This post first appeared on the esteemed Sword of Truth: http://swordoftruth.in/the-idea-of-pakistan-and-its-bete-noir-narendra-damodardas-modi/
Defended by the high Himalayas in the north and absence of natural harbors in the south, Akhand Bharat (Undivided India) enjoyed a secure existence for the most part of its multi-millennial civilizational history. The fortune of having natural borders, along with a fertile landmass, formed a unique homogenous civilizational identity, without the looming threat and onslaught of exogenous violence. This allowed its inhabitants, having lived together for thousands of years, to create a rich sense of togetherness that gave coherence to a unique worldview from the upper reaches of the Indus and Ganges to the lower plains of Kaveri and Narmada.
Despite the linguistic and cultural idiosyncrasies of its inhabitants and some sporadic invasions, the homogeneity in civilizational identity gave the Indic civilization a period of consensus building in philosophical matters, eventually forming the fundamentals of a civilization whose ideas and worldview would inspire many founders of both scientific thoughts and metaphysical creeds.
Thus, for a civilization which had learned to accommodate differences of linguistic and cultural identity for thousands of years, a partition of its ancient territorial expanse along the lines of recently acquired identities had to be acrimonious and artificial. By creating a new country in Pakistan, the British placated an ideology that demanded creation of nation states along fluid identities of faith/religion. This led to spiraling of conflicts in countries where religious fanatics rejected their shared cultural and ethnic histories for their ‘narrow fluid religious identities, demanding state policy-making to be driven by religious identities. As Akhand Bharat witnessed in 1947, political struggle to enforce selective religious identities would stoke widespread violence across an otherwise homogenous expanse.
Although Akhand Bharat had seen religious violence on many occasions, one example being in the aftermath of the Khilafat movement, riots against the Hindu landowners perpetrated by Moplah Muslims in Kerala, the idea of two separate nations based on their demographical religious identities only started gaining ground in the run up to Independence in early 1940s. At the time, the most vociferous supporter of this argument for faith-based identity and biggest proponent of the separate nation argument was the father of modern day Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah – a third generation Muslim, whose paternal grandfather belonged to a Gujarati Hindu community of rich businessmen. His argument for the separation of Hindu and Muslim majority nations would have to wait until India’s 67th Independence Day, to finally be put to bed by another Gujarati.
The Two Nation Theory
In the late 1930s and early 40s neo-converts, led by astute political leaders like Jinnah, raised the plank for separate nationhood for Muslims, making organized religion their primary identity. The separatists argued that a Hindu majority India, where once a Hindu ruler had commissioned building of the world’s second oldest Islamic mosque[i], was no longer safe for adherents of Islam and its followers. In the backdrop of global events such as the Khilafat movement and the subsequent rise of Salafism, some adherents of Islam in Akhand Bharat argued that a land with majority non-Muslims could not promise safety to its minorities, even though there was centuries’ worth of shared civilizational evidence to refute such a fantastical theory.
The ideology of nation states based on religion-based identity received a major setback when India upon Independence, declared itself to be a secular nation guaranteeing equal rights to adherents of all faiths, religions, and communities, not just the majority community. In doing so, India rejected differentiation based on religious and communal lines and accepted the idea of a philosophically amalgamated, yet communally heterogeneous society – a melting pot of regional and linguistic cultures which blended together to form a pan-Indian identity. This opened the doors for any like-minded people who believed in the ancient Hindu ideals of equal respect for people of all creeds to reject Pakistan and remain with their ethnic, cultural, and historical neighbors in India.
However, the die had already been cast. In the face of violent struggle, modern India had to pay a tangible price to defend its plurality against those who sought a path of identity ghettoization – By carving-out a portion of its ancient civilizational lands in the Sapta Sindhu (literally, seven rivers; metaphorically the landmass drained by seven rivers from one sea to another defended by high mountains) from Pushkalwati (modern day Peshawar) and Takshashila (modern day Taxila) in its Northwest areas to mUlasthAnapura (modern day Multan) and Hinglaj in the south of Pakistan. In the ensuing post-partition events, Baluchistan and Pakhtunkhwa provinces were swiftly annexed by Pakistan under the pretext of a shared religion-based identity, while similar pickets were flared in India, mainly in Junagadh, Kashmir, and Deccan (Hyderabad). However, despite the disintegration of its ancient geographical boundaries, newly-independent India was able to maintain its larger civilizational identity by de-linking the State from organized religion, something that would go a long way in securing its cultural as well as economic future.
This idea of two-nation theory of separate faith-based identities continued to receive setbacks long after partition. The idea that Muslims across the ethnic and geographical spectrum could harbor nationalistic aspirations towards a singular nation solely due to their shared religious identities was discredited when Bengalis in East-Pakistan rejected the writ of the Pakistani state and declared themselves independent in 1971 to form Bangladesh. While India remained on course its ancient experience of respecting and encouraging linguistic and cultural idiosyncrasies to survive, Pakistan under the garb of forced homogenization based on an infantile identity of religion and faith had completely ignored the cultural differences of their faraway cousins in East-Pakistan. The fact that people in Indian states of Jammu & Kashmir and Hyderabad continued to participate in democratic elections of India, despite their Muslim majority population and constant indoctrination from Pakistan, was further proof that the idea of India’s civilizational identity over a narrow faith-based identity had won. Yet Pakistan and the proponents of the two-nation theory – India’s ‘liberal’ romantics continued to fool themselves about the threat to the minority from an aggressive Hindu majoritarian political movement, while ignoring the plight of the people of Baluchistan, Baltistan, and Pakhtunkhwa.
The Final Nail in the Coffin
In the following decades of 1980s and 1990s, India would see repeated communal and religious flare-ups as a result of the Indian government’s brazen appeasement of faith-based identities (read: the Shah Bano episode[ii] and the Khalistan movement[iii]) and its subsequent backlash. This period resulted in a political resurgence of the Hindu Right, as India’s civilizational foundation found itself being targeted yet again by religious fanatics looking for preferential treatment in the name of the old faith-based identities.
The idea that Hindu majoritarianism would eventually discard religious minority rights, that a far-right Hindu organization, once it achieves enough political and legislative power, would persecute minorities, the idea that was used to create a separate nation in 1947 was again floated about. But this idea in some ways reminiscent of the two-nation argument was suitably buried on August 15, 2014, when arguably the most popular figure in the history of the political Hindu Right, delivered a speech on the occasion of India’s 67th Independence Day, a speech that would go on to cement his credentials as a guardian of India’s millennia-old ethos.
The speech was symbolic in that – here was a man, an alleged poster boy of Hindu chauvinism for some, a Hindu Hriday Samrat, emperor of Hindu hearts, for others; standing at the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi, capital of the last Islamic Dynasty of Akhand Bharat, giving his first speech to the nation as the Prime Minister of India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a lifelong member and former Pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (“RSS”), a nationalist volunteer corps consistently accused by its opponents of majoritarianism; delivered a speech that took pride in India’s ancient civilizational heritage and its melting pot of identities while exhorting Indians to build an India on modern ideals of liberty, individualism and freedom. It was a seminal moment, because it put the final nail in the coffin of the argument used to give credence to the idea of Pakistan, and thus the two-nation theory. Here was a man – leader of the party associated most with Hindu majoritarianism, having recently won a thumping majority in the Indian legislature – delivering paeans on communal harmony and betterment of people of all religious identities along the lines of India’s ancient ethos from the times of the Rig Veda:
Índraṃ mitráṃ váruṇam agním āhur átho divyáḥ sá suparṇó garútmān;
Ékaṃ sád víprā bahu dhāva danty agníṃ yamáṃ mātaríśvānam āhuḥ.
“It is understood from time immemorial that the truth is one; sages call it by different Names…” (Rig Veda, 1-164-146)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered a carte blanche to the idea of mutual existence and appreciation of rights of all Indians of all faiths, asking Indians to work together in building a liberal, progressive and developed nation standing tall on the fundamentals of communal harmony and religious freedom. His speech focused on the betterment of Indian society as whole, sought development for all, and poverty alleviation directed towards all Indians, through improved skill development, health, sanitation, and financial inclusion as opposed to an ideology that prescribed handing out welfare doles to communities based on their narrow fluid identities of faith and religion. An alleged Hindu majoritarian government was successfully showing that it would respect the delinking of State and religion better than its ‘secular’ predecessors.
Prime Minister Modi backed his words immediately by launching a financial inclusion scheme that did not differentiate between communities in its implementation. Following which Modi spent the most auspicious Hindu festival, Diwali, with his fellow countrymen who had suffered from devastating floods in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, while offering them unconditional aid for rebuilding and development. In striving towards implementing a governance model that would improve the lives of all Indians, Prime Minister Modi is slowly making faith-based identities redundant in public life, and if minority voting patterns are to go by, he is finding traction amongst minorities as well. This is causing widespread panic amongst two-nation theorists as can be witnessed from the endless stream of op-eds in many news publications criticizing Modi’s governance on the flimsiest grounds. Regardless of all the pseudo-liberal hoopla around the current government’s efforts towards highlighting the country’s rich past, the alleged Hindu-majoritarian government has continued to work on its election plank of sabka saath, sabka vikaas,development for all, appeasement to none.
Appeasement to all, Security to none
Unsurprisingly, since the inauguration of the Modi government in May 2014, incidents of communal discord have largely emanated from areas where radicalization of minorities at the behest of pseudo-secular political parties and local religious fundamentalists has taken place unabated. That is, wherever local state administrations have implemented differential policies pandering to minority communities, be it Uttar Pradesh or West Bengal, there has been a complete breakdown of the law and order situation and it will only get progressively worse if left unchanged.
Harebrained policies implemented to appease a small set of religious fundamentalists have only served to embolden these fringe elements causing further schisms in the society. One can even argue that such policies lead to asymmetric incentive models for practicing a certain faith, a fluid identity, which leads to state-induced disequilibrium in the demography of a particular region. People who compare quotas for religious minorities with Affirmative Action in the West for racial minorities forget that race is not a fluid identity, religion is. Thus, for example, doles specifically for people who follow faith X, even if it’s only for the poorest of that faith, would lead to cheaper costs of living for them; therefore, creating an incentive for conversion to that fluid identity of faith, especially amongst the most down-trodden strata of our society. With a country of almost 400 million poor, this trend could, in a short period of time, exacerbate serious demographic changes causing unprecedented ruptures in our syncretic society.
Signs of such conflagration in violence can be seen across the world where policies have been designed rendering to faith-based identities. In Pakistan, the unrelenting scourge of cases where blasphemy laws have been misused to target communities have led to large scale violence. Thus, otherwise heterogeneous societies which forcibly restricted their constituent’s identities to a single faith, continue to get ravaged by sectarian violence. Violence that is forced upon them by religious fundamentalists looking to seek greater power over adherents of their respective faiths.
Since, religious identities are amorphous, in that, religion cannot accord the same lifestyle on people living in Arabian Peninsula compared to those in Siberia; there is no end to the Blackhole of determining which adherents perform the purer form of obeisance to a particular faith. Thus, violence based on faith-based identities has a trickle-down effect on different communities belonging to the same faith – as is happening in the ongoing Shiite and Ahmadi genocide in Sunni-majority Pakistan. Similarly, in Iraq and Syria, Kurd and Yazidi communities are facing genocidal persecution at the hands of religious fundamentalists who are seeking to discard ethnic similarities for religious identities.
Unfortunately the kind of violence the world community is beginning to witness in Iraq, serves as a constant reminder to Indians of their own bloody past, when religious zealots marauded our lands and laid waste to rich citadels, made slaves of its populace and drained them of all their wealth. Closer still is the memory of the persecution of Kashmiri Pandits in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, when the sovereign Indian state in its efforts to placate religious fundamentalists relinquished its administrative responsibilities, allowing faith-based identities to overpower the local cultural demography and destroy the region’s ancient heritage. Overnight thousands of Kashmiri Hindus were driven out of their multi-millennial homes and turned into refugees in their own country.
Similarly, Pakistan has unsuccessfully tried to reign in various ethnic uprisings by usurping local communities into its faith-based nation-state identity. Even though the Bengalis in East Pakistan declared independence from the Pakistani state in 1971, other rebellions in Baluchistan, Pakhtunkhwa, and Gilgit-Baltistan continue to remain on the boil and pull Pakistan deeper into its identity quagmire. While all these ethnic groups were similar in the God they worshiped, they were markedly different in their traditions, customs, culture, language, and their ethnic history. The only thing binding these cultures for thousands of years was the idea of belonging to a larger civilizational heritage, although not as assertive as faith, yet stronger in terms of assimilating the differences of varied communities.
Today, Pakistan’s rejection of its ancient ‘Hindu/ Indic’ civilizational identity has created a false sense of its proximity to the Arab culture of modern Islam, when in fact Pakistanis and Arabs share a culture that is as much alike, as Reagan’s idea of America was to Soviet Russia. Unfortunately for Pakistan, there are no remedies. The country was founded on a fallacy that was doomed since its inception. The idea that a narrow religion-based identity can trump all other cultural and historic differences never resonated with people of Akhand Bharat. Had Pakistan chosen a path that valued the syncretic nature of its inhabitant’s worldview it would not be ‘Pak’ or Pure for the fanatics who demanded the state in the first place, in that, it’d find it impossible to reconcile these multicultural ethos in a religious state whose fundamental basis is Religion – an ideology that inherently treats its inhabitants differently on the basis of the faith they follow within their personal space.
Pakistan is at a crossroads, engulfed in sectarian violence internally, while its periphery gets repeatedly breached by local extremists as was seen in the Peshawar school attacks recently, a region where certain constituencies identify more closely with people who speak their language or share the same ethnicity, than their co-religionists elsewhere in Pakistan. This Pakistan faces a modern India – its bête noir in every sense, antithetical to the very idea of Pakistan that continues to show how people of different faiths and cultural idiosyncrasies can prosper together in peace, led by a leader whose majoritarian constituency instead of strengthening the idea of Pakistan, threatens to destroy the argument for separate nations altogether. Narendra Modi can go down in history as being a leader who underlined the importance of separating religion from state in an Asian context. His unapologetic reverence towards his Hindu-ness while his repeated impassioned appeals for sabka saath, sabka vikaas is an example of how state policies and personal faith are indeed separable.
Interestingly Modi’s path of ‘poverty alleviation and equal respect for all’ isn’t very different from the path that Pakistan’s founding fathers had envisioned. The fact that the Pakistani state has distanced itself as far away from its Indian roots as it currently has makes it impossible for it to return back to a syncretic society without completely unraveling itself. If Pakistan were to a make a conscious move towards such a syncretic society, its raison d’être vis-à-vis India would no longer prevail, i.e. the argument for a separate nation from India would no longer have validity. And that is the kind of existential challenge that Modi’s rise poses to Pakistan.
The key to India’s bright future
There are some who remain silent, But are sunk in deep surmise;
Yes, they will speak the truth, But when the price of truth is on the rise.
– Hakim Momin Khan Momin (1801 -1852)
In the face of much despondency around the world, the Indian electorate in the summer of 2014 offered some hope, by putting its weight behind a ‘liberal’ yet nationalist ideology of ‘Nation First, India First’. It showed the way to the rest of the world by choosing an ideology that seeks to form policies without differentiating between people for their fluid faith-based identities. The electorate chose a path which seeks to limit faith to the confines of the citizen’s homes, thereby rejecting an idea of policy-driven appeasement that sought to bring up one’s faith at every step in one’s life; whether it be for admission into educational institutes, filing for marriage laws, receiving fuel and food subsidies, or selectively differentiating between communal violence of adherents of different faiths[i].
The Narendra Modi-led Indian Government must take further steps to remove religion from all spheres of public life, by replacing narrow communal benefits with benefits aimed at empowering individuals. Firstly, the Modi government must come good on its election promise and establish a Uniform Civil Code for all communities as originally directed by the founders of the Indian Constitution. Something that Indian politicians have long delayed due to pressure from the chauvinist male clergy of Mullahs and Maulvis whose own powers would be severely diluted, if such a law giving Muslim women equal rights as their Hindu counterparts were to be introduced.
In addition, it is critical that the government revoke laws that benefit only certain groups and serve as inorganic conversion incentives for the downtrodden – who’s only hope of sustaining themselves becomes taking on an identity that is not their own for the purposes of receiving doles, thereby causing further schisms in society. The UPA administration has inundated all spheres of our public life with such schemes. One such example is education, wherein under Article 29 & 30 of the constitution of India as per the Right to Education Act passed by the UPA government, admission restrictions and requirements are placed on all schools, except those that are considered to be minority-run. By effectively making aided or unaided minority schools exempt from this law, the law has created disequilibrium of incentive structures wherein a minority school enjoys benefits without suffering the costs of the legislation. Research performed by education experts suggests that the law has led to a mushrooming of minority-only schools leaving students of other religious communities hapless in seeking primary education. This article by ‘Reality Check India’ is a must read to understand the grotesque situation in India’s educational sector: http://realitycheck.wordpress.com/2014/09/14/an-issue-of-public-notice-rights-in-minority-schools/.
Further, the government must also strengthen freedom of expression and speech laws which were crassly amended by the Indian State under its first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, under the first amendment to the Constitution of India. This along with repealing of draconian laws like 66A that target social media expression specifically, will go a long way in strengthening free speech and expression rights while ensuring that there is no scope for the introduction of irrational blasphemy laws in Indian civil life.
All these steps toward removing appeasement structures in our daily lives, will give a boost to communal harmony as the asymmetry in conversion incentives created by appeasement policies would be neutralized, leaving demographics dependent on personal choice instead of political action. However, the aforementioned legislations will require a lot of groundwork in terms of both judicial and police reforms, in addition to training of bureaucrats who remain ambivalent to individual rights against communal pressure systems. Thus, patience is fundamental.
It is imperative that Prime Minister Modi’s government stresses on the true secular nature of our country by legislating faith-neutral laws, empowering individual’s rights, and opposing demands from myopic politicians for communal doles. Our neighborhood serves as the best example for why strengthening individual rights is the need of the hour, and why de-linking policy-making from faith-based identities is crucial for the success of a modern globalized society. By empowering an individual and giving strength to personal freedoms, India will have truly experienced a tryst with destiny that could serve as an example for societies facing similar identity crisis.
Finally, those opposed to such moves of disbanding community targeting policies must be reminded of the consequences of similar appeals that took place in 1940s, and still if their memory doesn’t serve them right, the Modi government must ensure that it leaves the exit doors open for these people to enjoy the luxury of our neighboring country that was originally carved-out especially for those who chose this ideology of faith-based identity policies in 1947.