There is no denying the fact that the standards of Indian public debate are on a slide, especially in the last decade. Pakistan and it’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah is a common theme of debate on prime time television shows, an issue that features over and above other electoral issues. This exclusive focus on Pakistan and Jinnah is a result of decades of careful nurturing of a cadre of people who espouse muscular nationalism based on the argument that a Hindu Rashtra can only be an alternative to Muslim Jihad. The majority who happens to be Hindu is presented as holding the secular flag high; otherwise, India could have potentially turned into a theocracy. It serves two purposes, that the Hindus are temperamentally more tolerant and secular and that Muslims are temperamentally religious-minded.
This is the basic assumption with which RSS-BJP combine go into elections. Indian Nationalism has come a long way from the CIA hand to ISI headquarters. Now the love for India also entails hatred for Pakistan and for all that it stands for including demonising it’s founder, Jinnah. And the only way to prove one’s nationalism is to vote for a party that claims unchallenged right to define nationalism. This is no denying of Jinnah’s culpability in partition, but that is the task best left to scholars then to challenge him at any wayward street. Jinnah stands for other things also. He is seen as the person who vehemently opposed the idea of an Akhand Bharat. He is also used to criticise Nehru, who is shown as being too lusty for power by agreeing to the partition of India. Among others, it helps right-wing politicians to claim Vallabhbhai, who is shown as a visionary, who opposed partition but also had to give in because of the Gandhi-Nehru league.
Profoundly controversial yet significant
So it’s no wonder Jinnah and his Pakistan are all time politicians’ favourite. Two episodes give a glimpse of how this magic pill works in Indian politics. Back in 2018, a massive controversy broke over the portrait of Jinnah hung on a wall of Aligarh Muslim University. The BJP MP Satish Gautam questioned the presence of the portrait hanging along with the stalwarts of the Indian National Movement. The BJP supporters demanded the removal of the portrait from the AMU students hall . The controversy has since then subsided but, the figure of Jinnah looms large in Indian politics especially, when the elections are around the corner especially in the Hindi speaking belt. But, what makes Jinnah so relevant in Indian politics? How his image is revoked in the popular imagination?
The answers to these questions can be as many as the authors writing on Jinnah. But, one thing is certain which is to defend Jinnah makes one an anti-national in India in the contemporary politics. But invoking him around the elections has an added advantage of polarising the elections without calling in the wrath of the Election Commission. This makes him an easy scapegoat for the sorry state of affairs. Political rallies no longer need to address the failures of the incumbent government, no report card needs to be produced. Elections get based on the issue of how national the electorate is. Supporting the party seen historically as the defender of Indian sovereignty makes one an ardent patriot while an opinion against the ideology can bring the community boycott. Among these the relevant electoral issues like health, education, infrastructure take a backseat. This phenomenon has recently helped parties such as the BJP which is the greatest beneficiary of such ideological currents bypassing the historical caste differences and successfully forging the heterogeneous elements of the Hindu electorate into one by providing them with the Jinnah and Pakistan litmus test.
Jingoism and Jinnah?
In the poll-bound state of Uttar Pradesh, Jinnah has emerged afresh and not for so good reasons. Samajwadi Chief Akhilesh Yadav has sparked a row by naming Jinnah along with Mahatma Gandhi, Jawahar Lal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel who helped India win freedom. The BJP was quick to capitalize on these remarks from a leader whose party is in direct competition with them in the state. Without doing much the SP chief has provided political mileage to the BJP.
In the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections and Uttar Pradesh assembly election of 2017 were fought by BJP on the brand Modi image- which has three core elements. One, the developmental Modi; the secondly, the incorruptible Modi and the third the Hindu Modi-the saint, the one-man tirelessly working to defend India against the so-called Pakistani sympathizers in India and guarding the nation against its bète noire. Whereas one can say that in the 2014 Lok Sabha election the brand Modi image was constituted largely by the first two factors, post-2014 the Hindu Modi has predominated the other two.
It is in this image that he stands for India, providing and guiding the most authentic form of Nationalism. It is in this capacity he stands as a pillar against the idea of Pakistan and Jinnah. This deadly fusion of Nationalism and the cult of Modi in the brand Modi image has eluded scholars so far.
It is highly unlikely that the coming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh will be based on electoral issues rather they will be centred around the issue of Us verses They. The divisive tendencies are visible too soon and the Yogi government is leaving no stone unturned in projecting itself a Hindutva power, be it the Ram Mandir or slapping sedition cases on people whose religion is disproportionately Muslim. It seems that Jinnah may lose relevance in Pakistan but his popularity in India will only increase.