[A-List] Ramachandra Guha and Mohsin Hamid on India and Pakistan
critical.montages at gmail.com
Wed Aug 15 09:15:19 MDT 2007
Unfinished business is catching up with India and Pakistan. -- Yoshie
August 15, 2007
India's Internal Partition
By RAMACHANDRA GUHA
IN the last months of 1990, a property dispute sparked a series of
bloody riots across India. The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party
sought to "reclaim" for Hindus the birthplace of the legendary
god-king Ram, in the small northern town of Ayodhya. That meant
demolishing the mosque that had been built there in the 16th century
and replacing it with a spanking new temple.
Starting in September, the militant Bharatiya Janata leader Lal
Krishna Advani journeyed for five weeks between Somnath and Ayodhya,
making fiery speeches at towns and villages en route, denouncing the
Indian government for "appeasing" the Muslims. In many places Mr.
Advani visited, attacks on Muslims followed.
In New Delhi, where I then lived, Mr. Advani's march represented a
grave threat to the inclusive, plural, secular and democratic idea of
India. My boyhood hero had been Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first and
arguably greatest prime minister.
When India and Pakistan came into existence in 1947, exactly 60 years
ago, Mr. Nehru insisted that India would not be a "Hindu Pakistan."
Three months after the partition, he wrote to the chief provincial
ministers about the Muslim minority: "whatever the provocation from
Pakistan and whatever the indignities and horrors inflicted on
non-Muslims there, we have got to deal with this minority in a
civilized manner. We must give them security and the rights of
citizens in a democratic state. If we fail to do so, we shall have a
festering sore which will eventually poison the whole body politic and
probably destroy it."
The Bharatiya Janata Party's idea of India was the opposite. Their
ideologues treated Muslims as potential fifth columnists. "Pakistan ya
Kabristan!" (to Pakistan or the graveyard) they cried during the
riots. Nonetheless, many million Muslims stayed in India; after the
formation of an independent Bangladesh, in 1971, India had even more
Muslim citizens than Pakistan.
Yet among my close friends in India there was not a single Muslim. The
novelist Mukul Kesavan, a contemporary, has written that in his school
in Delhi he never came across a Muslim name: "The only place you were
sure of meeting Muslims was the movies." Some of the finest actors,
singers, composers and directors in Bombay's film industry were
Muslims. But in law, medicine, business and the upper echelons of
public service, Hindus dominated. There were sprinklings of Christians
and Sikhs, but very few Muslims.
As it happened, my first Muslim friend was a Pakistani I met in
America. In the mid-1980s, the economist Tariq Banuri and I, both
teaching at East Coast universities, were part of a colloquium on
third-world development. Our bond was partly intellectual and partly
linguistic, for we had grown up speaking Hindustani, that wonderful
hybrid of Hindi and Urdu that was once the lingua franca of much of
the Indian subcontinent. My hometown, Dehradun, and Tariq's, Peshawar,
lay at opposite ends of what was once a common cultural zone,
fractured by the partition.
After I returned to India, and Tariq to Pakistan, in 1987, the
antipathy between our countries meant I could not visit him. The phone
lines were blocked, and the Internet had not been developed. News that
trickled in from mutual friends was episodic and desultory;
inevitably, we lost touch.
In the winter of 1990, Tariq began appearing in my dreams. I was
always on the verge of visiting him in Islamabad, only to be thwarted
by hostile immigration officials, barbed-wire fences, massed soldiers
or canceled flights. That I dreamt of my friend at a time when my
fellow Hindus were mounting frequent attacks on Muslims was surely not
Back in Delhi, I also came to understand (though not support) why so
many Indians had favored building a Ram temple in Ayodhya. Once a
center of Islamic civilization, later the center of a white man's Raj,
after 1947 Delhi had become a city of the Hindu and Sikh victims of
partition. These Punjabi migrants had lost homes and businesses in
that bloody summer of 1947. Starting from scratch, they had come to
dominate Delhi's commerce and social life. Yet they remained insecure;
who knew when catastrophe might come again? And so they hoarded
diamonds and maintained Swiss bank accounts.
They also cheated their tenants. In six years in Delhi, my wife and I
had four landlords, all refugees from the Pakistani part of Punjab.
All four hooked their appliances to our electricity meter, and all
kept our deposits when we left.
In 1995, I finally got to visit Pakistan. I saw Tariq in Islamabad and
then proceeded to Lahore, illegally, since my visa was for one city
only. I met one of the last seven Hindu families in Lahore and visited
the tomb of the Sikh warrior-king Ranjit Singh.
Then I went across to the majestic Badshahi Mosque, built by the
Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. It was Friday evening, and a large crowd of
worshipers was coming out after the weekly prayers. Walking against
the flow, I had to jostle my way through.
As I bumped into one worshiper, I was seized by panic. In one pocket
of my kurta lay my wallet; in the other, an exquisite little statue of
the Hindu god Ganesh, dancing. I am not a believer, but this was my
mascot, a gift from my sister, carried whenever I was separated from
my wife and little children. What if it now fell out and was seized
upon by the crowd? How would that turn out — an infidel discovered in
a Muslim shrine, an Indian visitor illegally in Lahore?
As a liberal and secular Hindu, I should not have been worried about
being found out. But my fear was symptomatic also of the deeper
failures of partition. It had been meant to solve, once and for all,
the Hindu-Muslim question. But in both countries, the two communities
have only grown further apart.
Despite their shared culture, cuisine and love for the game of
cricket, India and Pakistan have already fought four wars. And judging
by the number of troops on their borders and the missiles and nuclear
weapons to back them, they seem prepared to fight a fifth.
Ramachandra Guha is the author of "India After Gandhi: The History of
the World's Largest Democracy."
August 15, 2007
After 60 Years, Will Pakistan Be Reborn?
By MOHSIN HAMID
SIXTY years ago, British India was granted independence and
partitioned into Hindu-majority India and my native nation,
Muslim-majority Pakistan. It was a birth of exceptional pain.
Handed down to me through the generations is the story of my namesake,
my Kashmir-born great-grandfather. He was stabbed by a Muslim as he
went for his daily stroll in Lahore's Lawrence Gardens. Independence
was only a few months away, and the communal violence that would
accompany the partition was beginning to simmer.
My great-grandfather was attacked because he was mistaken for a Hindu.
This was not surprising; as a lawyer, most of his colleagues were
Hindus, as were many of his friends. He would shelter some of their
families in his home during the murderous riots that were to come.
But my great-grandfather was a Muslim. More than that, he was a member
of the Muslim League, which had campaigned for the creation of
Pakistan. From the start, Pakistan has been prone to turning its knife
Yet 1947 is also remembered in my family as a time of enormous hope.
My great-grandfather survived. And the birth that year of his
grandson, my father, marked the arrival of a first generation of
something new: Pakistanis.
My mother recalls a childhood of sugar and flour rations. The 1950s,
she says, were a decade of a young country finding its feet. She grew
up in a small town and she describes a fierce love for Pakistan felt
by her and her schoolmates. Pakistan was theirs, a source of pride and
identity, symbolically both a parent and, because it inspired such
feelings of protectiveness, a sibling.
In the 1960s, my mother's family moved to Lahore, which had been the
cultural and governmental center of Punjab Province before the region
was ripped apart at independence. By then, Pakistan's economy had
begun to boom. My parents speak of cinemas showing the latest films,
colleges producing idealistic graduates, and young couples walking
along the banks of the River Ravi.
Yet Pakistan's true glory at that time was the southern port of
Karachi, where my uncle, then a young banker, went to live. It was, he
says, a vibrant and cosmopolitan city, a place of cafes and sea
breezes and visiting international flight crews; it hummed with the
energy and ingenuity of millions of former refugees who had come from
Still, these rosy family recollections paint an incomplete picture.
For the civilian government of Pakistan had been deposed by a military
coup in 1958. Gen. Mohammad Ayub Khan was a steadfast American ally
against the Soviet Union and the recipient of large amounts of
American weaponry and aid.
But deprived of democracy for much of my parents' youth, Pakistanis
were unable to articulate an inclusive vision of what their country
stood for. Making things worse, the country was divided in two,
separated geographically by India. West Pakistan, the army's
heartland, received far more than its fair share of resources. After
years of mistreatment and rigged elections, East Pakistanis fought a
war of independence, India took up arms on their side, and East
Pakistan became the nation of Bangladesh.
I was born in 1971, the year of this second partition, as Pakistan
once again turned its knife upon itself.
After the bloodshed, what was left of Pakistan was forced to ask what
it stood for. Democracy was restored, and Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali
Bhutto became wildly popular with a simple slogan: "Bread, clothing
and a home." In other words, Pakistan existed to lessen the poverty of
Even I knew this slogan. At the age of two, I was reciting it on the
kitchen table, standing tall as I had seen our prime minister do on
television. My mother tried to get hold of me, and in my excitement I
ran clear off the table, breaking my head on the kitchen floor. I
still have the scar. Bhutto faired little better. He was deposed in
1977 and hanged.
So, like my parents before me, I was born in a democratic Pakistan but
spent much of my youth in a dictatorship. And like General Ayub Khan
before him, the new dictator, Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq was a steadfast
American ally against the Soviet Union. But whereas General Ayub Khan
had been largely secular, General Zia envisioned Pakistan as a
theocratic Muslim state. It became a staging-ground for the
anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan and underwent a dramatic process of
social engineering called Islamization.
Growing up in Lahore in the 1980s was unsettling. Assault rifles and
heroin, byproducts of the war in Afghanistan, flooded the city. I had
friends with drug problems, others who sometimes carried guns. Our
parents had been able to mingle freely and go to the cinema. But we
lived in a time of censorship and of women news anchors being forced
to cover their heads on television. Preventing teenage boys and girls
from falling in love seemed to be an official concern of the state,
and avoiding police checkpoints became part of every date.
Although we disliked our president, my friends and I remained fiercely
patriotic. We idolized Pakistani sporting heroes in cricket, field
hockey and squash. We felt a thrill of achievement when we listened to
bootleg cassettes of the first Pakistani rock bands. For us, the
success of anything Pakistani was a source of personal pride.
In 1988, shortly before I left for college in America, General Zia
died in a suspicious airplane crash and civilian rule was again
restored. But the democracy of the '90s was a disappointment, with
power alternated between ineffective, feuding governments.
As my friends married and had children, a third generation of
Pakistanis began to arrive. Like my parents' generation, and like
mine, these children were born in a democracy but would spend their
youth under pro-American military rule, this time under Gen. Pervez
And now Pakistan is once again turning its knife on itself.
Insurgencies simmer in the regions bordering Afghanistan, and suicide
bombers have begun to kill fellow Pakistanis with increasing
For me personally, the 60th anniversary of independence, while worthy
of note, is not of the utmost importance. My hopes are already dashing
ahead and attaching themselves to the elections that are scheduled for
later this year.
On one side are the forces of exclusion, who wish Pakistan to stand
only for their kind of Pakistani. These include the political
descendants of the man who stabbed my great-grandfather, the people
who seek to oppress those who are clean shaven or those who toil for
meager wages or those who are from provinces other than their own. But
arrayed against them is something wholly new.
Pakistan now has private television stations that refuse to let the
government set the news agenda. It has a Supreme Court that has
asserted its independence for the first time, restoring a chief
justice suspended by the president. And it has an army under physical
attack from within and in desperate need of compromise with civil
A 60th birthday brings with it the obligation to shed some illusions.
Pakistanis must realize that we have been our own worst enemies. My
wish for our national anniversary is this: that we finally take the
knife we have turned too often upon ourselves and place it firmly in
Mohsin Hamid is the author, most recently, of the novel "The Reluctant
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