Politicians by definition are guided by nothing more substantial or lofty than the desire to win the next election, no matter what it takes. Their methods vary, but by far the most dangerous is to sow the seeds of suspicion against minorities and neighboring countries. It gets damn deadly when religion is brought into the fray, fanning the worst instincts in people, inciting hate. The result often is violence and war.
People and the Politics of Manipulation
(Published in Daily Times, 6 April 2004)
The Indian press is in raptures over the reception Indians have received from the Pakistani people during their current cricket tour. Indian reporters, commentators and visitors are going overboard in praising the friendliness of Pakistanis and decrying their own past “misperceptions.” They are both right and wrong: right about the cordiality and sincerity of their current reception, but wrong about their supposed misperceptions.
So overwhelmed are the Indians with the amity on display that they are engaging in a certain degree of self-flagellation. It’s alright to be thrilled with the present euphoria, but let it not conceal the fact that Pakistanis harbour serious misperceptions about India, bordering on Indophobia. And it’s hardly their fault. They have been nurtured on a sustained, systematic anti-Indian campaign at every phase of their lives, from primary school or madrassah to college, through books, newspapers, radio, television and speeches from podiums and pulpits.
Left to themselves and their own devices, people everywhere are a fine bunch, with the same aspirations, hopes and fears, and Pakistanis are no exception. But just as many a normal marriage in our part of the world founders and collapses on the interference of the mother-in-law, so also relations between these two countries—that are inextricably linked by ties of blood, language, culture, history and geography—have been poisoned by politicians, generals and religious zealots in the pursuit of votes, funds and a putative state ideology.
Official Pakistan likes to emphasise our ties to the Arab world and dissociate us from India to such an extent that most Pakistanis would be surprised to hear that there are more Muslims in India than the combined population of Arab Muslims. And think of how many Indians are of Pakistani origin and Pakistanis of Indian origin. Not so long ago, the Indian High Commissioner in UK (Kuldip Nayyar) could not help commenting to his Pakistani counterpart (Shehryar Khan) that while he (Nayyar) was a “Pakistani” now representing India, the latter was an “Indian” now officiating for Pakistan.
Politicians by definition are guided by nothing more substantial or lofty than the desire to win the next election, no matter what it takes. Their methods vary, but by far the most dangerous is to sow the seeds of suspicion against minorities and neighboring countries. It gets damn deadly when religion is brought into the fray, fanning the worst instincts in people, inciting hate. The result often is violence, riot and war.
The stability and social harmony that prevails in Western democratic countries makes them safe havens for the oppressed of the Third World and lands of opportunity for its aspiring. It has also been noted that democracies don’t get embroiled in wars against one another. For one, citizens of democratic societies also happen to have an enlightened education as opposed to dogmatic and ideology-based teaching. Secondly, in free societies demagogues and hate-mongers are easily exposed with the help of an independent and enlightened press and kept in check by a powerful judiciary. Last but not least, social and international harmony in democratic societies derives from their secular polity, where religion does not mix with, let alone drive, politics.
Strategic and geopolitical factors have now compelled the Pakistani authorities to allow the Indian cricket tour of Pakistan to conclude successfully and on a happy note. And this being a country where the press still takes its cue from the government, the manipulators of public opinion and hate-mongers have been temporarily put to grass. Which has given the Pakistani public somewhat of a free rein vis-à-vis the Indian cricket tour. And they have shown that they have nothing but goodwill for their neighbours, who are human just like themselves, with the same aspirations, pastimes and foibles.
It is important that we don’t lose sight of human foibles in this happy hour. The public’s foibles, on the one hand, and, on the other, the ambitions of politicians and religious zealots, feed on and nourish each other as if in a symbiotic relationship. Lest their current silence be misunderstood for a change of heart, it must be said that our Indophobes have only made a tactical retreat. Once the tour and the euphoria are over, they are sure to return with a vengeance.
The perspicacious amongst us did not need a Charles Darwin to discover that human beings have evolved from animals. You only have to witness a riot or see mob “justice” to begin to believe in the theory of evolution. Indeed, during mob violence and riots, the behaviour of what would otherwise be regarded as normal samples of the human species is so abhorrent and revolting that one even wonders whether some are not actually undergoing reverse evolution from man to beast.
Among the most recent and ghastly reminders of “human bestiality” is the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. In a murderous frenzy spread over one hundred days, Hutus massacred 800,000 Tutsis, which makes for an average of eight thousand killed every day for over three months! Srebrenica has deservedly earned international infamy (especially in Muslim countries, because the victims were Bosnian Muslims and the perpetrators Christian Serbs), but Rwanda translates into one Srebrenica per day, every day, for over three months!! Doubtless, the killing mobs were whipped into a frenzy by the Hutu politicians, but can the people shirk their responsibility, the hundreds or thousands of Hutus who actually ran amok, machetes in hand, looking for their next Tutsi victim, man, woman or child, old or young?
But why go that far? The subcontinent has had more than its fair share of religious, ethnic and sectarian violence and wars – a sad testimony to the ability of the few to manipulate the many.
Reverting to Indo-Pakistani relations, a recent SDPI report entitled The Subtle Subversion has drawn attention to the mindset of exclusivity, hate and “holy war” that is disseminated through our textbooks. In fact, as far as references to Hinduism, Hindu historical figures and Indian history are concerned, our media in general and textbooks in particular are not even subtle in their misrepresentations, distortions and sheer negative propaganda.
The chorus of condemnation of this report in the Urdu press and by the fatwa-wielding class is already a precursor of things to come once the Indian cricket tour is over. Not surprising that our so-called “secular” politicians of the Mian & BB brands will either remain silent or, more likely, ally themselves with the obscurantists and Indophobes for narrow tactical gains.
One swallow does not a spring make. The Indian cricket tour would soon have passed into history, into oblivion, and the Pakistani hate squad will be back at their favourite game, playing with the public’s gullibility, scoring points at India’s expense.
Sportsmanship and inter-state relations
(Published in Daily Times, 14 April 2005)
Some Pakistanis have found another stick to beat India with, actually two sticks, namely, hospitality and sportsmanship. Others seem genuinely disappointed with Indians after Bangalore. Their failure to applaud Pakistan’s fighting win in the final cricket test at Bangalore has been very unfavourably compared with Pakistanis’ reaction to the Indian win in Karachi about a year ago.
The warm reception at Mohali notwithstanding, Indians have been declared hugely deficient in hospitality and sportsmanship. Some commentators have gone even further and wondered if Indians are innately more prejudiced (“Are Pakistanis less prejudiced than Indians?” Daily Times, 1 April).
Applauding the national team’s defeat, after a nail-biting finish, by a country against which one has fought wars in the recent past is not everyone’s definition of sportsmanship. Similarly, not accepting payment for goods sold or services rendered is not hospitality as understood in most parts of the world. If some Pakistani spectators, retailers and taxi drivers in Karachi and Lahore did all the above vis-a-vis the Indian visitors during their tour of Pakistan last year, they have a right to be pleased with themselves. But that doesn’t justify Pakistanis expecting the Bangaloreans to reciprocate in like manner. Hospitality, like charity, ought to be free of any conditions and expectations.
While much is made of the Bangaloreans’ lack of applause for Pakistan’s victory, their compassion for Noor Fatima seems to have been overlooked. When the critically ill, two year-old Pakistani girl underwent a brain operation in a Bangalore hospital just over a year ago, “children, social activists and total strangers clogged the hospital to offer their prayers and good wishes”.
The hospital’s spokesman was quoted as saying that the girl’s parents “are drained out meeting people the whole day. Most of them are coming with flowers and fruits day in and day out. Even the police chief of Bangalore sent a bouquet of flowers.” Fatima’s father set up a fund for ailing children from both countries with the Rs 140,000 fee waived by the hospital, Rs 100,000 received in donations from unknown Indians and Rs 50,000 donated by the Indian Rotary Club.
Besides, Bangalore does not equal India. In Mohali and nearby Chandigarh, almost all hotels displayed large banners welcoming the Pakistani cricket fans. Special events to mark the occasion were arranged including a grand dinner by the East Punjab Chief Minister for visiting Pakistanis. According to a Pakistani correspondent, the town had “a party atmosphere” and “Pakistanis are truly enjoying a taste of Indian hospitality”. “I am indeed impressed, we have been greeted with open arms wherever we have gone,” said a visiting Pakistani.
According to the Tribune, some of the Pakistani visitors took advantage of their stay, which was specifically for the purpose of watching cricket, to engage in business on the side, setting up stalls to sell their wares in Chandigarh. When city officials objected to the Pakistanis’ commercial activities, local traders intervened on their behalf and they were allowed to continue to sell their goods, mainly dry fruits and clothes, which sold fast.
Let us, then, try to make sense of the Bangaloreans poor response to the Pakistani victory. Karachi and Lahore, on the one hand, and Mohali and Delhi, on the other, are in many ways closer to one another than any of these four cities are to Bangalore or Chennai, which are a world apart. The inhabitants of Lahore and Karachi have close linguistic, cultural, and geographical affinity and personal ties with the people of northern and northwestern India.
But for the people of Bangalore, which is the capital of the south Indian state of Karnataka, Pakistan is not just a distant neighbour, but one with a history of hostility against their own country. Pakistanis and south Indians eat very different foods, are completely different culturally and cannot even communicate with each other except through the medium of English.
Throughout the 1950s, there was an active separatist movement in southern India. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which in its various incarnations is still the dominant political party in the state of Tamilnadu, campaigned for secession of the four southern states of Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka, and the creation of a separate independent South Indian state called Dravidnadu or Dravidasthan.
Many factors led to the collapse of the movement, not least the nationalist fervour aroused by the war with China in 1962, taking advantage of which Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru pushed through the 16th amendment to the constitution. It declared the advocacy of secession a crime and required every candidate to parliament or state assembly to swear “allegiance to the Constitution” and to “uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India”.
Thus, while the people of north and northwestern India have close ties of kinship with the people of Punjab and Sindh in Pakistan, this is not true of south Indians. To them, a game of cricket between the two countries is still a rare sporting contest between two hostile neighbours.
Elias Canetti, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1981, in his book Crowds and Power has defined sports as a substitute for man’s propensity for power which finds expression in violence and war. As we know, some British soccer fans – better known as soccer hooligans – still regard sports as real war, bringing shame to their country. In the worst such incident, 39 people died and hundreds were injured as a result of violence in Brussels in 1985 during a soccer match between the English club Liverpool and the Italian club Juventus.
At the other extreme was the Chinese propaganda attempt, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, to put international sporting contests under the rubric of “friendship first, competition second”. The idea was unnatural, went against the character of competitive sports, appealed to none and, not surprisingly, was dead at birth.
People’s natural instinct is to support their club, team, district or country. That they do so with passion and commitment is what makes sports so attractive and thrilling. Devoid of partisanship, sports loses its competitive edge and purpose. Bangaloreans’ shocked silence at their national team’s stunning defeat was predictable and comprehensible.
Even concepts of hospitality vary between countries, cultures and across social stratas. For instance, the Arab understanding of hospitality is very different from, say, the American one, but it is not necessarily superior merely because more food is laid out on the table and more greetings are showered at the guests. In spite of the proverbial Arab hospitality, foreign workers in the Middle Eastern countries are treated very shabbily, while the materialistic West extends to immigrants the highest form of hospitality, namely, the opportunity to become an integral part of their societies with full rights and privileges.
What Pakistanis and Indians expect and need from each other is peace, good neighbourliness and friendship. One should neither harbour unrealistic expectations nor go overboard in bursts of hospitality and applause. Good relations between neighbouring states ought to be based on more solid and tangible foundations than the waving of flags and waiving of payments for goods and services by a few well-meaning individuals.
Reflections on a theory
(Published in Daily Times, 21 April 2005)
“In comes Kaneria, bowles to Pathan, who drives towards mid-wicket. Before Youhana can field, Pathan and Zaheer run a quick single.” Just a game of cricket? A bit more, I think. Danish Parabha Shanker Kaneria(a Hindu) and Yousuf Youhana (a Christian) are representing the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, while Irfan Pathan and Zaheer Khan (both Muslims) are playing for the Republic of India (Bharat).
Kaneria is not the first Hindu, nor Youhana the first Christian, to represent Pakistan. Many Muslims have played cricket for India, of whom Mohammad Azharuddin and Mansur Ali Pataudi have captained the national side.
If that is not enough to make us ponder the verities of the Two-Nation Theory, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain’s recent statement in Delhi’s historic Jama’a Masjid certainly should. Flanked by the Pakistani High Commissioner, Chaudhry Shujaat, president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League and a former interim prime minister, told Indian Muslims that, as Indian citizens, they must integrate themselves fully with the mainstream. “You are Indians by choice. So live like Indians”. He exhorted them to love their motherland as they had opted to stay in India rather than migrate to Pakistan.
The faithful and the diehard will deny that, in relation to the Two-Nation Theory, this concedes in words what the secession of East Pakistan affirmed through blood and tears.
It would have been logistically impossible for all Indian Muslims to migrate to Pakistan at the time of partition even if they had wanted to. Despite the largest migration in human history, some 15 million people in both directions, India remains home to a third of the subcontinent’s Muslims.
With the huge influx of refugees to Pakistan in 1947 and immediately thereafter, the infant state’s meagre resources and infrastructure were stretched to the hilt. Passage through riot-torn border areas of India was extremely dangerous, and conditions in refugee camps in Pakistan were harrowing. Within a few years, Pakistan and India reciprocally introduced the requirement of passport and visa for bilateral travel. For nearly ten years after the 1965 war, all cross-border movement was banned.
Unlike the Law of Return in Israel, which automatically entitles all Jews anywhere in the world the right to migrate to the “homeland for Jews,” Pakistan accords no such privilege to Indian Muslims, despite its professed raison d’etre as the “homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent”.
It is both facetious and condescending on the part of a senior Pakistani statesman to counsel Indian Muslims to be loyal citizens supposedly because they had chosen to remain there. It is surely in his knowledge that over 300,000 former Indian Muslims who had chosen Pakistan, held its citizenship since inception and reaffirmed their option for Pakistan when asked again in 1972, are now languishing in camps in Bangladesh as stateless non-citizens, referred to as Biharis.
In an ironical twist of history, within less than 25 years of coming into existence claiming to be the “homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent,” Pakistan was reduced to containing no more than a third of the Muslim population of undivided India.
Despite the migration, mayhem and the resulting animosities – and the Two-Nation Theory notwithstanding – 13 percent of the present Indian population is Muslim, and it is governed by Muslim Personal Law. Three Indian presidents have been Muslims. Pakistan, too, is home to millions of non-Muslims. They include Hindus and Christians (2-3 million each), as well as Parsis (about 10,000), Buddhists and Sikhs (about 4,000 each).
Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in his Discovery of India that, if India was seen to be a conglomerate of many nations, then it wasn’t just two, but a myriad of nations that were to be found in every Indian village and wondered how they could ever be separated.
Indeed, India is unmatched for its diversity – cultural, religious, linguistic and ethnic. Even the truncated, post-partition India is home to over 130 million Muslims, 25 million Christians and 20 million Sikhs, besides significant populations of Parsis, Buddhists, Jains and a motley other religions and creeds. The Indian constitution recognizes 22 languages, including Urdu, Punjabi, Kashmiri and Sindhi.
Besides Jammu and Kashmir in the northwestern extremity, Muslims comprise a majority in a number of districts in some other Indian states, notably Kerala in the south and West Bengal and Assam in the east. As a proportion of the total populations of Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, UP and Bihar, Muslims constitute 28, 25, 24, 19 and 15 percent, respectively.
The state of Uttar Pradesh alone is home to over 30 million Muslims. In other words, UP has nearly three times as many Muslims as Malaysia and more Muslims than any Arab country except Egypt. The number of Muslims in India exceeds the total Muslim population of all the Arab countries put together, save Egypt.
If India is not a model of tolerance, Pakistan has become the embodiment of strife. If Muslims in India are said to be backward, that is largely a consequence of partition and mass emigration. But, then, Pakistan is hardly a beacon of progress and enlightenment.
We should never forget these heart-wrenching statistics: the direct consequence of the practical implementation of the Two-Nation Theory was half a million killed and the displacement and migration of over 15 million people, many of them battered if not bloodied, and nearly all of them traumatized. Only a majority of the Muslim migrants may be said to have chosen to move of their own free will. All the Hindus and Sikhs and many Muslims had to flee their ancestral towns and villages because of violence or the threat of violence after partition. The indirect and downstream consequences of partition include two all-out wars, a few mini-wars (Rann of Kutch, Siachen and Kargil), the Kashmir conflict, the carnage in former East Pakistan, and the Bihari tragedy in Bangladesh.
There is hardly a country of any substantial size or population in the world which can claim to be religiously or ethnically homogenous, with the probable exception of Saudi Arabia, which is 100 percent Muslim. But it, too, has a non-Arab minority (10 percent) and an unrecognized and invisible Shia minority (5-10 percent). In any case, Saudi Arabia is not a model of success as a nation-state or the best practice model for good governance, Islamic or otherwise.
Human societies are all about tolerance, accommodation and respect for others’ creeds, beliefs and practices. By definition, every social unit, even clan, household and family, is obliged to respect the diversity of its members.
It is an indubitable fact of history that where religion takes the front seat, strife follows. The recent experience of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Sudan with Islamisation readily comes to mind. Jewish religious fundamentalism is an obstacle to any resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a threat to the peace and stability of Israel. Hindutva is an emerging danger to India’s body politic, while Christian revival may undermine the peace and tranquility of the West, particularly the United States.
Countries and societies that accept and respect diversity do well in the long run, while those that push for homogeneity or enforce uniformity, whether in the name of race, culture, religion, language or history, face stagnation or civil conflicts.