Authors' secrets

Published : May 18, 2007 00:00 IST

Books on two dissimilar personalities, who had little in common except that they both altered history and were men of heroic proportions.

SAVOUR the dishes the chef prepares; but do not enter the kitchen to watch how he prepares them. It might spoil the taste. This is not true of works of research. The reader is entitled to know the sources, the research assistants who dug them out, and the writers on whose drafts the author improved and published his work. The preface and the bibliography reveal much but not all. The hideous practice of "endnotes", instead of footnotes, deters all but the dogged. Why not provide the source in brackets in the text itself, immediately after the assertion?

These books are written of dissimilar personalities who have little in common beyond the fact that they altered history and were men of heroic proportions. They were bold, courageous megalomaniacs, had blind spots and ruined their own dreams. Winston Churchill was a world leader, vastly more talented and far more humane. Mohammad Ali Jinnah was a regional leader, of limited equipment. In many respects Churchill towers over Jinnah. In one respect, Churchill suffers by comparison - personal and public integrity.

At the request of the Government of Pakistan, especially its then Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, Hector Bolitho wrote a biography of Jinnah, which was first published by John Murray in 1954. Now Oxford University Press, Karachi has republished it in paperback. It was well written and had some good insights, but was shallow to a degree. The government's object was to present Jinnah to readers in the West. Bolitho sold away his Jinnah papers to an American businessman, Charles Leslie Ames, who donated his collection, including Bolitho's papers, to the University of Minnesota, which set up the Ames Library.

The scholar Sharif al-Mujahid, who has spent a lifetime in dedicated research on Jinnah, unearthed the Bolitho papers on Jinnah and has published them in an unusual and very instructive volume. "Among Bolitho's papers, the more important items are the original unabridged and unexpurgated manuscript of Jinnah: Creator of Pakistan, his `Diary and Notes: December 1951-May 1953', and some letters to and from him concerning his study.

"His confidential `Diary and Notes' is invaluable as a source book on Jinnah. During his visit to Pakistan and India during late 1951/early 1952, Bolitho spoke to some two hundred people who knew Jinnah, some of them intimately, besides a sizeable number of people in England. The most striking thing is that all the interviewees - some of them uncharacteristically, especially Pakistanis who regard him as an icon - were frank, incredibly so, dilating at length on both Jinnah's strengths and weaknesses without reserve, and highlighting in some detail both his triumphs and discomfitures.

"These interviews, conducted over a period of a little over eighteen months from November 1951 to May 1953, form the bulk of the manuscript, which itself runs to some 43,000 words. `These notes, the greater part of which could not be used in my biography... ,' Bolitho feels, `will be invaluable to anyone writing about Jinnah, or Pakistan, in the future.' The book is an edited version of the `Diary and Notes'."

Al-Mujahid adds: "I had retrieved Bolitho's diary way back in October 1984, but decided to postpone its publication till the arrival of fair weather. Only a short while before, my Jinnah: Studies in Interpretation (1981) had provoked Z.A. Suleri, editor of the Pakistan Times, to mount a campaign against it,... calling for a ban on the book, and my dismissal as the Quaid-i-Azam Academy's Director. To cut a long story short, the authorities did step in, but I was able to weather the engulfing storm, thanks to Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, who, as Chairman of the Quaid-i-Azam Biography Committee, had written the foreword to the work." Pirzada knew Jinnah personally in Bombay (now Mumbai). He is yet to write his memoirs.

Al-Mujahid wished to spare himself "another excruciating dose of trauma" because Bolitho's papers were "explosive stuff". This, they are not, but in the atmosphere in Pakistan they became so. That atmosphere was created by men like Sharif al-Mujahid, dedicated to hero-worship and the establishment's credo. In that race Z.A. Suleri could always be trusted to impugn the credentials of even al-Mujahid, who himself is ever watchful of "deviation from the party line".

Jinnah's sister Fatima Jinnah sat tight on his papers and refused to meet Bolitho. The editor finds "some of his opinions are much too controversial and explosive, even insufferable - such as those on Fatima Jinnah, Jinnah's youngest sister and companion for twenty years (1929-48). Perhaps he was trying to get even with her for refusing to help with the book, and allow access to the Jinnah Papers, to which, in any case, she had no right, because, in principle, they belonged to the nation, rather than to her personally." Precisely, in law and morality.

But is Fatima Jinnah above reproach? All evidence points to her irascibility, unsociable behaviour and possessiveness. The memoirs of Jinnah's ADC, Ata Rabbani (I was the Quaid's ADC; OUP, Karachi), provide ample material. She was a baleful influence on Jinnah's personal relationships, with his daughter Dina and with Liaquat Ali Khan.

M.R. Kazmi's collection of articles on Jinnah has an essay by Roger D. Long, editor of Liaquat's correspondence, in which he reproduces the text of a letter written by Liaquat to Jinnah on December 27, 1947: "My wife has related to me what you told her last night at your dinner. I am sorry to learn that she has incurred your displeasure for some unknown reason. She could not possibly have done anything to merit such strong criticism and condemnation as for you to say that she was impossible and that she was digging her own grave." The "grievances" set out do not warrant Jinnah's boorish behaviour and rude remarks.

Jinnah did not reply to contest the charge but immediately invited Liaquat to mend fences that same night. Now sample this bit in al-Mujahid's effusive Introduction: "His [Jinnah's] break with Ruttie [his wife], reportedly caused by Sarojini Naidu, who was in love with `this beautiful boy', as she described him once, and Kanji Dwarkadas, who was interested in Ruttie himself, and, later, her death, caused Jinnah immense grief and left a permanent void." Nothing is cited in support of either assertion; both are preposterously false; the second is utterly disgraceful. Earlier, he cites a memoir by Kanji Dwarkadas published in 1963 entitled Ruttie Jinnah: The Story of a Great Friendship. He was by Jinnah's side when he broke down as his wife's body was lowered into the grave, and remained Jinnah's friend till the end.

There is something terribly wrong about Pakistani writings on Jinnah. Stanley Wolpert's biography, Jinnah of Pakistan, al-Mujahid describes as "much acclaimed" and its author as an "ace historian", which he is not. Wolpert confused Dr. John Mathai with M.O. Mathai, and cast aspersions on Jinnah and his wife. He called Z.A. Bhutto a Sufi mystic, Jinnah a Managing Director of a Tata concern, and Begum Liaquat an "Iranian" beauty. The Indian elite in Delhi lined up to help this "debunker" of Jinnah and Bhutto as he began work on Nehru. Predictably, the result was yet another shoddy work by this performer - now casting aspersions on Nehru, leaving the "elite" red-faced.

Why not concentrate on Bolitho's efforts and the curbs put on him and which he accepted? Clause 9 of the agreement read: "The Government shall forthwith appoint one of its officers, to whom the Author shall submit each section of the said book as it is written and such officer shall without undue delay approve or indicate what amendments are required by the Government... " That officer was Majeed Malik, the government's Principal Information Officer. There is a whole chapter on their correspondence. The cuts suggested were of two kinds; one sought deletion of remarks which reflected Bolitho's colonial mindset. He had little sympathy for the area and, one suspects, for his subject. He was out to do a job for money and get out. The other kind sought removal of all that showed Jinnah as a human being. He "had to write the book again, from beginning to end". Why did he accept Clause 9?

One Bolitho protest showed up the official approach: "In regard to the cuts you are making, I would remind you again that this book is primarily for American and English readers, few of whom know of Quaid-i-Azam. If the little human touches - such as the presentation of the hats to Colonel Birnie are removed, Jinnah will emerge as dull and unwarm, and uninteresting.

"I would also remind you again that Mr. Ikram promised that you, personally, would make the necessary deletions; that you would be the `said officer' referred to in the contract. I have received a letter from the Editor of the Pakistan Quarterly, saying that you told him that `it would take a considerable time for the Department to go through' the manuscript. I consider this is a breach of our arrangement." Surely, the official represented the government and its Department.

Jinnah spent his entire adult life in Bombay. Its ethos and culture are alien to most in Pakistan. On page 4 is a list of the six interviewees there; at least three were nobodies. Note the omissions - Jinnah's sister Mariam; her son Akbar A. Peerbhoy, a distinguished lawyer who read in Jinnah's chambers; his trusted solicitor M.A. Chaiwala, who handled his affairs; his close associate K.A. Somjee, a senior barrister whom Jinnah trusted; and H.M. Seervai, to mention some. A contemporary of equal rank like Sir Jamshedji Kanga was in active practice. So was Sir Noshirwan P. Engineer. Bolitho goes to the High Court, runs into G.N. Joshi (not C. N. Joshi), who was a nobody to Jinnah, and exclaims "my luck was incredible". Joshi, contrary to his claim, was not an invitee to the Round Table Conference.

Nor did Bolitho visit New Delhi, the scene of Jinnah's superb performance as a legislator for three decades. Bolitho is ignorant of the record. His research is as poor as his interviews are sparse. One bit from the "Diary and Notes" stands out for its candour and balance. Sir Cowasjee Jehangir told Bolitho: "He came here often, but he was never interested in the paintings or the sculpture. He had no sense of history; he would walk past all these things that I love so much, find a chair and talk of nothing but politics.

"I knew Jinnah as far back as early 1901. He was poor then, but his clothes already had distinction. He was a member of the Orient Club and I used to see him there. He was even more pompous and independent during those lean years than later on. He had four years of struggle without briefs. He would never do an unjust thing. He was no lawyer. He had no university education and he had to be briefed for a case with great care; but he was a brilliant advocate." Bolitho, of course, did not visit the Orient Club.

"He was what God made him, not what he made himself. God made him a clear thinker and a brilliant advocate. He could see around corners, with his sixth sense. But he was not an educated man and he had little sense of literature or style in his writing. And he was no orator. He was all logic, and no magic. He never made an oration. He drove in his point with slow delivery, word by word, all pure cold logic." A laundered version appears in the book with all the negative - but truthful and by no means derogatory - bits cut out of those remarks (page 54): "One of his oldest friends in Bombay, Sir Cowasjee Jehangir, who had known Jinnah when he was twenty-five years old, has answered this question: he has said, `I knew him when he first arrived in Bombay: he was more of a peacock then than in later years, when he was successful. I can assure you that he was sincere about Hindu-Muslim unity: it was no political trick. Indeed, I can say that, whatever faults he had, political trickery was not one of them.'" With Bolitho's limited equipment, his outlook and the curbs he accepted, the book turned out to be better than what it might have been. This is a laundered biography altogether.

Prof. David Reynolds, a historian of repute at Cambridge University and author of outstanding works, has written a work of prodigious research, rigorous analysis and judicial balance. It is a classic of its kind. Churchill made history as a statesman and historian. He fought the Second World War twice over; first as Britain's Prime Minister, next as author of the six volumes of his memoirs, The Second World War. They appeared between 1948 and 1954. In 1945, Churchill was voted out of power. The memoirs were written to vindicate his record, facilitate his return to power and put his gloss on history. The objectives were accomplished. The memoirs were regarded as Bible. The author did a lot more than go through their two million words with a fine-tooth comb. He consulted Churchill's papers and other archival material and interviewed a very large number of people. This is "a book about a book". The author makes dents into Churchill's credibility. It leaves undiminished his respect and admiration for Churchill's greatness.

"Churchill's drafts and working papers are now open to researchers - nearly four hundred files, including one for virtually every chapter. From these it is possible to see what Churchill wanted to say and chose not to, how he edited the wartime documents to sharpen his case or soften its impact. These files also record the work of a remarkable set of research assistants (known as the Syndicate), including the future head of an Oxford college (Sir William Deakin), the wartime Military Secretary to the Cabinet (Lord Ismay) and a former Vice-Chief of the Imperial General Staff (Sir Henry Pownall). Churchill also availed himself of numerous readers, notably the Secretary to the Cabinet, Norman Brook, who not only commented on the text but also wrote parts of it" (emphasis added throughout).

Churchill had to reckon with memoirs that were written and were being written as his volumes emerged from the press. Decades later, archives were opened to yield new light. "In analysing The Second World War I therefore try to address three questions: What did Churchill know at the time and attempt to conceal? A striking example is the Enigma secret and the work of the codebreakers at Bletchley Park. What might he have said if he and his researchers had dug deeper or thought laterally? For instance, that there were not one but two battles of Alamein - leaving us with a very different view of `Monty'. What do we know now? That the Red Army, which scarcely figures in his memoirs, largely won the land war in Europe."

Churchill had to be circumspect because of the possibility that he might return to power, as he did in 1951, and have to parley with Stalin, Eisenhower and de Gaulle. He questioned some of his own assumptions as he studied the documents afresh. While he wrote, he was also leader of the Opposition, a fact the Conservative leaders accepted grudgingly. For aught we know, the memoirs might not have been written had he been returned to power in 1946.

His official tax status, of a journalist, was suspended when he became Minister in September 1939. But it was liable to be reviewed if he wrote again thereafter. He would have had to pay 97.5 per cent of the income in taxes. But a "tax purdah" was devised. First, speeches in the House of Commons could be published. Next, he could sell his papers and then be paid to "edit" them.

Churchill's "solicitor Anthony Moir of Fladgate & Co. in Pall Mall consulted Leslie Graham-Dixon, a leading tax barrister, who delivered a preliminary opinion on 8 January 1946... In principle Graham-Dixon agreed that Churchill's war papers, created after he officially retired from his profession as an author on 3 September 1939, could be deemed capital assets. But he warned that anything Churchill did to prepare these literary assets for sale or publication might be cited by the Inland Revenue as evidence of Churchill's emergence from a most profitable purdah."

He advised giving the papers to a special Trust, which should be created before Churchill resumed professional activity as an author to avoid the papers losing their status as capital assets. The trustees could then sell the papers to a publisher without liability for tax. The publisher, in turn, would engage Churchill to write a book. This contract would be liable for income tax but the fee paid would be deliberately small, in contrast with the sale of the papers by the Trust. The Literary Trust was established on July 31, 1946. The trustees were Churchill's wife Clementine and two close friends. It was neat.

Churchill had those documents printed and marked "Personal Minutes". This did not affect the legal status of the papers, composed in state service. But Churchill removed them without ado. "They are mine, I can publish them." Sir Edward Bridges, the Cabinet Secretary, could have obstructed him. The diplomat Sir Jeremy Greenstock's memoirs have still not been cleared by the Cabinet Office because of the truths he has to tell on Iraq.

Why was Bridges so helpful? "In part he was making virtue out of necessity. In 1945 Churchill had removed his papers; in 1946 he was starting to write his memoirs. His promise that the Cabinet Office could see the manuscript in advance was an invaluable quid pro quo, and Bridges doubtless hoped to hold him to it by being helpful. But Bridges' tone and actions suggest he considered the memoirs as not merely inevitable but desirable."

In 1976 came the Report of the Committee of Privy Counsellors on Ministerial Memoirs, chaired by Lord Radcliffe. It reviewed the law and practice and restated the law.

All information obtained by virtue of office is regarded as held for the state, not for the benefit of the office holder or of the interested reader. He must obtain formal permission if he wishes to make any communication of it to the outside world; and though that permission is promised to the ex-Minister who wishes to give an account of his stewardship, the terms of the promise itself are restricted in scope and limited by their defined purpose.

That is the law. It recognises no exception in cases where someone decides to expose the lies by unilateral disclosures from, let alone reproduction of, state papers. In any case, the manuscript must be submitted to the Cabinet Office. It published in May 1992 a hitherto confidential document, given to Ministers after they assumed office, entitled "Questions of Procedure for Ministers". Rules concerning memoirs are based on the Radcliffe report (para 98). The report did not recommend legislation.

In India, legislation is called for, besides acquisition by law of state papers of all former Ministers and Prime Ministers, that is, papers written while they held office. This was done successfully in the haven of private enterprise, the United States, and upheld by its Supreme Court in Richard Nixon v. Administrator of General Services on June 28, 1977. It upheld the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act, 1974.

The author proceeds to dissect the memoirs methodically and exposes Churchill's selectivity, amnesia and attempts to mislead. For instance, he sets out a draft written by a research assistant with Churchill's annotations along with the text actually published in the memoirs. "In the light of recent research, the whole Churchill-Eden-Chamberlain triangle in 1938 looks very different from Churchill's memoirs."

Famous episodes recounted by Churchill emerge differently from the archives. Churchill did not think that Japan "would even try to attack Singapore". He edited out "his hopes in the early weeks of the war for Italian amity and a Turkish alliance". Of the famous meeting with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on May 10, 1940, which led to Churchill's elevation as Prime Minister, Churchill wrote: "I have had many important interviews in my public life, and this was certainly the most important." Yet, his account is "one of the most misleading passages in The Gathering Storm". The passage is "actually a classic piece of Churchill's dictation - about an event so personal that his Syndicate could not check. As with his account of the sleepless night after Eden's resignation, his version of how he gained the premiership is probably embellished." The charge is proved to the hilt by copious references.

Churchill was not confident of victory in the war. "You and I will be dead in three months' time," he told Ismay on June 12, 1940. In Their Finest Hour he claimed, "I was always sure of victory."

As the author sums up: "Churchill's public rhetoric is not an exact guide to his private policy in 1940. Whatever he said to raise morale, his best hope at this time was a negotiated peace with some kind of German government. His worst fear, despite his innate confidence, was that he would not live to see it. In other words the stark contrast between Churchill and Halifax is mistaken on both sides: the Prime Minister, like the Foreign Secretary, was more complex than caricatured history allows. Churchill looked into the abyss in May and June 1940, yet he still managed to inspire his country and the world."

Passages on Gandhi merit quotation in extenso. They reveal sheer malevolence. "In drafts he also attacks Gandhi himself, asserting that the Mahatma `was willing to give the Japanese free passage across India to join hands with the Germans in return for Japanese military aid to hold down the Moslems'. Ismay contested the claim that Gandhi wanted a Hindu Raj and Norman Brook warned that the passage would `surely give offence to millions in India who revere Gandhi's memory'. Churchill took their advice. But he left in some aspersions on Gandhi's famous fast of February 1943... their publication caused an uproar in India...

"Although Churchill had been persuaded to tone down his early drafts about Gandhi, he still casts aspersions in print on the Mahatma's three week fast in February 1943 - claiming that he was `being fed with glucose whenever he drank water' and that he abandoned his fast once convinced of British obduracy. In September 1951 Gandhi's doctors contested both points in a public statement, claiming that he did not take glucose and that he always intended to fast for only twenty-one days. In December Lord Ismay, by then Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations in Churchill's new government, said that the `furore in India' has been allayed to some extent by a promise that the passage was being `carefully considered for future editions' and strongly urged that it be cut out."

Reynolds remarks wryly: "Churchill's personal memories remained a feature of the work... Yet memory remains Churchill's Achilles' heel."

Why are such works not written by South Asians? It is not only the exhaustive research, not only the careful analysis, but the fairness, even compassion, which is lacking. The author is out to tell the truth, not to debunk. Churchill's flaws, failures, mistakes and worse are fully exposed, his achievements and greatness are not belittled one bit.

Our approach is different. The Sharif al-Mujahids in Pakistan and his Indian counterparts have a different approach - canonise the leader and demonise his opponents. One hopes that Pakistanis will begin to admit Jinnah's tragic mistakes and his grave flaws and Indians will begin to realise what a truly great man he was whom the Congress drove to extremes. He was very much a leader of front rank whose claims to equality in stature and status Congress leaders were too small-minded to accept. Pakistanis must likewise accept the greatness of Gandhi and Nehru, their faults and flaws notwithstanding. Both can learn from Reynolds.

Reynolds recalls Churchill's words that "words are the only thing that last forever" and concludes: "Churchill had dominated the field for a quarter-century - through speeches and deeds in wartime and, even more, by what he wrote afterwards. And he must surely have known, as he finally slipped away, that he had won the immortality he craved. In death, as in life, Winston Churchill continues to glow. He remains in command of history."

A fitting tribute after merciless surgery.
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