Aug 072012

My second book, Jinnah vs. Gandhi, is published by Hachette on 10 August, and an interview with me in The Times of India should appear on 11 August. That interview will necessarily be limited in space and scope, so for those curious about the book I will sketch out some of what it contains.

One central element of the book is my analysis of how Jinnah and Gandhi adopted different approaches to nationalism, and how the experience was overwhelmingly more positive for India. Gandhi had a non-doctrinaire conception of nationalism, based on an inclusive vision of India. He merely wished to redefine India as an independent country, away from British rule, which he believed was stopping India from recovering her historic unity, and was preventing Indians from taking responsibility for themselves in their own lives. Swaraj for him always had a greater political, and a lesser personal meaning, although in his conception the personal issue was prior to the political, and was therefore more important in actually delivering results on a mass scale. Gandhi wanted India to be non-British, but he had a positive vision of what a truly Indian India would be like.

Jinnah, on the other hand, developed a special version of nationalism that was essentially negative. The demand for Pakistan was based on a vision of a new country that would be ‘Muslim’, but he never defined exactly what he meant by this. He was trapped to some extent by the political exigencies of holding together a broad coalition to press for the new country, so keeping the agenda vague always paid political dividends for him. The result was that the most that could be said about the new country was that it would be not-Hindu, and not-colonial. In sum, not-India, safely outside the dominance of the Congress party.

Both leaders unleashed powerful mass movements, but only one created a viable country with a defined culture. The inclusiveness of India has stood in contrast to the narrower society of Pakistan ever since.

The point here is not to denigrate Pakistan or Pakistanis, it is to illustrate that, when unleashing the very powerful forces that nationalism can generate, it is crucially important to understand what nationalism is. It can create community purpose like no other political force, but any leader who seeks to use it ought to be very careful about how he or she does so. Gandhi seems to have understood this, and was scrupulous about his language, whereas Jinnah was never very particular.

In my opinion there is a pivotal and wholly characteristic reason for this.

Gandhi always worked upwards from small details to larger concepts. His political imagination focused on individual hearts as the main material of politics. He reflected on what an independent India would be like, and he was certain that there were two things to be avoided at all costs. One, he did not want the new country to inherit a legacy of violence, among Indians or against the British, and two, after the British left he did not want Indians to behave in the way they had done under colonial rule. To do so would not be to create a new and better India, but to preserve a degenerate form of ‘Englistan’. Peace and personal spiritual reform were the answers, and these two things he pursued to his dying day.

Jinnah did not have much of a reform agenda at all, personal or social, beyond a vague liberal concept of ‘uplift’. Many of his heaviest backers were rich landowners, and he always avoided radical economic ideas. His sole concern was to protect the political rights of Muslims against a Hindu majority that he felt convinced was malign. This was an understandable objective, but Jinnah’s intellectual limitations put him, and all Pakistanis since, in a certain quandary. His original concern was to make sure that Muslism shared equally in the blessings that independence would bring. But he always started from the big picture, the grand idea, which left him weak on details. This is why he never gave Pakistan a detailed form or any kind of specific political shape.

He wished to protect the political rights of Muslims who, as a group, are defined by religion. This was the central flaw in his project, and one that has not been resolved since.

 Posted by at 3:32 pm

  5 Responses to “Jinnah, Gandhi and Nationalism”

  1. My father curiously wants to read the book but he would be comfortable in Hindi. Just let me know that would the book be also published in Hindi ?? If yes, then by when would it be available.

    • I’m not sure whether there are any such plans. I will ask for you, and reply.

      • I have asked Hachette, and they say they are looking to twin up with a Hindi language publisher on a general basis, but there are no deals currently in place. Sorry.

  2. Looking forward to reading your book! Do you have an e copy of the book for sale? been trying to look for it, but cant find it. Though i would love to buy the hardcover version at some time, but alas, my work does not permit me to sit down, and read a book at leisure like i used to in my teenage years :( All that i can do now is read up on books on my tablet (which is never the same as having a good hardcover in your hands and a mug of warm chocolate to go with it!) sometimes i wonder if civilization has made us civilized or plain monkeys hunkering from one place to the next! do let me know if an ebook is up for sale! I am residing in India.

    • Hello Rohan,

      I will ask about the ebook format for you. They really should have one somewhere…

      If they don’t, I’ll see if they can get some home made pasta across to you.

      Ah, leisure. I sort of remember that.

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