No questions, please

Published : Sep 11, 2009 00:00 IST

Members of the Parakram Janchetna Manch, affiliated to the RSS, burning copies of Jaswant Singhs new book, in Bhopal on August 20.-A.M. FARUQUI

Members of the Parakram Janchetna Manch, affiliated to the RSS, burning copies of Jaswant Singhs new book, in Bhopal on August 20.-A.M. FARUQUI

Woh baat sare fasane mein jis ka zikr na tha/ Woh baat unko bohat nagawar guzri hai (What was never mentioned in the entire story/ Is the very thing that offended most).

FAIZ AHMED FAIZS immortal conflict explains the otherwise inexplicable savagery of the Bharatiya Janata Partys (BJP) expulsion of one of its most respected founder members from the primary membership of the party. It was not the book (Jinnah India, Partition, Independence; Rupa; pages 669, Rs. 695), which none of them could have read. It was his position that Hindutva was a hurdle to the BJPs growth, and his independent questioning stance in the partys councils.

The brazen illegality of the expulsion is of a piece with the entire sordid drama to humiliate him. The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) asked the leaders to bend; they decided to crawl. It will not appease the RSS. The action not only marks the end of the Vajpayee era but puts an inglorious end to the Advani phase, with Rajnath Singh not far behind. Narendra Modi has ensured Arun Jaitleys promotion. He had saved Modi after the Gujarat pogrom.

But the soft pro-BJP secularists, who wistfully hoped for the emergence of the BJP as a secular conservative party after their own heart not quite secular, nor quite Hindutva are disillusioned.

Jaswant Singhs prestige has soared. The BJPs has plummeted, thanks to L.K. Advanis intrigues, Rajnath Singhs bigotry and the ambitions of the Modi-Jaitely combine.

A Chintan Baithak was abruptly converted into a Parliamentary Board meeting with a non-member Modi, who else? participating. No notice of the meeting, no show-cause notice and no grounds were provided when Rajnath Singh phoned their quarry at Shimla. That Jaswant Singh will not contest the action in a court of law is no reason why the outrage should pass muster. In law, a political party is an unincorporated association, like a club. The law is part of the law of torts (a tort is a civil wrong actionable in damages). Formerly castes were governed by this law. It permits internal autonomy but insists on observance of the rules of natural justice. An authoritative work sums up the law in three propositions: First, the power of expulsion must be exercised with meticulous attention to the rules which create it, and if any formality is omitted the purported expulsion is of no effect; for instance, where under the rules a certain number of days notice should be given to consider the question of expulsion and the notice is a day late the expulsion is a nullity.

Secondly, expulsion must be bona fide and in the interests of the organisation and not from any improper motives or extraneous considerations. That is an abuse of power.

Lastly, where the rules provide for expulsion for conduct injurious to the organisation, the power must be exercised not only bona fide but judiciously. The test is reasonable and probable cause. The rules of natural justice must be followed. The member must have every reasonable opportunity of defending himself. The notice must not be a recital of comments but a list of precise charges with particulars specific enough to enable the member to reply.

The phrase anti-party activities is of Stalinist provenance. It was adopted in the high-noon of Indira Gandhis era. It means anyone who is disliked.

The charges must be laid before the expulsion, a subsequent volley of charges will not do.

Gujarats ban on the book is as illegal. Section 95 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, empowers the State government to order forfeiture of any newspaper, book or document if it contains matter that is seditious, promotes disharmony between groups or disturbs public tranquillity, questions the loyalty of any group, is obscene or outrages the religious feelings of any class of citizens , thereby violating Sections 124-A, 153-A, 153-B, 292, 293 or 295-A of the Indian Penal Code.

How many publications attacking Muslims has Modi banned? Section 95 does not exempt political or historical figures from criticism. The order must state the grounds for the ban. That is done by the Law Department. Had Modi prepared the order before arriving in Shimla?

In 1968, the Governments of India and Maharashtra banned a book by Gopal Godse, brother of Gandhis assassin Nathuram, entitled Gandhis Murder and I. The ground was promotion of communal hatred. It was set aside by the Bombay High Court (Gopal Godse vs The Union of India (1970) 72 Bombay Law Reporter 871).

Justice Y.V. Chandrachud, later the Chief Justice of India, said that its accent is not on the relationship between the communities but on the past, namely, Gandhis policies. It was a Bench of three judges, as is required by Section 96 of the Code.

Any person having any interest in the book can move the High Court to set it aside. The Code advisedly does not confine it to the writer, printer or publisher. It covers the citizen for he has a right to know, which is part of the fundamental right to the freedom of speech and expression.

If Jaswant Singh does not move the courts, concerned citizens can or should. Where the fundamental rights are involved, an alternative remedy is no bar to a petition to the Supreme Court, rather than the High Court.

Jaswant Singh did not challenge the ideology of the BJP. Hindutva is a recent arrival. When it was founded in 1980, it disowned a revival of the Jan Sangh but claimed to be the real Janata Party, a true heir of the JP the Bharatiya Janata Party. Advani proposed that their commitment to the concepts of Gandhian socialism and securalism has been total and unequivocal (Letter of February 26, 1980, to Janata Party president Chandra Shekhar).

At the first plenary convention on December 28, 1980, Gandhian socialism was affirmed as one of the five commitments along with nationalism and national integration, democracy, positive secularism and value-based politics.

The hoax did not work. In March 1985, a working group was set up to review the policies. Its 47-page report opted for the Jan Sangh leader Deen Dayal Upadhyayas Integral Humanism. On January 31, 1986, the locks on the gates of the Babri Masjid were opened. On May 9, Advani replaced Vajpayee as president of the BJP. It was he who in 1990 made V.D. Savarkars Hindutva a battle cry in his rath yatra. There is not a word on Hindutva in the BJPs definitive Palampur resolution of June 11, 1989, on Ayodhya.

In power, the BJP could not fulfil its pledges to the RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). In 2004 and 2009, the nation showed its disgust. Jaswant Singh did no more than urge that the worn-out garment be discarded. It had begun to stink.

The selectivity on national figures is remarkable. Gandhi was accepted only in 1997. The Times of India editorially noted on October 17, 1989: Mr. Advani while holding forth on Bharat Mata, now goes so far as to deny that Mahatma Gandhi was the Father of the Nation. Deen Dayal Upadhyaya had said in 1961 with all respect for Gandhiji, let us cease to call him Father of the Nation. Advanis affection for Gandhis assassin, V.D. Sarvarkar, is greater than that for Gandhi. He had his portrait put up in Parliament House. A Supreme Court judge, Justice J.L. Kapur, found Sarvarkar guilty of conspiracy to murder Gandhi. He was as much an assassin as Godse.

Note the BJP does not mind Jaswant Singhs criticism of Jawaharlal Nehru, only of Vallabhbhai Patel. Jaswant Singhs criticism is that both conceded Partition, not that they approved of it. He lightly praises Jinnahs earlier record but criticises later policies (judging by the copious press reports). He denounces Partition and rejects the two-nation theory.

Who is the BJP or, for that matter, anyone else, the state included, to prescribe an orthodox historical narrative?

Justice Robert H. Jackson of the United States Supreme Court said: If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein (West Virginia State Board of Education vs Barnette 319 U.S. 624 at 641 (1943). That includes history ancient, medieval or modern.

Jaswant Singh deserves congratulations on writing a retrospect on Partition in his book. One of the rare politicians with an inquiring mind and a love of reading, his comments on Jinnah are the result of study, whereas Advanis comments on Jinnah in 2005 in Pakistan were an opportunistic gambit. It was played on the advice of a journalist in the fond belief that they would project him as a moderate in India. They were not addressed to Pakistanis.

At his book launch in New Delhi on August 17, Jaswant Singh invited a group of discussants with full knowledge of the fact that they might not agree with his analyses or with one another. One of them was Hameed Haroon, chief executive officer of the publishers of Pakistans leading daily Dawn founded by the Quaid-e-Azam, well before Partition. One of its editors, Pothan Joseph, wrote in high praise of Jinnah for his respect for editorial independence. This writer has not read the book, and might well disagree with its theses. It is the effort that deserves praise.

One can only pity those who went into high dudgeon on the book. They strongly disapprove of the very idea that Jinnah could be praised for anything. Not for the first time was the trait of arrogance combined with political and historical illiteracy exhibited so obscenely. This writer advisedly refrains from even bestowing notice on a recent book on Partition, which retails a stale nationalist narrative devoid of serious honest introspection. What the furore reflects is the resurgence of the old school which imposed a set historical narrative for others to follow a narrative that attributed infallibility to Gandhi, Nehru and the Congress leaders, demonised Jinnah and belittled leaders before the Gandhi era and all those who differed with the Gandhi-Nehru line. We hear little of Tilak, for instance. Two generations of court historians flourished with official patronage. The Sangh Parivar set up its own school. Dissent becomes heresy. Scholarship suffers.

There is, however, more intensive, serious retrospect in India than in Pakistan, where the concept of Pakistan is connected with Jinnahs personality. He is deemed to be infallible. Gandhi and Nehru are demonised there.

The BJPs convulsions will not subside with its act. An assassination physical or moral invites retribution from society.

Quem Jupiter vult perdere, dementat prior (Whom God would destroy, He first sends mad). If James Duports aphorism (1660) is anti-national, here is a swadeshi version: Vinash kale viprit buddhi (They go mad before fate accomplishes their ruin).

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