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India Pakistan: Hostility Grows Stale

August 27, 2009

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, better known as the founder of Pakistan when India was divided in 1947 is making headlines today with controversy surrounding ex-Indian Parliamentarian Jaswant Singh’s recent book: India – Partition – Independence. Immediately following the books release, Singh was expelled from his position in the Bhartiya Janata (BJP) party,  protests wherein the book was burned and a prompt ban on the work in Gujarat ensued. But why the uproar?

In a recent interview, Singh reveals the following views on Jinnah  that are now apparently too controversial in India, but receiving mostly praise across Pakistan:

  • Jinnah was an Indian nationalist
  • He joined the Indian Congress party before the Muslim League implying an original loyalty to a United India and eventual shift to non secularism as a result of Congress party politics later
  • Jinnah fought the British for an Independent India, in tandem with fighting “resolutely and relentlessly” for Muslim rights in India
  • Jinnah is admirable for being a self made man, having created a position in politics for himself without the luxury of prior wealth or status
  • Jinnah was not anti-Hindu
  • Jinnah failed insofar as he received a “moth eaten” piece of divided India in the form of Pakistan and left Muslims who stayed back in India without sufficient guidance
  • Gandhi himself referred to Jinnah as a great Indian, so there should be no controversy in recognizing him as such today
  • Muslims in India today are downtrodden, live in pain and are “robbed of the essence of psychological security”
  • Both Indian Muslims and Pakistani’s have paid a price for Partition since both would have been stronger under a united India

To those who have not grown up or spent much time in South Asia, it may be difficult to understand why such ideas can be controversial and strike such polar chords in the hearts and minds of people divided by a man made border only 60 years ago. But the division of India, into two states resulting in an independent Pakistan saw extreme violence, mass refugee migration and that carnage left a lasting scar on South Asian mindsets. Put in a most blunt form: India suffered the bitter taste of a fractured state that is rooted among the great civilizations in history.  And Pakistan suffered the bitter reality of as Singh put it, “a moth eaten”, post colonial state with perhaps an inevitably fractured and frail territory from inception. From the bizarre geopolitical landscape of Bangladesh not contingent to, yet officially part of Pakistan to the conflict over Kashmir at the very onset of partition, Singh makes a fair point in explaining partition caused profound suffering on both ends. The subsequent bitterness is manifest in perpetual hostility between both states in the form of conflicts, and in India, even on a communal level where according to Singh, Muslims are still downtrodden.

So praising Jinnah as a “great man” in India may be akin to condoning the very fracturing of India. In Pakistan, it’s lauded as an admission that their founder heroically created a homeland where Muslims would no longer be downtrodden. Singh’s work also might acknowledge that partition dealt an unfair hand to Pakistani’s, an idea that can come across as unpalatable on the Indian side. But relying on interviews from Jaswant Singh on the book so far, I think the controversy is a tired insinuation of hostility from the state. Banning the book on the grounds that:

“the text in it is misleading for the public and against interest of the state, and therefore, the book must be forfeited and prohibited”

only fuels a hostile polarization of India and Pakistan. Mind you, India and Pakistan as states are increasingly polarized, which in turn results in a division of peoples. Because my guess is that had government kept its hands out of censoring Singh’s book it might have spoken to the hearts and minds of South Asian’s disseminating novel ideas that are not divisive. Noam Chomsky once said that “states are violent institutions”, in South Asia, at the very least they are bitter, but people inherently are not. Singh’s work might have tapped into that sentiment and in the banning of it, states tighten their grip on citizens by perpetuating division and hostility in South Asia. Against a backdrop of a desire for economic growth, stability and globalization, that kind of bitterness is stale 60 odd years later. So I’m looking forward to reading the book and am lucky that my copy was reserved before the ban, in safe hands far from from protests and government intervention.

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3 comments

  1. the book awaits its reader…

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  2. In banning Jaswant’s book, the right wing fundamentalist only prove Jinnah’s two nation theory. Jinnah understood that Muslims in India could not expect equal treatment and gave his last breath to the creation of Pakistan. While the Secular India tries to maintain a lid on the Hindu fundamentalist, India has yet matured to become a secular democratic society. If it can ban a book written by one of its own stallwarts of freedom, how could Muslims expect equal treatment? Jinnah was considered the best lawyer of India and has been revered by Nelson Mandela as a champion of equal rights of minorities. Perhaps some day India will also pay him homage.

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    • Thanks for the comment Manidevaj: You raise an interesting issue that’s eclipsed by macro security concerns pertinent to Muslims in the region (i.e. War on Terror, Afghan/Pak tribulations). Meaning this idea is sometimes overlooked: “While the Secular India tries to maintain a lid on the Hindu fundamentalist, India has yet matured to become a secular democratic society”

      India’s made enormous strides relative to the region in democratization, which is phenomenal. But secularization of a society is another story……

      Like



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