June 09, 2010

Conversations, #12

We're winding down, Beena and I. Just a few more of these and we'll call a halt. Please take a look at the 12th installment in our conversation: A grounding for reconciliation.

Thoughts welcome.

Earlier episodes: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11.


Mast Qalandar said...

This is fascinating.

Despite "knowing" about the general viewpoint of the moderate Pakistani it is still an eye opening experience when Beena talks about being taught that a part of Kashmir "ceded" to Pakistan.

Fascinating too is the view of the 1928 Nehru report.

Lord Birkenhead, Secretary of state for India, had challenged Indian political leaders to come up with a draft constitution for India, which would be acceptable to all parties. All parties, including the Congress, the Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha, Sikhs Central League, representatives of labour, industry, etc., had a conference. They formed a committee under the chairmanship of Motilal Nehru (not Jawaharlal) to draft the actual constitutional scheme.

The Nehru committee's report suggested a strong centre with major powers. It also suggested reservations for minorities.
The report was accepted by all parties, with only one dissenting vote. Jinnah rejected it as being unfavourable to Muslims.

In turn Jinnah came up with his "14 points", which envisaged (as Beena quotes) a disproportionate 33 percent representation for Muslims at the central level, separate electorates based on religion, a federation with strong states having most of the power and a weak centre with only residual powers. Congress rejected this.

As it later turned out 20 years later, India's constitution drafted by the Constituent Assembly also envisaged India as a Union of States with a strong centre, and not as a federation. The philosophy behind the constitution is summed up as follows:

(Ref. http://karnatique.blogspot.com/2008/10/is-india-federal-country-yes-or-no.html)

"At the time the constitution was written the predominant concern of the founding fathers was the preservation of the unity and integrity of India, which had more than 600 varied princely states plus the provinces of British India at the time of independence. Nowhere in the constitution is the word 'federal' mentioned. Indeed, the constitution says India is a 'Union of States' and it envisaged a strong centre. B.R. Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian constitution, has said that the use of the word 'Union' was deliberate. The drafting committee wanted to make it clear that although India was to be a federation, it was not the result of an agreement initiated by the constituent states. During normal times India functions as a federation but it can be and has been transformed into a unitary state during extraordinary circumstances."

In hindsight, despite its problems, the constitution does seem to have broadly served the purpose of keeping India together. Therefore the Nehru Committee's report may be said to have been valid at least on this count. Muslims were one minority in India - that too a religious minority. A document like the constitution has to think of all minorities - religious or otherwise.

We are too puny to judge the role of historical figures. They acted with information available to them, in the backdrop of world events of the time, their words and actions distilled through the prisms of their own personalities and their quirks. What role factors such as Gandhi's overt Hindu persona, Nehru's and Jinnah's ambitions, the successful divide and rule policies of the British - played in eventual partition of the country - who can say?

The two nations must move on rather than continue to waste time in judging actions of people long dead and gone. I think it would be a wonderful service to the cause of understanding our shared past if raw historical facts could be supplied regularly to both populations. Media and its personalities can and should play a powerful role in highlighting this, if they can get away from constant badmouthing of the other.

Saby said...

First of all let me congratulate you for opening up a sensible discourse w/ Beena. With 12 posts , you may have a better insight into some issues and may be comment on some of my observations below:

1. Why are we same people?
This 'Aman ki Asha' types always say that we are actually same people and that we should not fight and all. My que. is " how are we same people"? We are defined by our nationality. They choose to define themselves by their religion.Pakistan was founded on the basis of Islam. It still defines itself in terms of Islam.
India was founded on the basis that religion had no role in determining citizenship or nationhood.
It is nobody’s case that India is a perfect society or that Muslims face no discrimination. But nobody would deny that in the last sixty years, we have travelled a long way towards religious equality.
So how are we same people? In 21st century, do we celebrate the sameness because Punjabis and North India in general think race and bloodlines are more important than lets say,collective decisions of most Indians to work towards progress & the betterment of its citizenry. While nobody wants another war, outside of Delhi and parts of the Punjab perhaps there is no great warmth towards Pakistan, and there shudn't be any as it is just a foreign country for most of us and a hostile one at that.

2. South Asian Union?
Does anyone think of this concept seriously. EU came into being primarily to act as a counterweight to compete w/ US economy. How is that applicable for south asia? I can foresee Bangladesh bringing something to the table, what has pakistan got to offer.?

3. Federalism vs Centralization?
Me thinks, Indian leaders (esp. Sardar Patel) were so forceful in favor of centralization because of the foreign colonization. We lost to foreign invaders starting from Delhi Sultanate to British, mostly because we were not able to put up a united defense as a nation. Does this theory hold any water.?

4. Blame it all on the British?
Every article I come across lays the blame for our ills on the doors of British empire. May be true, but how else do you expect the winners/rulers to behave? They were looking out for themselves by apportioning all the wealth. Makes sense to me. The partition is always blamed on the British. Why is that? Why don't we accept the fact that we are primarily responsible in the whole mess? The idea of Pakistan was first mooted by Poet Iqbal who was concerned about "Muslim Culture" being overshadowed by "Hindu Culture", that was later hijacked by Jinnah.
Doesn't seem like apt attitude to be a democracy.

5. Whats the status of religious reforms in Pakistan?
Every religion of the world has gone through a phase of zealotry and fanaticism, be it Christianity (crusades, inquisition, pedophilia etc.) or Hinduism ( untouchability, sati, etc). But these religions evolved for better because there were reformers within the religion who fought hard and long for change. Are there any muslims or citizens in general who are helping to reform Islam in Pakistan?

Saby said...

@ Chandru,
I absolutely agree w/ British being criminal abettors and accomplices in the tragedy. My main grouse is that this role of theirs is exaggerated to being the main conspirators, as if it weren't for them Hindus and Muslims would never have rioted. I'm no fan of any empire let alone the British one, but unless we be objective about analyzing the whole thing, the lessons we learn would be superficial, at best. I personally think that current generation of Indian citizens is not carrying that much of an emotional baggage regarding partition and it would be a good time to start telling the story as it is. The excuse that if it weren't for British role, India would have never been partitioned is insulting to everyone. We should start acknowledging the fact, that we were two different people culturally (Indians and Pakistanis) by the time of partition and have been drifting apart for decades before that.

Chandru K said...

Saby, good post. This whole business of apportioning blame: if you really think about it, a very major cause of the partition was the Moslems', most egregiously the Moslem League's, hostility to identifying with the Indic heritage and civilisation that resulted first in the strife, then the horrendous violence. The Moslems kept clinging to the (false) vestiges of the whole martial, conquering races who cannot live in equality with the formerly conquered though newly independent Hindus. Even this ideology, pernicious and mendacious as it is, might have been surmounted if the League or any substantial Moslem organisation, possessed a more elevated and progressive mentality. They were essentially reactive and reactionary from the beginning, becoming even more so in the 40's. Instead of offering and promoting an alternative secular, pluralist vision of India, they kept harping ad nauseum on how the Congress and other nationalist organisations were not truly secular, and hence democracy can only mean Hindu domination.

Mast Qalandar said...


I sincerely feel the only important thing today is to know as many facts as possible about our shared history so that one understands those events better. I see absolutely no point in blaming Jinnah or Gandhi or Nehru or any one else for events that happened 80 ago. Every one of these, and many besides, were giants who acted in the manner they thought best at that time. And, I daresay, public good was their major aim.

Those in the Indian and Pakistani establishment (and that includes media) would do a service to the cause of peace if they found ways by which historical facts, and not concocted fiction, are widely distributed among the general population.

BTW, The Hindu had a fascinating editorial on Jinnah after his death:


Nikhil said...

Keep avoiding asking this important question, D'Souza.

Chandrubhai and others. Why bother. Dilip is singing for his supper. After all everybody knows Times of India does enough paid news. So this is one of those paid exercises.

BTW here is a juicy tidbit about the Jung (cant help laughing at the irony - a newspaper called Jung promoting Aman)


Nice to see the kind of company you are keeping Dilip

Dilip D'Souza said...

Not that it would make an iota of difference to a man intent only on insinuation and taunts, but I've not asked for nor received any payment for this series.

Chandru K said...

"Every one of these, and many besides, were giants who acted in the manner they thought best at that time. And, I daresay, public good was their major aim."

Nehru, Gandhi, Patel, Radhakrishnan, Rajagoplachari, Azad were 'giants' of the time. Jinnah was a pygmy masquerading as a giant. Jinnah's motive was pure, raw ambition. He wanted power, and he deeply resented Nehru and Gandhi for being greater than him. So he used religion as a weapon to obtain the power he craved. First utter demagoguery, then incitements to violence were the tactics of Jinnah and his henchmen in the League. This is what culminated in the horrendous violence of 1946-47.