Jinnah vs Gandhi By Roderick Matthews, Hachette, Rs 499
This book starts with the dramatization of a meeting between Jinnah and Gandhi. The year is 1939 and the British are desperate to recruit Indians for the impending war with Germany, hence the summon from the viceroy. Jinnah reads Gandhi’s decision to come down to his residence as a sign of deference. He gets another kick from making Gandhi ride with him to the Viceregal Lodge in his car instead of Gandhi’s.
To the reader, Jinnah immediately comes across as petty and vindictive. Gandhi, high-minded and selfless, is impervious to Jinnah’s machinations. Despite laying out the contrasts between the two men so clearly right at the beginning, Roderick Matthews works backwards to prove that Jinnah is not as petty as he is thought to be and Gandhi is not so selfless either. His intention is to establish both the figures as entirely fallible, and not-always-prescient, human beings.
Matthews’s concern is clearly Jinnah rather than Gandhi. He believes that the attitude towards Jinnah has been conditioned by our views on Pakistan. There are certain things Matthews wants to set straight. One, Jinnah was genuinely committed to the protection of the Muslim community and never forsook his obligations to it. Two, contrary to the established theory, Jinnah and Gandhi were not “natural enemies”. The upheavals in Jinnah’s life, says Matthews, were occasioned more by “principles and methods than persons.”
But no matter how much Matthews might insist, the personal and political remain inextricably linked in Jinnah’s career. In pushing for Pakistan, Jinnah found a way to safeguard his people’s interests and at the same time mark out “equal rights for himself as their leader, at one stroke.” Matthews, though, wants his readers to appreciate this as a sign of Jinnah’s pragmatism, not opportunism.
As for Gandhi, Matthews believes that the Mahatma was more politically canny than he is given credit for. He was also egocentric, given the importance he attached to one’s conscience. The Mahatma is also inconsistent — despite being a votary of non-violence, he supported the war efforts of the British, failed to condemn the Mappila riots and ignored the other violent acts during the non-cooperation movement, which he called off after Chauri-Chaura. Matthews explains that these inconsistencies were, however, in perfect consonance with an integral body of beliefs that Gandhi held dear.
But whether a supreme tactician or a great moralist, neither Jinnah nor Gandhi had control over how things panned out eventually. Gandhi’s introduction of the religious element in politics led to the birth of the Hindu Right and Jinnah’s dogged pursuit of Muslim interests set off an inexorable chain of events that culminated in a bifurcation that he had never actually intended.
Jinnah emerges as a more principled politician than Gandhi in Matthews’s analysis. But Gandhi was also a visionary that Jinnah never was. For all his sympathy for Jinnah, Matthews does not absolve him of the failure to provide Pakistan with a definitive plan. Matthews calls this lack of direction a “crippling omission”.
It is for this lack of vision that Jinnah finally loses out to Gandhi. Matthews gives the crown to Gandhi, who, despite his improbable model of future India — consisting of villages and celibate individuals — is seen to have the “right virtues” to found a nation. But if Matthews knows his Gandhi, he should have also known that Gandhi couldn’t care less for such trivia and the world has always known who among Jinnah and Gandhi is a greater man.