Triumph of the ego

jinnah

Mohammed Ali Jinnah (1876-1948) saw the realisation of his ambition, the formation  of a sovereign nation for Indian Muslims: Pakistan, a year before he died as its supreme leader. Jinnah was a brilliant barrister and orator. His brilliance is described by Rafiq Zakaria in his book “The Man who divided India“. The author, clearly recognising his subject’s skills, does not rate him highly as an individual. His lucid, well-reasoned text makes this very clear.

At first, Jinnah, who was always attracted to politics, strove for Hindu-Muslim unity/harmony in pre-independence India. Various factors, including his disapproval of the anti-British Khilafat uprisings of India’s Muslims following WW1, led to him being sidelined by both the Indian National Congress and the main Indian Muslim political groupings. This led to him leaving India and establishing a legal practice in London and also attempting (in vain) to become involved in British parliamentary politics. 

Returning to India after a few years in London, Jinnah recommenced his struggle to become prominent in the Indian polical scene. To do this, he abandoned the idea of working for Hindu-Muslim unity for the opposite – the alienation of India’s Muslims. This proved successful. Under his leadership of the Muslim League, he promoted the idea of a separate sovereign state for India’s Muslims by indoctrinating his followers to believe that as the Congress became more powerful and when the British left India, Muslims would be at the very least dominated by the Hindus. By 1947, when the British gave up their hold on India, the formation of Pakistan, a sovereign state for Indian Muslims, was guaranteed.

The formation of Pakistan was associated with mass movements of people: Muslims into Pakistan, Hindus and Sikhs out of the newly created country. During this ‘Partition’, there was massive loss of life and much irreversible misery both in Pakistan and India. Furthermore, Pakistan was not one contiguous territory, but two widely separated portions: West Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

Zakaria describes how Jinnah, the great leader of the  Muslims, was really a very unobservant Muslim. Throughout his life, Jinnah ate pork, enjoyed alcohol, hardly knew the Koran, and never learnt Urdu, the language of the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. According to Zakaria, Jinnah did not hold his fellow Muslims in high regard, to put it mildly. It appeared to me while reading the book that Jinnah took advantage of Muslim fears of possible domination by the Hindus to further his ambitions of achieving political prominence, which were indeed successful.

Zakaria uses the last few chapters of his fascinating book to discuss the legacy of Jinnah’s creation, Pakistan. He paints a gloomy picture. Having espoused the idea of the separateness of the Muslims, and promoted the idea that the Indian Muslims were a ‘race’ or ‘nation’ separate from their non-Muslim Indian neighbours, Jinnah, like his hero the Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk in Turkey, decided that Pakistan should become a ‘modern’ secular state rather than some kind of Islamic entity. He wanted to govern Pakistan using the model of British imperialism, which the Indian subcontinent had just freed itself. This has not happened in Pakistan; it is now an Islamic state.

Zakaria emphasises that far from unifying India’s Muslims, Jinnah’s creation of Pakistan has achieved the very opposite. The Muslims of the subcontinent are now divided between Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. Many families have members now separated by international borders. Many Muslims in India continue to live with the fear that they are somehow threatened by the Hindu majority in the country.  In addition, within Pakistan itself, different factions of Muslims (Sunnis, Shias, and others) are in permanent conflict with each other. In Bangladesh, there are also problems. And, if that were not bad enough, the political situation in modern Pakistan is extremely unstable and life there is far from peaceful. From what I have read in Zakaria’s interesting and highly readable book, Jinnah’s dream of unifying India’s Muslims has turned into a nightmare.

To conclude, it should be mentioned that Zakaria, an Indian Muslim, has served the Indian Congress Party, which opposed Jinnah in the years before independence,  as a high-ranking official. Despite that, I felt that his book attempts quite successfully to give a balanced view of Jinnah and his politics without concealing his own views.

Biography of an idealist

gandhi blog

I have just finished reading a 660 page biography of Mahatma Gandhi. Its author, Rajmohan Gandhi, is one of his grandsons, a noted historian.

Gandhi was an idealist with a highly original mind. After a childhood in Gujarat (part of western India), he studied in London and became a barrister. After a brief return to India, Gandhi set off for South Africa to dwork as a barrister. He remained in South Africa for many years, managing his legal practice and fighting for the rights of Indians living in the country – actually, countries as South Africa was only unified in 1910. His struggles for the rights of the Indians was the proving ground for methods of non-violent revolution which he brought to India when he returned there for good in 1915.

It is no exaggeration to claim that Gandhi’s activities and his saintly persona, more than anything else, prepared the Indian masses for a desire to become liberated from the yoke of British imperial rule. Rajmohan Gandhi describes and explains this lucidly. So great was the respect for Gandhi all over India, that he was able to resolve numerous problems with the government or between different communities simply by fasting. He was willing to starve himself to death, but neither the British authorities nor most Indians were prepared to lose him. So, they gave in to his not unreasonable demands. His mass non-violent protests that were joined by thousands of ordinary people, who were prepared to be imprisoned or to be beaten by the police without offering resistance, often achieved their aims.

By the mid-1940s, the situation in India was such that the British began planning to leave it. During the lead up to Independence in August 1947 and after the Partition of India and the formation of the new state of Pakistan, India was plagued by excessively violent inter-communal conflicts: Hindus vs Muslims and Sikhs vs Muslims. Despite numerous fasts, Gandhi was unable to keep the peoples of India unified.

Gandhi’s ideals included seeing India achieve its independence. He was also keen to maintain harmony between members of India’s different religions. He did witness India’s freedom from the British, but had to suffer in the knowledge that despite his efforts, Independence was achieved whilst inter-communal violence kept increasing.

There were many in India who did not share Gandhi’s desire for inter-religious harmony. Amongst these were the so-called ‘Hindu nationalists’. It was a group of them who assasinated the Mahatma in 1948 at one of his prayer meetings in New Delhi.

Rajmohan Gandhi’s account of his famous grandfather is thorough. It gives a good idea of the Mahatma’s personality and his brilliance with dealing with everyone from the humblest harijan (‘untouchable’ or ‘dalit’) to the most pompous of politicians both Indian and British.

In brief, this book is first class and I can strongly reccommend it.

 

Postscript:

The book described above deals with the Mahatma’s rather eccentric, to put it mildly, relationship with women. However, it avoids mentioning his prejudices aagainst black Africans during the first few years of his sojourn in South Africa. No one is perfect! As he grew older, he could no longer be accused of holding racist views.

Hitler for children

hitler

 

In a previous blog (see: https://adam-yamey-writes.com/2019/01/15/hitler-on-the-shelf/ ), I have written about the prevalence of copies of Hitler’s Mein Kampf in bookshops all over India. Here is an article I wrote a few years ago about a book about Hitler aimed at Indian children.

I was browsing the shelves in Gangaram’s Bookshop in Bangalore (India) when I found a book about Hitler, which was published in 2007 (ISBN: 9788131002520). It is part of a series called “Biographies of Great Personalities”, aimed at younger Indian readers . The garishly covered book caught my eye in that large well-known bookshop in Bangalore. When I flicked through it, I noticed that it was illustrated with line drawings, many of which showed Adolf Hitler in Indian settings with palm trees. At 40 Rupees (less than half a Pound Sterling), I could not resist buying the 93 page book.

 The author, Igen B, is a prolific writer. He has published well over 70 short books including biographies of personalities as diverse as Jesus Christ, Bhagat Singh, Mother Teresa, Ashoka the Great, Chhatrapati Shivaji, Shakuntala, and Netaji Chandra Bose. As well as these he has written versions of great Indian classics such as the Vedas, the incarnations of Lord Vishnu, and the Mahabharata. That these books are probably aimed at children is evident from the format and appearance of the books and also the fact that one of his titles is “Illustrated Model Book of School Essay etc.” Therefore, his potential audience is the innocent and impressionable younger mind. This should be remembered whilst paging through his children’s biography of Adolf Hitler.

More than half of the text is dedicated to Hitler’s childhood about which not much is known in detail, his career as an artist, and his rise to power. The author of this book, Igen B, blames a disturbed childhood in a dysfunctional family for much of what Hitler was to become.  The future dictator’s disillusionment with the lack of German national pride and his disappointment with the country’s leadership during WW1 were, according to this book, also important formative factors. As, are also the Jews: unquestioningly, Igen B repeats the kind of dangerous nonsense about the Jews that Hitler and many Germans believed.

Having gained power, we learn of Hitler’s campaign to relieve the Jews of any role in public life, and his hatred of the communists. We also learn of his desire to tear up the Treaty of Versailles, and how he went about doing so. So far, the reader is presented with something that faintly resembles what is now common knowledge about the history of Germany just before and during the brief, but long enough, era of Nazi rule. The penultimate 4 pages of the book describe some aspects of WW2. The last page of text is dedicated the last days of Hitler and his new bride Eva Braun.

Nowhere in the book are the mass murders perpetrated by the Nazis even hinted at, let alone mentioned. This worries me greatly considering that the book is sold in bookshops in India, and most of these also sell Hitler’s pernicious ‘autobiography’ “Mein Kampf”.

Igen B’s book is aimed at an Indian audience. It is appropriate in a way that the illustrations are drawn with an Indian ‘flavour’, as many readers are unlikely to have visited Europe or are ever likely to do so. The spelling of many German words and names is peculiar. For example we read of ‘Hebzburg’ (Habsburg), ‘Strum Abtiling’ (Sturmabteilung), ‘fonn’ (von), ‘Versai’ (Versailles), and ‘Hoffbraha’ (Hofbrauhaus). Whilst these original spellings are used more than once and are thus unlikely to be typographic errors, they may also be purposeful. It is possible that the author, realising that most of his readers are likely to be unfamiliar with German pronunciation, has transliterated them so as to make them pronounceable by readers of English.

I picked up this book as a curio, and read it. The author appears to have done some research, but his or her interpretation and presentation of the facts is somewhat unusual. His lack of emphasis of Hitler’s evil influences and deeds in a book aimed at impressionable youngsters is worrying to say the least.  The impression I had after reading it was that Hitler was portrayed as an unfortunate child, who grew up with the aim of making Germany a great nation. I was not given the impression that he was even a fraction of the monster that he was in reality. I had rather the same impression after watching the end of the film Downfall made in 2004. Hitler’s final moments during that film were almost heart-rending; the power of film and literature cannot be underrated. This is why Igen B’s book on Hitler might well be considered malevolent, even if the author’s intention was otherwise, to be purely informative.