Saturday, December 30, 2000
M A I N   F E A T U R E

Events that impacted North India

A still from Sir Richard Attenborough’s film Gandhi

However much we may blame the British for their policy of divide and rule, which was bound to create fissures in the Indian society, the fact is that Partition was the result of the failure of the Indian statesmanship. We would call it a hastily-conceived, man-made catastrophe brought about by rash, cynical and hot-headed politicians. Partition resulted in half a million casualties and the migration of about 12 million people, says V. N. Datta.

WHEN THE Indian political leaders decided to divide the country on June 2, 1947, Lord Mountbatten, Viceroy of India, wrote in his diary that such a decision taken in desperation would be regretted by Indians for all times to come. Indian political leaders, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel and Mohammed Ali Jinnah had found themselves in a predicament that exasperated them.


However much we may blame the British for their policy of divide and rule which was bound to create fissures in the Indian society, the fact is that Partition was the result of the failure of the Indian statesmanship. I would call it a hastily-conceived, man-made catastrophe brought out by rash, cynical and hot-headed politicians. Partition resulted in half a million casualties and the migration of about 12 million people. In one Lahore refugee camp, vultures feasted so much that they could hardly get off the ground. Partition has solved no problem, and its shadow still lengthens over India and Pakistan.

Kashmir, a legacy of Partition, continues to be a bone of contention between India and Pakistan. Three wars, bilateral negotiations conducted at sporadic intervals, and UN mediations have failed to resolve the festering dispute. The consequence is that an armed race is going on between them, reminiscent of the naval and military rivalry which had ensued between France and Germany during the early twentieth century. In 1998, India spent about 2 per cent of its $469 billion GDP on defence, including an active armed force of more than 1.1 million personnel. In the same year, Pakistan spent about five per cent of its $ 61 billion GDP on defence, which includes an active armed force that is half the size of India’s force. A conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir is one of the most likely routes to the beginning of a nuclear war in the world today.

History is the study of the steps and slips of mankind. The only lesson that history teaches is that we learn nothing from it. This is true. Despite bringing considerable scientific achievement and social and economic progress, the twentieth century has been most terrible and violent age where even the non-combatants were not spared. The weapons of nuclear warfare have multiplied. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world has become bipolar, and the USA has emerged as the superpower and there is no one to challenge its authority. The balance of power in international politics has been extraordinarily disturbed.

Winston Churchill, who was not trained in the austerities of historical discipline but had a profound historical sense, once remarked: "The further backward you look, the further forward you can see". The tragic irony is that we continue to falter, fudge and stumble, and refuse to learn from historical experience. New-fangled western theories coated with attractive labels cannot rescue us from our piteous spectacle. It is by meditating over our past experiences that we can make a sober and objective estimate of the national and international problems facing us.

While dealing with the national problems facing us, we show the usual tendency to mistake the shadow for substance and, thereby, avoid the grim, sordid realities. To illustrate, our political leaders, particularly in the Indian National Congress during the 1930s and the 40s did not acknowledge the existence of the Hindu-Muslim problem. In the early 40s, hardly anyone in the country foresaw the coming of Partition. Edmund Burke, the British statesman, however, foresaw the coming of the French Revolution eight years before it occurred. Unfortunately, the sense of premonition, the vision, which is the true mark of statesmanship, is missing in us, and we have suffered from this weakness since the invasion of Alexander the Great in 326 BC. One could cite many instances from the pages of history to support this contention.

Regrettably, we have bungled and botched the Kashmir issue. After the Bangladesh war we had almost everything creditable on our side but we lost the opportunity by signing the Simla Agreement in 1972 and allowed ourselves to be duped by the wily Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. In the case of Sino-Indian relations, Nehru proved too confident to be prudent, and failed to anticipate what the Chinese were up to. In his assessment of the China war, Major General Rajendra Nath has candidly given his personal experience of the conflict in The Tribune columns. A brief analysis of our policies to tackle Indo-Pak and Sino-Indian relations would show that we have failed to gauge the impending situation and failed to hit the target. Experience shows that opportunities once lost are lost for ever, and can never be regained. Ralph Waldo Emerson warned that "our words and actions to be fair must be timely. If the hive be disturbed by rash and stupid hands, instead of honey, it will yield us bees". I have felt for long the need for a proper study of statesmanship in higher academic institutions so that the educated youth should have the opportunity to reflect on how the political problems since the emergence of the Greecian state have been tackled by statesmen through the successive stages of history. Skills and compromise are the essence of diplomacy. History is no astrology, but has sufficient potentiality to comprehend intricate human problems, and find ways to solve them.

A recurrent feature of our national malaise is the wide gap that exists between our aspirations and accomplishments. Various nation-building schemes have been devised but our failure lies in their implementation. Great problems are never solved by pious resolutions, platitudes or the vote of majorities, but by firm will and action.

When the question of a common civil code was considered as a basic pillar of our democratic polity, the Muslim community was excluded from it. This weak and temporising attitude was adopted on the ground that the orthodox Muslim leaders, who were opposed to the civil code, knew best what was good for the country. The national leadership confined its fight for social justice to the majority community to which it belonged. Despite Nehru’s firm attachment to Socialism and his own integrity, he did not curb corruption. He also failed to implement some of his laudable schemes such as cooperative farming, family planning, the Panchayati Raj, and compulsory literacy.

Pt. Nehru, Lord Mountbatten, and JinnahWe had hoped that Partition would solve the communal problem, but, alas! that was not to be! Communal riots flared up in Jabalpur, Bhawandi, Jamshedpur, Biharsharif and Nelli in Assam. The destruction of the Babri Masjid in December, 1992, resulted in the loss of 2,000 lives. As a reaction, numerous Hindu temples in Pakistan and Bangladesh were destroyed. Communalism has stunted our growth, broken our back, and has stained our reputation in international politics. Communalism is inconsistent with the principles of democracy. It encourages fissiparous tendencies, and obstructs the development of natural growth and consideration. The Babri Masjid issue is being exploited as a political issue, serving narrow interests and pandering to populist sentiments.

Our political life has been vitiated by communal virus and the invasion of greed, vanity and gangsterism. What is missing is the appropriateness of political conduct. Love for power motivates human actions. William Wordsworth wrote "There is in fact an unconquerable tendency in all power, save that of knowledge, to injure the mind of him by whom that power is exercised". Unchartered freedom can be a scourge to society and to resist the abuse of power and unfettered authority requires courage, tenacity of purpose, and strength of character. It was during the Emergency in 1975 clamped on by Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, that the country stood up and resisted the onslaught on the democratic ideals and restored the fundamental civic rights. To mitigate some of the evils vitiating our national life, we have to develop a new political outlook and culture.

Our universities are not isolated islands but a reflection of the sorry state of affairs in the nation as a whole. Just after Independence, educational experts strongly recommended that if there was one single sphere in education that needed immediate and drastic reform, it was the examination system, particularly at the university level. And the reform recommended was a continuous evaluation of the students’ written performance during the academic term. Some of the universities were quick to introduce the tutorial system modelled on Oxford and Cambridge, but as things go in this country, enthusiasm waned, and the tutorial system was abandoned. So far the examination system is concerned, it now remains almost the same as in the colonial period. Generally speaking, the standard of research at the post-graduate level is not up to the mark, nor are proper text-books available for students. These issues having a strong bearing on the academic progress and need a detailed analysis.

Our economic growth is expected to be a little short of 6.5 per cent in the current fiscal year. Despite the surge in oil prices, the current account deficit is expected to be less than 2 per cent of the GDP. Exports are booming. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has set a growth target of 8 per cent which is the minimum required to reduce poverty at a reasonable pace and to make India an economic power to reckon with. Despite our economic progress, India still remains 124 in the world in the case of income per capita and comes 131st in the sphere of human development.

Our greatest failure lies in the mode of governance which is inextricably linked with the murky world of politics. In politics, wild promises and loud professions of good faith mean nothing. Unfortunately we are not realising where we are heading. Democracy can only be successful if there is a diffused sense of tolerance, the foundation of social union. Nations that are imbued with passion for all-round progress have to rectify errors by meditating on their historical experiences and must embark on the path of corrected truth without which no moral and material improvement is possible. There lies the only hope for future.