By M.J. Akbar
Aug 10, 2012
What is the difference between Indians and Pakistanis? The answer is uncomplicated: there is no difference. We are the same people, with similar personality strengths, and parallel collective weaknesses. Why then have the two nations moved along such dramatically different arcs in the six decades of their existence?
India and Pakistan are not separated by a mere boundary. They are defined by radically opposed ideas. India believes in a secular state where all faiths are equal; Pakistan in the notion that a state can be founded on the basis of religion.
The two-nation theory, which was the basis of Pakistan, did not separate all Muslims of the subcontinent from Hindus; nearly as many Muslims live in India at this moment, without any hindrance to the exercise of their faith, as live in Pakistan. Pakistan was created on an assumption, which had no basis in either the political or social history of Indian Muslims, that they could not live as equals in a united, Hindu-majority India. It was a concept that flourished in the wasteland of an inferiority complex.
Indian Muslims who rejected this view, like Maulana Azad and most of the learned Deoband ulema, argued that Islam was a brotherhood, not a nationhood; they pointed out that faith belonged to God, and nations to men. They offered empirical evidence: if faith was sufficient glue, why would there be so many Arab countries? Muslims who fought for Indian unity were swamped by the high passion of a separation dream that acquired, in the imagination of its advocates, the attributes of an earthly paradise. It took three decades for that cold judge; time, to deliver its first verdict. The two-nation theory collapsed in 1971, when a majority of Pakistanis broke away to form Bangladesh, an ethnic entity.
Conventional wisdom in the 1950s, particularly of the kind which presumed that “natives” were insufficiently evolved for the higher reaches of political thought, was certain that India’s idealistic one-nation-theory was the bubble that would implode, and Pakistan would stabilize and prosper. Although its polity collapsed within ten years of freedom, Pakistan seemed to offer, initially, a more positive social and economic environment. But as its raison d’être began to unravel in the mid-Sixties, Pakistan’s leaders learnt the wrong lesson from experience. Instead of moving away from theocracy, they increasingly clung to it as the abiding rationale for survival.
Ironically, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the suave and brilliant barrister who had turned a whisper of the 1930s into the storm of the 1940s, and created Pakistan on the slogan that Islam would be in danger from Hindus once the British left, was the first Pakistani to recognize the perils of the idea he had incubated. In his private thoughts and at least in one major public speech, his first before the Pakistan Constituent Assembly in the second week of March 1947, Jinnah envisaged Pakistan as a secular state with a Muslim majority. He never deigned to acknowledge Gandhi, of course, but it would have been a mirror image of India: Gandhi wanted a united, secular state with a Hindu majority. There was a critical difference, however.
Jinnah’s state was exclusive; Gandhi’s India was inclusive. The point of departure came in the mid-1930s: Gandhi and Congress fought the British for the freedom of India; Jinnah and Muslim League fought the Congress for the freedom of Pakistan. The British acted as brokers, and they did not leave without taking their brokerage.
The idea of India as a pluralist democracy was enshrined very quickly into the document that is the spine of Indian nationalism: India’s Constitution. The debate over whether Pakistan should be an “Islamic state” began to simmer and cartwheel as it came to the difficult part: what precisely did an Islamic state mean? The Justice Munir Commission, set up in the 1950s after Lahore riots against the Ahmadiyah sect, offered some wise advice: an Islamic state was a mirage; in any case, it was no business of the state to define who a Muslim was. But wisdom has rarely deflected ideologues from their relentless march towards the extreme. The father of Pakistan, Jinnah, was soon ambushed and overtaken by the godfather of Pakistan, Maulana Maudoodi, creator of the Jamaat e Islami, who did little for the Pakistan movement, but once it had been founded turned it into fertile ground for his dialectics as well as his foot soldiers. The Jamaat is a tailpiece in electoral battles since the voter does not trust the mullah with governance, but its influence on the ideology of the state is on consistent ascent.
Maududi’s extremism, and the inability of Islamabad to do anything about his heirs like terrorist Hafiz Saeed, has not only undermined Indo-Pak relations but also infected the social rubric of Pakistan. Textbooks, which once merely asserted Muslim superiority over Hindus and other non-Muslims, now demonize them in the most malicious language. Family and minority law are caught in a corrosive downward spiral that has little prospect of reversal; and many tribal areas have simply slipped into barbarism. Pakistan has turned into what I have called a “jelly state” in *Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan*: jelly quivers constantly, and unlike butter will never melt away. Since it has an underlay of a terrorist sub-structure and an overlay of nuclear weapons, it has become a toxic jelly state. India is a prime victim.
The idea of India, conversely, has saved India from its own calamities. The healing power of democracy has eased the trauma of both the north-west and the north-east; the secessionist movement built around fear that Sikhism was under threat in secular India lost ground quickly after a brief and violent upsurge. India emerged from the flames of 1980s reborn and resuscitated, held together by the promise of modernity: political rights, gender equality, freedom of faith and economic equity. The idea of India has proved stronger than the Indian; the idea of Pakistan is weaker than the Pakistani.
The sunder is permanent. Both partitions, Pakistan’s from India, and Bangladesh’s from Pakistan, are irreversible. Pakistan’s answers lie in the man it remembers only in selective photographs, and whose personal values and ideology it chooses to ignore, Jinnah. There is some evidence to suggest that Jinnah did not fully realize the permanence of the separation; after all, he refused to sell his home in Mumbai, although the Nizam of Hyderabad offered Rs 10 Lakhs for it, a princely sum in 1947. Perhaps Jinnah thought that Pakistan would be akin to a princely state of the British Raj, independent, but with open borders. In any case, Jinnah would have been repelled by the fundamentalism that is poisoning the life of Pakistan.
The ‘ifs’ of history are little consolation for the certainty of reality. In 1947, America was seven seas away from India; today an Indian probably feels closer psychologically to America than to Pakistan. India and Pakistan are divided by a great wall of silence, which liberals are anxious to breach, which ideologues are determined to strengthen, and which people are condemned to suffer.