Interview with Sudheendra Kulkarni.
Sudheendra Kulkarni is a secretary in the Bharatiya Janata Party and secretary to party president L.K. Advani. He was part of the delegation that accompanied Advani during his recent visit to Pakistan. Certain sections in the party feel that Kulkarni, who was entrusted with the responsibility of preparing Advani's speeches, was responsible for the ideological confusion on Jinnah. An ex-activist of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Kulkarni was earlier a journalist in Mumbai. He began his association with the BJP in 1996 and was Atal Bihari Vajpayee's scriptwriter during the six years he headed the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre. Kulkarni was then Officer on Special Duty in the Prime Minister's Office. In an interview to V. Venkatesan, he defends Advani in the Jinnah controversy. Excerpts:
There is a perception that in agreeing to withdraw his resignation Advani's stature has diminished as he has been forced to accept the party's resolution condemning Jinnah's role in history.
It is a complete misrepresentation of the party statement. The impression that was created after Advani's visit to Pakistan - that he praised everything about Jinnah - was not the case. He made specific, limited references to Jinnah. What were those two references? In recalling the words of Sarojini Naidu, he said in his earlier years he was called an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. The second reference was to the speech Jinnah delivered at a very important forum, that is, the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, on August 11, 1947. He said that speech was a classic and forceful espousal of the secular state in which every citizen had the freedom to follow and practise freedom of faith and the state shall make no discrimination on the grounds of faith. This is what he said. He elaborated on that in a subsequent speech in Karachi itself.
So Advani has not withdrawn anything that he has said. What the party, however, has done is to remove the impression created in the media that Advani had endorsed everything Jinnah did in his lifetime. Advani was an official guest of the Government of Pakistan. He could not probably have said anything critical of the founder of that country on Pakistani soil.
Did Advani anticipate the kind of reaction from the Sangh Parivar to his statement on Jinnah?
I cannot answer whether he anticipated it. But in his speech at the Karachi Council of Foreign Relations, Economic Affairs and Law, he elaborated why the positions had hardened on both the sides. The point he made was that we should respect these critical viewpoints. And he said nothing could be achieved by disparaging or by dismissing these critical viewpoints.
In his speech in Karachi he said: "The painful manner in which the Partition happened in 1947 but also subsequent hostilities have hardened feelings and rigidified mindsets in both India and Pakistan. After all, Partition resulted not only in unprecedented violence but also in the largest cross-migration in the history of mankind... . This has left behind a trail of tragedy. The wars that followed, the long period of terrorist violence and other events have contributed to the hardening of positions in certain sections of society in both India and Pakistan. This is the reason why even well-intentioned moves for peace and normalisation are often viewed with suspicion and met with disapproval on both sides. We should give due weightage to these critical viewpoints... . This is because those who view the peace process with suspicion both here and in India are not substantial in number. Therefore, it is axiomatic that we should strive to carry with us all sections of society and public opinion in our two countries."
If you compare what Advani said with the resolution adopted by the party, you will find that he almost said the same thing without using the name of Jinnah.
But the fact is that the BJP's resolution disparages the role of Jinnah and Advani had to agree to it although he took care not to be critical of Jinnah in Pakistan Would it not lower his esteem in Pakistan?
No, I don't think Pakistanis are giving this interpretation. It is just that there are suspicions about Pakistan in India, and these suspicions are not just in the BJP. Even outside the BJP there are suspicions. Similarly, there are suspicions about the BJP and the Congress in Pakistan. There are more suspicions about the Congress than about the BJP in Pakistan. They trust the BJP more than they trust the Congress party. For the peace process to go forward, we need to have an honest appraisal of history, so that the suspicions are minimised and the desire for peace and normal relations is strengthened, and this was Advani's endeavour throughout his visit.
Some sections of the people think that Advani's resignation and its subsequent withdrawal are mere drama.
It is not drama; it has been a huge learning experience for the entire nation. For the very first time, especially the new generation has come to know what went on in those crucial decades. There were strong reasons for him to quit, and there were equally strong reasons for him to withdraw his resignation. If the reaction it [praise of Jinnah] had created within the circle of the party's ideological Parivar made him quit, its resolution after a democratic debate led him to withdraw his resignation.Was the party's resolution a compromise?
No, it is certainly not a compromise statement. There was a debate about its contents, because it was a very democratic process, a healthy process. We should see the significance of all these for what it portends for the future. That is far more important. The debate on the past is of course necessary, But we have a task ahead of us: it is how we can put this era of hostility and tension with Pakistan behind us without in any way giving up our national interest.
Is there a message for Indian Muslims that the real Advani is different?
It is for the people to realise. After all, the normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan, the resolution of problems between India and Pakistan, and the lasting peace between the two countries is going to have a salutary effect on the communal situation in India. Partition did not help in the relations between Hindus and Muslims in India. Therefore, this is the other dimension of the visit. Here is a leader of a party which is considered anti-Muslim and who himself is considered anti-Muslim. He is taking the initiative, which is going to calm the situation, build greater goodwill between Hindus and Muslims. Is it not good for the nation?