It is often tempting to learn the wrong lessons from history, if to learn them at all. The strange case of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders L.K. Advani and Jaswant Singh and their fascination for the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, is one such episode.

On the face of it, there is hardly anything that would commend Jinnah to the BJP—a party that espouses Hindutva, a controversial and majoritarian interpretation of Hinduism. After all, the Quaid-e-Azam invented the two-nation theory. In his imagination, Muslims of British India were a separate nation and territorial nationalism was only an instrument to birth a separate state for them. In that sense, Jinnah may well have been a model, if not a forerunner, for the “cultural nationalism" of the Hindutva variety that the BJP champions.

Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint

Yet, India has been subjected to the curious spectacle of two senior BJP leaders openly admiring and lauding the Supreme Leader. In Advani’s case the motives were clear, even if the reasons he proffered were opaque. His politics on the issue was, of course, utterly misguided. Praising Jinnah is unlikely to sway the Muslim mood in favour of the BJP. If Advani had some reasons for his statements on Jinnah, Jaswant Singh (who has written a book on Jinnah) has hardly any reasons. If his motive was historical revisionism, that task is best left to professional historians and not to the leaders of a party that has long displayed animosity towards Muslims.

The single biggest lesson these two leaders conveniently chose to ignore from Jinnah’s life was this: If you walk the communal road to create political space, you cannot retreat. Jinnah failed to learn that. Once Mahatma Gandhi unleashed mass politics in British India, Jinnah’s constitutional politics became redundant. He then chose the route of mobilizing Muslims in the name of their faith with fatal consequences for Indian unity. By temperament, he disliked mass politics, yet he chose that road to power. That temperament, and not some coherent political vision, enabled him to tell the citizens of his yet-to-be born nation on 11 August 1947:“Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State".

By then it was too late. The sectarian fires lit on Direct Action Day 63 years ago have scorched Pakistan, even if they continue to guide its search for “strategic depth" in Afghanistan and its desperate efforts to wrest Kashmir from India. The BJP needs to learn its history better.

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