On Jinnah and Nehru: One man’s hero is another man’s villain

Published: March 24, 2014
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For Pakistanis, Nehru and Gandhi are the villains. For Indians, Jinnah is the villain. This is how history is written and interpreted everywhere.

My article is in response to the perplexing as well as thought-provoking piece by Taha Shaheen on the Express Tribune titled Of biased history: Wait, wasn’t Nehru the bad guy?

The mentioned piece is besieged with the ever-present dilemma in our liberal section of society; a section which is trapped in the intense struggle of bringing together and reconciliation between India and Pakistan.

It really baffled me how this way of thinking considers historical personalities, facts and narrations, as well as the building of political history based thought process.

This, however, is not an exceptional example of a confused mindset. There a few others as well who always take the individuals and events that led to the partition of South Asian subcontinent as suspicious subjects; let alone world history.

Historical personalities

History is the anecdote we reveal to ourselves regarding how the yesteryears elucidate our present-day, and the approach in which we reveal it are produced by contemporary requirements. Consequently, events or individuals are heroic or villainous and for this reason it has been said,

“One man’s hero is another man’s villain.”

What makes a hero?

What represents villainy?

Let me add some examples from world history:

Salahuddin Ayyubi

Sultan Salahuddin, also called Saladin, is known for his bravery and tactics against the crusaders. For Muslims, Salahuddin is a saviour, a hero who captured Jerusalem from the clutches of crusaders, and eventually pushed back the joint army of Europe.

For the West, Salahuddin is a villainous personality. After World War I, French General Gouraud showed his hatred for Salahuddin openly; he kicked his tomb and shouted;

‘… awake Saladin, we have returned.’

Emir Timor

Timor, or Tamerlane – a great general who won almost all of his expeditions, conquered Aleppo, Damascus and Anatolia, influenced major parts of present day Iran, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. He is known for his love of arts, literature and architecture. People remember him as a great achiever, ruler and soldier.

Interestingly, antagonists call him a vicious conqueror – a blood thirsty vampire who was a threat to western culture and religion.

Napoleon Bonaparte

He is the man who not only stabilised the shaky structure of newly revolutionised France but also erased external threats on the borders. For many, Napoleon is the father of the French revolution and nationalism, while others considered him a usurper, a dictator and a big danger for peace in Europe.

Karl Marx

Known for his revolutionary ideas and theories that paved the way for the socialism and communism in the whole world, Karl Marx is a prophet for Marxists but an evil source for opponents.

Joseph Stalin

He replaced the Czar dynasty by changing the face of Russian politics through the Bolshevik revolution. Stalin was the hero, voice of peasants and down-trodden people; he changed the fate of Russia by converting it into USSR – a super-power.

In most of history, Stalin is referred to as a murderous dictator, responsible for the sufferings and death of millions of people.

Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer

Dyer is the sole name behind the dreadful Jallianwala Bagh massacre which resulted in more than a 1000 deaths. General Dyer is the most hated personality of the British Raj in South Asia; on the other hand, many people in Britain regard him as a hero.

Segregating good and evil

These are just a few examples of notable heroic and villainous figures in world history. Now, anyone can easily understand why it has been said:

“One man’s development/civilisation is another man’s barbarism.”

Similarly, India and Pakistan’s history is of no exception. Both fought for their independence; Hindu struggled for united India independent of British Raj, ruled by Hindu majority, whereas Muslims fought on two fronts – independence from British Raj and from Hindu dominant majority. This struggle and fight separates the foundation of heroes and villains for both nations.

No doubt, Mahatma Gandhi was a great politician and leader; but he can’t be my national hero, because he vehemently opposed the two nation theory, Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s 14 points and Muslim representation in government jobs or education in united India. On the whole, he was a man who strongly opposed the creation of Pakistan.

On June 4, 1947, Gandhi said,

“We would not give even an inch of land as Pakistan under coercion.”

On the contrary, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah stood against these discriminations and crushed the powerful Congress in Gandhi’s life. He surpassed all the hindrances and won Pakistan in dire pressure, conspiracies, antipathy and evil manoeuvrings of the opponents.

The foundation of Pakistan is based on the firm stance of Quaid-e-Azam against the Congress leadership’s strategy. If I deny this historical fact and start praising the main devious characters such as all the Gandhis, Nehrus and Mountbattens, then where will my national identity stand?

History, according to our textbooks

As far as textbooks are concerned, history chapters only give you the official version of any state related event/persona; especially when it comes to your founding father, the material is always added with extra care. History textbooks always have narratives and perspectives that are significant at national level, surrounded by some precise world view that intent to influence how people believe and contemplate.

For this reason, you will find limited knowledge about Gandhi, Nehru and Congress leaders in Pakistan’s textbooks. In the same way, Indian history textbooks paint a dubious character of our Quaid-e-Azam and other Muslim League leadership.

While talking about two independent countries, one should realise that the historical dimensions for sovereignty differ in every aspect, including facts and figures as well as heroes and villains of said countries. This is the core base of historical interpretation and cannot be written by mutual consent of the two parties/opponents.

A good friendship with your neighbouring country is beneficial for all, but it cannot be built on the basis of your own country’s tarnished history. You can neither deny your own national heroes nor accept other’s national heroes as your own. Contradiction will always be there – your hero will always be their villain and vice versa.

Tanveer Khadim

Tanveer Khadim

An avid reader, freelance writer and a blogger, Tanveer is pursuing fashion designing. She has a passion for cooking, attended cookery courses and tweets as @TheFusionDiary (twitter.com/TheFusionDiary)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.