Sunday, September 9, 2012

How historians manufacture history

An incident in the careers of Jinnah and Gandhi serves to illustrate how historians manufacture their narratives.  I've written about it before (here) but now have a more complete contemporary source, and so am bringing it  up again.

On January 14, 1915, the Gujarati community in Bombay held a meeting to felicitate Gandhi and his wife, recently returned from South Africa.  Jinnah presided over the meeting.

The most complete contemporary account of the meeting that I have (from the newspaper Bombay Chronicle) is here.  Note that Jinnah ended his speech with the problem of Hindu-Muslim unity, and Gandhi began by saying that while in South Africa "Gujarati" was associated with Hindus only and not Parsis and Muslims, here he was glad a Muslim was a member, and presiding.

Click here for the Bombay Chronicle version (via Riaz Ahmed) 
(Note: Riaz Ahmed, in his introduction to Volume 2, cites the above as saying, "[Gandhi] thanked Jinnah for presiding over "a [sic] Hindu gathering".)

Click here for Wolpert's version.
(excerpt) Had he meant to be malicious rather than his usual ingenuous self, Gandhi could not have contrived a more cleverly patronizing barb, for he was not actually insulting Jinnah, after all, just informing every one of his minority religious identity.
Click here for Jaswant Singh's version.
(excerpt) At their very first meeting, at the Gurjar Sabha in January 1915, convened to felicitate Gandhi upon his return from South Africa, in response to a welcome speech, with Jinnah presiding, Gandhi had somewhat accommodatingly said he was ‘glad to find a Muslim not only belonging to his own region’s sabha but chairing it.’ Gandhi had singled out Jinnah as a Muslim, though, neither in appearance or in conduct was Jinnah anywhere near to being any of the stereotypes of the religious identity ascribed by Gandhi. Jinnah, on the other hand, was far more fulsome in his praise......This, too, was all right but then, needlessly, he thanked Jinnah for presiding over a Hindu gathering. This was an ungracious and discouraging response to Jinnah’s warm welcome and had a dampening effect.
The CWMG (electronic) with Gandhi's speech.

You be the judge, are either Wolpert or Jaswant Singh justified in what they wrote?



Wolpert wrote in that same passage:

The Mahatma's ambulance corps had sailed for France without its founder after he had a slight nervous breakdown in London and decided to return home to India instead, thus prolonging his life by some three decades.

As per Robert Payne, The Life and Death of Mahatma Gandhi, “Gandhi was ill with pleurisy in London”.  Gandhi, in a January 9, 1915 interview with the Bombay Chronicle, (CWMG (electronic), Volume 14, #269)

Unfortunately, however, I was suffering from pleurisy, and the Commanding Officers in charge of the various sections would not listen to my going to any of the hospitals. Meanwhile, Mrs. Gandhi had a relapse of an old malady, and the Under-Secretary of State for India, on hearing this, immediately wrote to me saying that, after all, my work, so far as the organisation of the corps was concerned, was finished, and that as both of us were ill. we should at once return to India. Hence it is that we are here before our time. 
Earlier, (CWMG (electronic) Volume 14, #241)) from London, Gandhi wrote to Maganlal Gandhi:
 I am still confined to bed and shall be so, it seems, for another ten days at least….
Gandhi’s letter to Herman Kallenbach,  January 22, 1915 (CWMG (electronic), Volume 14, #281) –
Pleurisy has become chronic. It is not very painful but it necessitates great care. …. Blood continues to come up while coughing…
Only by March 2, 1915, could Gandhi write to D.B. Shukla (CWMG (electronic), Volume 14, #316) –
My health is fairly good. There is still pain in my ribs but Dr.Dev said that there was no pleurisy now.
Gandhi also records the visits of Lady Cecilia Roberts, and also the Under Secretary of State, Charles Roberts, visiting him and advising him to return to India. (The Story of My Experiments with Truth, CWMG(electronic), Volume 44, page 358)

Whilst things were going on in this way, Mr. Roberts one day came to see me and urged me very strongly to go home. ‘You cannot possibly go to Netley in this condition. There is still severer cold ahead of us. I would strongly advise you to get back to India, for it is only there that you can be completely cured. If, after your recovery, you should find the War still going on, you will have many opportunities there of rendering help. As it is, I do not regard what you have already done as by any means a mean contribution.’
I accepted his advice and began to make preparations for returning to India.

I do not yet have any information about the fate of the volunteer nursing corp that Gandhi organized (Wolpert implies that it was decimated, and Gandhi would have perished if he shipped to continental Europe with it.)
Jaswant Singh writes:
To receive Gandhi, Jinnah had forsaken attending the Madras Congress meet of 1914.
He does not say where he got this from.  The Congress session in Madras was from December 28-30 of 1914,  and as per this online chronology of Jinnah, he was "elected member of All India Congress Committee at Indian National Congress session Madras" (in absentia?)

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