The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- Communal harmony in India has nothing to do with Indo-Pak relations

Now that the excitement of electoral politics looks like being momentarily subsumed by the headiness of India-Pakistan encounters on the cricket field, I find myself confronted with a dharma sankat. Not for the first time, but certainly after an indecent gap of nearly two decades, I find myself in agreement with secularists.

The issue is not trivial. Some of India’s more aggressive secularists like Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar have reacted fiercely to a purported statement by the deputy prime minister, L.K. Advani, that the improvement in Indo-Pak relations will also lead to a visible upturn in Hindu-Muslim relations. As far as I am aware, Advani has said no such thing. Recounting a meeting in 1990 with the then British high commissioner to Pakistan, an old Pak hand in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Advani has recalled the diplomat’s prognosis that the breach in Indo-Pak relations would be repaired when the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power.

The diplomat’s prognosis, which Advani seems to share, is not terribly original. Ever since President Nixon travelled to China in 1970 and kissed and shook hands with Zhou En-Lai, there has been a perception in diplomatic circles that opposite poles attract. Nixon was a fiercely committed anti-communist. Yet, when circumstances demanded, he could cut a deal with the communist elite of China. Likewise, there is a perception in Pakistan — I have not heard it echoed too often within India — that only the BJP, whose nationalist credentials are absolutely impeccable, can arrive at an enduring peace with those on the other side of the Radcliffe Line.

This is a formulation that our secularists find hard to stomach. It is their perception that only they, with their unending talk of a common heritage and timeless brotherhood, can effect an Indo-Pak settlement. The BJP, with its Hindu nationalist baggage and earlier commitment to Akhand Bharat, doesn’t enter their calculations at all. Indeed, the secularists get into an almighty tizzy at the very suggestion. This is perhaps why they persist with the contrived distinction between Atal Bihari Vajpayee the peacenik and Advani the war-monger.

However, belief in or scepticism about the BJP’s ability to make peace with Pakistan has absolutely nothing to do with the question of Hindu-Muslim relations within India. Yes, Advani also believes that only the BJP can herald a new dawn in community relations. But that is a separate formulation, quite distinct from how Indo-Pak relations shape up.

The distinction is an important one. Linking the two assumes that Indian Muslims have, more than fifty years after Partition, yet to get over their fascination with the belief that Pakistan is the homeland for all Muslims in the subcontinent. Consequently, they will settle for good relations with their Hindu and Sikh neighbours only after the control room in Islamabad gives the green signal.

It is indeed possible that there are a clutch of Indian Muslims who are remote-controlled from Pakistan. An American think-tank has recently published a report suggesting that the Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan has a 10,000-strong network within India ready to act on instructions from Rawalpindi Cantonment. Most of those on the ISI payroll also happen to be Indian Muslims, recruited by either inducements or encouragement from relatives across the border. In Jammu and Kashmir, there are those like Ali Shah Geelani, the breakaway Hurriyat leader, who is quite open in pressing for the state’s accession to Pakistan.

Yet, to suggest that the entire Indian Muslim community is a veritable Pakistani fifth-column is a wild exaggeration. Since emigration to Pakistan stopped in 1963, the establishment of Bangladesh in 1971 and the emergence of the Mohajir problem in Karachi after 1980, the appeal of Pakistan to Indian Muslims has waned quite considerably. There may be strong Islamist currents in the Muslim community and there are those who would like nothing better than to keep them confined to a ghetto, but these don’t necessarily suggest an emotional bonding with the state of Pakistan. Indeed, there is likely to be greater sympathy in the Muslim community for the radical pan-Islamism of Osama bin Laden than the modernism of Pervez Musharraf. Muslim extremism in India may have been fanned by the ISI or jihadi groups operating from Pakistan but their inspiration is not Pakistan but the suicide bombers in Palestine and the taliban in Afghanistan.

Indeed, it is the failure of Pakistan as a state and the obvious improvement in Indian living standards that have snapped any emotional links that persisted after 1947. There are two currents in the Muslim community today. One would like to take full advantage of India Shining and enter into a concordat with the Hindu community burying past differences. Their point of reference is India and the opportunities offered by its growing economy. The second current is influenced by the extremist Wahabi ideology propagated by Saudi Arabia and wants Indian Muslims to become an autonomous enclave of religiosity. They are religious fundamentalists but not necessarily political separatists. The network that triggered explosives in Mumbai last year was motivated by the same jihadi nihilism that prompted the attacks on 9/11. They were Islamist terrorists not Pakistani terrorists.

These developments are both a threat and an opportunity. Nothing would be more convenient or easy than to establish communal harmony in India by encouraging the United States of America to twist Musharraf’s tail and make him behave. But that is not how the real world operates. There is prospect of peace with Pakistan because the military establishment in Islamabad have fewer escape routes. With the US breathing down its neck for A.Q. Khan’s nuclear supermarket, the Pakistani military finds it prudent to close the front against India. But the resumption of cricket matches and the composite dialogue will not directly affect Hindu-Muslim relations. That has to await India’s own battle against Islamist radicalism.

Indian secularists, therefore, are right to stress the disengagement of Indian Muslims from the future of Indo-Pak relations. However, it is they who have nurtured this fiction of a brotherhood stretching across the whole of south Asia. Who are the people who make a spectacle of themselves by constantly harping on the bonds of unity between Indians and Pakistanis' Who are the people who refer to Pakistanis as brothers across the border' I don’t think you can accuse Advani and those in saffron scarves of that offence. The guilty ones are the secularists, the professional peaceniks and those who lit candles on the Wagah border. They encouraged the belief that Indian Muslims need Pakistan for their sustenance.

What is needed is a more evolved approach to Pakistan. It would help if, for starters, India’s secularists stop viewing Pakistan as an extension of a common civilization. Yes, we were together till 1947 and then they chose to go their own way. It was tragic and traumatic but it was more than fifty years ago. Pakistan has chosen its own course and we have gone our way. Today, we are neighbours and not members of a joint family. Our perceptions of civilization do not coincide.

If we want a mature relationship with Pakistan, it would help if we replace brotherhood with neighbourhood. That would lessen the threat perception of India within Pakistan and it would facilitate friendly but business-like interaction minus all the mush. Unfortunately, it would also force the secularists to think of alternatives to a spurious composite culture.

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