One has to understand Mohammed Ali Jinnah - both as a man and as a statesman - to understand India's relationship with Pakistan and Bangladesh, veteran politician and author Jaswant Singh said here Saturday.
'Unless we understand Mohammed Ali Jinnah as a man and as a statesman, we cannot understand Bangladesh, Pakistan and our relations with the two countries. Nobody has written about Jinnah - whom Mahatma Gandhi described as a great man - the way I have,' Singh told a packed audience comprising writers, journalists, publishers and bureaucrats at the Pragati Maidan here on the inaugural day of the 15th Delhi Book Fair.
Singh, a former defence and finance minister, was expelled from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) earlier this month over his appraisal of the Pakistan founder in his controversial book 'Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence'.
The book, which defends Jinnah's role in the partition of the subcontinent and says he had been 'unnecessarily demonised', has been banned by the BJP government in Gujarat.
At the book fair, Singh was addressing a panel discussion, 'Ban on Jaswant Singh's Book - Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence'.
The panelists included Tushar A. Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and head of the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation, Minister of State for Minority Affairs Salman Khursheed, former Karnataka governor T.N. Chaturvedi and retired Delhi High Court judge C.M. Nayar. The discussion was moderated by academic and writer Yogesh Atal.
'I have no intention of speaking at a discussion promoting my book at a book fair. It could be construed as self-promotion. Instead, I will speak on the fallout of partition, which prompted me to research the book.
'The original title of my book was very long, 'Mohammed Ali Jinnah: Journey from an Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity in India to Quaid-e-Azam in Pakistan'. My American publishers did not like it. They are ignorant about Jinnah or India's partition. They don't understand Indian history unless you compare it with the American civil war,' Singh maintained.
'Partition has been the most damaging event in modern India. Though I was born in a village far away from Lahore and Sindh, I always wondered how could they ever become foreign lands... and (how) the man (Jinnah) who had so assiduously worked for the 1916 Lucknow Pact could divide the country,' he said.
The 1916 Lucknow Pact between the Muslim League and the Indian National Congress had pressured the British government to give Indians more authority to run the country.
'The takeoff point for my research was 1857 - the mutiny which brought the Hindus and Muslims in the subcontinent together and finally uprooted the British after 90 years, in 1947. The 1857 revolt continued to haunt the British,' Singh said.
'Jinnah set another milestone in communal amity in 1916 with the Lucknow Pact. A man who had lived all his life in India barring the last 13 months and who had been insulted by the British did not have to be demonised by us,' he said.
'India cannot be shackled by its neighbours and unless we become one country, it will be difficult to realise our dreams. We have to cultivate a mindset that allows us to think freely.
'I am grateful that the intellectuals and the publishing world are standing by me to support freedom of thought, that is, the freedom to write. Where the mind is without fear... will heads be held high and there will be freedom,' Singh said, taking a cue from Rabindranath Tagore's famous lines.