at one end it betrays a new fragility in our national ego, which thrives on a virulent anti-intellectualism. Educational institutions, it seems, must conform to prescriptive nationalist histories or pay the price. Forgetting the portrait was put up long before Indian and Pakistani histories were bifurcated. Thus, to erase this past is regressive.
Added a historian, “AMU is also a historical artefact, a realisation of the Aligarh Movement in concrete, literally. Like most of India’s artefacts, the University tells us about the long journey the idea of India has undertaken with all its complexities and contradictions. The past is not an annoying neighbour you decide to stay away from.”
At the other, undoubtedly, the Hindutva Brigade’s ball game seems to be of using Jinnah’s portrait as an issue to demonize AMU, ‘fix it’ to draw battle lines on a campus ideologically far-removed from the Sangh, consequently vilify Indian Muslims and paint them as divisive, having affiliations with and sympathies for Pakistan and resort to majoritarian.
Thereby, playing out the politics of communal polarisation for consolidation of electoral gains ahead of the Kairana Lok Sabha by-poll and multiple elections in various States along-with sustaining it till the next Lok Sabha election next year. “Jab apni sarkar hai, toh darr kis baat ka?” is the popular sentiment.
Once again bringing to fore the fault-lines running deep within our society. A part of an epidemic of hooliganism, a growing trend of reacting to ideas that one does not like with physical force. Not for them the fact that the University has a historical tradition of conferring honorary life membership to eminent individuals. The first ever to receive the honour was Gandhiji and Jinnah in 1938.
Other recipients are Ambedkar, Rajendra Prasad, Maulana Azad, Sir CV Raman, Jayaprakash Narayan, Mother Teresa etc. Conveniently forgetting that Modi had inaugurated the Bombay High Court museum, showcasing Jinnah’s Barrister’s certificate along with Gandhiji’s! The saffronites didn’t protest then against the judicial preservation of history.
Besides, the Hindutva Brigade needs to jog its memory, of ex-BJP President Advani calling Jinnah “secular” on his visit to Pakistan in 2005. Further, he quoted Sarojini Naidu who called Pakistan’s Qaid-e-Azam an “ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. My respectful homage to this great man.” Predictably, all hell broke loose in the Saffron Sangh and Advani was removed as President only to be reinstated two years later.
Alas, the idea seems to be to distort history by projecting Jinnah as the sole villain of India’s division and for the death of thousands of Hindus and Muslims. Said a senior BJP leader, “What is it that the university is trying to assert by not removing Jinnah’s portrait? Statues of Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bhagat Singh were demolished in Pakistan.”
True, since 2014 the BJP-led Government has been on a name changing spree Delhi’s Aurangzeb Road into ABJ Kalam, Mughalsarai station renamed Deen Dayal Upadhyay etc. But there is only one little hitch. The fantasy of India as Akhand Bharat with a clean slate to make it a playground for Hindutva fascism is threatened by the country’s plural history and syncretism.
Rightly or wrongly, the country seems to be in the grip of self-styled chauvinism and cultural dogmas wherein celebrities, films and now students are fast becoming soft targets with knee-jerk reactions taking over debates and calibrated decisions and no writer, thinker, historian or social scientist can honestly do his/her research objectively.
Our leaders need to realize history is to help society identify and assert itself in a plularistic democracy. A history which makes it a composite whole today with people having a tendency to hold on to their past. A blanket condemnation of anything one does not like or approve of is saying goodbye to another’s viewpoint and the idea of democracy. Life is lived in the slim strip called the ‘official.’
Pertinently, a nation is about its people. There simply is no way to erase the remnants of the long journey India has undertaken before it turned into a republic. We need to obfuscate the issue as it exaggerates the world creating a demonology of its own that sees every act of defiance as a monster. As philosopher-poet George Santayana said: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. What gives? —— INFA