April 7, 2008 — drsubrotoroy
Two cheers for Pakistan!
First published in The Statesman
Editorial Page Special Article, April 7, 2008
A century has passed since British rulers in India like Curzon and Minto became self-styled interlocutors between Muslims and Hindus of the subcontinent. Up through the 19th century there had been no significant national political conversation between India’s main communities. The “Chief Translator” of the High Court in Calcutta was highly prized for his knowledge of Sanskrit, Persian and English because at least three different sets of laws governed different people in the country. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad wrote of his experience in the Bankim-inspired revolutionary societies of Bengal who treated him with extreme suspicion because they could hardly believe a Muslim wanted to join them as an anti-British rebel.
Jinnah vs Azad
Then came MA Jinnah, Iqbal, Rahmat Ali and others, initial creators of Pakistan whether through greater or lesser motives. Azad, Zakir Hussain, Sheikh Abdullah and other Muslims were equally firm the Pakistan idea was not only bad for India in the world it was bad for Muslims in particular. The Azads condemned the Jinnahs as greedy megalomaniacs, the Jinnahs condemned the Azads as minions of the Hindus. Larke lenge Pakistan, marke lenge Pakistan, khoon se lenge Pakistan, dena hoga Pakistan was the mob-cry during the bloody Partition, while the British, weakened by war and economics and bereft of their imperial pretensions, made haste to leave “this beastly country” to its fate ~ rather hoping the bloodshed would be such someone might hire them to stay on.
Certainly, having used the Indian Army for imperial purposes in the War, Britain (represented locally by a series of smartly dressed blundering fools) behaved irresponsibly in not properly demobilizing that Army during a period of intense communal tension. There were no senior Indian officers ~ KM Cariappa became a Brigadier only in 1946, Ayub Khan was a Colonel under him. Then there were the fatuous “princes” the British had propped up in “Indian India”, few being more than cardboard creatures. Among them was J&K’s ruler who was a member of Churchill’s War Cabinet and had come to harbour illusions of international grandeur. Once J&K’s Muslim soldiers returned to their Mirpuri homes, Jammu and Punjab were in communal conflict, months before the decision that Pakistan would indeed be created out of designated areas of British India just before British India extinguished itself. Army-issued Bren guns came to be used by former soldiers in communal massacres of the convoys of refugees going in each direction.
Part of the problem over J&K since then has been that it seems a dialogue of the deaf. Pakistanis since Zafrullah Khan claimed it was communal violence against Muslims in Jammu and Punjab that prompted the Pashtun invasion of Srinagar Valley beginning 22 October 1947; Indians have always claimed the new (and partly British-officered) Pakistan Army organized and instigated the invasion, coinciding with the planned takeover of Gilgit.
As in all complex moral problems, there was truth on all sides though no one doubts the invasion was savage and that the Pashtuns carried off Kashmiri women, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh. J&K descended into civil war, Abdullah’s secularists backed by the new India, Ibrahim’s communalists by the new Pakistan. Field Marshall Auchinlek, who commanded both Indian and Pakistani armies, had the decency to resign when he realized his forces were at war with one another. That J&K could not be independent in international law was sealed when the 15 October 1947 telegram sent by Hari Singh’s regime went unanswered by Attlee. The tribal invasion from Pakistan caused the old State of J&K to become an ownerless entity in international law, whose territories were then carved up by force by the two new British Dominions (later republics) and the result has been the “LOC”.
ZA Bhutto was perhaps Pakistan’s only politician after that time. The years between the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan and the rise of Bhutto saw Pakistan’s military begin its liaison with the Americans ~ from the US Ambassador’s daughter marrying the Pakistan President’s son to the leasing of Peshawar’s airfields for U-2 flights over the USSR. Yet Bhutto’s deep flaws also contributed to the loss of Bangladesh and to brutality, supported by the Shah of Iran’s American helicopters, against the Baloch.
Bhutto’s daughter now may have succeeded in death where she could not in life. Like Indira Gandhi, there seemed a shrill almost self-sacrificial air about Benazir in her last days, and, like Indira, her assassination caused all her countrymen including her enemies to undergo an existential experience. Perhaps the public death of a woman in public life touches some chivalrous chord in everyone.
Benazir’s husband was transformed from seeming a rather dubious self-seeker to becoming a national leader of some sobriety. Her old adversary Nawaz Sharif, brought to power by one Army Chief and removed by another, is now a constitutional democrat – seemingly adamant that there be the Rule of Law and not of generals. Most of all, Benazir’s death seemed to completely shut up that most loquacious of Pakistanis: Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf seemed stunned and promised free, fair and transparent elections; though no one believed he would deliver, he somehow did. He would like now to be a senior statesman though it seems as likely his countrymen will not forgive his misdeeds and instead exile him to America.
Pakistan’s main international problem is not and has never been J&K. It has been and remains its unsettled western border and identity vis-à-vis Afghanistan (as India’s problem has been the eastern border with China). Dr Khan Sahib and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan knew this but they were not allowed to speak by Pakistan’s Kashmir-obsessed elite. Zaheer Shah’s Afghanistan was the only country that voted against Pakistan joining the UN sixty years ago.
The present author has said before that Osama bin Laden may well be safely and comfortably in the deserts of North Africa while NATO and the Americans raise hell in Afghanistan and Waziristan pretending to look for him. It is not in India’s interest as it is not in Pakistan’s interest that Western militaries, who seem to have nothing better to do, brutalize Afghans of all descriptions in the name of nation-building or fighting “terrorism”. Afghan nation-building can only ultimately come from the Afghans themselves, no matter how many loya jirgas it takes. What Pakistan dislikes emerging from New Delhi is the sometimes rather supercilious and ignorant condescension that our officialdom is infamous for. Instead, with a new, seemingly clear-headed and well-intentioned Government in Pakistan elected for the first time ever, it may be time for all good people in the subcontinent to raise a glass of fruit juice and say “Two cheers for Pakistan!”
November 6, 2005 — drsubrotoroy
On Hindus and Muslims
First published in The Statesman, Perspective Page, Nov 6 2005
The one practical contribution made to India’s polity by the Hindu Mahasabha was to thwart the Sarat Bose/Suhrawardy idea in 1946-1947 of a “United Bengal”, which inevitably would have led to Kolkata andWest Bengal becoming part of Pakistan. The one practical contribution made to India’s polity by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was to help defend against the Pakistani attack upon Jammu & Kashmir which commenced on 22 October 1947 and included the Rape of Baramulla a few days later. The RSS contribution may have been more than what Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference or Jawaharlal Nehru and the Government of India cared to admit because it had had an offensive aspect as well; RSS attacks on Muslim civilians in the Mirpur-Pooncharea later formed the basis of Pakistan’s justification for the October 1947 attack and the origins of the “Azad Kashmir” idea. Practical contributions were also made by individuals like Shyama Prosad Mookerjee, who, for example, as a member of Nehru’s Cabinet, responded immediately to information received from a young Government of India officer in Karachi in September 1947, sending ships and Navy frigates from Bombay to retrieve thousands of Hindu refugees in danger of being massacred. The one theoretical contribution made by the Hindutvadi organisations in India has been to establish that it is not a matter of shame and can be a matter of pride to be a Hindu, or, more generally, to be an Indian in the modern world. This is important, even though most RSS and BJP members today may have altogether failed themselves to understand its nature and significance. Indeed, the small handful of Muslims who have been part of their organisations may have understood it rather better.
To be Muslim, a person has only to believe that God is One and Muhammad is the last of the prophets, i.e. to pronounce the Kalma. Nothing else is either necessary or sufficient. Praying daily, facing Mecca (or Jerusalem before it), going on pilgrimage, fasting during Ramzan, giving to the poor, circumcising boys, polygamy, inducing the modesty of women though seclusion or the veil, have all been part of Muslim practice for ever because they were aspects of the Prophet’s life. But if a Muslim did not pronounce the Kalma, everything else he/she might do is rendered meaningless. The Kalma is necessary and sufficient for Islamic belief. All else is incidental and logically superfluous.
The first half of the Kalma is a commitment to an austere monotheistic ontology; the second half is an oath of fidelity to the Prophet because he was the original exponent of this ontology (in Arabic). Muhammad (572-632 AD) was without a doubt among the greatest of men, as may be measured by his vast impact on human history. His total self-effacement and abhorrence of adulation was signified when at his death it was famously said “If you are worshippers of Muhammad, know that he is dead. If you are worshippers of God, know that God is living and does not die”.
Abul Kalam Azad understood well that there was no contradiction between being Muslim by faith and Indian by nationality. “My ancestors came to India from Herat in Babar’s time…” is how he began his autobiography. No one could think Azad anything but a proud Indian nationalist. No one ~ certainly not MA Jinnah ~ could think of Azad as anything but a Muslim and a scholar of Islam. Yet Azad’s respect and admiration (like that of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan) knew no bounds for the only reformer since Vivekananda that Hinduism has seen in the 20th century: a Congress politician by the name of MK Gandhi,who came to be murdered by Hindu fanatics. By contrast, Jinnah, the political founder of Pakistan, could see Congress only as a Hindu party and Gandhi the Hindu leader using Hindu symbols against whom he was juxtaposed in a struggle for power after the British left: “Congress leaders may shout as much as they like that the Congress is a national body. But …(the) Congress is nothing but a Hindu body,” he declared in 1938. Jinnah’s ambition, and that of the separatist Muslim elite, demanded that they rule themselves in isolation in corners of India.
Throughout the period of Hindu Westernisation in response to the opening to the world presented by the British Raj, the Muslim elite were instead chafing under the idea that an India free of British rule could possibly have Muslims living under governments composed of people who were not “People of the Book” mentioned in the Muslim scriptures. Even if British rule had been almost intolerable in Muslim eyes ~ rendering India’s territory dar-ul-harb at worst or dar-ul-aman at best ~ the British were at least “People of the Book”. After a British departure, rule over Muslims by a Hindu majority, supported by the much-feared Sikhs (“kaffirs with beards” in Muslim popular perception), was felt to be psychologically intolerable. Not only were Hindus, in Muslim eyes, polytheistic believers in idol-worship and practitioners of a caste-system, but everyone knew that the vast majority of India’s Muslims had been themselves converts from the same Hindu social and cultural origins, and there would be constant danger of relapse of Muslims into Hindu beliefs and practices if the country was governed by a Hindu majority. The slogan “Islam in danger” has always had substance in the sense that the faithful have constantly had to mind the dangers of yielding to temptations around them, including scepticism, syncretism and pantheism. Hence, insularity and communalism ~ a psychological circling of the wagons in terms of the American Wild West ~ was a natural political response of Muslims to the Hindu (and Parsee and Christian) modernisation of India in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Such were the implicit unspoken premises driving the Pakistan Movement which Iqbal and Jinnah came to lead in the 20th century. The origins lay in the thoughts and deeds of Shah Wali Allah (1703-1762) and his Arab contemporary in Nejd, Mohammad Ibn Abdal Wahhab, the founder of Wahhabism. It continued with men like Sayyid Ahmed Barelvi(1786-1831), and Titu Mir (1782-1831), until we reach the Islamic “moderniser” Sayyid Ahmed Khan who, while being the founder of Muslim higher education at Aligarh, was also the fountainhead of the separatism that led to the Muslim League’s creation in 1906. “We are an Arab people whose fathers have fallen in exile in the country of Hindustan, and Arabic genealogy and Arabic language are our pride,” Wali Allah had said. Barelvi after him declared: “We must repudiate all those Indian, Persian and Roman customs which are contrary to the Prophet’s teaching.” “In the later 1820s, (Barelvi’s) movement became militant, regarding jihad as one of the basic tenets of faith. Possibly encouraged by the British, with whom the movement did not feel powerful enough to come to grips at the outset, it chose as the venue of jihad the NW frontier of the subcontinent, where it was directed against the Sikhs. Barelvi temporarily succeeded in carving out a small theocratic principality which collapsed owing to the friction between his Pathan and North Indian followers; and he was finally defeated and slain by the Sikhs (at the battle of Balakot) in 1831,” points out Aziz Ahmed, in AL Basham’s A Cultural History of India. Barelvi’s jihadi proto-Pakistan state near Peshawar was named Tariqa-yi Muhammadiya; it may have survived at Sittana until the First World War. Leaving to one side Rahmat Ali’s lonely scheming from England and invention on the top floor of a London bus of the name “PAKSTAN”, such was the genesis of Iqbal and Jinnah’s Muslim state.
Azad, on behalf of scores of millions of Muslim Indians including Sheikh Abdullah and Zakir Hussain and Ghaffar Khan among the most prominent, candidly raised objections to this entire exercise: “I must confess that the very term Pakistan goes against my grain. It suggests that some portions of the world are pure while others are impure. Such a division of territories into pure and impure is un-Islamic and is more in keeping with orthodox Brahmanism which divides men and countries into holy and unholy – a division which is a repudiation of the very spirit of Islam. Islam recognises no such division and the Prophet says `God made the whole world a mosque for me’.”
Azad had seen that India is or can be dar-ul-Islam or at least dar-ul-aman and not dar-ul-harb, because the Muslim in this land of ours –bounded by the mountains and the seas, with the rivers in between them, all of which the Hindu finds sacred and imagines to be the home of the Hindu pantheon – is in fact able to practise his/her faith freely despite the majority culture superficially being or seeming to be one which is polytheistic and pantheistic. The majority culture in India has had no theoretical or practical difficulty with the recitation of the Kalma anywhere or anytime in the country. The handful of Muslims in the RSS and BJP today may have understood something of the same. Visiting Pakistanis today are amazed by two things in India: the presence of women in public life and the fact that Muslims are free to practise Islam. Muslims may privately believe their Hindu compatriots or cousins to be hopelessly ignorant of the truth, and vice-versa, but nothing in public life needs to hinge on such mutual beliefs people have about one another. That is what was meant when the present author said in the Introduction to Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy that Jinnah’s address to Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly was as secular as any that may be found.