Few years back when I was working for a Mumbai-based daily I had a visitor. He was a cartoonist, working for an Urdu publication as its sole representative based in Mumbai. I had met him a few times before and as he had come to the newspaper's office for some work, he asked for me. "So what are you reading these days?" he asked me. "I am reading a book by Dr Rafiq Zakaria," the moment I uttered the name he asked me to stop. "I do not want to discuss this," he said, in an angry tone. I asked him why was he so agitated.
"This man (Dr Zakaria) wants to show that the only person responsible for the Partition was Jinnah. Not once or twice, but in his every major work, speech and talk he loves to criticise Jinnah," he said. I was shocked. I just mumbled and heard him patiently. How and why would an Indian Muslim show so much contempt towards Dr Zakaria?
After this conversation, I read references to Jinnah made by Dr Zakaria in his books. In one of his books he describes his experiences of inviting prominent Indian leaders to Ismail Yusuf College, where he was studying. He managed to get some national leaders, including Jinnah, to the college and wrote in detail about how he got them. Reading that account Jinnah came across as arrogant as compared to the other leaders.
In one of his books Dr Zakaria writes about a joint rally by Dr Ambedkar and Jinnah in Bombay. According to Dr Zakaria, Jinnah made most of his speech in English for the benefit of the present press members, conveniently overlooking the fact that the majority of the people assembled would not understand a word.
Such writings and his 'uncharitable' remarks made him hugely unpopular in some Muslim/Urdu circles. Some would insist, "Why does he lay the blame for Partition only on Jinnah?" I remember attending one of Dr Zakaria's talk in which he said if our leaders had acted like Abraham Lincoln who did not let the USA crumble, we would have been one. The Partition happened and the riots and killings took place. So if the Partition had not happened the riots and killings would have still taken place but at the end the country would not have been divided.
So why is it that Dr Zakaria primarily holds Jinnah accountable for Partition? Jinnah asked for a separate homeland for Muslims thinking that they would not get their due in a Hindu-majority nation. Dr Zakaria on the other hand maintained that the Partition only divided Muslims in three different nations diminishing their power and prestige. It was I believe this thinking that made Dr Zakaria come harsh on Jinnah. If Jinnah was interested in the welfare of Muslims, what happened in the end? They were left grappling with the struggle of a new-born state, being viewed suspiciously by their own neighbours and fellow countrymen, and fought to see their mother tongue getting the status it deserved.
Dr Zakaria had seen the atmosphere and the situation during those tumultous years that led to the Partition. And he lived to see what happened much after that. After the World War II, Dr Zakaria led a delegation to meet Lord Pethick Lawrence, the then secretary of state for India and demanded that India be given independence. He was involved in India League and was also leading a students' association, while he was a student in London in 1940s. He also met Nehru in London saying that the Partition should not take place. He must have been constantly bothered by the question: Who benefited from the Partition?
His comments on Dr A P J Abdul Kalam sent shockwaves when he wrote in a newspaper that Kalam cannot be considered a Muslim. Personally, it was a shock to me as well. But that was Dr Zakaria. In one of my journalism class, veteran journalist M V Kamath described him as a 'nationalist Muslim without a beard'.
It was only the welfare of Muslims that was uppermost on his mind. Be it the numerous educational institutes that he started or the writings that he put forward defending Muslims and Islam, Dr Zakaria was a man of impeccable reputation and charisma. Viewing him only on the basis of his criticism of Jinnah would be unfair and demeaning to the work he did for the nation and Muslims.