Gandhiji was fighting the British Empire in India. From 1935 onwards, Jinnah was fighting against the Congress.

There is a very funny Hindi film in which Govinda keeps asking Satish Kaushik, “bada kaun hai?” Roderick Matthews is asking a similar question about Gandhiji and Jinnah.

It is a bit of a no-brainer, actually, because had Gandhiji not led the campaign to rid the British from the sub-continent, there would anyway not have been any Pakistan. Jinnah was a late convert to the idea of throwing the British out.

Nor was Gandhiji fighting against Jinnah, whom he regarded as a misled brother. That fighting was left to the Congress party. Gandhiji was fighting the British Empire in India. From 1935 onwards, Jinnah was fighting against the Congress.

It is in that basic sense that Matthews has missed an opportunity to write a truly different book. The truth is that unlike what he assumes is the case — that there were only two players — there were actually three: the Congress, the Muslim League and the British, who held the upper hand.

From 1938, Jinnah was firmly with the British, who loved it as it gave them an excuse to delay things when the Congress wanted something, most notably independence.

Matthews says in the Introduction that his purpose is to provide a straightforward narrative by cutting through the dense thicket of literature that has grown around the British exit from India. One would have thought he would have read two of the most important books on the subject by Indians in recent times: one by Chandrashekhar Dasgupta and the other by N.S. Sarila, both former diplomats.

But he is in good company. Even someone like Stanley Wolpert didn’t when writing his book, Shameful Flight.

Dasgupta showed how Pakistan was, in fact, a consequence of British strategic interests, such as West Asia oil and the need to keep Russia off it. The British knew India would not allow them military bases. But they needed those bases.

In May 1947, the British Chiefs of Staff discussed the issue and concluded that “From the strategic point of view, there were overwhelming arguments in favour of Pakistan… that we should obtain important strategic facilities… ensure the integrity of Afghanistan…”

Ergo, Pakistan. Later, the Americans took over from them.

Lord Ismay, Mountbatten’s Chief of Staff in India, told the meeting that the Indians would bleat for a while but that was about all.

And he was right. Gandhiji opposed Pakistan right till the end, when the Congress itself let him down by accepting it; Jinnah, who is seen as the Father of Pakistan, was just a pawn.

Sarila in his book has pointed out how the British used Islam as a political tool to serve pretty much the same ends. Indeed, his book should have been a must-read for Matthews because there is a lot of material in it that casts a completely different light on all the major players.

But for this shortcoming, the book is fine. It will be useful for those looking for a quick read on a journey.

(This article was published on August 23, 2012)
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