Justice Markandey Katju, a former judge of the Indian Supreme Court who also served as Chief Justice of three high courts and who is currently Chairman of India’s statutory media regulatory body, the Press Council of India, is known for making stunning statements and has lately been in the news for his outspoken ‘words of wisdom’ on almost everything from the state of media to the failures of the government in India. Recently, at a seminar in New Delhi, he shocked his own people by telling them that at least 90 percent of them were “idiots”. It is for the Indians to prove him wrong, but we in Pakistan as a nation also have a challenge to prove him wrong on what he thinks of our nationhood and about our country’s future.
Justice Katju, who was only few months old at the time of India’s partition, needs to be realistic in comprehending the circumstances that led to India’s division. Those of us familiar with the history of the subcontinent know why having lived together for centuries, Hindus and Muslims remained poles apart in their attitudes to life with a different worldview altogether. This distinctiveness of the two communities was evident in the “encounter” between Hindu and Muslim cultures that began over a thousand years ago, leaving a profound influence on both. They have met at thousand points, on battlefields and at festivals, around market places and in homes. And yet, they have remained distinct and far apart.
Nobody can deny this reality; otherwise, there would not have been two states carved out of India in 1947. A deep study of the history of this land proves that the differences between Hindus and Muslims were not confined to the struggle for political supremacy, but were also manifested in the clash of two social orders. As early as in the beginning of the 11th century, Al-Biruni had observed that Hindus differed from the Muslims in all manners and habits. Since then, despite living together for more than a thousand years, Hindus and Muslims continued to develop different cultures and traditions.
Justice Katju, however, is right that there was no communalism in India before 1857 and it was the English colonial masters who as part of their ‘divide and rule’ policy kept injecting the poison. “The policy that emanated from London after the mutiny in 1857 was that there is only one way to control this country, and that is to make Hindus and Muslims fight each other,” Katju told his audience in New Delhi the other day, while asking the Indians “to understand the whole game and not remain fools.” In his view, at least 80 percent of the Indians, both Hindus and Muslims, were communal. Against this fractious scenario, how can he be so confident of a ‘reunification’ in the subcontinent?
Indeed, to avoid another Hindu-Muslim rebellion on the pattern of the 1857 War of Independence, the British decided to keep the two communities politically apart. In order to achieve this goal, Allan Octavian Hume, a retired British civil servant, was chosen to sow the first seed of India’s permanent division. After a series of meetings with Viceroy Lord Dufferin, Hume formed the Indian National Congress in December 1885 as a “political association” to serve as convenient “safety valve” against the rising tensions amongst educated Indians, who had begun to grumble about the injustices of their colonial rulers. That the Congress was a predominantly Hindu organisation was evident from the fact that at its inaugural session, out of 72 delegates only two were Muslims.
The Hindu-Muslim chasm was further widened by an extremist, at times violent, Hindu revivalist movement in late 19th and early 20th centuries, seeking forcible return to what they perceived the ‘glorious’ Hindu past. They resented the Muslim cultural inroads in their society and wanted to regain the Hindu ascendancy over their “motherland”. The Muslim community already victimised by the British for their share in the 1857 War of Independence and suffering discriminatory negligence on the part of the colonial rulers was only left to realise that they were doomed if they did not organise themselves politically.
The beginning of the 20th century saw a line being drawn, making it impossible for Hindus and Muslims to live together in India. For about three decades since his entry into politics in 1906, Mohammad Ali Jinnah passionately believed in Hindu-Muslim unity. Gokhale, the foremost Hindu leader before Gandhi, called him as Ambassador of “Hindu-Muslim Unity”. And through the Congress-League Lucknow Pact of 1916, Jinnah did become the architect of Hindu-Muslim unity. But within a few years, the growing deep distrust between the two communities as evidenced by the countrywide communal riots brought Jinnah’s efforts for Hindu-Muslim entente to naught.
The 1930s witnessed awareness among the Muslims of their separate identity and their anxiety to preserve it within separate territorial boundaries. What brought the simmering Muslim nationalism in the open was the character of the Congress rule in the Muslim minority provinces during 1937-39. The Congress policies in these provinces hurt Muslim susceptibilities leaving them with no doubt that in the Congress scheme of things, they could live only on sufferance of Hindus and as “second class” citizens. They were now convinced that it was impossible to live in an undivided India after freedom from colonial rule because their interests would be completely suppressed.
Addressing the Lahore session of the All India Muslim League on March 22, 1940, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah was very close to Al-Biruni’s thesis in theme and tone. He stated that Hindus and Muslims belonged to two different religious philosophies, derived their inspiration from different sources of history and, indeed, represented two different civilisations whose very foundations are based on conflicting ideas and concepts. The only difference between the writing of Al-Biruni and Quaid-i-Azam’s speech was that Al-Biruni made calculated predictions, while Quaid-i-Azam had history behind him to support his argument.
To him, the Hindu-Muslim differences were unbridgeable and the only chance open was to allow them to have separate states. The Quaid could not have summed up the ‘Two Nation’ Theory more effectively than by stressing that “the problem of India was not of an inter-communal nature, but manifestly an international one and must be treated as such.” In Stanley Wolpert’s view, this was the moment when Jinnah, one-time Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity, totally transformed himself into Pakistan’s great leader.
Our Quaid did not live long to personally steer Pakistan to be what he thought would be “one of the greatest nations of the world.” No doubt, we have had a chequered history after independence. But it has been a failure of governance, not of the nationhood. One can only sympathise with Justice Katju for his ‘reunification’ illusions and pray he lives long to see that Pakistan is there to stay and grow in stature and strength. He should continue his ‘crusade’ against India’s rabid communalism, while we in Pakistan also need to come out of our monstrous mode. Both India and Pakistan, even as two separate independent states, can together become a powerful factor of regional and global peace by freeing themselves of the legacy of conflict and confrontation.
The writer is a former foreign secretary Email: firstname.lastname@example.org