One stroke of midnight and two futures: India and Pakistan chose differently

Historians conclude that while the Muslim Right succeeded in getting its own country, the Hindu Right lost the argument in India at the time

Written by Seema Chishti | New Delhi | Updated: August 16, 2016 10:35:38 am
independence day, independence day 2016, partition, august 15, 1947, india, pakistan, jinnah, jawaharlal nehru, mahatma gandhi, india news Leaders of the Congress and the Muslim League with the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten at the meeting held on June 3, 1947, who agreed to the transfer of power and the partition of India. From Left: Baldev Singh, Acharya Kripalani, Jawaharlal Nehru, Lord Mountbatten, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan and Abdur Rab Nishtar (Express archive photo)

Between August 14/15, at the stroke of the midnight hour, 69 years ago, both India and Pakistan chose their futures. The different dates marking their respective freedom struggles are not just by accident but symbolise the starkly different choices made by the two neighbours.

These ‘freedoms’ came from the same hard and long anti-colonial movement which swept through the subcontinent but the future the neighbours embarked upon were dramatically different. This has meant two dramatically different ‘trysts’ and ‘destinies.’

Anyone perusing the Constitution debates in India will tell you that despite the bloody Partition of one country into two, the Constitution writers in India stayed the course. They wrote about establishing a land which saw each of its citizens as equal in the eyes of the law, secular in spirit, progressive and with ideals which put several other countries of the time to shame. India introduced universal adult suffrage more than a decade earlier than all Blacks in the US got the right to vote.

In Pakistan, much is made of the founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s westernised attire, his ostensible ‘liberal’ ways including pork-eating. His speech on August 11 envisioning Pakistan as a homeland for Muslims but welcoming all, is sought to be held as proof that Pakistan was not meant as a Zion or as a theocratic state. But events quickly took it in that direction.

Scholars like Farzana Shaikh, Stephen Cohen have written about the ‘idea of Pakistan’, and about the ambiguity in the act of its creation, on the debate about whether it was an Islamic state or just a shelter for Muslims of the subcontinent. Time provided the answer, especially after Gen Zia ul Haq nursed the American ‘Jihad’ against the USSR in Pakistan using it as the launchpad of the ‘Islamic’ battle against the USSR in Afghanistan. It was clear that a theocratic state had come into existence that ended up taking the battle to Islam itself, on deciding who was a legitimate Muslim — a battle that is now threatening to tear Pakistan apart.

Also read | Why was August 15 chosen as Independence Day?

India continued to be home to millions of Muslims who did not buy into the Muslim League argument. But the two-nation theory is not owned by Jinnah. The right-wing in India had its own two narratives, one a Muslim version and the other Hindu one. Three years before the Muslim League adopted the idea of a separate state for Muslims in its 1940 Lahore session, in a session at Nagpur, the Hindu Mahasabha heard about ‘two-nations’ in a resolution on Hindutva and adopted it. In 1943, prominent leaders of the Hindu Mahasabha agreed with the Muslim League that the two religions were indeed ‘two nations.’

The Hindu Right, prominent leaders including VD Savarkar’s Hindu Mahasabha, which for 69 years has marked August 15 as a day of mourning, including this year, did not see freedom as complete, till India became a Hindu mirror image of Pakistan.

Historians conclude that while the Muslim Right succeeded in getting its own country, the Hindu Right lost the argument in India at the time.

The central figure pushing for an India irrespective of faith, creed, caste or colour who ensured that this unique multi-dimensional idea of India takes root was Jawaharlal Nehru. Gandhi was assassinated within months of independence for being such an active proponent of the idea of opposing the values that lay at the foundation of Pakistan. Nehru, the first PM, remained in that role until his death in 1964. Much of the vitriol of the Hindu Right is reserved for him because he stood against this `Pakistanising’ of India.

What we see now is the BJP, the inheritor of the Hindu Right, in power with a majority in the Lok Sabha for the first time in independent India. It says it is committed to the central ideals of the Constitution but it is clearly uneasy about elemental values enshrined in the Constitution. Should the ban on cow slaughter be a central idea defining India? Should it be Hindi all the way? Should citizenship of India be tied to religion, should it be offered to Hindus from Pakistan more easily than Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar? Should textbooks speak of all Hindu leaders as ‘home-grown’ and all others as ‘foreigners’?

These are not peripheral or stray questions. These are central to how the Hindu Right that had lost the battle to have two mirror-states one Hindu and one Muslim emerge in 1947, sees the battle in 2016, after its first electoral triumph two years ago.

So the month of August, with memories of its trials and tribulations, is a time to introspect. August is about the trauma of Partition, yet the triumph of the anti-colonial momentum it generated helped free large parts of Africa and Asia. It is about different choices, made by the same people in similar circumstances.

The results of opting for a theocratic state are there for all to see, as is the experience of India which chose to boldly embrace the idea of enshrining equality in the Constitution. Critics may say it is an imperfect present in India. But is mirroring Pakistan an option at all?

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