Monday, June 3, 2013

Pity of Twitterati: Dr. Ayesha Jalal, Manto, Jinnah and us

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

First the obvious question: Why is this on my law blog? Well because I am a lawyer.

Next. Here is a short story from Manto for our readers:
Khu, speak out immediately. Who are you?'
'I.... I....'
'Son of Satan, speak speak, speak! Are you an Indu (Hindu) or a Muslimeen (Muslim)?'
'Khu, who is your Prophet?'
'Mohammad Khan.'
'That's right, go.'
(Saadat Hassan Manto)

But First: My morbid, excessive, psychotic fascination with Jinnah
Admitted as being factual!  Do I have a fascination with Jinnah which is excessive? Indeed. I am sure if someone was to look up DSM V, they would be able to diagnose several disorders. Indeed I have never denied it. So why assume that I’d be embarrassed by it. Herein lies the rub though – a world where people are willing to kill in the name of religion, ideology, freedom, nation– add your preferred reason-  tweeting in defence of Jinnah or “those who say nice things about him” or writing a blog or an article is hardly something that qualifies as an emergency.  How does this relate to the topic at hand. Well because it is assumed that since I am defending Ayesha Jalal’s book (am I?) I am doing so because Ayesha Jalal “said nice things about Jinnah” with whom I have a morbid fascination.
Incidentally this is the gent who seems to have the biggest issue with my morbid fascination with Jinnah.

A red rose? Imagine if I were to take a red rose to Jinnah’s mausoleum in Karachi and make that my twitter profile picture.  Here is however a gentleman who is a psychiatrist by training it seems but who travels hundreds if not thousands of miles for the sake of his ideology carrying a red rose and then having his picture taken with Marx’s bust.  Nothing wrong with that – after all I appreciate morbid fascinations of all kinds.  Imagine the hypocrisy, however, of being a cog in the capitalist system of the most anti-Marx state on the planet and then doing this. Why only 90 miles from Florida where the good doctor allegedly practices medicine, the utopia of all Marxist dreams exists in form of Cuba.  Why does the good doctor not do the right thing and move there? But then like the Mullahs who abuse America as the great Satan and still live there, self styled Marxists also find the cozy comforts of capitalist Amrika too much to abandon for an ideological state like Cuba or North Korea.  It is always hard to put your money where your mouth is.  At least my psychotic, morbid and excessive fascination with Jinnah is not hypocritical. There I said it.
There is no comparison in my humble opinion between the two of course. My morbid fascination with Jinnah is not based on any hatred.  So let us assume a state of ceteris paribus on morbid fascinations even if my morbid fascination does not hold a candle to the various fascinations that my critics hold. The gent in question – Mr. Taqi- also accuses me of being racist. Why? Because I quoted a verse from Khushal Khan Khattak that did not seem to sit well with Pushtun nationalist sensibilities and therefore I must be a anti-Pushtun racist. Unless you have gori chamri like Dalrymple (or more recently Daisy Rockwell), you cannot make such comments. However as a Marxist living in the great Marxist utopia of Gainesville Florida, you can declare all Urdu speakers lying scum of the earth.
“All those who speak in Urdu are liars”
 It was not racist however when addressing the World Sindhi Conference, @Mazdaki mian declared that speaking in Urdu is akin to lying. Because well self styled Marxists who live in the US can never be racist.  Signing off on documents calling for ethnic divisions and hatred and calling all Urdu speakers in the world “liars” cannot be construed as racism. In the Marxist town of Gainesville Florida, this is legitimate freedom of expression painted in red.
At the drop of a hat, Mr. Taqi accuses anyone who disagrees with him – like Sherry Rahman and the Jinnah institute for example - as “working for the ISI” and the security establishment of Pakistan.  Would it not be logical then to ask the question as to who is funding his round trips to various conferences promoting ethnic fault lines, linguistic hatred and disintegration of Pakistan? Who has asked him to sign off on statements calling for an immediate separation of the Sindh province from the Pakistani federation?  Frankly I have never suspected anyone of being a paid agent because – right or wrong – I have never been “paid” by anyone.  It follows though that those who scream the loudest about others being “paid” may be paid by someone themselves.  Perhaps such payoffs are necessary to keep talented Marxists from biting the bullet and taking up residence in Havana.  

Daisy Rockwell’s review of Ayesha Jalal’s book on Manto:

Before I continue any further, let me state that I haven’t read Pity of Partition yet but having read Manto, I would agree with the general idea or claim (made by Daisy Rockwell) that Manto cannot be reduced to his writings on partition. Two of the most fascinating Manto stories are “Niya Qanoon” and “Swaraj ke liye”.  Similarly his “Ganjay Farishtay” sketches have nothing to do with partition, not even his “Mera Sahib” sketch which is about Jinnah.
Still what did one expect when one picked up a book by the foremost historian on partition? I suspect that the reason why one would want to read Ayesha Jalal’s book on Manto has to do with the fact that she is a historian of partition as well as being Manto’s grand niece.  Given this context most of Ms. Rockwell’s criticism is redundant and at other times bordering on absurd.  To begin with the title is absolutely and completely misleading. What myth of the lone ranger has Ayesha Jalal created that Rockwell is out to “demolish”?
Consider the paragraph on Manto’s alcoholism. Ms. Rockwell writes:
“While we can only speculate on the true nature of Manto’s alcoholism and his early death, this reads a bit like a family story: if only good whisky had been available in Pakistan, Manto wouldn’t have been taken from us so soon! The rotgut he drank in Pakistan was also referenced by Manto himself, but cirrhosis of the liver doesn’t take root overnight and there is plenty of evidence in his own writings and accounts by his contemporaries to suggest that he was probably a confirmed alcoholic many years before he moved to Pakistan.”
How does this prove her point that:
a.       Ayesha Jalal’s account is hagiographical and Jalal claimed Manto was a “lone ranger”.
b.      So if Manto was a confirmed alcoholic before coming to Pakistan, could we say that alleged myth of “lone ranger” that Ayesha Jalal supposedly created was broken down?
I have quoted this above because this seems to be the only part of her essay that seems to point at something concrete about Ayesha Jalal’s book. The rest of her criticism is abstract, almost as if there was a Manto-Critique Generator (much like the “post modernist generator”) that produced it i.e. it attempts to look and sound intellectual but does not actually make a point.  Is literature better at understanding partition than historians? That depends on how literature affects a person.  Is Manto holding up humanity in all its ugliness or is he saying that humanity perseveres even after depravity? That too can at best be what a person takes away from a particular piece. Clearly it is not subject to defined goal posts.  In short the question is thus: why must Ayesha Jalal’s experience of Manto necessarily mirror that of Ms. Rockwell and what gives Ms. Rockwell’s “Pathos” an inherent superiority of that of lesser mortals who are incapable of thinking in abstraction?
Still Daisy Rockwell’s review would have literary merit if it were – as she claims – “truthful” arising out of “tragic” disappointment with Ayesha Jalal’s work on Manto.  One could have ignored the “look-at-me-I-am-Jack-the-Giant-Slayer” tone had one not gotten an insight on what appears to be true motivations behind the piece.  This brings us to the bigger question:
Who is afraid of Ayesha Jalal?

Twitter reaction to Daisy Rockwell’s piece says it all. Pakistani twitter sphere is full of those who do not believe in a discussion on merit but jump on a bandwagon simply because their deeply held beliefs have been burnt by an uncomfortable idea.
Ayesha Jalal has written numerous books but it was the Sole Spokesman that has defined her, rightly or wrongly. In that masterpiece which arose out of her Cambridge dissertation under the auspices of Anil Seal, she did not argue anything new or revolutionary.  The idea that Jinnah would have settled for something less than partition has been around for as long as Pakistan has existed.  Read M N Roy’s essay on Jinnah for example where MN Roy says that he does not believe that Jinnah ever wanted partition of India. Many leaders, including the leaders of the Congress Party, believed that for Jinnah, Pakistan was a maximum demand to extract concessions.  Jalal meticulously set about explaining step by step the complicated politics and in the process ended up proving that partition was the failure of power sharing between Congress and Muslim League. This has since become conventional wisdom for most historians.  
There is however an issue of greater national significance here. So long as the state in Pakistan defines itself as an ideological state instead of an accidental state that Ayesha Jalal’s analysis says it is, it lends itself to criticism of the ideology being wrong. After all if Pakistan was a Muslim homeland, why were so many Muslims left out of it – you know the spiel against the creation of Pakistan.  In contrast Ayesha Jalal’s thesis renders Pakistan to be an ordinary nation state and not an ideological one.  It follows then that like any other nation state, it was created out of a historical process and the failure of this ideology or that ideology cannot de-legitimize its existence as a modern nation state. Now this idea bothers a number of people namely:
1.       Islamic ideologues of Pakistan.
2.      Indian Nationalists who believe that partition of India was a case of Islamic exclusivist Pakistan breaking away from the secular multicultural whole (a theory that has more holes than Swiss cheese).
3.       Ethno-nationalists who fear this idea because they fear that it lends legitimacy to Pakistan which they want to be the bogeyman in their ethnic separatist narrative.

Therefore when on June 1st, Ms. Rockwell posted her review, which had nothing to do with Jinnah or partition, it was tweeted and re-tweeted by people who belonged to these groups for exactly this reason.  It really wasn’t the case of Jinnah-phile YLH jumping to Ayesha Jalal’s defence because Ayesha Jalal said “nice things about Jinnah”, but instead people like @Mazdaki and others jumping at the Ms. Rockwell’s critique to vent their own frustration about Ayesha Jalal’s thesis on partition.
Consider these posts by  Taqi mian to see for yourself:
@shreedaisy But Ayesha Jalal remains a darling of Pakistan liberals: she keeps 'em mildly sedated & in their comfort zone @OmarWaraich
o     Reply 
o     Retweet 
o     Favorite 
o     More
@shreedaisy Father of the Speech - Abul Kalam - is not a spokesman for Jalal but the snake oil merchant is @OmarWaraich
@OmarWaraich @shreedaisy Excellent, Daisy! Mera dost, mera dushman yad aa gaya. Ayesha Jalal extended her revisionism from Jinnah to Manto

These tweets came long before I jumped into the debate, so one cannot say that I made it about Jinnah. Let us however consider these statements on merit.  Taqi seems to be upset that “Father of the Speech” Abul-Kalam is not the “sole spokesman” for Jalal but the “snake oil merchant” is.  Meanwhile Daisy Rockwell responds to this tweet with “or a shoe salesman” before making an equally absurd comment that “Sole Spokesman” would be an appropriate title for a “cyclist”. Then Ms. Rockwell turns around and claims that it was merely a “truthful” review of Ayesha Jalal’s book on Manto.  Clearly Rockwell’s agenda through her review of the Manto book was hardly limited to the Manto book. Now Mr. Taqi has the right to his opinion about Jinnah as does Ayesha Jalal or someone like me.  The way he stated it though makes one wonder if Taqi has even read Ayesha Jalal’s book. The title sole spokesman had to do with Jinnah’s aspiration to become the collective bargaining agent of the Muslim community.

Why was “Father of Speech”  Maulana Abul Kalam Azad not the Sole Spokesman for Muslim India
.  Why couldn’t Abul Kalam – the “father of speech”- become the CBA for Muslims? There were a number of good reasons.  For all his many virtues as a scholar of Islam etc,  Azad was always found wanting in leadership whether his apologists accept this or not. For example, he led the Muslims on India to their disastrous hijrat movement. After that he became the most favored Mullah of the Congress Party.  It is not that Azad did not see what Jinnah saw when he left the Congress.  “India Wins Freedom” is a searing indictment of Congress party’s failure to live up to its claims of inclusive nationalism.  It is also a grudging admission that Congress caused partition.  Still Azad did not have the moral courage or integrity to come out and claim it in his lifetime. Instead he self censored his own work allowing only posthumous publication of the more sensational parts of his book in 1988, 30 years after his death.  Even then he did not come out and fully say all that he knew. In his lifetime though Azad gave a fiery khutba at Delhi mosque reprimanding and insulting the Muslims for voting for the Muslim League instead of Congress.  

The difference between Jinnah and Azad cannot be greater. Jinnah was a self made lawyer who was too independent minded and too confident to agree to dance to Gandhi’s tune.  Azad – as a “ Muslim scholar”- needed patronage and Congress was always ready to give that patronage realizing the potential utility a man like Azad had for them. The renowned Sunni Muslim scholar was the trump card in Gandhi’s pack of cards. He would write to Shia Jinnah “In matters of Islam, I am guided by Maulana Azad”.  However where ever Azad tried to adopt an independent approach, he was sidelined or rejected or removed, as with the Cabinet Mission Plan, which led to Azad’s downfall as Congress president.  Even as independent India’s Education Minister he was sidelined repeatedly.

The Muslim masses rejected Azad seeing him as a witchdoctor who had misled them like pied piper once and who was the real snake oil merchant in the whole sordid saga.  If there was any doubt about the fraud that Azad’s entire life’s struggle was based on, his own posthumous admission did away with it.  Azad’s politics was a politics of compromise and cowardice.  That he was a man of great intelligence is not disputed but it was the self serving nature of his politics that the masses saw through and rejected.  For all the hoopla the Islamist allies of the Congress made about Jinnah’s dietary habits and alcohol consumption (in strict moderation),  what can one say of the great Islamic Scholar Maulana Azad who was hopelessly said to be addicted to whiskey in his last days? A lifetime of living a lie may have taken its toll.


  1. Is it necessary to degrade Jinnah or Azad at the cost of each other? Whatever Jinnah's actual intentions were, he was the chrisma behind a separate homeland rheoteric. It was his proposed 'solution' to the muslim problem, whether he meant it or not hardly matters. Azad was against 'that' solution. His firm belief in United subcontinent was based on his understanding of secularism's indigenous roots in India. He was not alone in that thinking, Robindernath tagore and subash chander bose among others in their own different ways projected this aspect of Indian history in the face of British divide-and-rule efforts. About your critique of Azad's khalafat movement and its aftermath's, please consider that it emanated from Azad's fierce opposition of the occupying British, a position he maintained for a far longer period than most Indian politicians. Also this label of Azad being a poster-mullah of congress is quite misleading. Azad was elected (twice) the president of INA (a rather big political organization) and he went to jail based on his own writings/statements establishing him a leading congress leader.

  2. Dear Faheem,

    I know this line of argument but this is precisely what I am saying does not quite follow from the facts. Read Azad's own critique of Congress Party and you will see how much Azad had with held. If you read "India Wins Freedom" it becomes quite clear that Azad knew all along that Jinnah's complaints against the Congress were valid. I am sorry but Rabindranath Tagore's ideas had nothing to do with Congress or why Azad supported composite nationalism.

    It wasn't INA btw. It was Indian National Congress. And what happened when as the President of the Congress Azad tried to support the Cabinet Mission Plan? He was removed by Gandhi. Also I referred to Tehreek-e-Hijrat ... read about that as well. Please tell me how it was "indigenous secularism".

    So my suggestion is that you read "India Wins Freedom" in entirety and then read H M Seervai's Partition of India Legend and Reality.

  3. PS: Whatever Jinnah's actual intentions were there are three facts - yes solid hard facts- that are undeniable.

    A. Jinnah accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan which would have kept India united.

    B. Nehru and Gandhi torpedoed the Cabinet Mission Plan.

    C. Azad stood as a helpless bystander and only revealed the truth posthumously when his book was published in full about 30 years later.

    Which of these is untrue?

    1. None is untrue. But please consider the following as well:

      The seeds of separation were sown long before cabinet mission plan. Even if the plan was accepted it would not have been workable as evident from the disastrous congress-league power sharing after 1945 elections.

      Please list down Azad's options that would have served Indian Muslim's interests in the aftermath of partition.

  4. 2nd comment was the same as the third. Corrected a typo.

  5. Dear Yasser

    Thanks for your reply and citing Seervai's work. I will try to get my hands on it.
    What I took away from India Wins Freedom and specifically the parts you mention is that congress leadership gave in to the eventuality of partition. But Azad? How does Congress 'sidelining' him is a reflection on his leadership? Resigning from congress would have been the easiest path in 1946 but politically he still wanted to participate as a Muslim in rebuilding an independent India. Please consider that his incarnation in ahmednagar jail had drained him both physically and mentally. He mentions this in the book as a reason for not seeking a third term as congress president. I hope you have also gone through gubair-e-khatir to get some reflection on Azad's state-of-mind during prison. This brings me to the original question, why after 65 years we cannot reconcile both Jinnah and Azad as legitimate voices of Indian Muslims. Why do we need an exclusive choice? (I haven't read sole spokesman, is there an answer?)

    P.S: The reasons for mentioning Tagore is to emphasize that 'secularism' has an Indian history [source: the argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen]. Please excuse my typo on INC.

  6. On another occasion when Lord Wavell became the Viceroy of India, he met Jinnah. What the British Government wanted to do in India was to install an interim government in Delhi, which would have the support of the Muslim League, that is, Jinnah and the Congress, that is, Gandhi; so that the British could transfer power to this government in Delhi after World War-II (after defeating the Axis powers). So when Lord Wavell met Jinnah, his main demand was that Muslim Ministers in the proposed government would be nominated by the Muslim League and by nobody else. Wavell then met Gandhi and asked him to show statesmanship** and accept Jinnah’s demand for the sake of peace but Gandhi would not. If Gandhi had accepted Wavell’s plea united India would not have suffered any loss except that men like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, who were the Congress’ Muslim candidates for Ministership and would in no case have been nominated for the post by the Muslim League led by Jinnah, would not have become Ministers. But in that case the partition of India would have been avoided and thousands of people would not have become victims of that tragedy. In 1939, the Congress Ministries in the provinces resigned. Instead of resigning if the Congress had invited the Muslim League to join the Congress to form coalition Ministries, the British rulers would have got a clear signal that the Muslim League and the Congress had come together. Neither Gandhi nor Jinnah made any effort in this regard. On the contrary Jinnah announced that the resignation of the Congress Ministries be celebrated as the deliverance day.


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