If there was ever any doubt that Pakistan and India were conjoined twins who grew up to have a volatile and self-destructive rivalry, the events of the last couple of weeks should have done away with them. It doesn’t matter if we keep our heads buried in the sand, both countries are now mirror images of each other — though sadly not in terms of human development and progress, but in terms of bigotry, intolerance and tribalism. More than seventy years after independence, we are still in a race to the bottom rather than the top.
The story in Pakistan is easily explained. A certain sect has always been a bête noire of other Muslim communities in Pakistan. Every time they get bored or needed quick political mileage, their name comes up. How a minority of less than half a million can threaten the faith, life and even the existence of Pakistan, is beyond any sane person’s comprehension. Nevertheless, this state’s obsession with them betrays the insecurity that grips certain sections of the establishment and even the people.
Since Pakistan was supposed to be a Muslim Leviathan (or Muslim Zion, as Faisal Devji calls it), everything should have been perfect here. So the only reason why everything is not perfect is because there must be hidden hands in the country who are sabotaging its otherwise flawless existence. The answer to the issue is in the previous sentence itself and we have seen several examples of such scapegoating in the past. We should just hope that history does not repeat itself completely this time.
2018 has made bare the ugly face of extreme communalism which has been eating away at South Asia for a century now
Inspired perhaps by Pakistan, India has also become obsessed with fifth columns and rewriting history. Perhaps the fact that Adolf Hitler is very popular in India (gauged by the roaring sales of Mein Kampf), McCarthyism might be coming in naturally, but the recent controversy over Jinnah’s portrait in Aligarh Muslim University exhibits how deep the rot is, and how quickly it is spreading. Jinnah’s portrait has been hanging in the Aligarh Muslim University’s Student Union office since 1938 when he was given a lifetime membership. In a very real sense, Aligarh was the intellectual home of the Pakistan Movement and Jinnah was immensely popular in the university. This is a historical reality and no matter how much the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) or any of its affiliates want to saffron wash it, reality will not change.
I have long argued that as long as Pakistan sees itself as ‘Not India,’ it will not be able to develop a coherent and sustainable identity and polity. Until a few years ago, it seemed that Nehru’s India had escaped the reverse appellation and developed a secular and diverse identity which was not dependent on the ‘other.’ However, the events of the last couple of years have shown that India is fast defining itself as the antithesis of Pakistan. Even a mention of Pakistan leads to derision, and the simple use of ‘Quaid-e-Azam’ for Jinnah leads to media crucifixion, even though Gandhi himself used this title for Jinnah many times.
2018 has made bare the ugly face of extreme communalism which has been eating away at South Asia for a century now. It is not about Dr Abdul Salam’s name on a university department or centre, or of Jinnah’s picture in an office — both are much, much, bigger personalities than for their stature to be demeaned by the actions of a few miscreants. But it is about the spiral of hatred and bigotry that both the countries are going down. Fanning such extremist actions will only lead to anarchy and the unravelling of society. The damage this will cause will be far more harmful than any foreign invasion or threat. Unlike 1947, in 2018 the battle is not just for nationhood or independence, but simple human existence.
The writer teaches at IT University Lahore and is the author of ‘A Princely Affair: The Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947-55.’ Twitter @BangashYK