Pakistan got worst of Jinnah and India got best of Gandhi

“Once upon a time,” and sounding very much like a story-teller, was how British historian Roderick Matthews began his anecdote about a long-ago incident involving Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The author was in conversation with British writer Farrukh Dhondy at the on-going Kovalam Literary Festival at the Kanakakunnu Palace here on Saturday.

In 1915 to be exact, Jinnah presided over a reception celebrating the return of one “Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi,” a man who had attained something of a celebrity status in South Africa. There, Jinnah addressed the gathering in English while Gandhi apparently spoke in his native Gujarati and expressed his happiness that a Muslim was the chairperson.  This oft-quoted incident – the ‘patronising’ tone of Gandhi in particular – is said to have earned him Jinnah’s life-long resentment. But Matthews calls the event “not a clash of titans, but a commonplace outing in polite society.”

At the session, he elaborated further on his views on the two larger-than-life figures from modern history, on whom his new book ‘Jinnah vs Gandhi’ is based.

“Gandhi and Jinnah were at different positions right from the beginning,” he said, responding to Dhondy’s question as to what made the two personalities different. “Jinnah started with big ideas that he could not and would not reduce or cut down to size while Gandhi started with small ideas that he later built on.”  While there is a whole lot of reference material available on Gandhi, either written by him or about him, Jinnah was more difficult a personality to make out as there are few scholarly works about him and what little can be gleaned is mostly from available transcripts of Jinnah’s speeches. “And Jinnah always spoke in highly measured tones, choosing words carefully,” said Matthews.

Responding to Dhondy’s question on Gandhi’s India and Jinnah’s Pakistan, Matthews stated they were both failures as neither of what they had envisioned had come to pass. “Jinnah had wanted a particular kind of secular Pakistan – not dominated either by Hindus or the British and filled with Muslims, though he made no attempt to define what a Muslim nation was,” he said. “Gandhi wanted a spiritually pure country full of married celibates and spinning wheels in every house.”

In his book, Matthews compares the two leaders and their political careers. “At the end of the day I feel that Pakistan got the worst of Jinnah and India got the best of Gandhi,” said Matthews.