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'Pak got the worst of Jinnah, India got the best of Gandhi'
Ahead of Independence Day, a look at the men who shaped the destinies of two nations.
Modern-day India and Pakistan were shaped by two men, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi. A new book, 'Jinnah vs. Gandhi', explores the similarities and differences between these two founders of their nations. Naomi Canton speaks to British historian Roderick Matthews on what he makes of the two men from Gujarat.
What inspired you to write about Indian history?
I read Modern History at Oxford University and my specialist subject was politics and the empire. I also have family links to India. My great grandfather was Charles Roberts, Under-Secretary of State for India. When Gandhi came to London in 1914, he stayed with him. Gandhi fell ill and it was Roberts who persuaded him to return to India, inadvertently precipitating the fall of the British Raj.
Gandhi was in London to meet Gopal Gokhale, a politician fighting for Indian independence, who was his and Jinnah's guru. My great grandmother Lady Cecilia Roberts took to nursing Gandhi.
There was always this family legend that we were meant to keep secret that she made him drink beef tea or something very significant, but Gandhi wrote in his autobiography that she made him drink malted milk. In 1906, Gandhi had sworn he would never drink cow's milk, so she was mortified when he told her she had made him break his vow.
What challenges did you face researching the book?
I used sources such as The Collected works of Gandhi. Gandhi is well documented, he had a great vision and was always making pronouncements, whereas with Jinnah, you can only take his words from his speeches, as he did not write memoirs nor any detailed vision for Pakistan.
Why did you decide to do a book on Jinnah vs Gandhi?
It is a hot topic and very few authors have written about them together.
What are the conclusions you draw in your book?
I say that Pakistan got the worst of Jinnah and India got the best of Gandhi and the two countries that came out of that reflect the strengths and weakness of those leaders.
Pakistan is now paranoid, too small, militarily indefensible and tends towards hero worship. India is muddled but very free, vibrant, diverse and tolerant, mostly.
I say that Jinnah had a very negative nationalism. His vision of Pakistan was that it should not be Hindu-dominated or British-dominated and filled with Muslims. But he made no attempt to define what a Muslim nation was. Muslim people always say he wanted a strict Islamic state but I don't think he did;he just wanted a state for Muslims.
Gandhi had a positive inclusive nationalism that anyone in India was Indian. India is now inclusive, noisy, merry, vibrant and positive and that is what Gandhi tried to propagate. But not all of Gandhi is represented in India as he also advocated alcohol prohibition, was anti-consumerism, pro-celibacy and against violence. So he would not like modern consumerist India with its nuclear weapons.
Gandhi was also quite medieval, quirky and strange - for example, he believed the 1934 Bihar earthquake was God's punishment for untouchability.
While Jinnah is thought of as the man who brought
religion into politics but isn't it Gandhi who muddied the waters with the Khilafat movement?
Gandhi was always looking for ways to find national unity and he thought that getting Hindus to support Muslims, as in the Khilafat movement in the 1920s, was a way of doing that. Jinnah was against it, as were many in the Congress. Supporting Khilafat was a mistake Gandhi made: it led Hindus and Muslims to distrust each other, which set India back.
Jinnah is the pork-eating, whisky-swilling man while Gandhi is the Bhagavad Gita-spouting securalist. How similar were they?
They were both nationalist, both in the Congress, both from Gujarati middle-class merchant stock, both educated in London and both barristers, who had estranged children.
The similarities end there. Gandhi was a great universalist who started on small practical things like clothes and how you treat your neighbour. He did not advocate a secular state but a tolerant state that allowed different religions but that those religions were not part of the political identity and it is because of him that India is like it is today. He also had a taste for spiritual causes.
Jinnah had big ideas but he never resolved them at a local level or in any detail. He was not at all religious, he did not like mullahs and he did not read the Qur'an. He ate ham sandwiches and drank whisky. Jinnah also wanted a secular state but yet Pakistan became an Islamic state.
Gandhi had an impish charm, which the stern Jinnah didn't seem to have and which endeared him to the Mountbattens. Did Jinnah have a sense of humour?
Jinnah never made a single joke. People often remarked on how little he laughed and how serious he was. His only joke was that he drank whisky and that showed how he had infinite faith in the mercy of God. Gandhi exuded goodwill, was full of jokes and always polite. The Mountbattens liked Gandhi and called him "an old poppet. " Jinnah was not very likeable.
Why is Pakistan lagging behind India today?
Jinnah had been asking for Partition ever since 1940 but the Congress had resisted. Then with the country becoming ungovernable, their idea was to get the best India and create the worst possible Pakistan. Jinnah had no choice but to accept Partition as he had asked for it so often. Jinnah wanted a bigger Pakistan but he got a smaller Pakistan and the provinces he got were poor. So, Pakistan was a poor country from the start.
Nehru was for it at the end as he wanted to get rid of Jinnah because he kept making more demands. The Brits had by then lost the power to impose anything. They were bankrupt by 1947 and wanted to leave India. Partition was agreed on by all parties and not imposed by, but rather backed by the British.
Nehru later admitted Partition was a mistake but they had waited so long to get into government and it was being offered to them and they could have a very big India with a big central government so they could bring social reform. Congress pushed through land reform in India whereas in Pakistan Jinnah did nothing to dismantle the land-owing elite, who were his supporters and Pakistan did not get a Constitution for another decade.
Jinnah insisted referring to Gandhi as "Mr Gandhi", never Mahatma. What does this tell us?
Jinnah disliked Gandhi and did not want to elevate his opponent. Gandhi was always very polite with his opponents. He called Jinnah Quaid-e-Azam (Great Leader). Jinnah refused to call him Mahatma (Great Soul). Jinnah did not like holy men or mullahs, and Gandhi was a Hindu, looked like a Hindu and spoke using Hindu references.
How would Jinnah and Gandhi feel about modernday India and Pakistan?
Gandhi would not have wanted the economic progress as he wanted Indians to live simple lives and return to the villages. He would approve of the nonaligned status of India in world affairs but would feel tragic about Pakistan and hate the modern Hindu nationalist movement.
Jinnah would not like Pakistan because of the poverty and intolerance. Once Pakistan got its independence, Jinnah famously stood up and said the people were free to go to their temples implying Pakistan would look after its minorities. Instead it has become an Islamic state.
If Jinnah had died before 1947, would history have been different?
Partition would not have happened because no one else could have held the Muslims together like Jinnah could. India would have become a united India.
The two men were like earth and air'
andhi worked forwards and upwards from the microscopic, personal level;hence all his worries about sexual behaviour and diet. Jinnah, however, worked backwards and downwards from grand notions and, like most modern politicians, he had no great concern with the personal realm. In line with these contrasting approaches, Gandhi tended to sustain warm friendships with many people across the political spectrum. Jinnah, by contrast, made few close bonds, and seemed almost unconcerned about maintaining the few that he had. This indifference damaged him enormously in the longer term, because reminiscences about Gandhi that have come down to us have been generally favourable, whereas Jinnah tended to accumulate more and more detractors.
One can represent this as simply the indifference of a great man to the small details of social conviviality, but it demonstrates a real difference between the two men. Gandhi was grounded, a man who literally sat on the floor to eat with guests, to whom he was unfailingly courteous, were they friend or foe. Jinnah remained aloof, in his house on Malabar Hill, untroubled by what others thought about him. India can be a dusty, windy place, and the two men were like earth and air;Gandhi understood the dust that Jinnah, for the most part, was only concerned to blow around.
One popular perception of Gandhi is that of a mystic dreamer who blithely wandered into the harsh world of politics, in which he strove to remain fastidiously holy and which he ultimately failed to understand. This view is mistaken. Gandhi understood politics very well, but he also had an acute sense of the limitations of political action. The idea that he had no grasp of politics is at heart a Western view, born of an inability to classify his thinking in Western terms. It would be an error rooted in chauvinism to assume that because he had no specific Western political locus, he was not a proper politician. Gandhi stood at a good distance from any recognizable Western '-isms'. He was only concerned with personal and national reformation, which in his view were the same thing. He disliked party politics as divisive, and as a political leader he always insisted that he was representing himself rather than anybody else. He listened inwards to his conscience, not outwards to his supporters;he never sought office. Political opponents were often unable to make sense of this strange mixture of egocentricity and selflessness. Most of them considered him to be either a saint who had stumbled into public life by mistake, or a crafty charlatan who could not be trusted because he was not trying to do the usual sorts of deals.
Jinnah on the other hand was a highly conventional politician, and can take no credit for original political thinking at any point. His -isms were nationalism and liberalism. He began his career thinking within an 'Indian' framework, in the sense of nationalist opposition to British rule;later, he renamed India's Muslim community a 'nation' and continued his opposition from a narrower base. His resistance to colonialism, then Hindu majority rule, were both for the sake of liberal values - selfdetermination and political rights. It is thus entirely possible to read Jinnah in Western terms, despite the Muslim label, while it is absolutely not possible to read Gandhi in this way. Ironically, it is Gandhi that has generally attracted more Western attention.
Extracted with permission from Hachette India.
'Jinnah vs Gandhi' by Roderick Matthews is out now in all bookstores.
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