As India and Pakistan turn 75, there are many secular intellectuals on both sides of the border who question the wisdom of "the Partition" in 1947. They dismiss what is happening in India today under Hindu Nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi's leadership as a temporary aberration, not the norm. They long for a return to "Indian liberalism" which according to anthropologist Sanjay Srivastava "did not exist".
|India Pakistan Border Ceremony at Wagah-Attari Crossing
American historian Audrey Truschke who studies India traces the early origins of Hindu Nationalism to the British colonial project to "divide and rule" the South Asian subcontinent. She says colonial-era British historians deliberately distorted the history of Indian Muslim rule to vilify Muslim rulers as part of the British policy to divide and conquer India. These misrepresentations of Muslim rule made during the British Raj appear to have been accepted as fact not just by Islamophobic Hindu Nationalists but also by at least some of the secular Hindus in India and Muslim intellectuals in present day Pakistan, says the author of "Aurangzeb: The Life and Legacy of India's Most Controversial King". Aurangzeb was neither a saint nor a villain; he was a man of his time who should be judged by the norms of his times and compared with his contemporaries, the author adds.
After nearly a century of direct rule, the British largely succeeded in dividing South Asians along religious and sectarian lines. The majoritarian tyranny of the "secular" Hindu-dominated Indian National Congress after 1937 elections in India became very apparent to Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the leader of All India Muslim League. Speaking in Lucknow in October 1937, he said the following:
"The present leadership of the Congress, especially during the last ten years, has been responsible for alienating the Musalmans of lndia more and more, by pursuing a policy which is exclusively Hindu; and since they have formed the Governments in six provinces where they are in a majority they have by their words, deeds, and programme shown more and more that the Musalmans cannot expect any justice or fair play at their hands. Whenever they are in majority and wherever it suited them, they refused to co-operate with the Muslim League Parties and demanded unconditional surrender and signing of their pledges."
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu Nationalist BJP party's appeal is the greatest among Hindus who closely associate their religious identity and the Hindi language with being “truly Indian.” The Pew survey found that less than half of Indians (46%) favored democracy as best suited to solve the country’s problems. Two percent more (48%) preferred a strong leader.
Indian anthropologist Sanjay Srivastava sums up the current situation as follows:
"Our parents practiced bigotry of a quiet sort, one that did not require the loud proclamations that are the norm now. Muslims and the lower castes knew their place and the structures of social and economic authority were not under threat. This does not necessarily translate into a tolerant generation. Rather, it was a generation whose attitudes towards religion and caste was never really tested. The loud bigotry of our times is no great break from the past in terms of a dramatic change in attitudes – is it really possible that such changes can take place in such few years? Rather, it is the crumbling of the veneer of tolerance against those who once knew their place but no longer wish to accept that position. The great problem with all this is that we continue to believe that what is happening today is simply an aberration and that we will, when the nightmare is over, return to the Utopia that was once ours. However, it isn’t possible to return to the past that was never there. It will only lead to an even darker future. And, filial affection is no antidote for it".
Acknowledgement: Charts and data in this blog post are sourced from 75 Years Economic Journey of Pakistan published by Pakistan's Ministry of Finance.
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