16th December 1971: the war in East Pakistan came to an end when the Pakistani Army led by Gen. Niazi surrendered to the Indian Army led by Gen. J.S. Aurora. Pakistan was dismembered as it lost its Eastern wing and the independent nation of Bangladesh was born. The events that led to this partition of a nation that by itself had been born out of a brutal vivisection of the sub-continent are well known and need no recounting here. Pakistan as a whole could not survive even a quarter of a century, and no matter how much spin its propaganda machinery may wish to put on India’s role in the events, the blame for the break-up rests squarely with the West Pakistani leadership symbolized by the adventurism of its Armed Forces represented by Gen. Yahya Khan, and the reckless ambition of its political class represented by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
Despite the thrashing it got in this war and the generosity with which India handled the 90000 POWs captured in East Pakistan, Bhutto always believed that he had outwitted Mrs. Indira Gandhi at the Simla Conference. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in-between. Mrs. Gandhi could have extracted a more humiliating agreement from a vanquished foe, but despite her own rather dictatorial and imperious mentation, she could not resist the millennia-old civilizational imprint that Vedic thought would have left on her DNA. The generosity of India derives from the ingrained belief that we are all part of that One underlying Reality of the Cosmos, and that there is none who can be called “the other.”
After the reality of partition had been rammed down the throat of Mahatma Gandhi by the Congress Party, India had come to terms with the changed circumstances and was willing to buckle down to the task of building a nation out of the ruins of colonial rule and partition. Pakistan too could have undertaken the task of reconstruction and rehabilitation in real earnest and, I am sure, it would have found a more than willing partner in that task in the people and the government of India. Instead, goaded by an ideology of a proselytizing Islam, it launched a military expedition almost immediately after independence to annex Kashmir on the pretext that the majority of the population in the valley was Muslim. Islam that had emerged from the sands of Arabia in the 7th century had practically swept everything that had stood in its way and had established its hegemony over vast nations ranging from Moorish Spain through North Africa, Central Asia, the Middle East, Indonesia and some other parts of South-East Asia. Islamic armies had been invading the Indian sub-continent from the 8th century onwards and some Muslim kingdoms came up in the North long before the Mughals conquered Delhi and firmly established an empire ruled by Muslim kings. In its ambitiously self-confident and stridently Abrahamic way, Islam tried not only through coercion but also invited conversion to it of a large number of socially exploited Hindus.
However, in spite of such a long, continuous political rule by Islam, India did not get substantially converted to the faith of the rulers. This is an “unprecedented Islamic failure,” as was noted by Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, Ramchandra Gandhi. The culmination of this failure, according to him, “is the partition of India, and the seeking of a piece of land, Pakistan, by Muslim separatists not in battle but from a third party, the British, in petitionary negotiations, a final embarrassment.” It is this ‘embarrassment’ and not the loss of Kashmir that is behind the continued hostility of Pakistan towards India. The ‘unfinished business of partition’ that its leaders keep reverting to is the failure of Islam to attract the majority of Hindus to its faith. Pakistan’s reaction to the military defeat in 1971 is not of an army having overreached itself and engaged a far superior antagonist in combat, but the anguish of having been unable to impose religious hegemony over the sub-continent. Bhutto’s promise of a thousand year war and Gen. Zia’s strategy to bleed India through a thousand cuts are not mere rhetoric. They are at the core of Pakistani ideology and the raison d’être for its existence.
The recent skirmishes across the LOC in Poonch sector and the barbaric beheading of Lance-Naik Hemraj are nothing but a manifestation of this millennia-old frustration of Islam with Hinduism. Having abandoned its Sufi traditions it has come into direct conflict with “a belief that is both idolatrous and iconoclastic at the same time. Hinduism has the iconoclastic advaita at one end of the spectrum, the other end of which is a riotous worship of images of all forms and shapes.” Non-sufi Islam is unable to comprehend that form could also be an attribute of the formless. It is due to this incomprehension that there is no immediate possibility of religious peace in the sub-continent. Attempts at political, cultural and economic rapprochement are important in their own way; candle-light vigils on the borders and aman ki asha invitations to Pakistani musicians and singers and resumption of sporting ties can only bring temporary peace; but they are unlikely to be abidingly successful until Islam abjures its self-imposed isolationism and suspiciousness.
Unfortunately, India after Nehru has been unable to build upon its democratic traditions so carefully articulated in the Constitution by Dr. Ambedkar, and nurtured by Nehru and Shastri. The untimely death of Shastri within about a year-and-a-half of Nehru’s passing did not allow India enough time to develop the political maturity that a settled democracy requires. The Congress satraps at the centre and in the states brought all their manipulative skills into play when they pitch forked Nehru’s daughter into her father’s chair in the misplaced belief that they would be able to pull the strings from behind the curtain and effectively control her to their material and political benefit. Indira Gandhi was too shrewd for them and by splitting the Grand Old party she not only marginalized the old men but created a class of party members who had no political base of their own and were totally dependent on her for their survival. These courtiers multiplied in numbers as they saw the fortunes of absolutely worthless and insignificant individuals soar, only by virtue of their proximity to the lady. By the end of 1971 she had become invincible and soon thereafter began to demonstrate the first traits of dictatorship.
The imposition of the emergency in 1975 completed this phase when like Mussolini she cleared the beggars off the streets and made the trains run on time, achievements which were thought to excuse Fascism. Stalin had told H. G. Wells in an interview that “obsolete classes don’t voluntarily disappear.” Indira Gandhi and her younger son set about this task of making “obsolete classes” disappear through such programs as forced sterilization, bull-dozed evacuation and wholesale incarceration of political opponents. The media was co-opted through economic and physical terror and made to fall in line with the official policy. The transformation of the Congress was complete and till date it has not recovered from the depredations of Indira Gandhi and her descendants. However, I believe that her voluntarily lifting of the emergency and calling for elections in 1977 was due to an atavistic belief in democracy that her father had instilled into her from a young age.
Her violent removal from the scene did nothing to change the political health of the country and the diseased cells of the body politic continue to feed upon the national organism. But Indira Gandhi had one quality that has been lacking in the leaders who followed her. When it came to Pakistan, she, like Anthony Eden, “stood for peace, but would not appease.” Rajiv Gandhi, though well-intentioned, was too inexperienced and naïve and soon found out that to survive in the murky power corridors of Delhi he needed the same courtiers he had initially shunned and railed against. The socialist Prime Minister of France, Leon Blum had once told the dramatist Jules Renard that “the free man is he who does not fear to go to the end of his thought.” Rajiv Gandhi dared but dared too little and eventually sacrificed his freedom when he was afraid to go to the end of his thought. The Bofors and other scandals that broke during the later part of his rule completely incapacitated him from providing any kind of effective leadership when Gen. Zia unleashed Operation Gibraltar that would make India bleed through a thousand cuts. The insurgency in Kashmir led to the exodus of nearly 4 lakh Pandits from the valley who became refugees in their own land. The valley today is almost 100% Muslim whereas the presence of the Pandits in Jammu put additional pressures on the economics of that province. The reaction from the Hindu right saw the demolition of the Babri Masjid followed by the Mumbai riots in 1992-93 that have marked the complete polarization of the two communities.
All the leaders who emerged after Indira Gandhi have, however, abandoned her policy of no appeasement and have whole-heartedly embraced the politics of vote-banks. Indira had seen to it that there would be no challengers to her leadership in the Congress party and she deliberately set about emasculating it in every state. Her son followed her precept and by the time he was also violently removed from the scene the Congress party had vacated the corridors of power in most of the states. This space has now been occupied by regional satraps, who are exploiting regional sentiments like language and caste, and economic issues like sharing of natural resources. A veritable forest of regional parties has sprung up to claim power in the states and these have by now evolved into personal fiefdoms of the bosses. A new system of patronage and favouritism in contracts has led to immense fortunes being made out of nepotism. Corruption has grown permanent roots in this forest leading to a system that is best described in Harold Macmillan’s words who called English politics as one of “casino capitalism” by the “aristocracy of second class brewers and company promoters.” Borrowing another phrase from him, the Congress front bench today resembles a “disused slug heap.”
The leadership’s preoccupation with the mundane task of building financial war chests have left them with no stomach for a fight and appeasement comes naturally to them. The surrender at Kandahar was the beginning of this phase of Indian capitulation, notwithstanding the heroic recovery in Kargil at a terrible cost in lives. The 2002 Godhra riots and the BJP’s inept response to the crisis were largely responsible for its ouster from the centre in 2004. However, the Congress led by Manmohan Singh in the front and Sonia Gandhi in the background have scaled even higher peaks of ineptitude, corruption and appeasement. Winston Churchill had called Ramsey MacDonald, the first ever Labour Prime Minister of the UK, “a sheep in sheep’s clothing.” He had also referred to Lord Attlee as a very nice modest man, “who had a good deal to be modest about.” I wonder what he would have had to say about our present appointed Prime Minister.
Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek once said: “If we perspire more in times of peace, we will bleed less in times of war.” Perhaps, as Leon Trotsky wrote, “the whole extremely diseased process can be ended only by a change in the entire social system.” The public reaction to the horrible gang rape that happened aboard a bus in Delhi on the 41st anniversary of the Pakistani army’s surrender in East Pakistan, may have finally tipped the balance against this “diseased process” and we may be witnessing the first stirrings of a nation whose soul had become dead in the blind pursuit of material wealth led by “sheep in sheep’s clothing” and had completely forgotten the tremendous legacy of the early Indians whose imagination dared to traverse and map the entire cosmos and who gave expression to such profound thoughts as sarva khalva idam brahma.
What can this “wounded civilization,” to use Naipaul’s phrase, do in the face of such a diseased process? Perhaps the answer can be found in the writings of Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo. Empty slogans of “democracy” and “secularism” will mean nothing since they are the catchwords of the dishonest and the insincere. Swami Vivekananda’s call was for strength and aggression. “Aggression in the religious sense only:” its purpose to “find the common bases of Hinduism and awaken the national consciousness to them.” As the destructive First World War was winding down, Sri Aurobindo wrote in 1918, “I believe in an aggressive and expanding, not in a narrowly defensive and self-contracting Hinduism.” Ramchandra Gandhi writes: “India is not a Hindu state, but in so far as it is and must fightingly remain a vehicle of distinctive truth in the world, it bears a deeper Hindu stamp than any constitutional amendment can hope to achieve or exceed.” It is time for India’s ancient civilization to reassert itself on the people of this land; to explore and not deny our past and grow to our full potential as the true inheritors of a civilization that has given so much to the world in every field of human activity. Like the thousand branched Banyan tree of the Rig Veda, assimilating thousands of diversities into one trunk, India should rise and provide cool and welcome shade to the materialistically wounded and weary explorers of the world.
By Vijaya Dar