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August is a month of many memories

Author: Kanchan Gupta
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: August 12, 2012
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/item/52193-august-is-a-month-of-many-memories.html

This month in 1908 Khudiram Bose embraced martyrdom. This month in 1946 Jinnah let loose murderous thugs of Muslim League. This month in 1947 he pretended to be secular!

There were two reminders via Twitter on Saturday morning. The first, rather unusual (it’s no longer fashionable to recall the heroic deeds of those who rebelled against the subjugation of India by foreigners) reminder was about Khudiram Bose, a young lad barely 18 years old, who embraced the noose on August 11, 1908, with an ode to the motherland on his smiling lips. His accomplice, Prafulla Chaki, too had preferred death over slavery. The sacred memory of Khudiram Bose, Prafulla Chaki and countless other revolutionaries of Bengal has long been erased from the national consciousness, as has been the memory of many others who shaped the destiny of this nation. Ceaseless hagiographic adulation of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty by our eminent historians who wag their tails every time a scrap is thrown their way from the high table of the Congress has ensured this tragic memory lapse. Or maybe this is simply a nation of ingrates who are so obsessed with securing their quota of welfare doled out by a mai-baap state that they have neither the time nor the need to recall the martyrdom of India’s real heroes, leave alone express gratitude towards them. Hence nobody cavils when the Congress appropriates taxpayers’ money as tribute to the dynasty that owns the party and rules the nation.

The other reminder came from a self-flagellating Hindu given to peddling fiction as fact in order to demonstrate his ‘secular’ credentials. On August 11, 1947, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, in his speech to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, memorably said, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this state of Pakistan…” That single line is recalled every August 11, year after year, to foist the memory of Jinnah as a staunch secularist who would be appalled by the pitiful sight that is Pakistan today, his moth-eaten dream that has turned into a blood-soaked nightmare. No particular purpose is served by recalling Jinnah’s highfalutin rhetoric: It did not diminish the tragic consequences of his quest for Pakistan then; it does not diminish the horrific consequences of forging an Islamic Republic now.  Yet we are reminded how Jinnah never wanted it this way, that he had hoped for a secular state, and that he continues to be misunderstood if not maligned.

All that and more about the ‘sole spokesman’ of the Indian sub-continent’s Muslims is as much bunk as the crafted history which glorifies the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty as the ‘sole contributor’ to the shaping of India’s destiny. But, for the moment, we shall talk about Jinnah and not the Nehru-Gandhis, because August also happens to be the month when rampaging Muslim League mobs laid to waste thousands of lives (at least 4,000 people were butchered according to official estimates) in the Great Calcutta Killing of August 16, 1946. This is one dark event of our past which has not received due attention of scholars; the reasons do not merit elaboration, just as it’s unnecessary to point out that journalists pretending ‘Direct Action Day’ never happened is a measure of their intellectual bankruptcy.

But that does not mean August 1946 should be air-brushed from our history, or that Jinnah never called for ‘Direct Action’. The repeated reminder of his speech on August 11, 1947, is nothing more than an attempt to whitewash his crime of August 16, 1946. That can’t be allowed, indeed must not be allowed. So let’s go back in time and history. “We will either have a divided India or a destroyed India,” Jinnah thundered as Muslim League members cheered him lustily. This was in late July 1946, a fortnight before Jinnah’s ‘direct action’ to force India’s colonial rulers in London to concede his demand for a separate homeland for Muslims.

By then, Jinnah had decided to boycott the Constituent Assembly and had rejected the initial plan for transfer of power to an interim regime that would include the Congress and the Muslim League. This was not what the Muslim League desired; it was definitely a repudiation of Jinnah’s two-nation theory that laid down, in stark black and white, his vision of Muslims as a nation separate and distinct from Hindus. The two, Jinnah decreed, could not live together. A day before declaring that he and his Muslim League would settle for nothing less than “a divided India or a destroyed India”, he had railed against the “Hindu-dominated Congress”.

Today, much is made of Jinnah’s partiality towards constitutionalism. On that July day, he had set aside all such partialities and declared: “We are forced in our own self-protection to abandon constitutional methods... The decision we have taken is a very grave one.” If India’s Muslims, Jinnah added, were not granted their separate Pakistan, they would launch “direct action”. Any doubts that may have lingered about the true intentions of the Muslim League under Jinnah’s leadership, any uncertainties that may have remained about what exactly he meant by ‘direct action’, were washed away by the blood-letting that began on August 16, 1946, in Calcutta when Muslim League activists, observing ‘Direct Action Day’, murdered men, women and children with chilling cruelty. Huseyn Shaheen Suhrawardy, a shining star in the Muslim League firmament and head of the Government of undivided Bengal with a Muslim majority, did not so much as wag his plump little finger to admonish the killers. By the time the silence of the dead descended on Calcutta, there were far too many carcasses than vultures could feast upon.

More importantly, the Great Calcutta Killing marked the beginning of Jinnah’s ‘direct action’. The massacre at Noakhali, the depredations inflicted on Hindus and Sikhs in the North-West Frontier Province and the horrendous communal violence that swept through Punjab directly resulted from the Quaid-e-Azam’s questionable decision to “abandon constitutional methods” in his search for a homeland for the sub-continent’s Muslims.

Jinnah was no mullah in a cleric’s robe with a flowing beard. Margaret Bourke-White, a correspondent and photographer for Life magazine, was in India in 1946. She was present at the Press conference where Jinnah had announced the League’s decision to go for ‘direct action’ and was struck by the oddity of it all. In her book, Halfway to Freedom: A Report on the New India, published in 1949, she described Jinnah as “cool, calculating, unreligious... a thoroughly Westernised, English-educated attorney-at-law with a clean-shaven face and razor-sharp mind”. That someone like him should have agreed to ‘direct action’ was, to a Western observer, an oddity.

Not really, though. Never mind Jinnah’s fondness for drink and food forbidden by Islam. Forget too his so-called liberal worldview. He saw himself as distinctly separate from his erstwhile Hindu colleagues in the Congress; he saw no place for Muslims in Hindu majority India. His politics was hinged on the ideology of communal separatism.

To quote a snatch from Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech, in which he made a passing reference to Pakistan as a ‘liberal’ state, in order to assert that he was ‘secular’, to say the least, is extremely loathsome. It does grave injustice to August 11, the day a young nationalist from a humble home in Bengal walked the short distance between his cell and the gallows at Muzaffarpur Jail, his head held high, chanting Vande Mataram.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi.)
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