To go by your tweet on 5/6 May while I was in Pakistan, you were apparently scandalized that on Pakistani soil last week, I referred to Muhammad Ali Jinnah as the Quaid-e-Azam (Great Leader). That is a measure not of my treachery but of the ignorance or deliberate distortion of the facts of history that so characterize you and the Sangh Parivar mindset.
You and your ilk pretend to be Gandhians. As such, should you not know that it was none other than the Mahatma who made it a practice from the moment he was released from incarceration in the Aga Khan Palace at Poona on May 6, 1944 to invariably refer to Jinnah as the "Quaid-e-Azam"? Indeed, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in his monumental work, "India Wins Freedom", points out on page 96 that "It is Gandhi-ji who first gave currency to the title Quaid-e-Azam or great leader as applied to Mr. Jinnah"! Arre, Amit-bhai, I was only following in the footsteps of the Mahatma when I courteously used the honorific Quaid-e-Azam when I spoke in Lahore.
Such courtesy is, of course, alien to you, Amit-bhai. But the huge advantage of courtesy is that it provokes equal courtesy from the other side, even if they are political adversaries (as your senior and superior, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, so well understood). Thus, your erstwhile colleague, Jaswant Singh-ji, in his brilliant biography, Jinnah (p.311), remarks:
"In an extraordinary departure from his standard practice, Jinnah called Gandhi 'Mahatma' and appealed for a period of political truce.'
Gandhi-ji replied: "I am convinced Mr. Jinnah is a good man".
And followed this up at his prayer meeting on 19 September (which was the festival of Eid):
"Referring to his talks with Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah, he said that he considered it to be their great good fortune that they were having their friendly talks."
And because Gandhi-ji spoke in such respectful terms of the Quaid-e-Azam, did you know your fellow-parivari, Nathuram Godse, made his first attempt at assassinating Gandhi-ji at his Mount Pleasant Road residence on Malabar Hill in that self-same month of September 1944? Yes, the very same Nathuram Godse to whom your hero, VD Savarkar, gave his blessings at least twice in January 1948 when Godse flew from Bombay to Delhi to fulfil his vile purpose. If you don't believe that, please read the Kapoor Commission report (or even Dominique Lapierre's "Freedom at Midnight", banned in Pakistan by your ideological counterparts).
Amit-bhai, now that you are a Member of Parliament, might I invite you to take a stroll to the Parliament House Library (even if you've never been there, as I suspect, please ask one of the ever-helpful PH staff and they'll show you the way) and ask for a copy of the Hindustan Times publication of October 1944 (priced, unbelievably, at one rupee!) titled "Gandhi-Jinnah Talks: July-October 1944" (with a foreword by C Rajagopalachari) or, if you have the stomach for it, the Pakistani version, "Jinnah-Gandhi Talks", published (reprinted?) by Book Talks, Lahore in 1991 (with a foreword by Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan)?
Both books reproduce integrally the ten letters addressed by Gandhi-ji to Jinnah saheb on 11, 14, 15 (twice), 19, 22, 23, 24, 25 and 26 September, 1944. Each one of them begins, "Dear Quaid-e-Azam". And if, Amit-ji, you are bristling at my last sentence having referred to "Jinnah saheb", I draw your attention to the Hindustan Times publication which quotes Gandhi-ji as fervently praying at his prayer meeting in Bombay on 11 September 1944: "not a word might escape my lips so as to hurt the feelings of Jinnah saheb or damage the cause that is dear to us both. I am sure the same is the case with Jinnah saheb".
So, Amit-bhai, if Gandhi-ji can call the Quaid-e-Azam "Jinnah saheb" why can't I?
And after the talks tragically broke down, Gandhi-ji referred to Jinnah saheb six times as "Quaid-e-Azam" in his prayer meeting on 27 September:
- "Authorized copies of the correspondence had now been sent to the Press with a prefatory statement by the Quaid-e-Azam"
- "Although the Quaid-e-Azam and he had known each other fairly well in public life before, they had never been in such close personal contact"
- "...why was it then that he and the Quaid-e-Azam had failed to convert each other?"
- "...he had tried his best to go as far as he could to meet the Quaid-e-Azam's viewpoint..."
- "he had placed before the Quaid-e-Azam Rajaji's formula..."
- "He had knocked at the Quaid-e-Azam's door"
For those cynics in India and Pakistan who believe that Gandhi, the Chatur Bania (and, Amit-bhai, remember, that is how you described the Mahatma), was only trying to trick Jinnah by flattery, it is instructive to note that it was not only before or during the talks that Gandhi-ji invariably used the honorific given to Jinnah by his followers, but that even after the talks failed, Gandhi-ji continued to refer to Jinnah saheb in this respectful manner. It wasn't a pose. It was a genuine tribute to a man he said may not be the sole Muslim spokesman but did represent "the most important Muslim organization" of the day.
Also, in the run-up to the talks, as documented by Sheshrao Chavan in his "The Gandhi-Jinnah Talks" ( Gnosis, 2010), in his letter to Sir Richard Tottenham, Home Secretary, on May 27, 1944, soon after his release three weeks earlier, he refers to the Quaid-e-Azam as such at least five times: once in his interview to United Press International on 15 July; twice in his Associated Press interview on 18 August; and announces at his press conference on 30 July: "I expect to meet the Quaid-e-Azam as soon as he wants me".
The clinching evidence of the Mahatma's sincerity in doing so is his private telegram from Sevagram to BG Kher, the first Congress Chief Minister of Bombay, reading: "reaching Bombay on the 9th to meet Quaid-e-Azam". Why refer to Jinnah as such in a private telegram meant only for the eyes of a senior colleague unless the Mahatma really meant it?
If further proof were needed, I would invite you and readers of this open Letter to look up for yourselves the text of Mahatma Gandhi's press conference on 28 September (pages 78-83 of "Jinnah-Gandhi Talks') where he uses the term Quaid-e-Azam no less than seven times!
Do I now need your special permission, Amit-ji, to refer to Jinnah saheb as the Quaid-e-Azam when speaking of him to Pakistani audiences in Pakistan? Or should I call Jinnah in Lahore what I called Modi in Delhi on December 7 for which I remain suspended by my party?
There is a lovely little snippet in Sheshrao Chavan's book at page 48 that I can't resist sharing with you, Amit-bhai:
"Gandhi turned to Jinnah and asked, "Have you seen the papers this morning?"
"Why bother?" answered Jinnah. "They have written so much terrible"!
In seven decades, the media has not changed its colours. But your tweets, Amit-bhai, make even TV anchors look good.
Au revoir - and see you at the hustings,
Mani-bhai Shankar-bhai (as they always call me in Gujarat)
(Mani Shankar Aiyar is former Congress MP, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.)
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