Now that Manmohan Singh has become the Prime Minister of India**, many on this side of the border are not just proud, but also claiming paternity, so to speak. A leading columnist of Dawn has expressed his elation that Mr Singh hails from Potohar, while a Jang columnist has countered with the claim, albeit a weak one, that the Indian Prime Minister is a Multani. For a son-of-the-soil to rise to the pinnacle of political success through a free vote in a country of a billion people has justifiably led many a thorough-bred Potohari into a state of excitement.
But Potoharis should mix their pride at the accession of one of their own to the highest executive position in India with a tinge of shame and regret. One recalls that another former Indian Prime Minister, I K Gujral***, was also from the Potohar belt. It is not as if these two now-eminent Potoharis had chosen to abandon the place of their birth to migrate to India. They were hounded out of the land of their ancestors, forced to leave everything behind them, except memories. And they were the lucky ones. The unlucky ones (and their numbers are in the hundreds of thousands) fell to marauding hordes of opportunists, avengers and believers.
It will be said that the carnage happened on both sides. While that is true, the fact is the carnage was solely the result of the partition of the subcontinent, which the Singhs and the Gujrals had not wanted, but which nonetheless happened against their will and mostly at their expense. Muslims demanded Pakistan and got it, and Hindus and Sikhs were forced to flee their lands in West Punjab in order to save their lives. Punjab – both east and west – is probably the worst example of ethnic cleansing in the history of the modern world. The Muslims of East Punjab also suffered greatly in lives lost and lands abandoned, but then they too had wanted and got their Pakistan. It is quite another matter that their hope for their part of the Punjab to be included in the Islamic republic proved wrong and they suffered as a consequence, many paying with their lives.
The so-called Mohajirs, who were most vociferous in the demand for Pakistan, had the extraordinary privilege of eating the cake and having it too, insofar as most of them, while migrating to Pakistan, left some kith and kin in their ancestral homes in India. So it became possible for a certain Dr Mahmood Hussain to become a Minister in Pakistan, while his brother Dr Zakir Hussain rose to the position of President of India.
On the other hand, the Sikhs and Hindus who survived the carnage in West Punjab quite literally had to run for their lives. They were not allowed to leave any trace or retain any links with their ancestral lands, having been evicted unceremoniously, without warning and under pain of death.
One recalls that when I. K. Gujral became the Prime Minister of India some years ago, a Pakistani journalist traveled to Gujral’s native village in Punjab and spoke to some old men there who remembered Gujral’s father and family well. Asked about the elder Gujral, an old-timer reminisced that he was so humane, kind and non-discriminatory in his attitude that one could not tell whether he was a Hindu or a Muslim.
The articles by Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed in these pages have brought out many a sad tale emanating from partition. Many more are embedded in the birth of Bangladesh – which, like Kashmir, is a spillage of the 1947 partition. While the suffering of the Bangadeshis has been sufficiently highlighted, the tragedy of the so-called Biharis, on account of their loyalty to Pakistan, still beckons a historian. The “Bihari” side seems to have been totally overlooked, for while success has many fathers, failure is an orphan. Bangladeshis write their history, as do Pakistanis, while the “Biharis” – not counting those who died in 1971 — have been reduced to non-persons living in a sort of no-man’s land, physically in Bangladesh but officially not quite there, being stateless non-citizens.
The partition of 1947 resulted in the deaths of between half a million to one million people and the largest migration in history, involving 15 million people. And what do we have to show for the effort which extracted this colossal human sacrifice? More than half of the population of the country whose establishment caused this mayhem rose in open revolt against it and established their own independent state less than 25 years later in 1971. A Muslim population currently equaling its own had to be left behind as a small minority in a Hindu-majority India to reap the whirlwind from its creation. And God knows how many more will flee or be driven from their homes or die in Kashmir, that “unfinished business” from the partition of 1947. As for the residual Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the quasi-official “homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent,” it staggers from one crisis to another, regarded by independent observers as a failed state, propped up by little more than prayers, “nuclear bums” and American political, military and financial assistance.
The Pakistan/Muslim factor has engendered Hindutva in India. The BJP has lost an election, but many have signed Hindutva’s death certificate a trifle too early. The patron of the Afghan Taliban, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, has now been elevated to the position of leader of the opposition in the Pakistani National Assembly, thus becoming its prime minister-in-waiting, to use the idiom of parliamentary democracies. When the Vishwa Hindu Parishad locks horns with the Islamists-Jihadists of South Asia, which is probable if not certain, how many millions more will fall victims to more madness in the name of religion is anyone’s guess. But the fact that partition deprived the current and a former Prime Minister of India of a place they can truly call home should motivate thinking Pakistanis to reflect on the man-made tragedy of 1947 which continues to cast its tentacles, hydra-like, on a quarter of the world’s population.
*This column was first published on 29 June 2004 in Daily Times, Lahore.
**Manmohan Singh, a Sikh, was born on 26 September 1937 in Gah village in Chakwal District in Potohar region of Punjab in Pakistan (then a part of British India). His family migrated to India after partition.
***Inder Kumar Gujral, a Hindu, was born on 4 December 1919 in the village of Pari Darveza in Jhelum district (also in the Potohar region) of present-day Pakistan. His family also migrated to India after partition. Multan is in the Saraiki region of southern Punjab in present-day Pakistan.
by Razi Azmi