How Indian Politicians Stuck In The Past Use Jinnah And Gandhi's Names To Stir Up Voters' Sentiments

How Indian Politicians Stuck In The Past Use Jinnah And Gandhi's Names To Stir Up Voters' Sentiments
Even 75 years after independence and partition of the subcontinent, politicians in India continue to lure voters by invoking the names of leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, VD Savarkar, Sardar Patel, Bhagat Singh etc. and rake up achievements and controversies around them during their election campaigns. It sometimes appears as if these freedom icons are the ones contesting the elections.

Over the past few years, Mahatma Gandhi has been pitted against Hindutva icon VD Savarkar and Nehru against Patel.

Recently, the Samajwadi Party (SP) – the main opposition party in India’s largest populated state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) – roped in Pakistan’s founder Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, to appeal to Muslim voters ahead of assembly elections scheduled early next year. The Muslim population in UP was estimated to be 43,988,561 (19.3% of the total population of the state) in 2018.

Political observers lament that instead of attending to the economic agenda and ensuring a better future and daily needs of the population, politicians are using emotive issues rooted in history to march to power.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narender Modi’s dislike towards Nehru are not hidden from anyone. He has often used Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel's names to discredit Nehru and the Congress. His party is now doing the same by using VD Savarkar's name, who was tried for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi to project him an ultimate leader.

SP leader Akhilesh Yadav took the debate to another level, by roping Gandhi, Patel as well as Jinnah to his side. "Sardar Patel, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Jinnah studied at the same institute and became barristers. They became barristers and they fought for India's freedom. They never backed away from any struggle,” he told a public rally.

The BJP, which is itself trying hard to polarise voters on religious lines immediately accused him of appeasing Muslims. UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath described Yadav as having a 'Talibani mentality'.


What has riled Hindutva advocates is that he used the name of Jinnah along with Gandhi and Nehru. While historically Yadav is correct, observers say that he has tried to play a stroke to send a message to Muslims.

The BJP, which is itself trying hard to polarise voters on religious lines immediately accused him of appeasing Muslims. UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath described Yadav as having a 'Talibani mentality'.

BJP punished Advani, Jaswant Singh in past

For using the name of Jinnah in their campaigns, the BJP in the past has punished its towering leaders like former deputy prime minister LK Advani and former foreign minister Jaswant Singh. Mentioning the role of Jinnah in India’s freedom struggle has become a no-go area.

“BJP in the past would invoke Jinnah to counter Nehru. The only historical figure that the BJP found secular and close to Nehru was Jinnah. He was sophisticated and spoke about democracy and constitution and BJP in the past used his name to counter Nehru,” explains political analyst and author Parsa V Rao Jr.

Surprised at Yadav using the name of Jinnah, Rao said Indian Muslims cannot afford to side with the Pakistani founder. Muslims who stayed in India and did not migrate to Pakistan are the ones who rejected the Partition theory.

“Yadav has not hit the right chord. Instead, he should have spoken about Covid mismanagement and law and order break down in the state,” said the author.

What is interesting is that like Jinnah, Muhammad Iqbal also supported the idea of Pakistan, but he is largely accepted in the intellectual circles and is widely quoted from time to time. One of the most popular patriotic poems in India ‘Sare Jahan Se Achcha, Hindustan Harama’ is recited at public events.

Yadav’s remark has not gone well with Indian Muslims either. They feel that it unnecessarily tags them with Pakistan and creates suspicion towards their loyalty.

Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi, who is also one of the strongest Muslim voices both inside and outside the Parliament said: "Akhilesh Yadav should understand that Indian Muslims have nothing to do with Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Our elders rejected the two-nation theory and chose India as their country." He accused Yadav of making a poor statement and misleading the Muslim voters.

"If Akhilesh Yadav thinks that by issuing such statements he can make a section of people happy, I think he is wrong and he should change his advisers. He should also educate himself and read some history," Owais added.

Missing out on real issues

The veterans from the Muslim community accuse the political class of missing out on real issues and lacking the ability to solve problems. “To contest on identity politics to deflect from the real issues has become a trend world over,” said Zafar Agah, editor of a leading Muslim daily Qaumi Awaz.

Blaming Jinnah for the current state of Indian Muslims, he adds: “It is because of Jinnah that the Muslims of this sub-continent have been divided and weakened."

But then as it is said, it is hard to separate politics from history and history is no dead past, but every political struggle is based on history. “Political identities have always been tested and invoked and in the current scenario more than issues of employment and development, both politicians and voters engage in identity politics,” says Ratan Lal, Associate Professor of Delhi University.

Professor Lal who teaches in Delhi’s Hindu College, further explained that history rides on our shoulders and every government wants to dominate it and set the agenda. “Why is that only history textbooks are changed and new historical narratives are experimented with, with change in governments? “ It is just that historical icons change from time to time, but history will continue to dominate Indian politics.

The writer is a journalist based in India.