Advaniís statements over Jinnah have not just created a political storm within the BJP. They have also exposed the ambivalences and conflicts that still characterise Indian nationalism. There is a delicious irony in the fact that the RSS and the Congress have made common cause in criticising Advani. For the record, Advaniís statementís had more historical truth than either his Congress or RSS detractors recognise. Much of the controversy hinges on that most opaque of words, secularism. What does it mean to call Jinnah secular? A term is often defined by what it is opposed to. In India the term secular has two antonyms. To be non-secular can mean ďreligiousĒ, someone who in a political sense espouses a religious state. Jinnah certainly was certainly secular in this sense of the term. He believed in a in something akin to a modern constitutional state and not a theocracy. The second antonym of secular is ďcommunalĒ. Jinnah thought that no scheme of representation would have been adequate to safeguarding Muslim interests against majority domination in an undivided India. We may not agree with this proposition, but that does not by itself make Jinnah communal.
Congress has indicted Jinnah for being communal on two other grounds. First, his claims that Hindus and Muslims are two nations and second, that only he could represent Muslim interests not Congress. He was also communal in the sense that he thought, at least as far as the debate in undivided India went, community identity should matter to the question of political representation. But let us face the historical truth: in the entire negotiations over Muslim representation in the first half of the century, there were very few voices that genuinely believed that religious identity could be made completely irrelevant to citizenship or legal rights. The debate was over whether these different identities could be politically represented within one state or not. Congress did not dismantle the majority minority framework of thinking about representation. But it did think it could represent both. This was often done with the good intention of making the point that Indian national identity was not an assimilationist project that aspired to making religious identity irrelevant to what legal or political rights citizens have. Congress still cannot openly espouse this aspiration. There have been very few who have been willing group identities completely subordinate to the demands of citizenship. In that sense communalism is the inevitable outcome of Indian nationalism, not a marginal tendency we can distance ourselves from by pegging it on Jinnah.
At the turn of the new millennium we should also be careful of how we speak about the two nation theory. The dilemma is this. Indian secularism needs to argue that Hindus and Muslims are not two nations, or at least two nations that require separate states. But we have to do this without thereby implying that Pakistan, circa 2005, is an illegitimate state. The two nation theory needs to be resisted for a number of reasons. It is bad history and presents an unattractive conception of the subcontinentís historical identity. But it does not follow from this fact that the historical significance and complexity of any figure who espoused the theory cannot be recognised. But by denying the two nation theory in the manner that the Congress does, we continue to insinuate Pakistanís illegitimacy. Implying this is both wishful thinking and an impediment to any prospects for peace with Pakistan.
Advaniís virtue was to emphatically acknowledge that Pakistan is a legitimate nation and that Jinnah had a historical role in creating it. If we want to have a genuine dialogue with Pakistan we have to begin by emphatically acknowedging this fact. The Congress is still in a time warp if it thinks that it can acknowledge the reality of Pakistan but not honour its founder. What does it mean to deal with a Pakistan if we say: ďWe donít acknowledge the ideological current that led to your founding, we donít acknowledge your founder, and we certainly will not tolerate anybody who could so much as suggest that Jinnah might have had a mistaken conception of nationhood, but a correct conception of constitutional values.Ē Pakistan attacks our territory; we attack the basis of their nationhood. This might give Congress and the RSS a sense of their own exalted virtue. But it was precisely an exalted sense of its own virtue that prevented Congress from being politically astute in dealing with Jinnah; and its interpretation of its own virtue will forever cast a shadow on the future of India Pakistan relations. Advani, on this occasion, displayed great historical sense by not being stuck in history.
In addition, Advaniís statements over Jinnah have turned out to be explosive politics. For one thing, it was a reminder to Pakistanis that if they can espouse Jinnahís secular ideals they will be better of. And India will be more secure if Pakistan follows the legacy of Jinnah rather than assorted mullahs and generals. It is difficult to guess whether Advani anticipated the storm his remarks would brew. But his resignation has produced a moment of reckoning thrice over. After months of being perceived as being weak, he has taken an initiative and stuck by it. He has emerged as a man of conviction with a capacity for independent initiative. He has also forced the BJP to come to terms with its own ideological and organisational disputes.
Advaniís statement by no means signals that he has given up Hindu nationalism. There is no contradiction in praising Jinnah and at the same time mobilise for constructing a Ram temple at Ayodhya. Advani does not have to change his spots. But he has to assert his authority over rabble rousers like Togadia and either marginalise them or be vanquished. But most importantly, he has once again brought the Congress Party and Pakistan, the custodians of official nationalisms, to confront their own deep seated assumptions. And surprise surprise, Congress scratched, turns out to be closer to the RSS, stuck in the past.