Some weeks ago, a Calcutta soccer team flew to Jakarta to participate in an inter-Asia football tournament. The competing teams, mostly of an indifferent calibre, were from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand; none of these countries had even made the qualifying stage in last year’s World Cup at Seoul. The Calcutta team managed to win the Jakarta tournament. Calcutta went mad, as if the World Cup itself had been annexed by it. Self-congratulating evocations filled the air. Felicitations took place for days on end. The team members were offered a civic reception, and fulsome eulogies from state dignitaries from the chief minister down. A suggestion was put forward that the authorities be petitioned so that, following this glorious victory, the team could be vested with the honorific of National Club, whatever that might mean.
Close on the heels was another absurdity. An Indian damsel won not a gold, not a silver, but a mere bronze at an international field event in Europe. She instantly attained the stature of a native Joan of Arc. Don’t you know, India has arrived, the Indian girl is a world-beater, she has won a bronze' A more recent occurrence is the nation’s going berserk over the Indian hockey team’s victory over Pakistan in the Asian Cup final in Kuala Lumpur. The news bumped off all other important events from the television channels and became the leading story for the next 36 hours. Provincialism rose to dizzy heights. The president and the prime minister sent obligatory messages of congratulation. Tears rolling down their cheeks, citizens, meeting on the streets, embraced each other. The morning papers had their front page monopolized by the great tiding. India has at long last vanquished Pakistan, what a glorious day for the nation.
Arrangements are perhaps already on to lobby with New Delhi for a special Padmashri award, if not for each individual member of the team, at least for the team as a whole. Overwhelmed by the unaccustomed experience of giving a bloody nose to Pakistan, one television channel signed off the evening with a full-throated rendering of Sare jahan se achcha, Hindustan hamara by a young crowd resplendent in national colours.
It was somewhat a mirror image of the proceedings in the UN general assembly. Obsession is obsession. The world had to be told that, as far as we are concerned, no other problem exists apart from Kashmir. The tragedy of Iraq should be pushed to the background, discussion on other burning issues afflicting the world deserves to be adjourned, terrorism has only one import; Pakistan encourages cross-border terrorists. The Pakistan delegation immediately came back with the riposte: India is suppressing the people of Kashmir by unleashing state terrorism of the vilest kind.
For all it matters, Pervez Musharraf and Atal Bihari Vajpayee could have engaged the same speech-writer: this one’s speech is almost a carbon copy of the other one’s peroration, and vice versa. The governments of both countries have a single-point agenda, and this embraces both foreign and domestic policies. In international fora, the staple theme for both India and Pakistan is, of course, Kashmir and Kashmir-related terrorism. On domestic issues too, Kashmir inevitably pops up in the manner of a bad coin: the evil intentions of Pakistan or India apropos Kashmir impinges on development; education and social welfare have perforce to be given a lower priority in the budget since our neighbour is bent on increasing its nuclear capability with the object of doing us in Kashmir, we must take countervailing measures.
Much worse, after a while the bickering gets intertwined with the course of the communal divide. The country might have been carved up nearly six decades ago on the basis of religion, but the past continues to have a living presence. Kashmir has seen to it, tension between the communities has not been allowed to die down till this day. Pakistan and India refuse to give up either their pride or their prejudice. Their pride gets lighted up every time, however petty and insignificant the occasion, the other nation is given a drubbing; their prejudice is wrapped in suspicions about the daily indulgences of the neighbouring people. The world for both India and Pakistan has not moved forward a single inch since 1947; time indeed has come to a stop.
It is in this context that one is amazed at the zero consequences of globalization. Globalization has supposedly opened up the frontiers of knowledge and information, it has stimulated the movement of goods, including the most sophisticated technological equipment. It has accelerated the movement of men — including technologies, scientists, poets and sports enthusiasts — across the far-flung world. All this should have opened up the mental horizon in both countries. That has not happened. The inhabitants of the subcontinent have proved themselves impervious to the thrusts and counter-thrusts of ideas, inventions and innovations convulsing the continents. Or rather, these thrusts and counter-thrusts turn into miniature devices for ensuring a permanent India-Pakistan confrontation.
Globalization has not broadened the mind. It is a split-level existence for Indian and Pakistani psyches. We globalize, but we still remain stuck in the mud, parochial species of the first order. We try to cultivate a liberal attitude, but such generosity stops at Pakistan’s or India’s door. We judge the Americans, the British, the Russians, the Chinese and the rest of the members of the global community by just one citizen: the position they adopt on Kashmir; if their tilt is towards Pakistan, or at least appears to be leaning towards Pakistan, they are a bunch of cads to the Indians. If the situation is reversed, they become contemptible in the eyes of the Pakistanis. True, this stance is more noticeable at the official level than at the level of ordinary citizens. But then, ruling regimes in both countries are highly paternalistic; those who deviate from the official line are, pronto, branded as anti-national.
However, second thoughts intervene. Is the quality of the India-Pakistan folly much different from that of the Palestine-Israel imbroglio' For has not history refused to progress in that segment of west Asia too' Half a century ago and further beyond in the past, a world-wide pool of sympathy was reserved for the Israeli people, courtesy Adolf Hitler and his Huns. That sympathy has fast dried up. Arabs have been consistently at the receiving end in recent decades. If world opinion is to be given any weight, Arabs have now an equally strong — or even stronger — case than the Israelis have, Israel has of late enjoyed material success of remarkable proportions; it has a vastly superior defence apparatus and assumption of a global view should have persuaded it to adopt a policy of live and let live towards the Arabs.
A gesture of this kind should have been all the easier since both people come from the same stock, a fact highlighted by the large array of proper names they share in common: Abraham/Ibrahim, Isaac/Ishaque, Moses/Moosa, Solomon/Suleiman, Samuel/Ismail, Neuman/Noman. Unfortunately, globalization is of no avail, it has been impossible to move the mountains of hatred on either side.
Come to think of it, are Americans any different' Are they too not in perpetual bondage to crass provincialism' The colloquialism, “A good Indian is a dead Indian”, was once transformed into “A good Viet is a dead Viet”; it is now reincarnated “A good Iraqi is a dead Iraqi”. This genre of xenophobia is the harvest assiduously raised by the American establishment. That precisely is the point though. Ordinary people even in the United States of America are markedly less globalized than the top of the administrative hierarchy. A South Dakota cowboy may have an enormously large number of the latest gadgets at his disposal; but, in terms of basic intelligence, he is hardly any superior to a Gorakhpur cowherd.
It should still have been a different story had those taking the crucial decisions on behalf of the nations liberated themselves from arcane pastimes. They have the advantage of commanding advanced technology, first-rate scientists, economists, game-theory strategists and communications gurus. Those who purposely turn away from enlightenment cannot be forced into enlightenment, although George W. Bush revels in a primitive mind, as does Tony Blair: they and their friends are the good boys, the rest are all bad. It is the long season of provincialism.
Does this mean that civilization is technology-neutral, progress-neutral, rationality-neutral' If American presidents behave like naïve mid-western cowboys circa 1820’s, why blame the Indians and the Pakistanis for their silly Kashmir game' And why can’t we leave that bunch of football zealots in Calcutta at their game of building castles in the air'