Thursday, October 1, 2009

But for Jinnah, would ‘Pakistan’ have been named ‘Industan”?

That is an interesting thought from the book Empires of the Indus The Story of a River. My good friend CR Natarajan had gifted me the volume by Alice Albinia when he and his family visited us recently after a pilgrimage from California, USA, to Thirupathi, India.

I haven’t finished reading the book yet, but can nevertheless say that it is superb. And, this is not a full fledged book review. I am only referring to the Preface and the first Chapter of the book to write this blog post. It has topical interest because of Jaswant Singh’s Jinnah controversy.

About ‘Industan’ – the suggestion was not illogical. The label abundantly suits the Indus Valley which is the ‘Motherland of Hinduism’ and which became part of Pakistan. An English sailor had used the name in 18CE. But Muhammad Ali JInnah had insisted on calling the new country Pakistan, ‘Land of the Pure’, and naturally had his way.

Did Jinnah overplay his hand in selecting that name and lose out in the bargain? According to the author, Jinnah had believed that the Indian National Congress would opt for the Sanskrit name ‘Bharat’ for ‘Hindu’ India.

That would have been fine for Jinnah, Pakistan and Bharat, two new countries, though the latter really was an ancient name. But to his consternation the Congress stuck to the name India. Obviously, that left Pakistan a new entity in search of pedigree. ‘Industan’ would have carried the backing of millenniums of history.

Nations need heroes. For Pakistan, the automatic choice was Jinnah, the Founder of the Nation. The fact that he ‘continued to drink whiskey, eat ham sandwiches and dress like a Brit’ apparently did not matter. Just look the other way.

The author quotes her landlady as saying, ‘Great were the sacrifices involved in creating this country’ [Pakistan]. The author philosophizes ‘And whatever peccadilloes Pakistanis commit – however much whiskey they drink or usury they indulge in – they exhibit a profound and sincere belief’.

The book mentions Jinnah’s arrival on August 7, 1947, at the port town of Karachi, which was destined to be Pakistan’s first capital. It was the month of Ramzan that year. The city did not have enough mosques to accommodate the sudden swell in the rich Muslim population. ‘But Jinnah paid no heed to religious ritual, did not spare a thought for Islamic abstinence either. His hazy idea of a new country had suddenly come to fruition… ‘.

Also dealt with in the first chapter of the book are whether Jinnah was really keen on creating Pakistan, and his secular credentials. ‘Some commentators maintain that,’ the author says, ‘Jinnah was taken by surprise when the British conceded his demand for a separate state for Muslims – was he using the idea of a separate homeland for Muslims as a political leverage, a bargaining tool?’ Alice Albinia further points out, ‘All agree that he was dismayed by the eventual British settlement.’

Here is a quote from Jinnah’s speech three days before independence, reproduced in the book, ‘You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques…. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.’

Secular enough? The author claims that the speech has ‘been excluded from the editions of Jinnah’s speeches by the pious’. But it is available on the Internet.

Jinnah joined the Muslim League in 1913. He was already an established lawyer in Bombay, a committed nationalist, and a member of the Indian National Congress. Within a short time he was acknowledged as the ‘ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity’

But soon matters started turning sour. Jinnah could not accept the Khilafat movement after the World War I, which Mahatma Gandhi supported. He felt that the campaign to reinstate the Caliphate in Turkey was meant to incite religious passions. He gave up politics in 1930 and relocated himself to London.

Quoting from the book, ‘He was persuaded to return in 1934, by which time several different permutations of the Muslim state he would eventually create had already been mooted. But still he refused to whip up religious passions….’ It was in 1937 that Jinnah declared that India’s Muslims and Hindus were different nations. The author points out that none of the criteria he used to differentiate the two ‘was explicitly religious’


Inevitably the partition comes, accompanied by the bloodbath and tragedies. ‘In 1947, to Jinnah’s distress, religious violence, not triumphant celebration, inaugurated Independence’. Jinnah (b. December 25, 1876) died ‘if not a broken man, then a profoundly disillusioned one’, of tuberculosis on the night of September 11, 1948. The author points out that the ‘official cause of death was “heart failure” (tuberculosis was considered a shameful slum disease)’.

Alice Albinia leaves Jinnah at the end of chapter one, and, as the back cover of the book sums up, ‘following the river upstream and back in time… takes the reader through two thousand miles of geography and more than five thousand years of history.’

What I have read so far of Empires of the Indus is fascinating. No wonder that the book has won so much kudos. Published by Hachette India, the paperback edition (366 pages) is available in the bookshops for Rs.375 per copy. Don’t miss reading it.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Also see:

The Rubaiyat: Omar Khayyam revisited

Book review: A Thousand Splendid Suns


islandgal246 said...

I will try to obtain a copy for my husband for Christmas. He is a historian who loves to read about the East. You made me chuckle with this....The fact that he ‘continued to drink whiskey, eat ham sandwiches and dress like a Brit’ apparently did not matter. Just look the other way. Has it changed that much? The ones that claim to be the most pious are usually the biggest transgressors behind closed doors. How are you doing?

Abraham Tharakan said...

islandgal246, thank you for the comment. Since you say that your husband is a historian and likes to read about the East, I'm sure he would like the book.

Maddy said...

Have to get my hands on this, sounds pretty interesting..

Kamini said...

I have read this book, it is an excellent and gripping read. I was so full of admiration for the author, a young lady, who traveled alone through many treacherous and remote areas in Pakistan, gathering material for this book. It is a must-read.

Abraham Tharakan said...

It would be worth it, Maddy.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Kamini, you are right. The young author is really brave and she has come out with an excellent product.