Home Minister Amit Shah in Lok Sabha Monday. Photo: ANI/LSTV Grab
File image of Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Lok Sabha | Photo: ANI/LSTV Grab
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The protests erupting over the Citizenship Amendment Act in the Jamia Millia Islamia University, across the northeast and elsewhere in India is the direct fallout of the BJP’s malicious reading of India’s history and plan to make the country a Hindutva version of Pakistan. But the immediate crisis should not obscure the fundamentals. We are now accustomed, alas, in our irremediably tedious political controversies, to seeing history used as cannon fodder by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Given that the BJP is determined to drag us back to the 16th century, I suppose we should be grateful that currently, it is restricting itself to the 20th century.

But Home Minister Amit Shah’s astonishing assertion in Parliament, in a response to me, that the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), now a law, was necessary only because the Congress had divided India on religious grounds in 1947, is such a breathtaking piece of effrontery that it deserves a response.

My initial reaction was that Amit Shah must not have been paying attention in school during history class: had he never heard of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the “two-nation theory”, or the Muslim League’s Pakistan Resolution of 1940? Could he seriously believe that Partition wasn’t the demand of the League, voted for by a significant plurality of India’s Muslims in 1946? Did he actually consider that Mahatma Gandhi’s Indian National Congress, the flag-bearer for six decades of a united nationalist movement, a party that had been led multiple times by Muslims and actually served under a Muslim president (Maulana Azad) in the crucial period from 1940 to 1945, wished to divide India on religious lines?

But then, I also came to realise that it didn’t really matter what Amit Shah believed: it only mattered that he had said it. And in saying it, the BJP, hero-worshippers of V.D. Savarkar who first propounded the two-nation theory as president of the Hindu Mahasabha before Jinnah seized upon the same idea, had continued its tiresome political tactic of ascribing to the Congress party responsibility for any error, tragedy or event that had cast a blight upon India. Partition was bad, ergo blame it on the Congress.

Ironically enough, Amit Shah found unlikely allies in the most improbable place – across the border – where my denunciation of his ruling BJP for ushering in a Hindutva version of Pakistan in India was fiercely condemned by Pakistani liberals. Asad Rahim Khan in Dawn and Yasser Latif Hamdani in ThePrint both criticised me by name for venturing to suggest that Partition was Jinnah’s fault. In their telling, the man who had once been hailed by Sarojini Naidu as the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity was blameless: it was Hindu illiberalism, and Gandhiji’s use of Hindu religious concepts to stir the masses, that led Jinnah to demand a separate country.


Also read: Now Modi govt has proved that it not only talks like Pakistan, it thinks and acts like it


Jinnah, a hypocrite Pakistani liberals love

For these Pakistani liberals, the Quaid-i-Azam is an apostle of decency, secularism and liberality, who wished to run Pakistan as a state where minorities could feel totally at home. They do not explain why, then, he wanted a confessional basis for his state. The phrase “two-nation theory”, and the attendant bigotry of Jinnah’s speeches averring that Muslims are a separate nation, is never mentioned. They cannot explain why, even today, a citizen of Pakistan hailing from a minority community has the words “non-Muslim” stamped on his passport, rather like the yellow star of David that Jews were obliged to sport in Nazi-occupied Denmark.

No attempt to reinvent Pakistan as an example of enlightened liberalism will wash in the face of its ruling ideology, its odious practices of religious and sectarian discrimination, its procrustean blasphemy laws and resultant persecution of poor minorities, its forced conversion of Hindus and Christians, and its incubation of an alphabet soup of Islamist terrorist organisations. Pakistani liberals might want to wish these realities away, but this intolerant incubus is precisely what Indian liberals were proud that they were not – and passionately believed that they could never be.

So Pakistani liberals, in their anxiety to defend Jinnah, unwittingly give aid and comfort to the political cynicism of Amit Shah, the president of a party that expelled the redoubtable Jaswant Singh for hailing Jinnah as a hero. Jinnah had many good qualities, but freedom from communal bigotry was not one of them. The fact that Jinnah drank whiskey, enjoyed bacon and sausages, and married a Parsi does not make him a liberal – it just makes him a hypocrite.


Also read: AMU students did not raise ‘anti-Hindu’ slogans, they raised voice against Hindutva


BJP’s deliberate distortion of history

Amit Shah is not alone in distorting history to blame the Congress party for the sins of others. The BJP employs another variant of this tactic – to say that the Congress had already done what it is now attacking the BJP for doing. Thus, BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav says that a bill similar to the CAB “was passed by the Nehru government” and that the Congress’ 1950 Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act ‘establishes’ that Jawaharlal Nehru had specifically exempted minorities from being expelled from Assam. Madhav reportedly said: “the Nehru government had passed a similar bill in 1950 for expulsion of illegal immigrants mainly from the erstwhile Pakistan and had categorically said that minorities of East Pakistan wouldn’t be covered under the bill”.

It hardly needs to be said that this, too, is false and misleading, and that the attempt to compare the 1950 Act with the CAB reveals the opposite. Clause two of the 1950 Act, titled ‘Power to order expulsion of certain immigrants’, has the following provision: “Provided that nothing in this section shall apply to any person (emphasis added) who on account of civil disturbances or the fear of such disturbances in any area now forming part of Pakistan has been displaced from or has left his place of residence in such area and who has been subsequently residing in Assam”.

This provision makes it explicit that the people exempted are any persons who fear being sent back to Pakistan – a category that includes people of all religions and not just non-Muslims. So, Ram Madhav’s claim that the Nehru bill, like the BJP’s, protected only the minorities of East Pakistan, is false. When I moved an amendment in the Lok Sabha suggesting precisely what the 1950 Bill did – that instead of mentioning specific religions and excluding others, the CAB merely speak of “persecuted persons” – it was shouted down with vociferous enthusiasm by BJP MPs. The BJP has no right to mischaracterise the Congress’ stand of 1947 or 1950 in its attempt to score petty political points in 2019.

My simple request to the BJP leadership is this: stop distorting the past to explain your failures of the present. India deserves better. It’s time to stop fighting battles of historical interpretation – and fix the problems of today instead.

The author is a Member of Parliament for Thiruvananthapuram and former MoS for External Affairs and HRD. He served the UN as an administrator and peacekeeper for three decades. He studied History at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University and International Relations at Tufts University. Tharoor has authored 19 books, both fiction and non-fiction. Follow him on Twitter @ShashiTharoor. Views are personal.

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44 Comments Share Your Views

44 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Shashi Tharoor, you are right that the two-nation theory is wrong, even evil, and responsible for the division of our country, then and now. I believe both Savarkar and Jinnah were, perhaps unwittingly, agents of the British Empire and furthered its agenda of divide and rule. The entire South Asian region is bogged down in religious strife when it could have been a rich and vibrant syncretic culture. Do you not think the time has come to vigorously argue for one nation, to make a case for reunion? Can we not appeal to the people of Pakistan and Bangladesh to join with us again in a common enterprise? You are the only politician I know who has the breadth of knowledge, the eloquence and the charisma to effectively make this case, and I believe your heart is in the right place. Please think about it. Please do it. I will gladly back you if you do, and so, I am sure, will millions of the people of the subcontinent.

  2. I read this and feel happy. Serves the stupid 40% of the voters who voted for these Tom and Dick pair,Let them enjoy the misery of the coming 5 years. The rest must go along for you too failed to educate the dumb 40% shit heads voting this way.

  3. Shah denies his own past – his name clearly indicates an antient persian or arabic connection. shuch exchanges enriched India throughout history but the likes of Shah would have it otherwise. was he traumatised in his childhood in rss-circles because of his name?

    • Uncalled for. Remember cut off date is 2014. Even previously it was 1947. He might call his wife Begum…you have issues with it.

      • I have no issues with anyone’s name, least of all Shah’s. It is his politics that I abhor. It is he and his master who want to classify people according to their clothes, names and religion.

        • You said it correct. See the recent acts and amendments passed by the upper house. Non of them is for aur welfare, economy, healthcare, education. Apart from Hindu Muslim, Mandir Masjid there are various of issues we are facing today but the government is busy making a Hindu rastra.

  4. Mr. Tharoor should first go the courts with a request to expedite the hearing in the cases of all his, his friends and bosses. It is amazing that we hear the sermons from people who do not want fulfil their basic obligation as citizens to clear their names expeditiously. On the contrary they want it prolonged and delayed which suits them.

    • As opposed to murdering key witnesses, transferring police officers and judges who were being fair and impartial and following the law? Okay Boomer.

  5. Having one’s cake and eating it? Congress will take credit for Indian independence but not responsibility for the shape of Independent India. Congress was a mass movement with millions of members. Gandhi was the biggest leader in the country. Hindu Maha Sabha was nowhere. Congress had the power to stop partition if it wanted to. If you say Jinnah was responsible for creation of Pakistan then the corollary would be that he also created India. Is that what you are saying? The reality is that at the time of independence yours was the biggest strongest party with mass leaders galore. You cannot entirely shirk responsibility for what happened then and if you do then you have no right to claim credit for independence.

    • YOU NEED TO KNOW HOW JINNAH EGGED ON BY THE BRITISH THREATENED CIVIL WAR AND THERE WERE HINDU-MUSLIM RIOTS TAKING PLACE-ONE AIDED BY THE LEAGUE AND ANOTHER ABETTED BY HINDU “MAHA” SABHA . MOREOVER, WHEN PATEL REFUSED TO PART WITH HOME MINISTRY IN THE INTERIM GOVERNMENT TO THE LEAGUE, JINNAH , WHO WAS UNTIL THEN RECONCILED TO A UNITED INDIA WITH AUTONOMOUS MUSLIM PROVINCES WITH CURRENCY, FOREIGN EXCHANGE AND DEFENCE ALONE BEING EXCEPTED- HAD TO CALL PATEL’S BLUFF . IN FACT, THE FINAL SEAL ON PARTITION WAS THUS PUT BY PATEL, A LIFELONG CONGRESSMAN, WHO IS TODAY MODI-SHAH’S ICON . BUT SHASHI THAROOR AND THE LIKES OF HIM HAD NOT REBUTTED FULL THROATEDLY THE CHURLISH & NON-FACTUAL STATEMENT MADE ON PARTITION BY SHAH AND ON CITIZEN’S BILL OF NEHRU BY RAM MADHAV. HAS THE CONGRESS GIVEN UP FIGHTING THE MODERN HINDU MAHASABHA OR HINDU VERSION OF THE LEAGUE?

  6. When you have not been part of history the obvious ploy is to debunk it, worse still rewrite it and brainwash people with devious distortions and that is exactly what the BJP-RSS nexus is doing.

  7. If this is the situation of the country when a Fundamentalist as PM and Fanatic as Party chief and Home Minister…. Just imagine tomorrow tgis fundamentalist become President of India and the fanatic thug as prime minister…. These duo thugs born on the land Mahatma Gandhi will screw up the country to such an extent be it economic and social fabric of the country, we will no longer require NRC or CAA as no one will come to India as refugee instead our neighbouring countries will start bringing such laws to prevent Indian regugees entering their nation. This is high time for we brainless morons to wake up and develop some democratic maturity to save the country

    • I used to think like you but now I wonder if it is not a conspiracy agaist Shashi. His is one of the most powerful and logical voice of dissent – and we know how Shah brings down opponents. 2+2=4

  8. My dear Sir, what you say is correct. But nobody heard you. And that’s where you have lost the battle, the way how you have lost so many battles. Your party has not gone to town telling people effectively that the HM has lied. Therefore what he said is now the truth. Unfortunately for India, the grand old party has lost its communication skills, and this history is being rewritten.

    • Every applicant for a Pakistani passport must dec¬lare himself to be either a Muslim or a non-Muslim. Taking the second option doesn’t come free because the applicant then has reduced citizenship rights. Constitutionally a Pakistani Hindu, Christian, or Ahmadi cannot have all the rights enjoyed by a Muslim. Our prime minister can give grand speeches about Islamophobia before the UN General Assembly but how seriously is the world going take a leader who welcomes discrimination in his own country and has attended several khatm-i-nabuwat conferences? Pervez Hoodbhoy in DAWN

  9. At 30% Muslims forced division of India in 1947 by violence and riots over 70% non-muslims objection.
    Islamic violence always intimidates Hindus who love to flee. Muslims and Islam knows that since 8th century .
    Congress = Jinnah Muslim League.
    Do we now give unfettered citizenship to muslims from Pakistan and Bangladesh and treat the criminal and the victim alike ?

  10. ‘Could he seriously believe that Partition wasn’t the demand of the League, voted for by a significant plurality of India’s Muslims in 1946?’
    Coming out of the horse’s mouth: Mr Tharoor, when you do accept that a ‘significant plurality’ of India’s Muslims demanded partition, HOW CAN INDIA BE SECULAR insofar as the Muslims are concerned ? I would be very grateful if you can forward this message to your Empress from Italy. India NEVER WAS & NEVER WILL BE a secular state for Muslims. It is a country for the non-Muslims of the British Indian subcontinent.

  11. I agree with the author that over-indulgence in history is harmful. We must focus on today’s issues and challenges. CAA is a gross mid-calculation and a blunder. It’s timing is wrong and the impact deleterious for the nation consisting of multi-religious, multi-lingual and multi-ethnic segments. This is totally undesirable when our country is passing through a severe economic slowdown. Now, what differentiates India from Pakistan? Undoubtedly, the social harmony and economic growth story. If the growth story is halted, we lose our reputation and respect. Even more harmful than this could be the implementation of pan-NRC. It is an unwieldy, costly and divisive exercise. I request the government to pause and reconsider. At the the same let us not pretend that problem of illegal immigration doesn’t exist. Illegal immigration has taken place due to negligent approach. In this respect, Congress is to be blamed, as it actively encouraged free flow of immigration from Bangla Desh to suit its vote-bank politics. Congress is the genesis of Assam’s demographic crisis. They can’t shift the blame elsewhere.
    In my view, right to reside and right of citizenship are two different matters. While the immigrants could be given right to reside on humanitarian grounds , whether they are entitled for citizenship, irrespective of their religion, is a moot point.

  12. Amit Shah who was born very much after we got independence, neither know our history or geography. He has learnt geography from RSS which has again no role in Independence and imagine what kind of lessons they may have taught.

    • Are you saying that only those born in pre-independence days can be Interior Ministers ? Or only the members of the Congress has that right ?

  13. The last lines in this insightful article by Tharoor has a rather salutary advice to the insolent, conceited and embittered BJP leadership to keep away from moaning over the past and instead concentrate to pressing problems of the present.

  14. “a citizen of Pakistan hailing from a minority community has the words “non-Muslim” stamped on his passport.”

    So considerate. At least inmigration in Europe and USA will then know that you are a not a Jehadi.

  15. I agree to X. I did X. Do you feel there is any difference in the statements. A logical person sees a difference. What Amit Shah said is that Congress partitioned British India while Congress had no power to do so. Congress only agreed to it. The Hindu Mahasabha, of which SP Mukherjee was a member, also agreed to it.

    Have you read history? If you have, you will know that the Bill of India’s independence, which included Partition, was passed by UK Parliament and Partition was a condition for independence . So like the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha, which never participated in freedom movement, do you want India to remain a perennial colony of Britishers.

    • U. .K is a basket case, a lap dog of the USA and highly diversified inside country. Today it is Brexit, tomorrow something else. The British empire you are recalling is no more.

  16. Even though Pakistani say it is correct ‘Gandhiji’s use of Hindu religious concepts to stir the masses’ made religion in politics mainstream but it did not lead to radicalization of Hindus but when Muslim league used same method it lead to radicalization between 1942 to 1946 of muslims after which only 2 nations or very loose fedration of republic could have emerged. Nehru rightly opted for 2 nations but it does not save him from blame to try to finish Muslim league in the first place or never trying to stop radicalization element in Islam after independence. Congress is continuing with same failed policies.

  17. Mr. Tharoor, the partition did happen under Congress party’s watch, so it cannot run away from taking the responsibility. On a larger note, as much as I want to take you seriously, I can’t do so as long as your party is led by the Nehru family. I can’t have anything but contempt for anyone willing to serve in a family owned corporation.

    • Have you read history? Or do you believe Congress had power in United Kingdom? The Bill of India’s independence, which included Partition, was passed by UK Parliament, not India’s Constituent Assembly. Partition was a condition for independence and Congress gained power post independence. . So how could Congress partition India?

        • Any logic in what you said? Whether he was eager or not to become PM, how could he partition India when he had no power? Only parliament of UK had the power to partition India.

          I may want to thrash you to inject some sense into you but my wanting does not mean I have the power to beat you and by no means prove I assaulted you. Your logic is even more hilarious than my example.

    • Wow. That’s a brand new one. India was under Congress’ “watch” even before Independence!!! Good going bhakts. When it comes to inventing history, no one can beat you.

  18. Congress’s history is so messy that none of the congressmen can adopt holier-than-thou attitude. In 1972-73, Indira Gandhi arranged to bury a “time capsule” underground, to be discovered by posteriority, recording the history of India aggrandising herself and that of her father. Distortion of history is the forte of Congress and its protege JNU’s eminent historians.

  19. No matter how hard the author tried to wriggle out of this, the fact of the matter remains that the Congress did agree to partition based on religious discrimination. Millions of non Muslim minorities are persecuted in the land of the religion of peace for which the inclusive Congress did nothing. All this is coming back to bite the Congress. No wonder the Congress & Sashi Taroor is running for cover

    • Dr. Tharoor says that a significant plurality of Indian Muslims voted for partition. Does he know that only 14 percent of the electorate was eligible to vote in the 1946 provincial elections and these members elected the constituent assembly members. The 14 percent was not randomly selected but chosen based on property, education and gender with the ill-educated, poor and woman highly under-represented. How can the choice of such a privileged minority be considered the voice of Indian Muslims? If only the same minority, in socio-economic demographic terms, had voting rights in India, UPA would not have come to power in 2004 and 2009. So, the big question is: Why did democratic and secular Congress not call for a general referendum of Muslims on partition in 1946 on the partition issue?

      People who left areas that are part of today’s Pakistan (West Pakistan till 1971) before 1951 were given citizenship. Census figures in Pakistan show that non-Muslim population, as a percentage of total population, has been stable since 1951. So if any large-scale religious immigration has occurred since 1951, it has been from East Pakistan (today’s Bangladesh). In 1947 Sarat Chandra Basu and Hussein Suhwardy had given the plan for an independent, United Bengal. If Bengal was united, there would have been no mass migration of Bengali speakers to outside. This plan was torpedoed by Nehru, Patel and SP Mukherjee. Hence, if they are so concerned about religious persecution induced immigration, Congress and BJP should rectify the mistakes of their founders and fund the rehabilitation of Bengali speakers illegally immigrating into India. Other Indians cannot be expected to bear the cost of the bad decisions of the trio.

      Also, I cannot see why Rohingyas from Myanmar, with which India shares a long boundary and which was part of the same administrative system till 1937, cannot deserve empathy but non-Muslims from Afga=hanistan, with which India has no operational border and which had long ceased to be a part of any current-day India-centric administration , deserve empathy.

      • General referendum was denied to the Congress by the British & the Muslim League for the whole of India which is why it was reduced to North-West Frontier province and Sylhet regions.
        The bulk of non-Muslim immigration into India was indeed from East Pakistan simply because it had retained more non-Muslims after the initial population displacement. But it was the West Pakistan military whose actions in East Pakistan expelled more than 10 million East Pakistanis into India, most of them Hindus. These people never went back and many still await citizenship.
        When you say ‘Other Indians’ you can only speak for yourself not the rest of us. I do support the decision to rehabilitate non-Muslims from Bangladesh & Pakistan in India and am willing to bear the costs for the same. By the same account, can’t ‘other Indians’ deny bearing the cost of farm loan waivers, subsidies and freebies being sunk into bottomless pits even though none of it comes to impact them directly? When we chose to unite under a national identity, we are deemed to have consented to accept all decisions made by a popularly elected Government.
        Rohingyas, especially their Muslims are Bengali Muslims in ethnicity and it is this group which had started the business of partition in the first place. The event of partition is a reality whether or not some have accepted it, if only for a rhetorical purpose. Thus, any suggestion that India must accept any outside Muslim en masse is outrageous as it risks the possiblity of them demanding a division in the future. If the demand does come from them (inevitably) it is better to fight as fewer of them as possible and thus adding new Muslims is naive & foolhardy.

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