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Jinnah's Progeny - Punishment for Hypocrisy

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Jinnah must be rolling in his grave
Publication: The Friday Times (Pakistan)
Date: November 17, 2000

Nusli Wadia may be the grandson of Pakistan's founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the Quaid-i-Azam, but he lives in India, and is proud to be an Indian, according to British journalist David Gardner who interviewed Wadia in Bombay recently

Not only that, says Gardner, but Wadia is also on the friendliest of terms with the government of the Hindu revivalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), the self-styled nemesis of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, with which India has been in conflict since Nehru and Jinnah went their separate ways in 1947.  The Quaid-i-Azam (Great Leader), as Jinnah was known to his followers, must be rolling in his grave, writes Gardner.

Across the Indian subcontinent, dynasties dominate the socio-political landscape - the Nehrus and Gandhis in India, the Bhuttos of Pakistan, the Bandaranaikes in Sri Lanka.  But one dynasty that never became established was that of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, mainly because his only daughter, Dina, stayed on in India after partition in 1947.  His only grandson, Nusli Wadia, still lives in Bombay.

But Wadia, an urbane textiles baron, has a much more complex and interesting subcontinental identity than any mere dynast.  And after nearly three hours at table with him, I would hazard an unchivalrous guess that he is a better lunch companion than Benazir Bhutto, Sonia Gandhi or Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.

Part of the identity is the religious melange.  Jinnah was a Shi'ite Muslim who married a Parsi - Zoroastrian Persians who fled Islam to settle in India.  Yet he refused to speak again to his daughter Dina when she married a Parsi, albeit one of part-Irish descent and hence a Christian convert.

To convolute matters further, Nusli Wadia, born a Christian, decided to convert back to Zoroastrianism, settling back into the industrially wealthy Parsi community of Bombay: old money and old economy.  Thus, it was about the "new" economy we spoke first, he sipping his Virgin Mary, me nursing my Merlot.

We were in the Zodiac Grill atop the turn of the century Taj Mahal hotel, which offers a panoramic sweep from the Arabian Sea and the nearby Gateway to India, across the garish forest of Bombay billboards where Bollywood vies for space with the mushrooming dotcoms, all the way to the slums, interstitial tissue of India's commercial capital.

'The infrastructure is simply not there to justify all this investment in websites,' he says.  In the US, the e-commerce Industry is struggling and they do have infrastructure; here, there are 'no consumers, no connectivity [of telephones or bandwidth], and the retail industry is not aggregated as it is in the west.  It's not even where the west was 20 years ago with your local grocer [since] it's just as likely to be a handcart.  The whole thing's totally fragmented with no logistics.'

In any case, he says, shooting an elegant cuff and reminding me of his grand-father's reputation as a dandy, 'how many cricket portals and lifestyle sites can you have with 1.4m internet users'?

All this makes robust sense amid the relentless hype about India's booming info-tech services industry, based primarily on western outsourcing of 'software solutions' to India and importing of software engineers from India.  'It's really about the export of Indian human skills, whether from India or outside India,' he says, because 'despite everything, we've got an education infrastructure which can produce the sort of people for this business'.

Even so, the software industry's projections are that it will employ 2.2m people by 2008, by when India's population will have reached about 1.1bn.  Widespread and windy talk among Indian politicians that this amounts to a 'paradigm shift' which obviates the need for an 'old' economy is pure fantasy.  Wadia wonders, moreover, if there will be a big market for software 'applications' to raise productivity and make India more competitive.  'If you don't have an old economy, where do you apply your applications?' he asks.

But pillar of the old economy that he is, his flagship company, Bombay Dyeing, came under siege after our lunch, as the target of a hostile takeover bid, a rare occurrence in India.  The contest, still unresolved, recalled a bitter dispute in the 1980s between Wadia and the Ambanis, the family behind Reliance, the big petrochemicals group that rules the corporate roost in Bombay.

As he moves from salmon to pomfret, and I pass from asparagus to lamb, I ask him whether he thinks these things happen in part because of his ancestry.

'When they want to get at me, yes, of course.' Wadia pauses a second and then tries that again: 'When somebody wants to get at me, and says, 'yes, but he's Jinnah's grandson', my answer is always, 'Yes, and I'm very proud of it'.

But that has nothing to do with Pakistan, he empahsises.  'I'm very much an Indian and very proud to be an Indian.'

But the spat with the Ambanis pales beside Wadia's 1987-89 feud with the dynasty - then personified by Rajiv Gandhi - towards the end of a premiership that the end of a premiership that began amid a Camelot-like aura and finished in scandal.

The feud began improbably, with the Central Bureau of Investigation arresting Wadia for 'misdeclaring citizenship'.  The hotel staff where he was staying had filled in his registration form as an Indian citizen whereas, at the time, Rugby-educated Wadia had a British passport.  But why was he targeted, I ask?

Seemingly because of his association with opposition figures, including some from the BJP, and a close connection with the Indian Express newspaper, which, uncomfortably for Gandhi, was introducing investigative journalism to India.

At any rate, the government instituted tax inquiries going back 16 years, tying Wadia up in the courts for two years.  They confiscated his passport and, in 1989, issued him with a deportation order.

The experience clearly still rankles but, after 42 court hearings and 2,500 pages of interrogation, Wadia won.  'Thank God for the Indian courts,' he says, with feeling.

His relationship with the BJP, he resumes gingerly, goes back to 1966 when it was a marginal organisation known as the Jana Sangh, and he counts Atal Behari Vajpayee, the prime minister, and Jaswant Singh, the Rajasthani aristocratic foreign minister with whom he shares a taste for good claret, among his friends.

Not only this, but Wadia has only once been to Pakistan, aged 10.  He got stuck there at an airport on one of his vividly remembered long journeys home from boarding school in England.

'I was whisked out of the airport to see Fatima [Jinnah's late sister and political soulmate].' Since then, despite frequent temptation, he has scrupulously refused to visit Pakistan for fear of being used as an endorsement by rival dynasties.

It's hard to get away from dynasties but Wadia tries, having another stab at explaining his BJP attachments.

'Here I am, Jinnah's grandson, my background is Muslim, Christian and Parsi....it's a contradiction isn't it?'

Well, yes, but perhaps in part explainable in terms of his undercurrent of loathing for the Nehrus and the Gandhis.  I ask him if he fears the BJP and its allies' episodic stoking of anti-Muslim and anti-Christian animosity.

'It's the political system that is keeping Hindu Muslim antipathy alive,' he says.  The Congress party and some of the caste-based parties that emerged in the 1990s are exploiting and fanning the grievances of Muslims "who have lived here for centuries, just to get their votes.

'Nehru did it, and Mrs.  Gandhi continued to do it,' he says, before retreating to make the charge a bit more general.  'It's the politicians who are continuing to partition India, really'.
 


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