Saturday, June 17, 2006

Deconstructing Wolpert

Professor Stanley Wolpert, Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles, is an eminent historian of India. Among his books are biographies of Nehru, Gandhi and Jinnah. A layperson like me would normally hesitate to challenge him.

The problem is that I have now access to the original sources, the ones Wolpert cites, and to put it gently, Wolpert is a great spin-meister if not an outright dishonest reporter.

Life is going to be busy over the next three weeks, but I hope to return to this topic.

I'll give you one brief example. On March 31, 1947, Gandhi suggested to Viceroy Lord Mountbatten that Jinnah and the Muslim League be given the opportunity to form a Cabinet for India, the Congress would not be in the government but would cooperate. Mountbatten was taken aback by this, but this was not a new proposal. It has been proposed in 1940 and 1942, in 1946, and possibly on one other occasion. {If we believe Wali Khan, Gandhi had made such an offer from prison in a letter to Jinnah in 1943, which caused some anxiety to the British that Jinnah might accept.} Janet Morgan, in her biography of Edwina Mountbatten notes that others were less surprised, this kite had been flown before (and her focus as far as I can see is on Edwina and not on Indian events). On April 1, Mountbatten discussed this proposal with Nehru. The primary source for this conversation is Mountbatten himself, Wolpert's reference is to The Transfer of Power papers, edited by Mansergh, where the Viceroy's report is included in full.

This is what Mountbatten wrote:

1 April 1947
The interview lasted from 3 to 4:20 pm.
I began by giving him an account of my talk with Mr. Gandhi, which the latter had agreed I should do. Pandit Nehru was not surprised to hear of the solution which had been suggested, since this was the same solution that Mr. Gandhi had put up to the Cabinet Mission. It was turned down then as being quite impracticable; and the policy of Direct Action by the Muslim League, and the bloodshed and bitterness in which it had resulted, made the solution even leas realistic now than a year ago.

He said he was anxious for Mr. Gandhi to stay a few days longer in Delhi, as he had been away for four months and was rapidly growing out of touch with events at the Centre....

Wolpert should have done better than to write the following:
Nehru was shocked to learn that his Mahatma was quite ready to replace him as premier with the Quaid-i-Azam.


Full Wolpert quote:
Mountbatten opted first to discuss the matter with Nehru, whose reaction was totally negative. Nehru was shocked to learn that his Mahatma was quite ready to replace him as premier with the Quaid-i-Azam. After telling Mountbatten how "unrealistic" Gandhi's "solution" was, Jawaharlal said "he was anxious for Mr Gandhi to stay a few days longer in Delhi as he had been away for four months and was rapidly getting out of touch with events at the Centre." Nehru and Patel hoped quickly to bring the unpredictable old man back into "touch" with their conclusions on how best to handle Jinnah and the Muslim League. Perhaps even if Jinnah were offered the entire central government on a platter with the whole cabinet under his personal control, he might have dismissed it with a negative wave of his long-fingered hand. Yet it was an exquisite temptation to place before him. It was a brilliant solution to India's oldest, toughest, greatest political problem. The Mahatma alone was capable of such absolute abnegation, such instant reversal of political position. Gandhi understood Jinnah well enough, moreover, to know just how potent an appeal to his ego of that sort of singularly generous offer would have been. It might just have worked; surely this was a King Solomon solution. But Nehru had tasted the cup of power too long to offer its nectar to anyone else - last of all to that "mediocre lawyer", the "reactionary-Muslim Baron of Malabar Hill" as so many good Congress leaders thought of Jinnah. Nehru notified Mountbatten that the scheme was "quite impracticable...even less realistic now than a year ago" when Gandhi had suggested the same idea to the cabinet mission.

Incidentally, if we believe V.P. Menon, Jinnah was wary of such proposals, because he was afraid that the Congress would genuinely cooperate with the Muslim League and that would put paid to the Pakistan scheme.

Some more of the Viceroy's discussion with Nehru, as reported by the Viceroy:

He {Nehru} had not yet had the opportunity of discussing with Mr Gandhi his reasons for opposing the Congress resolution on partition; but he realised that Mr Gandhi was immensely keen on a unified India, at any immediate cost, for the benefit of the long term future......

...We next discussed the work which Mr Gandhi is now carrying out in Bihar. We both recognized the high purpose which impelled him to carry out this very difficult task in the hopes of healing the sore spot in Bihar. But, as Pandit Nehru so aptly pointed out, Mr Gandhi was going around with ointment trying to heal one sore spot after another on the body of India, instead of diagnosing the cause of this eruption of sores and participating in the treatment of the body as a whole. I entirely agreed, and said that it appeared that I would have to be the principal doctor in producing the treatment for the body as a whole....


Rajan P. Parrikar said...

Have you sent a copy of this entry to Wolpert?

Arun said...

No, I haven't. I think I might be able to come up with better examples :)