Think of an India without Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, animists, whoever, in our composite culture, in our everyday lives — it is inconceivable, it is unthinkable. Minority communities are part of the warp and woof of what India is. This India was not lost at Partition. In this country it has flourished, even prospered.
That India is, however, lost to Pakistan. At the parting, West Pakistan had as many Hindus as India had Muslims, roughly 13 per cent of the population. Systematic, officially-condoned, pogroms led to Hindus and Sikhs being terrorised, evicted, and reduced to less than 2 per cent, with this figure zeroing out with every new atrocity. Pakistan is diminished as it loses social equanimity and democratic ballast that minorities provide a country. That wonderful patchwork of communities living, at times fist by jowl, unravels, a handful of threads at a time. The next outflow may well be of Ahmediyyas as, even the luminaries among them, such as the late physics Nobelist, Abdus Salam, are hounded, finding no peace even in death — their graves desecrated because the headstones carry Quranic verses.
Who is next in line? Probably the Shias because, according to a Pew public opinion poll fully half of the majority Sunnis surveyed in Pakistan thought Shias were not Muslim. Little wonder Sunni lumpen these days roam the streets of Pakistani towns shouting ‘Shia kafir’. In recent days, Shias returning to their homes in Gilgit, Hunza and the Northern Territories — part of the erstwhile ‘princely state’ of Kashmir under Pakistani occupation — were pulled out of buses, lined up, and shot. Islamabad has since arranged for C-130 transport aircraft to ferry Shias to their homes.
The kidnapping and forced marriage and conversion of Hindu girls, the open season on the god-forsaken Ahmediyyas, whose persecution is legalised in Pakistan, and now the increased killings of Shias is the result of the spread of the Wahabbi values of desert Islam conflated with the even less tolerant Salafi strain nurtured in Saudi Arabia and propelled outwards by the Saud ruling family eager to divert this fanaticism to other climes. In South Asia, the Saudi and Gulf ‘charitable’ funds have incubated the Hafeez Saeeds of a disordered world, the various Lashkars, and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan — outfits the Pakistan Army thinks are ideal weapons of asymmetric warfare, and tools of asymmetric diplomacy to be deployed against India. Except, 49 per cent of the Pakistani people in a recent poll, reported by Raza Rumi of the Jinnah Institute in the Express Tribune (August 20), identified America as the enemy, and only 26 per cent India. Then again, these weapons have long since been turned on the Pakistani state, or haven’t the generals noticed?
They apparently did when the jihadis, following upon the attack in May 2011 on the naval base, Mehran, in Karachi, last week struck the Minhas Air Force base in Kamra — home to the country’s main aeronautical complex, two fighter squadrons, the Saab 2000 AWACs complement, and a lot of de-mated nuclear weapons. A shaken General Parvez Kayani, Pakistan army chief, promised a “war against extremism and terrorism”. Let’s see if he delivers.
Surely, the fact that Pakistan has come to this pass is no surprise. A state built on religion invariably fractures along the lines of strict and stricter belief. Fundamentalists pushing their interpretation as the only true path confront society with peril, because the slightest deviation is apostasy punishable in their medievalist minds by death. However, which is the true Islam in a context where the argument should long ago have been settled on the basis of the natural inclination of the people of the subcontinent towards the easy going and joyful Sufi variant, replete with song, dance, and music? Pakistan will likely be consumed by the antics of extremist Islamists. The trouble is India will have to pick up the pieces.
What India did not reckon with at Partition was the incapacity of the Pakistani state and people to firm up their nationhood and a national identity, even after 65 years of desperately trying. This either means that Islam as defining characteristic of a country in a polyglot, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural setting was a mistake because there are as many Islams centred around the Quran, as there are varieties of Hindu beliefs, and no one brand of Islam can claim supremacy and, hence, religion is not the glue many people had thought it would be in cementing a nation from a collection of disparate peoples. Worse, the infirmity of the state has compounded the problem with a visionless political leadership — Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Liaqat Ali Khan gone early in the game — that never rose above the opportunistic.
India is stuck with having to tackle the infection of certain Indian Muslims by the Wahabbi-Salafi thought at the ideological end and, at the physical end, a large and growing Muslim fraction of its population with the unending seepage of Bangladeshi Muslims into lower Assam — that K P S Gill, the saviour of Punjab and former director-general police, Assam, had warned some two decades back would result in the colonisation of a belt around Bangladesh.
This is a damned difficult task for India, a country barely able to keep its head above water, to manage. Official rhetoric requires it to live up to its secular pretensions and, as a matter of practical politics, the system is wedded to vote-banks. Can the Congress, for instance, win in Assam without the votes of an ever-growing bloc of illegal Muslim immigrants beholden to it for legalising their presence? If the Congress cannot politically afford other than to encourage such covert Muslim infiltration in the Northeast, it cannot come down hard for the same reasons on the growing number of Wahabbi-Salafists in the country either, who are responsible for terrorism, communalisation, and for fanning the recent panic among Northeasterners living in the southern states, once considered oases of social harmony.
The unfinished business of Partition is not Kashmir, as Pakistan claims, but the fact that Pakistan cannot find social peace and Bangladesh cannot keep its people within its borders.
Bharat Karnad is professor at Centre for Policy Research and blogs at www.bharatkarnad.com