August 13, 2006

Need of Rewriting the Gandhian Era


Prof. Khanna has tired to tackle some of the major questions concerning Indian history in his article Mohammad Ali Jinnah which remain unanswered to this day. He has adopted a contextual theme to present his view on the basis of secondary sources. However, I am here, trying to emphasis a different dimension which also has relevance for Indian History and its teaching in India. Prof. Khanna has raised the following questions and tried to answer them in a befitting manner.

The questoins which he had tried to answer are as follows:
What were the factors that within three years of the elections he openly announced the two nation theory, and made the formation of a separate State as the goal of the Muslim League.
a. Did the failure in the elections forced him to think otherwise?
b. Did the British rulers influence over him for this goal?
c. Was the short-sightedness of the Congress leadership responsible for Jinnah turning his path from a nationalist leader to a communal and separatist leader?
d. Had he become a puppet in the hands of the communal Muslim leadership?

One of the major theses he has given is that the electoral politics had laid the ground for a game plan for Jinnah and Muslim League. He has tried to bring out this thesis on the basis of figures on the election results. The election result of 1937 has always remained a major research point for the Indian historians and those who tried to study the history of India. On this issue, Prof. Khanna had touched the right chord but did not elaborate much on it. However, he has reached a conclusion. He writes, " Thus the League, after its failure in the 1937 elections had decided to wear the communal garb and it clicked." I modify it. I say that Jinnah wore the garb of communal politics after the failure in the 1937 elections and it clicked.

The second question is more pertinent and sensitive. It asks about the responsibility of Congress itself in inducing repulsion among the Muslim electorates against the policies of Congress and finally gave credence to Muslim League’s ‘Two Nation Theory’. Now, the Congress critics may grimace and Congressmen would yearn to twist the neck of Prof. Khanna. But there is truth in the elucidation given by the author. In Tara Chand version of history, the working of Congress government had been eulogised. But it never satisfies a researcher who tries to seek exact reports of the policies adopted and works done by Congress. Jwahar Lal Nehru might have given glowing account in his ‘Discovery of India’ of the exuberance of the common man visiting the offices of ministers held by Indians, but the question remains that whether it had also turned away another section from those offices wherein the ministers with Gandhi caps and Khadi were holding their darbars. The second point which the author has taken is the alliances of parties which was planned for United Province. Congress had betrayed Muslim League at that point when they did not go for allied rule at that time. It just reminds us about the recent alliance with NCP in Maharashtra wherein encouraged by election result it has forced the NCP to give away CM seat to Congress and also the failure of BJP when it became overconfident of itself before 2004 elections and broke away with Chauthala INLD party in Harayana and Karunnidhi DMK in Tamil Nadu. No doubt, Prof. Khanna has made a pointed remark that "it had a disastrous impact on the future course of history."

The apologist for Congress decisions may give numerous arguments in favour of 1937 decisions. Somewhere, by loosing Jinnah, the Congress lost the case of united India. If they try to stretch their argument too far then only one conclusion can be reached. They had lost the united India by saving India for the Hindus. This theory has never come up in case of Congress but it had definitely came up for the Muslim League. Muslim League thus obtained the slogan that they were saving Pakistan for the Muslims.

The third issue of the role of British rulers in using the rift between League and Congress for the benefit of the war efforts of allies is also very important. They issued August Declaration that "no constitution should be enacted by His Majesty’s Government and the Parliament without the consent and approval of Muslim India." It gave courage to Muslim league to follow up their Yaum-i-Nijat with Pakistan declaration. Somewhere, a feeling emerges that Congress did the wrong thing by demitting the office at that juncture. It gave grounds for manipulation for the British administration. They tried to play with both Gandhi and Jinnah and they succeeded in their game. All the talks of Cripps Mission, his returning back, Quit India movement, Wavell, Rajgopalacharia formula etc do not appeal to reasoning. They all emerge as justification for the Congress activities and nothing else. The fact was that Britain got the chance to play ‘Divide and Rule’ policy with vengeance and their main task at that time was to checkmate fascist forces in the interest of their own nation and Allies. It is a mere issue of debate whether there was any stuff in demand for Pakistan. Was the Muslim League really serious about it? The fact remains that Congress lost Jinnah and the ground realities and contemporary situation helped the British government to play Jinnah and Gandhi against each other for their own safeguards. The events which took place after 1945, just adopted a natural course of happenings. The die was cast well in 1937. The transformation of Jinnah from nationalist to separatist can be an issue and debate for the Indians but as for Pakistan, he became the saviour. One may discuss it in either of the way. One may debate that Jinnah was against communal politics but later became a separatist. One may say that he was always in favour of Muslim dominated rule and forced Congress to bend to his whims which the latter refused to oblige. But the fact remains somewhere, in 1930s, it was a loss to India when the Congress lost Jinnah. Now, when Congress lost Jinnha, it can say that Jinnah was not a secularist but the history tells something else.

However, Prof. Khanna has left one question incomplete. The question is Had he become a puppet in the hands of the communal Muslim leadership? He has tried to answer it to some extent but it would have been better had he studied it separately.


Now the article of Prof. Khanna has another dimension also. He is a teacher of history for the last 22 years. I am teaching history at undergraduate and postgraduate level for the last 16 years. As per the course of Punjab University Chandigarh, we get the opportunity to teach history of Modern India. Therein, we teach the period from 1919 to 1947 in detail. This portion of Indian history is also an inseparable part of All India Civil Services examination. It forms an important part of General Studies Paper I in Mains. It is quite crucial for the aspirants of Civil Services.

However, we never teach the Jinnah story in our classes. In Indian history, we term 1919 period onwards as Gandhi Era. Some of the major headings for elaboration are Philosophy of Satyagraha, Gandhi’s Earlier Satyagraha’s in India, Rowlatt Act, Jallianwala Bagh tragedy, Khilafat movement wherein we never point out that it did not have the support of Jinnah, Non-Cooperation Movement, Nagpur Session and Working Committee of Congress, Chaurichaura Incidence and Gandhi’s Declaration from Bardoli, Constructive Programmes of Gandhiji, Activities of Swarajist Party and Gandhi view on participation in electoral politics at that stage, Simon Commission, Nehru Report and for the first time we bring Jinnah through his Fourteen Demands, Lahore Session and Puran Swaraj Resolution, Second Civil Disobedience Movement and Dandi March, Gandhi-Irwin Pact and Round Table Conference wherein we do not refer that Jinnah participated only in the first Round Table Conference, Communal Award, Poona Pact, rise of Socialists in Congress, rise of Dalit movement, Freedom Struggle in Princely States and view of Gandhiji, in between we also discuss Armed revolt or revolutionary movements different from Congress political activities and thus we reach 1937, that crucial year when the course of the history of India changed.

From there onwards, we try to trace activities upto Quit India Movement. For this, we discuss Government of India Act 1935, Provincial Elections and formation of Congress ministry wherein we avoid discussing the process of forming ministries in United Province and Bengal Province, Faizpur Session and peasants demand, then the Second World War and the reason of Congress Demitting the office wherein in we make special mention of separatist activity of Muslim League when they declared their Pakistan resolution, then the Cripps Mission and finally the Quit India movement.

After Quit India Movement, the debate always remains confined to Gandhi politics and Jinnah’s adamant stances on demands from the British rule vis-i-vis Muslims. With the discussion of Cabinet Mission plan, the discussion includes the role of Muslim League, their arm twisting techniques for constitutional assembly and interim government, their direct action day and finally the Mountbatten Plan. At this stage, there remains a full stress on the Congress activity and as teachers we fear that some student may not ask some uncomfortable question concerning the actual reason of accepting the partition of India.

Now in light of the article by Prof. Khanna, it may be apparent to some knowledgeable people that there is need to cover the story of Jinnah along with the freedom struggle under the Congress. It will not bring down the significance of the role of Congress but on the other hand, emphasis its contribution. Similarly, the role of Revolutionaries as well communist should also be made part of the general history of Modern India. They are completely missing.

Nowhere, it is being desired and suggested here that there Congress committed a fault. History does not pass judgement like that. It tries to study the things as it happened. The problems arises when under some wrong notion, some facts are hidden. It never helps. Rather, it damages one or the other groups. In the present geo-political situation, there is a need to reframe the contours as being taught in Modern Indian history.


Finally, I direct the attention to the bibliography which Prof. Khanna has given. His has pointed out the citation from various secondary sources. I consider it an important feature. During my course of developing of this blog, I have been concentrating on the dependable write ups as available on the net. There is need that whosoever writes on history, he must follow the rule of history. The Blogger must mention or cite the source from where he is deriving his argument. With the digitization of sources, it has become easy now. It is acquiring a practical shape. Some teachers, like William J. Turkel, who are equally comfortable with Information and Communication technology, are developing good models which will be mainstay of such academic activities on internet. The people who have some objection against activities like Wikipedia should try to evaluate the activity of Prof. R. K. Khanna. They should look at the manner, as the academic article should be presented.

I also hope, that those, who have this objection and they are right in raising that objection, that there are no good articles and source materials on net for Indian history, will find it useful.

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