By Swapan Dasgupta
When it comes to Pakistan, a very large number of Indians nurture a peculiar complex. Jaswant Singh, whose bestseller, A Call To Honour, represents the candid confessions of an Indian Tory—as distinguished from a Right-winger—is no exception. His second second chapter is entitled “Born of the same womb-Pakistan”. It’s a formulation calculated to put him on par with those sentimental souls who travel to the Wagah border to light candles each year on August 14.
Of course, it is not as simple as that. The Wagah candle brigade harbours a Amar-Akbar-Anthony vision of South Asian fraternity, whereas Jaswant’s perception of Indian identity is rooted in the culture and folklore of Rajputana. Where the twain do meet is in the heartfelt conviction that the Partition of India in 1947 was a monumental tragedy which ought to be negated sometime in the future.
People differ as to who and what was responsible for a large chunk of Indian Muslims going their own way. Jaswant, taking his cue from historian Ayesha Jalal, is comfortable heaping all the opprobrium on the Congress and Jawaharlal Nehru. The “progressives” who also include a large body of Left-leaning Muslims, blame the messy separation on the Muslim League’s willingness to dance to a divisive imperial tune.
What linked these two versions of history is the conviction that Partition was a consequence of “high” politics which scarcely touched the “people”. By this logic, Partition was akin to two brothers moving into separate wings of the ancestral property and being separated by a line drawn by Sir Cyril Radcliffe. Separate living arrangements, it was implied, didn’t entail the end of kinship.
My belief in the sameness of India and Pakistan collapsed one evening in a London bar some 30 years ago. I was sitting with some friends enjoying the mandatory Friday night drink when a South Asian gentleman sat down in the adjoining table. During a lull in our conversation he butted in abruptly and asked me: “Where are you from?”
I was in no mood for polite conversation that evening and, with a bored expression, answered: “India”.
“I’m from Pakistan”, he replied sombrely.
“It’s the same thing,” I retorted, anxious not to prolong this exchange.
“Same thing?” he asked incredulously. “Oh no, it’s not the same thing. It’s not the same thing at all.”
For close to six decades, well-intentioned Indians have been trying to keep alive the fiction that the divide between India and Pakistan is politically contrived. The drawing rooms of the metros are replete with anecdotes of that Pakistani taxi driver who gave a discounted fare to a visiting Indian. The Sunday supplements abound with mushy articles by apprentice journalists describing their journey to the house in Lahore where grandmother grew up. Grandma’s family, needless to add, “Owned half of Lahore.”
The Lahore disease has proved infectious. Last year, it claimed its most celebrated victim in the form of L.K. Advani.
What prompted Advani to go beyond the demands of protocol at Jinnah’s mausoleum? How did the man Pakistan believed was the “invisible hand” that scuttled the Agra summit abruptly become so weak-kneed about Pakistan?
Advani’s motives were entirely noble. He proceeded on the belief that the biggest obstacle in the path of an enduring Hindu-Muslim understanding in India was the memory and consequences of Partition. If the rulers of India and Pakistan agreed to bury the hatchet and agreed to stop terrorism and respect each other’s borders, the ensuing peace dividend would transform Hindu-Muslim relations radically. In the summer of 2004, many ‘eminent’ Muslims privately advised Advani that if the BJP persevered with the peace process it would win the confidence and votes of Muslims.
I was personally witness to one Muslim intellectual telling Advani that for Muslims the 2004 general election would be as important a turning point as 1952. In 1952, the Muslims broke with their earlier infatuation with the Muslim League—and, for that matter, the slogan of Pakistan—and voted overwhelmingly for the Congress. Now, in 2004, they were on the verge of effecting another tectonic shift—this time to the BJP!
In hindsight, this sounds absolutely cuckoo. However, in the heady atmosphere of early-2004, when almost everything seemed to be going right, there was a market for such fanciful ideas within the BJP.
Of course, the 2004 general election didn’t turn out the way many expected. The Muslim vote for the BJP remained in the realms of fantasy. However, the idea of making the BJP acceptable to Muslims persisted. One of its misplaced manifestations was Advani’s intervention at the Jinnah mausoleum in Karachi.
To a large extent the problem is generational. There is little doubt that till the late-Sixties a section of Muslims, particularly the underclass, had a macabre fascination for Pakistan. In Uttar Pradesh, where the Pakistan movement originated, many middle-class Muslims imagined emigration was the escape route from the loss of a way of life. The aggressive Hindi nationalism and the corresponding decline of Urdu also convinced many Muslims with emotional ties to a disappearing feudal order that India was not the place to be.
Such comforting thoughts of a Promised Land across the international border disappeared with the creation of Bangladesh. Coupled with the beginnings of the Mohajir problem in Karachi, the 1971 war convinced the Muslim community that it was not worth reposing faith in Pakistan. Moreover, the ignominious surrender in Dhaka persuaded the more obtuse sections that the legend of one Muslim soldier being equal to 10 Hindus was a statistical miscalculation.
What these anecdotal titbits go to suggest is that for one generation of Hindus, Muslims and Pakistan are virtually synonymous. Clobbering Pakistan on the head also implied showing the local Muslim his place too. In Gujarat 2002, the local population were quite clear in their mind who Narendra Modi was actually referring to when he flayed Mian Musharraf.
Why single out Modi for opprobrium? Immediately after the Mumbai blasts of July 11, the Prime Minister, his National Security Adviser and Foreign Office mandarins have been vocal in accusing Pakistan. So far, there is nothing concrete to link Pakistan to the blasts but there is mounting evidence to indicate that radical Islam, another euphemism for terrorism, has struck roots in India. It is, however, politically unacceptable to speak openly of the reality of a Fifth Column in our cities. The Samajwadi Party and other bleeding hearts are already protesting against religious profiling by the police. Consequently, with this government too, General Musharraf has become the euphemism for rabid mullahs and their murderous followers. What Modi said angrily in Gujarati after Godhra is being said in understated English by the senior functionaries of the UPA today.
The difference ends here. Whereas many in Gujarat believed that popular retribution is the only way to fight terrorism, the UPA Government has thrown up its hands in despair. It cannot go after all the terrorist cells because the political cost of such an exercise is likely to be enormous. At the same time, its diplomatic offensive against Pakistan lacks teeth and credibility. Consequently, it has fallen on the “Mumbai spirit”—the contemporary term for old-fashioned Hindu fatalism.
The Mumbai spirit is to political mobilisation what the Upanishads are to Hinduism—a mass of abstractions which establishes intellectual superiority in a climate of political servitude. It is manifestation of both fear and defeatism, and it is likely to be interpreted as such by the Islamists. There is a feeling in the Muslim community, quite openly articulated in Pakistan, that Hindus lack the mental wherewithal to wield power. “We were rulers here for 800 years. Inshaallah, we shall return to power here once again”, threatened the Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid to his congregation on July 17, after accusing the authorities of targeting every “bearded man” in the country.
The Shahi Imam is a loose cannon who defies the expedient stereotype of the pious maulvi. What then will they say of the belief, again widespread in Pakistan, that the problem with Hindus is their deep sense of inferiority vis-a-vis Muslims? This, of course, is a peculiarly North Indian phenomenon but it continues to shape Indo-Pakistan diplomacy. The good UP small-town Hindu genuflects before the so-called “refined Urdu” of the Muslim feudals while his Punjabi counterpart drools over the greasy food served in the by-lanes of Lahore. Together they add up to the foreign policy conclusion—common to all governments—that the rogue state be given another chance to affirm its allegiance to a composite culture.
It is a colossal blunder that stems from the ‘estranged brother’ act. Pakistan, it is important to realise once and for all, is just a troublesome neighbour who has little in common left with us. We can’t change our neighbour but we are not obliged to love him either.
(Published in Tehelka, August 12, 2006)