Few days back another voluminous biography was added to grand list of biographies on Mahatma Gandhi. Seventy years after the British sailed across the Indian Ocean, the stories of the two protagonists of the India’s independence movement Mahatma Gandhi and Quaid Azam Jinnah continue to engage scholars and biographers. Notwithstanding, the two charismatic leaders of the subcontinent largely forgotten by their respective nations and reduced to emblematic representation on the currency notes continue to be towering in the congregation of great world leaders.
Stanley Wolpert an American historian, author of many important works on the birth of India and Pakistan, for their charm and place in the history of the sub-continent, was enthused to write biographies of the two leaders. So were many others. Wolpert’s biography of father of Indian nation, ‘Gandhi’s Passion: The Life and Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi’ was not well received in India. Nevertheless, he sums up his greatness in one sentence, “He was never easily dissuaded or intimidated from doing what he believed to be right.”
Calling Jinnah as a lofty minaret, he writes, “For more than a quarter of century I have been intrigued by apparent paradox of Jinnah’s strange story, which has never been told in all fascinating complexity of its brilliant light and tragic darkness.”
In the contemporary history of the sub-continent, Gandhi and Jinnah are so intensely dovetailed to each other that delinking them from each other and telling their stories is next to impossible. The two silently enter into each other’s story that the biography of the one turns out to be of the both.
The new 1129 page biography ‘Gandhi – the years that changed the world 1914 -1948’ by Ramachandra Guha, is his second and concluding volume of the biography of Gandhi. The first one was titled as ‘Gandhi before India'. It tells a story how Mohandas Gandhi less known Indian shot into prominence in South Africa. Latest volume, in fact, is third in the series of books authored by Guha carrying name of Gandhi in its title. The first one that made a fascinating reading is ‘India after Gandhi’. Minus serious reservations about his take on the migration of a section of Kashmir society in 1990, the book in bits and pieces provides good leads for writing a holistic story of the Kashmir dispute.
Like his earlier two books, ‘Gandhi – the years that changed the world’ is well-researched work based on some untapped archives and source materials. It lucidly explores new grounds in Gandhi’s relations with Jinnah, Ambedkar, and Subhas Chandra Bose. Gandhi saw the three as his rivals and bitterest enemies. Of the three he shared a few things in common with Jinnah.
“Born in 1876, like Gandhi he was from Kathiawar; he had studied law likewise in London, and sought to build his career at the Bombay Bar.” Jinnah was an eloquent speaker in English; he was much in demand at public meetings. In 1909, still in his thirties, he was elected to the Imperial Legislative Council, an elite body of the policy makers which had only sixty members from across India. On January 09, 1915, when Gandhi disembarked from ship at Bombay “Jinnah was, counted as the most influential Gujarati alive.” To quote Stanley Wolpert, “story of his unique achievement was so inextricably product of his genius as a barrister, perhaps the greatest native advocate in British Indian history.”
Jinnah was a leading light of Indian National Congress and had very high credentials as a secular leader of the party. “He had spoken several times in support of Gandhi’s struggle in Transvaal.” In his very first speech in the Imperial Council, he clashed with Viceroy when he described treatment meted out to Indians in South Africa as “cruel”. On Gandhi’s arrival in Bombay, Jinnah was the main speaker at the Gurjar Sabha. Guha stating that his speech was ‘carefully crafted’ has reproduced the speech a bit in detail. Gandhi’s brief reply to the welcome address was communal in its tone and tenor: “I am glad to find a Mohammedan not only belonging to his own region’s Sabha but chairing it.” ‘Thus informing every one of his minority religious identity.’ The biography from this day takes us on a whole journey of Gandhi with its triumphs, failures, contraventions, controversies that ultimately, ended in the birth of two nations - India and Pakistan.
Similar to many biographers of Jinnah, Guha also has largely glossed over the role of Gandhi in Kashmir - he makes a brief mention about his visit to Kashmir and role at the time of landing of troops in Kashmir.
True, in the story of Kashmir Struggle, against the bigoted and discriminatory rule of British Vassal, dating back to 1924, there is no presence of Indian National Congress. Against this the All India Muslim League, after 1918, every year adopted a resolution on Kashmir in its annual conference demanding justice and fair play for the deprived majority of the state. For the first time, Congress shows its presence in Kashmir not as the supporter of the people’s movement but as an ambassador for the Maharaja. On the request of Maharaja after the 13 July 1931 massacre outside Srinagar Central Jail, the Congress had deputed two of its top leaders Sir Tej Bahadur Saproo and Abul Kalam Azad to the state to pacify the agitated overwhelming majority.
Nevertheless, Gandhi marks his presence in Kashmir narrative through a letter dated 15 May 1934, in response to Prem Nath Bazaz’s long letter dated May 08, 1934 annexed with a note. In this letter, he spares no words in calling the Kashmir Freedom Struggle as “communal” and describing its leaders as “disgruntled.” Gandhi tersely replies the letter; “Seeing that Kashmir is predominantly Mussalman, it is bound one day to become a Mussalman state.”
After this Gandhi never replied to him and Bazaz complained about it to Nehru. Thereafter, Gandhi is missing from the Kashmir narrative except Sheikh Abdullah, who is titled by none but Bazaz as Kashmir Ka Gandhi mentioning him in his speeches after the conversion of the Muslim Conference into the National Conference. Abdullah, after 1938 vigorously drives names of Gandhi in the minds of the National Conference cadres. And it was after the partition of India was announced that Gandhi once again entered into the Kashmir narrative.
Guha briefly makes mention about Gandhi’s visit on last day of June on the request of Jawaharlal Nehru. (Guha has wrongly mentioned June, Gandhi arrives into Kashmir on August 01, 1947). He tells us “Sheikh Abdullah's wife organized a reception and public meeting for him”.
There is devil in detail, so Guha has chosen not to go into the details what prompted Gandhi to take this visit to Srinagar after Mountbatten had failed to pin down Maharaja Hari Singh for talks. ‘He had to content himself with presenting Prime Minister Ram Chand Kak summary of main points he wanted to discuss with the Maharaja.’ The whole theme of the note was that the only hope for survival for the Dogra Dynasty was for the Maharaja to throw his lot with the Congress and the Indian Union.
Mountbatten on this visit was convinced that ‘real force behind Maharaja’s reluctance was Pandit Kak. ’Seeing Pandit Kak as first impediment in the way of Nehru’s move to annex Kashmir to Indian Union, his removal had become imperative. Gandhi during his meeting with the Maharaja suggested to him dispensing the services of R.C. Kak.
In view of the Maharaja note dated 8th July 1947, to Lord Mountbatten, Gandhi only held prayer meetings in Srinagar. In one of these meetings held at Solina, Srinagar Begum Akbar Jahan, wife of Sheikh Abdullah also participated and recited the Holy Quran. On the invitation of the National Conference, he visited its headquarters Mujahid Manzil for meeting workers. Nevertheless, despite insistence by the National Conference leaders he declined to make a speech. In fact, he did not address any public meeting but succeeded in creating a constituency within the family of the Maharaja for persuading him to accede to India. Sometime later Prime Minister Kak was dismissed and placed under house arrest.
In the second week of September, with the Government of India making available services of Lt.-Colonel Katoch a serving officer of India Army to the Maharaja preparation started for strengthening arsenal in Kashmir started, ‘Indian border road near Madhopur to Jammu was improved by of a float bridge over Ravi leading to Kathu by Indian army engineers.’
In spite of all these behind the scene development Gandhi at prayer meetings when asked about Kashmir said, “If people of Kashmir are in favor of opting for Pakistan, no power on the earth can stop from doing so.” Nonetheless, despite these assertions, he ‘consented for sending of Indian army to Kashmir.’
Guha in his biography of Gandhi has glossed over these historical realities. Nevertheless, there is a lot of literature that tells the whole story about Gandhi’s role in Kashmir in 1947.
[Z.G. Muhammad is Srinagar based author and writer.]
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