The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, December 15, 2002
Lead Article

Turbulent decades of post-Partition India

Why can't we set the pace for events? Why can't we set the agenda for the evolution of a new order? Why can't we proclaim aloud that the new agenda would help the two countries come closer, questions Hari Jaisingh.

WHITHER the subcontinent? Where does India stand amidst the problems and complexities of its relations with Pakistan? Having been part of the millions of people who left their homes after Partition, our family was among the lucky ones that survived the bloody nightmare. This definitely puts us in a somewhat privileged position to relate the past to the present with a view to evolving a new tomorrow on bold and harmonious lines for peace and prosperity of the entire region.

This may be pooh-poohed as a pipedream. But, then, the future can be built only on todayís clean and forward-looking dreams.

When I look back and think in terms of war and peace in the subcontinent or try to understand the theory of power cycle and related matters, I have no choice but to look at Pakistan as a bitter legacy of Partition and the sordid and stormy happenings of pre-Partition days.

My honest assessment is that we Indians do not seem to understand Pakistan as it exists today. Some of my colleagues who write the "Window on Pakistan" column in The Tribune are often asked about the source of their information. What is noteworthy is that the source of such information has mainly been Pakistanís Urdu Press. And Urdu is fast becoming an alien language in our country. It is facing an unnatural death. What needs to be appreciated is that Urdu is not the language of Pakistan but of the whole subcontinent.

Unless we apply corrective measures and look at the whole gamut of relationships with Pakistan in a new perspective, we will come back to discussing the same old theories and nothing will come out of it.


I do not wish to go into the how and why of Partition or whether it could have been avoided and at what cost. This is for the historians and experts to judge. There have been voluminous studies on the subject. Still, several matters need fresh assessment in the light of new events and the experience of the turbulent decades that followed Partition.

We opted for Partition on certain considerations. Have those goals been achieved? This question has to be constantly kept in mind. I am touching upon Partition because the psychological, political, social and religious problems that India has been confronted with lie at the root of the blood-soaked happenings that we have witnessed year after year. Indeed, everything concerning India and Pakistan continues to be written in blood. Why is it so? Can this process be reversed?

I am of the view that we could have been in a better position to set the pace for events in the subcontinent had we evolved a forward-looking and dynamic policy for the Muslims who preferred to stay back instead of joining the Pakistan brigade at the bidding of Mohammad Ali Jinnah and other promoters of the Islamic state.

It was obligatory on the part of the leadership to pause and spare some thought for the Muslims who had chosen not to embrace Pakistan. Our leaders should have thought of giving them a sense of belonging with a view to making them feel that they were better off and different from those who had joined Pakistan.

Indian leaders opposed the two-nation theory. So, the real challenge was of making the Indian Muslims feel like equal partners in the growth and prosperity of a big nation.

The challenge before the leadership then was to work out a blueprint for a new India. They ought to have worked out a special deal for the all-round socio-economic uplift of the Muslims in order to strengthen the Hindu-Muslim bond. All that was needed was a vision to rebuild a forward-looking nation with values vital for a civilised society, and a secular and harmonious culture. The idea was to inject a new sense of pride among the citizens, irrespective of their caste, religion, and community labels.

We can look at the past only by taking liberties with the ifs and buts of history. We need to have a fresh look at our mistakes and blunders so that we can build our tomorrow on a strong foundation. I will not go into the quality of Indian leadership at the helm of affairs then. It is for the historians to make an honest assessment of men, matters and issues that dominated the thinking and events in the subcontinent during the turbulent past. I believe that only visionary leaders with a clarity of thought, guts and determination can set the pace for events as opposed to those who just react and chase happenings with half-hearted responses or on the basis of their declarations of proactivism.

Why canít we set the pace for events? Why canít we set the agenda for the evolution of a new order? Why canít we proclaim aloud that the new agenda would help the two countries come closer?

I fully understand the massive problem of a one-sided Pakistani mindset. Islamabad is totally obsessed with Kashmir and has had several dubious plans and moves to destabilise this country and to grab Jammu and Kashmir by hook or by crook. Still, we can outmanoeuvre Pakistanís military rulers at their game and put them in their place. This requires tremendous courage, determination and understanding.

But why do we have to be obsessed with negativism all the while and raise the same questions and issues again and again? Herein lies the Indian tragedy. The country has been paying a heavy price for the passive thinking of its leaders. Also, it needs to be realised that adhocism cannot work. Occasional flashes of brilliance for a limited purpose and a limited period do not constitute a rational national approach.

We all understand what a national vision should be like. Still, spelling it out is a different proposition. A visionary leader is one who has the ability to look beyond and to anticipate and shape events for tomorrow.

I do not think that those who endorsed Partition ever anticipated that the bloody chain of events would last 55 years thereafter. We need to make a proper assessment of the performance of those who decided our fate so that we do not repeat certain mistakes.

It is our duty to make Indian Muslims feel that they are better off than their counterparts in Pakistan. This will help reverse the process and set the pace for a new order. See how a united Germany was created. It came into being on the strength of economic affluence of West Germany, leading to the crumbling of the edifice of East Germany. In the present context, it is the economic status and the standard of living of the common man which can make a difference to the way people think. That is how we can change the whole outlook of generations.

We should have exposed Indian Muslims to modern education, provided them with better job opportunities and created proper avenues for their social uplift. India needed a time-bound Marshal Plan with international assistance. After all, Europe was rebuilt after World War II because of the economic aid from US-led allies.

Nehru did a lot to set the pace for modern India. But that was not enough to meet the challenges prevailing then and beyond. Because of the legacy of the past, we have been limping ahead slowly as a nation and are still carrying the burden of the colonial legacy.

We are still living with communal riots and all sorts of social tensions to the advantage of Pakistan. This also gives the Muslim nations a few extra points against this liberal and secular country.

Indeed, our failures of the past and the absence of corrective measures even today are a major handicap in effectively and decisively tackling the problem of Pakistan in its totality. Herein lies the biggest challenge for the countryís leaders, thinkers and scholars. Can we look at things afresh? Can we set the pace for a new order in the subcontinent? My answer is "yes".

We do not have to think only in terms of war and peace but in terms of a total development package. Psychological and religious factors have been predominant because of certain inherent weaknesses of this nation. We are faced with the same set of problems of communal tension.

We should have provided the Indian Muslims with a better model of education than the madarsas which are ostensibly financed by dubious overseas sources. We have to be very sure about our basics. We ought to be clear about the ingredients necessary for building a modern society. We have to ensure the uplift of the Muslims and other sections of the population so that all areas of friction and tension are eliminated.

When I met the then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, he spoke to me for 45 minutes off the record. He spoke passionately about his desire to create an atmosphere that would ensure that the people of the two countries could visit one another without visa hassles. He said that he was for open trade with India since the Pakistanis paid more for medicines and other necessities as these were routed through countries like the UAE and Singapore.

Opening of land trade could have made a difference and set the stage for a new beginningóaway from politics and religion, towards economic development to mutual advantage.

The Indian leadership is always positive towards any initiative from Pakistan. But it has never been sure of the instrument that can enable it to set the pace for a new beginning.

I was very happy after listening to Nawaz Sharif. With Prime Minister I.K. Gujral then at the helm here, we were looking forward to a new era in Indo-Pakistan relations. But subsequently, because of the supremacy of the armed forces in Pakistan, the situation changed dramatically once again.

For setting the pace for a new order the leaders of the two sides have to seek closer economic ties. Nawaz Sharif and Gujral could have made a difference. There was hope for a new order but, unfortunately, this situation did not last long.

Reversing the process is not easy. India-Pakistan relations have now become part of global politics and global power play. If the most powerful nation in the world, the USA, reorients its thinking and tries to set the pace for peace in the region, that would make all the difference.

In this context, changing the mindset of the military establishment in Pakistan poses a real challenge. To achieve the bigger goal, the two countries will have to open several windows so that mutual suspicion is minimised, if not completely eliminated. This requires visionary leadership on both sides of the political divide.