Is it OK to say Quaid-e-Azam?
Dear Janab Amit Shah-ji,
To go by your tweet on May 5/6, while I was in Pakistan, you were apparently scandalized that on Pakistani soil last week, I referred to Muhammad Ali Jinnah as the Quaid-e-Azam (great leader). That is a measure not of my treachery but of the ignorance or deliberate distortion of the facts of history that so characterize you and the Sangh Parivar mindset.
You and your ilk pretend to be Gandhians. As such, should you not know that it was none other than the Mahatma who made it a practice from the moment he was released from incarceration in the Aga Khan Palace at Poona on May 6, 1944 to invariably refer to Jinnah as the “Quaid-e-Azam”?
Indeed, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, in his monumental work India Wins Freedom, points outhat “it is Gandhi-ji who first gave currency to the title Quaid-e-Azam or great leader as applied to Mr Jinnah!” Arre, Amit-bhai, I was only following in the footsteps of the Mahatma when I courteously used the honourific Quaid-e-Azam when I spoke in Lahore.
Such courtesy is, of course, alien to you, Amit bhai. But the advantage of courtesy is that it provokes equal courtesy from the other side, even if they are political adversaries. Thus, your erstwhile colleague, Jaswant Singh-ji, in his brilliant biography, Jinnah, remarks: “In an extraordinary departure from his standard practice, Jinnah called Gandhi ‘Mahatma’ and appealed for a period of political truce.”
Gandhi-ji replied: “I am convinced Mr Jinnah is a good man.” And followed this up at his prayer meeting on September 19 (which was the festival of Eid): “Referring to his talks with Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah, he said that he considered it to be their great good fortune that they were having their friendly talks.”
And because Gandhi-ji spoke in such respectful terms of the Quaid-e-Azam, did you know your fellow-parivari, Nathuram Godse, made his first attempt at assassinating Gandhi-ji at his Mount Pleasant Road residence on Malabar Hill in that self-same month of September 1944?
Yes, the very same Nathuram Godse to whom your hero, VD Savarkar, gave his blessings at least twice in January 1948, when Godse flew from Bombay to Delhi to fulfil his vile purpose. If you don’t believe that, please read the Kapoor Commission report (or even Dominique Lapierre’s Freedom at Midnight -- banned in Pakistan by your ideological counterparts).
Amit bhai, now that you are a member of parliament, might I invite you to take a stroll to the parliament house library and ask for a copy of the Hindustan Times publication of October 1944 titled “Gandhi-Jinnah Talks: July-October 1944” or, if you have the stomach for it, the Pakistani version, “Jinnah-Gandhi Talks,” published in 1991?
If, Amit-ji, you are bristling at my last sentence having referred to “Jinnah saheb,” I draw your attention to the Hindustan Times publication which quotes Gandhi-ji as fervently praying at his prayer meeting in Bombay on September 11,1944: “Not a word might escape my lips so as to hurt the feelings of Jinnah saheb or damage the cause that is dear to us both. I am sure the same is the case with Jinnah saheb.”
So, Amit-bhai, if Gandhi-ji can call the Quaid-e-Azam “Jinnah saheb” why can’t I?
And after the talks tragically broke down, Gandhi-ji referred to Jinnah saheb six times as “Quaid-e-Azam” in his prayer meeting on September 27.
For the cynics in India and Pakistan who believe that Gandhi, the Chatur Bania (and, Amit-bhai, remember, that is how you described the Mahatma), was only trying to trick Jinnah by flattery, it is instructive to note that it was not only before or during the talks that Gandhi-ji invariably used the honourific given to Jinnah by his followers, but that even after the talks failed, Gandhi-ji continued to refer to Jinnah saheb in this respectful manner.
In the run-up to the talks, as documented by Sheshrao Chavan in his “The Gandhi-Jinnah Talks,” in his letter to Sir Richard Tottenham on May 27, 1944 -- soon after his release three weeks earlier -- he refers to the Quaid-e-Azam at least five times.
The clinching evidence of the Mahatma’s sincerity in doing so is his private telegram from Sevagram to BG Kher, the first Congress chief minister of Bombay. Why refer to Jinnah as such in a private telegram meant only for the eyes of a senior colleague, unless the Mahatma really meant it?
If further proof were needed, I would invite you and readers of this open letter to look up the text of Mahatma Gandhi’s press conference on September 28, where he uses the term “Quaid-e-Azam” no less than seven times.
Do I now need your special permission, Amit-ji, to refer to Jinnah saheb as “Quaid-e-Azam” when speaking of him to Pakistani audiences in Pakistan? Or should I call Jinnah in Lahore what I called Modi in Delhi on December 7, for which I remain suspended by my party?
There is a lovely little snippet in Sheshrao Chavan’s book on page 48 that I can’t resist sharing with you, Amit bhai:
“Gandhi turned to Jinnah and asked: ‘Have you seen the papers this morning?’
“‘Why bother?’ answered Jinnah. ‘They have written so much terrible!’
In seven decades, the media has not changed its colours. But your tweets, Amit bhai, make even TV anchors look good.
Mani Shankar Aiyar is former Congress MP, Lok Sabha, and Rajya Sabha. This article previously appeared on NDTV.com.