In June last year, when the politicking of the Uttar Pradesh election was just heating up, the India Policy Foundation, a Bharatiya Janata Party-affiliated think tank, organised a small event for the launch of a journal called Pakistan Watch. On stage, as the Indian Express reported, were two of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s senior-most functionaries—Dattatreya Hosabale and Manmohan Vaidya. On the subject of the journal’s first cover story, Hosabale said, “The story of J N Mandal clearly shows how Dalits were lured by the Muslim League’s politics which proved disastrous for them.” Dalits, he said, “were left with only two options—either get forcibly converted or migrate to India. Mandal’s realisation about his destiny is a great lesson.”
In the other camp, that of the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party, the same Jogendra Nath Mandal was being talked about in a very different way. As The Caravan reported in its cover story in February, to counter the BJP’s claim that BR Ambedkar was anti-Muslim, the BSP cadre held meetings with their Dalit electorate, pointing out that Ambedkar had been elected to the constituent assembly with the support of a Dalit leader of the Muslim League, Jogendra Nath Mandal. “If the Muslims had not helped Ambedkar, we would have neither got reservation nor dignity in the Indian constitution,” the story quoted a BSP worker as saying.
It’s unlikely that an average Indian today would know the name Jogendra Nath Mandal. The bare facts of Mandal’s life are thus: he was, at one point, one of the prominent Dalit leaders of Bengal, who switched over to the Muslim League and became a close associate of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. After Pakistan was formed, he served as the country’s first minister of law and labour. But after Jinnah’s death, the Liaquat Ali Khan government passed a resolution declaring Pakistan to be an Islamic republic, which Mandal had opposed. He eventually tendered his resignation from the cabinet and returned to India.