Sunday, November 16, 2008

The economic partition that still grounds us

The economic partition that still grounds us
By M J Akbar

Imagine, if you will, a nation unborn; the map of the Indian subconscious had the Indian subcontinent not been subdivided in 1947 and 1971.

Pakistan and Bangladesh are facts. It is idiocy to sneer at them as failed states. You have to look at facts without the sticky impediment of sentiment. After much consideration, with cold evidence in front of me, I am pleased to announce a personal somersault. After years of examining the validity, or otherwise, of the seeds that nurtured the idea of Pakistan, I am now relieved that it came into existence. Who would ever have believed what Pakistan has grown up into, if it had never been born at all?

Who could have convinced two generations of post-1947 Indian Muslims that Pakistan was not the heaven that had dominated its advertising before Partition? Six decades later, every Muslim of the subcontinent knows that suicide bombs and Kalashnikovs can extract a daily diet of death even in a country where there is no Hindu to call an enemy. Facts are the coolest needles to puncture fevered fantasy.

Pakistan was only ever a very partial answer to what the British called the “Muslim question”. By 1971, with the emergence of Bangladesh, the partial became twice partitioned. 1971 also proved that the slogan that created Pakistan, “Islam in danger!”, was a concoction designed to serve politicians, and not save the faith. As Maulana Azad repeatedly emphasized, even when the winds were against him, Islam is a brotherhood, not a ‘nationhood’. If Islam were sufficient to create a modern nation state, the Arabs would not be divided into 22 countries. They even have a language in common.

Indian Muslims now know that Pakistan has bounced in and out of army rule, to land, today, in a quagmire that might have neither the freedom of democracy nor the frigid certainty of dictatorship. Fatima Bhutto, Benazir’s niece, does have a grudge against uncle Asif Zardari; she believes her father Murtaza, was shot dead in a family power struggle. But the opening sentence of her recent piece in the New Statesman (October 30) is startling enough to demand attention.


Pakistan’s newly elected government, she writes, is “the first in the world headed by two former convicts (between them the President and the Prime Minister have served time on charges of corruption, narcotics, extortion and murder, no less...”

A state may not fail, but a profligate government can teeter on the edge of bankruptcy. Pakistan’s desperation for a bailout loan is not news. What deserves a headline is that its closest allies, including China and Saudi Arabia, have had enough of the loan-bowl. Zardari cobbled together something called “Friends of Pakistan” only to discover that friendship doesn’t fetch dollars. The top priority of its ambassador in Washington, Hussain Haqqani, is to plead for $10 billion as reward for participation in America’s “war on terror”.

Individuals have always been mercenaries; this could be a case of a whole army being parlayed for cash. The Pentagon audits the money Pakistan gets for military operations. If the Pakistan army is fighting on the Afghan border in defence of its national interest, why would it send a bill to Washington?

The leadership of a nation forged out of millions of dreams seems to have lost its sense of nationalism. Paradoxically, the sense of a great national destiny would have flourished if the nation had been denied an existence.

But the discomforts of Pakistan are of little comfort to Indian Muslims. They are convinced now that 1947 was a mirage; but there is too much fog between them and the next horizon. The principles of the Indian Constitution, sustained by democracy and secularism, are the ideal commitments for any group that considers itself disadvantaged. But neither democracy nor secularism is an industry offering jobs. Economics has flattened the world into a racetrack, and not every community is in the race.

1947 was a geographical and political partition, a screaming laceration through the heart. Since then we have had a silent partition: the economic partition of India. The educated middle classes and the rich are rising with rising India; the rest are stagnant.

This was not conceived on communal lines and yet, as the dice has rolled, it involves communities, whether tribals or Dalits or Muslims. The Sachar Commission report is a snapshot portrait of the utter neglect that Muslims have suffered under largely Congress governments. Check with the community and the grievance is unequivocal: others get reservations, we get enquiry commissions. The Congress mantra for Muslims, its favourite vote bank, has been a single emotion, fear: after us, the deluge. If you don’t keep us in power, saffron will strangle you. It works, but only up to a point.

As the clich├ęs on dozens of book covers suggest: the Indian elephant has lumbered towards take-off, the tiger has launched its spring. The India of yesterday’s imagination is turning slowly, untidily into a reality, hiccups notwithstanding. But does every Indian deserve the privilege of imagination, or it is reserved only for those who emerged from the womb of luck?

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