Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Pakistan and The Idea of India

When India and Pakistan were born in 1947, many in the sub-continent hoped the cycle of hatred which partition of the sub-continent had unleashed would  like most conflicts, come to an end. That has as yet not happend, perhaps because of the nature of the theory which gave birth to Pakistan.

What many fail to understand is Pakistan, India's twin brother, was born as an anti-thesis of all that India stood for. India’s leadership envisaged the nation would be a federal, multi-lingual, multi-racial, secular state. The Pakistan theory envisioned just the opposite – a unitary state where one religion and one language and left unsaid – one race - would determine nationhood and citizenship.

Its founder, the otherwise secular in his personal life, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, tried to undo some of the damage that this theory could wreak on the child he was giving birth to by trying to `secularise’ state policy.  In a remearkable speech to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, Jinnah said “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State … no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.”

However, his death soon after Pakistan’s creation put an end to that start.

The Pakistan theory’s raison-d’etre was in negating all that India stood for. If Muslims and Hindus could get along together, then Pakistan’s logic was lost. To undo the enmeshed twinning of the two faiths’ adherents, Muslim League and its ideological followers, worked overtime, helped, many allege by Britain, the  fading power which wished to continue its rule through a policy of `Divide et Impera'.

Through the 1930s and ‘40s, in Bengal and Bihar, Muslim women were asked to replace wearing red bordered saris with green bordered ones, in Western and Northern India to replace saris with salwarkameez. Bindis were frowned upon. Muslim boys were asked to stop wearing dhotis and opt for Payjamas. (How these were deemed more `Pakistani' is still a mystery). The idea was to create separate identities.

In 1947 it seemed to work. Identity politics reinforced by communal violence saw the country partitioned.Three fifth’s of the sub-continent’s Muslims lived in the Punjab, Sindh and in the North West Frontier Province or in East Bengal. They opted out of India to follow Jinnah into Pakistan. Those who said otherwise, such as Badshah Khan or the Baloch of Kalat, saw their voice and reasoning drowned by the voluble cries for Pakistan.

Millions more caught on the `wrong’ side of the border, followed the paths of the greatest human migration in history. Post-partition, non-Muslims were less than 5 per cent in West Pakistan and about 29 per cent in East.Through the 1950s and 1960s, with increasing marginalisation and occasional progroms, minorities kept migrating from there to India, bringing down their numbers to about 14 per cent in East Pakistan by late 1960s and two and a half per cent in West Pakistan.

Indian Muslims : Indians first

Yet a third of the sub-continent’s Muslims chose to stay on in secular India in 1947. Some because that was where their lands and businesses were. Some like that of the family of actor Shah Rukh Khan or that of Nawab of Pataudi, because they believed in the Congress and its vision of a secular state. Except for a few stray cases of rich landowners or business tycoons who migrated to save taxes in the 1950s and 1960s, none migrated to the neighbouring `Land of the Pure (Pak-i-stan).’ From 9.9 per cent of India’s total population in 1951, this community’s percentage of the total population went up to 11 per cent by 1981 and 14 per cent by 2011.

Pakistan after coming into being,had started defining who was a Muslim. Ahmedias and Bohras lost out early in this search for the `Pure’. Later Shias were discomfited by questions of how true their Muslim identity was and in recent years subjected to ethnic cleansing attacks.

Ethnicity was also a moot question. Pakistan defined itself as nation which inherited India’s Arab and Central Asian heritage. This, seemed to suggest that Pakistanis were descendants of the `Golden hordes’, the Arab, Turkic and Moghul armies which came to India in medieval times.

At best this was but a scatter-brain theory which chose to ignore  that most Indian Muslims were descendants of converts to the new,  attractive monotheistic religion, which gave many Indians an alternate to the decadent, caste-ridden form of Hinduism which flourished when Islam entered India. However, this` hypothesis' at one stroke, immediately marginalised the already poor, dark complexioned émigré’ from India and the Bengali Muslims of East Pakistan.

The search for `Purity’ threw up an oligarchical leadership in the neighbouring state – a coterie of Punjabi-Pathan and high born émigré’ from North India feudals who controlled the top rungs of the army, bureaucracy, industry and politics in that country.

Challenges to the Idea of Pakistan

Racial discrimination, insistence on one language, Urdu, economic colonisation of the East by the West, lack of democratic outlets to grievances, led to Pakistan breaking up and giving birth to Bangladesh. Ethnic identity politics still remains a bitter divide in Pakistan, with poor émigré’ Bihari Muslims living in Karachi slums often erupting in violence against real or perceived discrimination.

The challenge whch the formation of Bangladesh gave to the theory that Pakistan, was the sole  refuge for Muslims of the sub-continent, who in the eyes of Pakistan's founders were a separate people set apart from their neighbours, was met by a stricter interpretation of the `Pak (Pure)’ theory. Children were taught through official textbooks from the 1970s onwards, that Hindus were their enemies and that history started  with the Arab invasion of Sindh, which saved people from a despotic, harsh Hindu rule. Earlier eras and civilisations were simply forgotten.

Non-Muslims and Muslims, not deemed to be Muslim enough, were further marginalised and laws and regulations changed to ban liquor, cabarets, Hindi movies, shared festivals, in short anything which was shared fun.

If India was successful as a secular nation, then Pakistan’s logic was lost. Hence Pakistan’s need to challenge the accession of Kashmir, India’s only Muslim majority state. Two wars by Pakistani armed forces could not detach the state. Rather, the state through repeated democratic elections seemed to renew its faith in a life with India. In the late 1980s, Pakistan therefore started fomenting trouble in Kashmir valley.  The result was not really in favour of Pakistan, but it was against Indian unity.

 A secessionist, Islamist, movement took roots in the valley, partly because of Pakistan’s proxy war, partly because of genuine long standing discontent arising from a series of corrupt state governments, economic deprivations, Central neglect, etc.. A challenge, the Indian state has tried to meet partly by using military force and  partly by a mix of talks with separatists and steps to better the economy of the state.

However Kashmir represents just 10 million of India’s more than 160 million Muslims and Kashmiris seem to believe more in their Kashmiriat than their religious identity. Radicalising  the larger body of Indian muslims and using this  mass as a bulwark against India was therefore always an even more attractive option for those who wished to reinforce the two-nation theory.

Unfortunately for them, this proved to be a difficult option. Most Indian Muslims thought of themselves as Indians first and Muslims afterwards and certainly had little or no sympathies for Pakistan. The valour of Indian Muslim soldiers in 1948, 1965, 1971 and more recently in Siachen and Kargil are testimony to that as also the immense contribution of that community to India’s administration, politics, theatre, the arts, literature, academia and sciences.

More recent attempts of using morphed images of Thai, Tibetan and Chinese to represent Rohingya and Assamese Muslim riot victims to inflame passions through India, too seems to have fallen flat on its face.

The unity of multi-racial and multi-ethic India was also a challenge to Pakistan which was trying to create a single Pakistani Muslim identity with links to an Arabic-Central Asian heritage. Hence, Pakistan’s support to rebel groups from the North East. First, when Pakistan was a united entity, through camps in Chittagong Hills and later when a `Pak-friendly’ military government was established in Bangladesh through a coup, by using other border safe havens. Unfortunately, for Pakistan and luckily for India, Bangladesh in the 21st century realised the dangers of allowing these groups which brought drug peddling, money laundering and arms running into that state, a free run. A clampdown by Bangla authorities helped save that nation from a growing threat to its own safety and security, not to mention its relations with its single largest neighbour.

Pakistan - Which Road Will It Take

As India becomes economically more successful and  Pakistan sinks into troubled times with Baluchistan and Gilgit demanding autonomy at the least and independence at the best, Sindh turning more restive and Hill Pathan tribes dreaming of a greater Pashtunistan with their Afghan cousins, the idea of Pakistan will come under greater challenge. Desperate to reinforce its unity, that nation may well then continue on the path it chose earlier – challenging India’s unity and secular credentials to prove that the opposite of Pakistan does not mean success. India has her faultlines and these could well be exploited. Chosing this path will probably be concurrent with greater Islamisation or in effect even eventual Talibanisation of the Pakistan state.

If Pakistan, choses this path, then it could mean more terror strikes at Indian targets, psy-warfare of the kind witnessed in the recent sending of bulk SMSs to people of North Eastern descent, threatening them with attacks by Muslim groups.  The radicalisation of that nation will also mean reinforcement of the feeling of victimhood in Pakistan, greater intolerance towards other religions and people and greater support for ideas of crusade or Jihad against not only India but also those perceived as Christian nations.

However, there is a different path that nation may chose. One of cooperation. It may chose to befriend its twin brother to bring not only peace, but also prosperity within its borders. One would hope it would chose that path. But, yes, that choice will in time kill the idea of Pakistan as an anti-thesis to India. A new identity will then have to be forged for that nation or else it would, in time, wither.

American strategic affairs writer Robert  Kaplan has pointed out that down the ages, nebulous border states have often existed in the sub-continent, encompassing border races and tribes, even as India proper has prospered as a single entity. Perhaps Pakistan would like redefine itself as such a confederacy. The path it choses in the next half a decade will be crucial for its existence and well-being, indeed the well-being of the whole sub-continent.

Once the choice is clear, India and other powers interested in Pakistan would react. If Pakistan choses overt or covert confrontation as well as increasing Talibanisation, India will have to rethink its peace propositions. These have been made on the calculation that it is better to have one united neighbour, with whom peace can be forged at some date on its western border rather than a Balkanised, unstable region.

At some stage, India, and other powers such as the US and Russia who face threats from this rising tide of Talibanisation, will weigh the pros and cons of such a stance and decide whether to risk a Talibanised Pakistan or to support the process of Pakistan unravelling itself, risking the aftermath as a lesser evil.


Friday, August 17, 2012

The Idea of India-5


If France suddenly decided it should become a monarchy once again, and were to search for a Bourbon to take the crown, last worn more than one and a half  centuries back, the search team may have to fly down to Bhopal, capital of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, infamous for the Union Carbide gas tragedy.

The coat of arms adopted by the Bhopal Bourbons

For the only surviving Bourbons live there, in a palatial house which proudly has engraved above its main door, the French royal  fleur-de-lis, flanked by two Indian elephants. Their ancestor - Jean-Philippe de Bourbon - arrived in 1560 at the court of Emperor Akbar after various adventures on the way including being kidnapped by pirates. The young 16th century royal was from an elder branch of France’s ruling family and had to flee his home after a duel gone wrong.
It was a time when many a young European out to make a fortune, would turn to India – which in their eyes was the `Golden Bird’.  As the Mughal Empire crumbled, the Bird once elusive and ruled by haughty princes became vulnerable. Mughal subalterns in various provinces, each the size of a major European nation or larger, continued to pay homage to the Imperial Throne at Delhi, but ruled in their own way, more often at loggerheads, than in alliance with each other.

Europeans traders backed by their Monarchs, had initially set up Mughal sanctioned portside factories. But with the ebbing of Mughal power, they gradually gained greater influence by controlling more and more land and sizable armies which were often lent out to short-sighted warring princes to settle matters in a manner ultimately favourable to the outsider. In the words of one Urdu humourist, “they (Europeans) were granted  firman (grant) for as much land as could be covered by a tent. Little did the Emperor know that their tent was made of stretchable rubber.”
The Europeans were also fighting their own battles on the cold continent and this was carried to the high seas and to the tiny bits of India they controlled.  In mid-18th century Bengal, then ruled by a young and impetuous Mughal lieutenant, Nawab Siraj-ud-Dowlah, both the French and English fortified their trading posts against each other. Siraj demanded  these fortifications be dismantled. The French complied. However, the English did not heed Siraj's warnings. An angry Nawab then ordered a successful punitive raid to bring the rebel English post on the river Hooghly, Calcutta, to its knees.

Fort St George, the headquarters of the `Honourable Company', sent Robert Clive, a young Englishman who had come out as a clerk to find his fortune in India,  and had risen to be a celebrated young General in the company’s army in Madras, to win back Calcutta.

Clive as versed in the ways of war as in intrigue, bided his time after landing in Bengal. Emissaries were sent to win friends with the many noblemen and tycoons who had grudges against Siraj, or had ambitions to the gaddi (Subaltern throne) themselves, before the Madras force ultimately advanced towards Murshidabad, the capital of Bengal.
The map of the Battle of Plassey
The two sides met in the Mango groves of Plassey on the 23rd of June 1757. Siraj’s uncle and Commander-in-Chief of his army, Mir Jaffar and several deputies were already in league with the English and these worthies who personally commanded three-fourths of the Bengal Army of 50,000, made no attempts to engage with Clive. Jaffar's canons stayed silent on the plea that the gunpowder was “wet”, while several infantry regiments simply idled around the mango orchards.

Only an advance force under two Brigade commanders, Mir Madan and Mohanlal, remained true to the hapless Siraj. Even their tiny combined forces were enough to make Clive retreat early in the battle. However soon after, Madan fell to a stray shot, while Mohanlal was forced to retreat on repeated orders of Jaffer, just as he was on the cusp of victory.

To his horror, the young ruler, Siraj, saw his army dissolving as a disgusted Mohanlal left the battlefield. An Indian chronicler of that time, Ghulam Hussain, says “Siraj … fearing not only the English in his front, but chiefly the domestic enemies about his person, lost all firmness of mind … (and) joined the runaways himself.” Only to be caught and condemned to a fate of blinding and eventual death.
Jaffar, became the next Nawab (Governor). But the Company, became the real rulers of Bengal with its untold riches. Jaffar in turn was pensioned off to be replaced by his ambitious son-in-law, Mir Qasim, who chaffing under the English tutelage, attempted a short-lived revolt, only to be replaced by old Jaffer once gain.

The Battle of Plassey was, in the words of eminent historian R.C.Majumdar:  “hardly more than a skirmish but its result was more important than that of many of the greatest battles of the world.” True, for it opened the way for the conquest of India, the brightest jewel in England’s crown, by the employees of arguably the world’s first successful transnational corporation. The revenues of the rich province of Bengal, funded the conquest of India. The money, which the sub-continent earned for the English in turn helped fund the establishment of that island nation's global Empire `Over Which The Sun Never Sets.'

In another sense, Plassey was not about military defeat but rather the defeat of an antiquated feudal order up against a new European order welded by the ideas of a New Age, of an India which had started crumbling into blind sub-states, which could not see reason to unite against a common enemy. In a manner it was also the story of when the Idea of India faltered.

A Map of the British Empire in India
(portions shown in pink are British ruled, yellow ruled by Indian Princes)

Previous Blogs in the series : Idea of India , Idea of India 2 , Idea of India 3, Idea of India 4

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Idea of India - 4

The wedding procession of Prince Dara Shukoh

Prince Dara

When in 1657, Emperor Shah Jehan fell critically ill, three of his sons declared themselves Emperor – Shuja, Aurangzeb and Murad. Only one son – the eldest – remained true to him, nursing him by the bedside – Dara Shukoh.
Forgotten today by history, Dara was a great scholar and a secular prince with a modern outlook.  Along with the sciences and administration, Crown prince Dara Shukoh had studied the Vedas, the Talmud, the New Testament and the works of Sufi mystics, much to the consternation of orthodox Islamic clergy who rushed to support his younger and sterner brother Aurangzeb.

The battle for succession saw the Imperialists led by Dara, defeating Shuja but in turn being defeated by the combined rebel armies of Aurangazeb and Murad, partly by treachery. Soon after, Aurangzeb, whose name strangely meant `throne’s decoration’ turned to crush his youngest brother and former ally Murad and to imprison his father at Agra fort, before usurping the throne of India.

Dara himself was eventually brought to Delhi, a captive, much to the lament of the common people with whom he was popular. In the words of Francois Bernier, the French traveller, physician and writer, who was witness to the scene “everywhere I observed people weeping and lamenting the fate of Dara in the most touching language…” Rioting broke out soon after in the city and Aurangzeb put an end to the rightful claimant to the throne of Akbar and Shah Jehan.
Thus began the unravelling of the Empire.

The Moghul Empire had been formed as a confederacy – a secular compact between Muslim rulers with Hindu princes, with whose support the Mughals who traced their roots to Central Asia, ruled a land that had once again started believing it was one after being wrecked asunder by medieval wars.

Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur before his martyrdom

It was to be wrecked apart again, this time by bigotry. Aurangzeb, in the words of historian R.C.Majumdar, “tried to enforce strictly the Quaranic law, according to which it behoves every pious Muslim to ‘exert himself in the path of God’ or in other words to carry on holy wars (jihad) against non-Muslim lands till they are converted into the realms of Islam”. As Emperor, in the very first year of his reign, Aurangzeb banned music and dancing from his court, to be practised only in secret, in the homes of a few fun loving nobles! Wine and opium too were banished. Soon after, he imposed a hated tax, Jizia, on all non-Muslims, who accounted for most of his subjects. The state was from then on to be run according to the King’s views of what constituted religion and not on what was politic.
Revolts sprung up in many corners of the empire. The Sikhs in Punjab, whose holiest site – the Golden Temple - had been built on land gifted by Emperor Akbar, rose up in arms after their sixth guru Teg Bahadur was executed for his faith by Aurangzeb. The Rajputs, bound to the Mughal throne through matrimonial alliances, rose up in ferment. The ruler of Marwar, Jaswant Singh had died in battle fighting for Mughal India in a campaign in Afghanistan. Aurangzeb, who seemed to have coveted this strategic little principality, which sits astride the route to Gujarat, made Jaswant's grandnephew nominal ruler and took over the actual running of this desert state. Alarmed by this perfidy, the Sisodia Rajputs of Mewar joined the ever rebellious Rathore Rajputs of Marwar in turning the  land of Rajputana into a bloody battlefield against the Mughals.

But it was in the Deccan that Aurangzeb faced his biggest challenge – Shivaji Bhonsle followed by able sons, led the Marathas, warriors from the crags of the Western Ghats in a series of guerilla battles against the Mughals which drained the empire of men and money. Unpaid armies mutinied, nobles cast off their imperial chains and general lawlessness flourished, ultimately wearing out the man who had killed his own brothers for the Peacock throne.

The Emperor had not only broken his compact with his subjects, in a sense, he had broken with the idea of India as a secular nation. His death was a lonely and unsung one. In a letter to his son Azam, he wrote “I came alone and am gone alone. I have not done well to the country and the people, and of the future there is no hope.”

Aurangzeb’s successors inherited but a hollow shell of an empire, with fires raging on all sides. Their nobles were a divided house -  with Indian Muslim and Hindu nobles ranged on one side and freebooter emigre’ nobles from Central Asia and Persia on the other. Invasions with an eye on loot, by Persian king Nadir Shah and Afghan chief Ahmad Shah Abdali, weakened their rule further, leaving them at the end, rulers of but the city of Delhi and few districts surrounding it.
A far cry from the Empire of India, wrought as much by the march of armies as by the march of ideas and indeed a lesson to future rulers on the need to preserve the secular fabric of the continental nation state.

Continued : The Idea of India-5