& occasionally about other things, too...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Jesus, Jinnah and Atal Behari

I bet the headline is interesting.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Atal Behari Vajpayee share their date of birth with Jesus Christ. Isn't that an amazing coincidence?

I want to talk of three books that reveal their (Jinnah's and Vajpayee's) moderate style of politics and personality.

Ayesha Jalal's The Sole Spokesman Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan is, in my view, the best book on the politics of Jinnah, and Stanley Wolpert's Jinnah of Pakistan is probably the best biography of the creator of Pakistan.

I read both the books nearly a decade ago. They were published in the mid-1980s; Jalal’s book by Cambridge and Wolpert’s by Oxford.

Jalal writes objectively but polemically -- almost as a lawyer. If one has grown up on healthy dose of Indian nationalism, Jalal’s Jinnah is bound to make one uncomfortable most of the time, and really seethe with anger some times.

Wolpert’s book has his trademark style. Wolpert is one of the most readable historians on South Asian history of the British era. The depth and range of his work is awe inspiring. Wolpert is clearly an old school historian and takes it upon himself to make the subject of his book likeable without losing objectivity. Jinnah benefits from Wolpert’s affable style.

One of his lesser known, but a substantially more important book is Tilak and Gokhale: Revolution and Reform in the Making of Modern India. It is an engaging discussion on the two directions in the development of Indian nationhood exemplified by Tilak's orthodoxy and Gokhale's liberalism. 

Earlier this year I read Lal Krishna Advani’s My Country My Life. Most of Advani's biography, especially the last chapters, make for laborious reading, but what lifts the book are the passages on Vajpayee. It is Vajpayee’s portrayal and the deference with which Advani treats his senior colleague that takes the book on an altogether different level.

Advani writes: “If I have to single out one person who has been an integral part of my political life almost from its inception till now, one who has remained my close ally in the party for well over fifty years, and whose leadership I have always unhesitatingly accepted, it would be Atal Bihari Vajpayee…”

Just as both Jalal’s and Wolpert’s books reveal the true, tolerant personality of the creator off Pakistan; Advani’s book also shows the expansive and inclusive style of Vajpayee’s politics.

Jinnah in his times and Vajpayee in our time are moderate leaders trapped in an intolerant ideology that the Muslim League and the RSS represent. These ideologies cage the free-spirited leadership style within narrow confines of hidebound belief systems.

Incidentally, Jinnah’s date of birth coincides with Jesus Christ. He died on 9/11 (September 11, 1948). How's that for significance?

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