C.M. Naim


Any one who can write, can also write a book in history- what you write is a different matter. The aspiring Indian political leaders Jaswant Singh ventured to write a book on the dynamics of India’s partition in 1947; not knowing the complexity he resorted to plagiarism – not a little but a lot… as revealed in the article by Professor Naim.


My experience with Jaswant Singh’s tome Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence. I spent a good Rs 695 and, therefore, felt that I had to get my money’s worth. However, after a couple of attempts to read the book serially, I decided to cut my losses. I began to read the book in patches — 50 pages here, 10 pages there, often letting the book fall open and then reading whatever fate dictated. I feel no shame in saying that the responses I offer below are based only on a partial reading.


My first response: it is an embarrassing book to read. I felt foolish when I found myself trudging through such awful expository prose as this:


“The League had claimed that it was the true upholder of Islam’s ideological authenticity; also of representing a substantive Muslim consensus, therefore, it demanded, rather presupposed, just a single Muslim medium – and asserting its identity as a different conceptual ‘nation’, claimed a separate land for itself which is why this agonizing question continues to grate against our sensibilities: ‘Separate’ from what?”


Yes, this is actually a one sentence on page five, quite like the one that follows on page 50: “By this time, Jinnah had been a Congressman of the Pherozeshah Mehta group, (the moderate group of the Congress, which among others included Dadabhai Naoroji, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and their group included Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal and Lal (sic) Lajpat Rai, and also, secretary to Dadabhai Naoroji who was presiding over the Calcutta Congress.”


Things don’t improve as the book progresses. Here is one gem of a sentence from page 479: “For one, such an assertion — [Muslims are a separate nation] — though entirely illogical, is fundamentally of an insatiable nature, it will always remain so, forever, as it never can be quenched being born of a peculiar Indian phenomenon ‘minoritism’, endlessly it will continue to give birth to more destructive minoritism, being politically contagious for, Pakistan is doubtless Muslim, but ‘theocentrically’, it is not a ‘theocratic’ state, indeed there is no such state other (sic) perhaps than the Vatican, but then who, other than Gandhi and a few others was to advise caution as we rushed headlong (and unheeding!) down this destructive path.”


While I prefer simplicity in any expository prose I am made to read, I readily confess to being a pedant when it comes to scholarly books. I expect them to fully employ standard scholarly tools and methods. For this reason, I took particular interest in the book’s footnotes and endnotes, and checked the quotations included in the main text as well as elsewhere.


The exercise was revealing. Singh’s research assistants apparently felt no hesitation in borrowing verbatim from other people’s writings and then presenting it to him as their own. He, subsequently, compounded the lapse by letting everything appear as the fruit of his own labors. I wrote on this matter in the Indian Express of September 1, 2009 (http://www.indianexpress.com/news/jaswant-notso-original/509756/0) and would like to share the relevant portions here:


1. On pages 481–2, there is a long (19 lines), erudite note on the Canadian scholar Wilfred Cantwell Smith. Besides being totally irrelevant, it is a verbatim copy of a note available on the web: http://www.as.ua.edu/rel/aboutrelbiowcsmith.html. The site belongs to the College of Arts and Sciences, University of Alabama; the note is authored by its Department of Religious Studies.


2. On page 588, the long (34 lines), equally erudite note on Benedict Anderson and his book, Imagined Communities, is a meticulous copy of what is available on the web from “The Nationalism Project: www.nationalismproject.org/what/anderson.htm.


3. Page 623 contains a note (20 lines) on the Muddiman Committee. It is copied word for word from the “Banglapedia,” prepared by the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. (http://www.banglapedia.org/httpdocs/HT/M_0347.HTM) The note is duplicated on page 630, unnoticed by the publishers.


4. On page 633, the author includes a note on Ramsay Macdonald; it runs to 25 lines, faithfully copied from “British Friends of India,” offered on the web by the Indian National Congress: www.congress.org.in/british-friends-of-india.


5. On pages 634–35, the author has presented a long note on A. K. Fazlul Haq. Its 38 lines were originally written by someone for the “Story of Pakistan” project. One can find it on the web at: www.storyofpakistan.com/person.asp?perid=PO77


I reiterate: none of the above carries any indication that the book was not authored by Jaswant Singh. I stopped after five searches, but I’m confident that more searches of the kind I did, using key words or sentences, will turn up many more such examples.


The main text itself is full of similar lapses. Any number of quotations is used, but their sources are not indicated in any manner. Six lines are quoted from Al-Beiruni’s book on page 16, but no reference is given. On pages 21 and 22, the author quotes from the trial record of Emperor Bahadurshah, but fails to tell us where he found it. On page 47, Singh mentions a Syed Mohammed Zauqi and a letter he allegedly wrote to Jinnah in 1943: “In this (sic) a rather detailed, but retrospective account is given of the origins of the Simla Deputation and the formation of the Muslim League. This is placed in the Appendix, for interest (sic) though its authenticity cannot be vouchsafed.” The appendix runs from page 526-530. Neither the Appendix nor the main text mentions Singh’s source.


I’m willing to allow that Singh or his publisher might not find anything embarrassing in such silly passages as the following: “[M.R.A. Baig] fell out with Jinnah over the Lahore Resolution which he felt to be communal. He, then become (sic) Jinnah’s secretary… (page 275)”. Or “suddenly, Burma (now Myanmar) was now vulnerable, as was Rangoon, and then was it to be India?” (page 291) Most people, however, would find it embarrassing having to read a text so irresponsibly prepared. And yet the same is touted as scholarship that allegedly required five years of writing, re-writing, checking, and cross checking (p. xiii).


My second response to the book is to call it unneeded and irrelevant. It has nothing new to offer, except some rare photographs. If one is interested in Jinnah as a person, Stanley Wolpert (Jinnah of Pakistan) is presently our best guide. On the final years of Jinnah’s political life in undivided India, Ayesha Jalal (The Sole Spokesman) cannot be bettered. If one is more narrowly focused and wants to know how things went wrong in 1946, Abul Kalam Azad (India Wins Freedom) tells it all quite succinctly. For readable polemics, one can turn to Ram Manohar Lohia (Guilty Men of India’s Partition). As for finding a meticulously argued and documented single book on why the partition of India came about and who must take on what share of responsibility for it, one cannot find a better guide than H. M. Seervai (Partition of India: Legend and Reality). Then there are any number of review essays by that man of amazing memory and erudition, A. G. Noorani.


Singh believes in an eternal unitary India that just happens to have the same territorial boundaries as the areas of the subcontinent over which the British held sovereignty in 1947, including Andaman Islands, Leh and Ladakh, Sikkim, and Baluchistan. He also believes that the main causes of the partition were something called the “minority syndrome” of the Muslims and the obduracy of a man named Jawaharlal Nehru. These are good beliefs to hold for a self-defined “political figure,” but they amount to nothing more.


(The International News, September 19, 2009; abridged)


(The writer is professor emeritus at the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago. Email: cmnaim @sbcglobal.net)

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