By Khaled Ahmed
February 21, 2015
It is shocking for a scared Pakistani liberal like myself to learn that there is someone in India who wants to remove the word “secular” from the Indian Constitution. In Pakistan, the word is a stigma and we have gone past the moment when a return to secularism “like India” could actually be argued. An official ad on Republic Day in India actually carried an old picture of the Preamble to the Constitution without the words “secular” and “socialist” in it. Does India want to become like Pakistan?
Christophe Jaffrelot wrote in The Indian Express (‘The retrial of Godse’, January 30) that a BJP MP wanted to elevate M.K. Gandhi’s killer, Nathuram Godse, to the status of a patriot because he “killed for a cause”. Presumably, Gandhi died “without a cause”. All this is happening as India looks to climb to world-power status. We, in Pakistan, thought Pakistan’s early medievalism would subside after a series of failures, and the state would be compelled by a scared world to become secular. No one could ever imagine that India — despite Hindutva — would turn its back on the modern state created by great men like B.R. Ambedkar.
Pakistan was meant to be a lesson in how not to create a state in the 20th century. A Muslim is supposed to carry the germ of “sharia” and will recoil from the modern state no matter how evolved it is. There was no such flaw in Indian democracy. Why should India imitate Pakistan, trying to become what it hates?
Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal, diagnosing the failure of the state in Pakistan in her latest book, The Struggle for Pakistan (2014), says Muslims simply couldn’t reconcile their ideology with the conditions of the modern state. The Ulema (Islamic scholars) may insist on a seamless state, but they often lack the power to implement what they have in mind; and since what they have in mind is not a functional Islamic state but a utopia, an Islamic state ruled by them may run the risk of becoming like all utopias, beginning with the one visualised by Plato. Dangers lurk in the lack of will among the ulema to confront practical questions of maintaining the peace among local communities, regulating economic and social relations, or defending the realm against external threats.
It is the “local communities” that are under threat from what Pakistan has become — a clash “within” civilisation. Religion has failed to bind Pakistan; it will not bind India either. After it is done with Muslims and Christians, it will turn on Hindus too. That is what has happened in Pakistan. On January 30, we carried out another massacre of Muslims in Sindh, barely a month after we killed our children in Peshawar.
Historian Venkat Dhulipala has a marvellous analysis of what Pakistan was meant to be in his book Creating a New Medina: State Power, Islam, and the Quest for Pakistan in Late Colonial North India. Was there such intent at the birth of India? The book has a chapter on Ambedkar defending the creation of Pakistan in favour of Hindus while Jinnah wanted to create Pakistan in favour of Muslims. Ambedkar, in his treatise Thoughts on Pakistan (1941), held that the Muslims of India were too intensely religious to maintain communal harmony in the new state. His Pakistan was hinged on a peaceful transfer of populations which, alas, didn’t happen.
Could Ambedkar, in 1941, visualise India going the way of Pakistan? There is a sense of premonition in the following lines he penned in his book: “The Hindus at one time did recognise that without social efficiency no permanent progress in other fields of activity was possible; that owing to the mischief wrought by evil customs, Hindu Society was not in a state of efficiency; and that ceaseless efforts must be made to eradicate these evils… [Therefore] the birth of the National Congress was accompanied by the foundation of the Social Conference [which focused on] removing the weak points in the social organisation of the Hindu Society.” Of course, “political reform” was considered more important by the Congress, with the result that “the party in favour of political reform won and the Social Conference vanished and was forgotten. With it also vanished from the Hindu Society the urge for social reform.”
In Muslim Zion: Pakistan as a Political Idea (2013), Faisal Devji interestingly thought the Pakistan movement was seeking a religious utopia like the Zion of Israel, and many Muslims wrongly thought Israel was a religious state and therefore a model for Pakistan. The official name of Israel is “Madinat (sic) Yisrael”. But it is only recently that Israel has gone the way of India, the only difference being that India has a Constitution with “secular” written in it and Israel doesn’t have a constitution.
Ironies don’t end here. In 2012, a former conservative Israeli minister, Tzipi Livni, resigned from her Kadima party saying Israel was going religious under Binyamin Netanyahu and that “halakha” (sharia) was being bandied about to the detriment of a state that needs “a constitution and a clear definition of what the Jewish state really is.” She said: “The meaning of a Jewish state is from a national perspective, not a religious one. And we need to define this in a constitution.”
Pakistan’s prospects are bleak because the Islamic world has followed in its ideological wake — the desire for democracy unfolding within an unquestioning conditionality of ideology. Pakistan is being followed even in the way they behead innocent fellow-Muslims in Iraq, Syria and Nigeria. Even as Pakistan’s army chief seeks to avenge the Taliban’s beheading of Pakistani soldiers, lawyers and retired judges are defending a policeman who killed the then Punjab governor, Salman Taseer, accusing him of blasphemy that he never committed.
Becoming what you hate is a natural human response when a tit-for-tat solution is aspired to. Gandhi opposed it and was recognised as a prophet by a world trying to fight a dominant order without replicating its evils. How has India evolved on the basis of a Gandhian vision and a prescriptive constitution drafted by Ambedkar? The degree to which this pluralist evolution has taken root will determine the level of conflict India will go through in the coming days. Of course, much is forgiven if economic success is palpable and the people are no longer fighting for a shrinking communal space. But a synthesis in the Hegelian sense must prevail sooner rather than later.
Khaled Ahmed is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’