This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Saturday, 13 October 2012

A Pakistani Tragedy

Contrary to the usual idea of the partition of India by the departing British in 1947 as a tragedy for India (the rump India left after the secession of East and West Pakistan) I am personally convinced that partition was a blessing in disguise for India's Hindus and a terrible tragedy for Muslims of the subcontinent in general and Pakistanis in particular.
First, I subscribe to the theory that India's much-ballyhooed "independence movement" had no role in the actual independence when it came. In my opinion, the British rather preferred to let the ridiculous rigmarole of demonstrations and "non co-operation" go on as a good safety valve for anti-imperialistic passion. Whenever things threatened to get hairy, as in 1942 (the "Quit India Movement") they came down hard and cracked the programme with casual ease.
It was, of course, the Second World War that finished the British Empire. More intelligent Brits had always opposed the entanglement of their Empire in this war for this very reason: a purely European war, it would finish the British Empire for good if it chose to get involved. As it proved. In that sense, Adolf Hitler is the, completely unwitting and contemptuous, not to mention contemptible, father of Indian independence.
The British were more than happy to get the Muslims and Hindus to split up. Divide and rule, and in the context of the subcontinent it brought them amazing success. They could claim - and continued to do so right till the eighties, along with their American overlords, both in that propaganda sheet Reader's Digest and in church propaganda magazines like the one miscalled Plain Truth - that "lesser breeds without the law" simply were not ready for independence, could not handle it - and point to India as the earliest example of the horrors Partition would bring.
But that was about the Brits. Our own people are the ones who fell for it hook, line and sinker. Not that Pakistan's Qaid e-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, or India's duo of Nehru and Patel had far to go. The latter two in fact were delighted to get Jinnah out of their hair. Jinnah himself started out as a nationalist and was contemptuous of the idea of Pakistan but was pushed to it by the intransigence of the Congress towards the Muslim League. Jinnah himself was incorruptible (as were Patel and Nehru, be it said), not religious, and wanted Pakistan to be a secular state with a Muslim majority but only insofar as it would stop Muslims from being swamped by Hindus in India. As he said, in words which pakistan is nowadays trying desperately to suppress "In Pakistan there will be no Hindus, no Christians, no Muslims - there will be only Pakistanis".
Really, fat chance. Pakistan never had a hope as a secular entity. But that came later. Let's take a look at the very idea of Pakistan first.
Pakistan was a terrible idea from the outset. There was, of course, no way that all of India's Muslims could ever be transferred to any geographically contiguous territory, nor any way that totally different people with nothing - not language, culture, or ethnic background - in common but religion could ever be melded into a nation. In fact that never happened - more Muslims remained in India than ever migrated to Pakistan, and those who went faced terrible hardships and face discrimination as "mohajirs" to this day.
For the Nehru Patel duo, Pakistan was a godsend. They could get rid of a troublesome Jinnah, made sure of removing large and indigestible chunks of Muslim League influence, and made sure of a captive Hindu vote (Muslims no longer had the numbers or the geographical concentrations to matter in the electoral system, again carefully chosen to avoid proportional representation). Pakistan was a godsend to them. This is why they rejected Gandhi's advice to let Jinnah form a government in order to avoid Partition. They had no intention of avoiding Partition. They desperately wanted it, probably much more so than Jinnah.
For Jinnah, Pakistan must have been a rude shock when it came. The man was so unrealistic as to think that India and Pakistan would co-exist as  friendly neighbours, and he even retained his house in Bombay so (he thought) he could spend weekends there as before.
For Indian Hindus, and by extension the politicians, Pakistan was a godsend. It got rid of Muslims, gave them a new enemy to demonise, and provided an excellent scapegoat on which to blame all problems faced by India since independence (ref, Indira Gandhi's "the foreign hand" and, today, blaming the ISI for everything bar the floods). As for the loss of territory, nothing irreplaceable was lost. Indian Punjab and Bengal were partitioned, true, but the latter was unindustrialised and the only really important city, Calcutta, stayed in India. Punjab was reformed for many years as the "granary of India".
And for the Indian Muslims, Pakistan was a tragedy unparalleled.  As has been said, "those Muslims who lived in Pakistan did not need it" (for the obvious reason that they faced no threat in a Muslim majority area) "...while for Muslims elsewhere it was worse than useless." Obviously, because their choice was stark. They could either throw away everything they had and migrate to a country where they would be thought of as interlopers, carpetbaggers, worthy of only scorn, as in fact happened (and happens to this day.) Alternatively, they could choose to stay back and become objects of suspicion and silent (and, nowadays, increasingly overt) discrimination in a land where they could never organise themselves again to exert any political clout substantial enough to protect their interests. Muslims in India today are marginalised, thought of as terrorists, squeezed by housing discrimination (and riots like after the Babri Masjid demolition for the mythical Ram Janmabhoomi, or pogroms like Gujarat 2002) into ghettos which are thought of as mini-Pakistans and hence denied even the most basic civic amenities. This in turn leads to young Muslims actually turning to terrorism for revenge, perpetuating the vicious cycle. Meanwhile - as any honest Indian will acknowledge - "polite society" in India, in its conversations, always comes round to how Muslims are "out-breeding Hindus", "taking over the nation", and should be "taught a lesson".  
As for Pakistan - to talk of that country as a mess is to make the understatement of the millennium. It could not even hold together for a quarter of a century, its two heads inevitably splitting into two distinct nations (with a lot of interference from India, true, but India did not invent the secessionist movement in East Pakistan, now the even more pathetic basket case of Bangladesh) while Balochistan pursues an on-again, off-again insurgency and the Northern Territories are officially out of Pakistan's control. The human rights of those religious minorities whom Jinnah had wanted to be full and equal Pakistani citizens hardly exist, the country is in imminent  danger from jihadis (including Sunni-versus-Shia sectarian conflict in Karachi), law is based on a misogynist reading of the Sharia, and democracy is a joke. The crowning absurdity was the walkout by fundamentalist ("fundoo" in the delightful Pakistani terminology for these gentlemen) parties in Pakistan's National Assembly protesting the deletion of a reference to jehad from - hold your breath - a school textbook on biology.
Can it possibly get more ludicrous than that?

(October 2006)

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