BY GHAZI SALAHUDDIN
These are the times that, to borrow Thomas Paine’s words, try men’s souls. And it is becoming increasingly difficult to protect one’s sanity in this surge of raw passions. A rational discourse is just not possible even when, lo and behold, the media itself is the battlefield.
Against this flaming backdrop, I have the option of shifting my attention towards India, our beloved infidel. In fact, India is very relevant for us in many different ways. As it is, a change of regime after a long electoral exercise in the world’s largest democracy must have global and regional implications.
At one level, we have to contend with the reality of Hindu nationalists winning a landslide victory. In addition, we have Narendra Modi at the helm. Scary, isn’t it? But look carefully and you may find that even if we could not become like India in terms of the continuity of the democratic process and the credibility of its elections, India is becoming like Pakistan with the induction of religious fanaticism its secular politics.
This outcome of the Indian elections is another reminder of our South Asian bondage. Irrespective of how we interpret the two-nation theory and argue about how different we are from India, there is no other country in the world that has so much common with us. Yes, we have sometimes been trying hard to negate our South Asian identity to find kinship, on religious grounds and for economic reasons, with the Arab world.
Still, we cannot escape from under the shadows of the Himalayas. I have often felt – and said – that there seems to be a curse on countries that lie under the Himalayas. One manifestation of it is how the Hindu caste system has sustained the human degradation of a large number of people. We Muslims have not remained untouched by these values when it comes to respecting the human dignity of the poor and the underprivileged.
More pertinent at this time are some realities that have been underlined by the Indian elections. A few of them are very obvious. Modi’s impressive victory is the abject defeat of the Indian National Congress. Now, does this not ring a bell? Consider the similarities between the Congress in India and the Pakistan People’s Party in Pakistan.
In the present context, the focus, in addition to the dynastic principle, should be on the quality of governance and the perception of rampant corruption. It may be said that the people were yearning for change. There is this simple democratic rule: when the ruling party – or coalition – does not perform, the voters would kick it out of power.
However, this change has another dimension. The elections have certified a dominant rise in the religious sentiment which is essentially anti-democratic and a defiance of the secular ideas. India is apparently becoming a more Hindu country and the shift towards the right has left the liberals and the secularists in the lurch, if only partially.
If the liberals in India are justified in blaming the Congress for this setback, we in Pakistan feel betrayed by the PPP particularly because it failed to take on the religious militants and the fanatics. True, India does not have the likes of the Taliban or the jihadis but it still has the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Modi is its lifelong member.
I have said that corruption has been a major issue. But it is interesting to see that the Aam Admi Party, a manifestation of popular revulsion against corruption in the public sector, has failed more miserably than anyone could have anticipated. The common man has fallen for the religious and chauvinistic slogans of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). What this means for the quality of Indian democracy is something that needs to be carefully explored.
In Pakistan, political Islam is seen to be at variance with the Quaid’s vision. Even some constitutional dictates of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan would not synchronise with the aspirations of the founders of this country. In the same manner, Modi’s ascendancy is a rejection of the life and values of Gandhi. In fact, it was a former member of the RSS who murdered Gandhi in 1948 for being too soft on Muslims.
So, both countries may be veering away from their founding principles. Politics in India is stressing its Hindu-ness and we are a citadel of Islam. In being so different, we are so similar. Perhaps India can finally deal with Modi and what he represents but in Pakistan, the Islamists are becoming invincible. For the moment, in any case, many in India can empathise with the loneliness of the liberals in Pakistan.
What Modi’s victory will mean for our bilateral relations is a separate issue. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may want to recall the visit to Pakistan by the previous BJP prime minister in February 1999. Atal Behari Bajpayee had come to Lahore in a bus and had visited Minar-e-Pakistan to affirm the reality of Pakistan. But then there was Kargil. How will it evolve this time, when civil-military relations are somewhat Kargil-ish in nature?
Besides, Vajpayee was a soft man and had also written a poem on his visit to Pakistan. Modi is more of a warrior and likes to boast about his 56-inch chest. He represents the spirit of the RSS, a paramilitary Hindu nationalist organisation that was inspired by Europe’s fascist movements. His record includes the diabolical anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002. That is why he was refused a visa for the US and was boycotted by many western countries for a decade. Now he will be the prime minister of the world’s largest democracy.
As an aside, with corruption being such an issue in India and Pakistan, let me refer to the sentencing this week of Ehud Olmert, a former prime minister of Israel on charges of corruption. The judge, who gave him six years, said that a public servant who takes bribes is akin to a traitor. We have this debate in Pakistan on who is a traitor and how can you prove the charge. Will the Israeli judge’s definition be valid for us?
Finally, we should look more closely at India and its politics. It should help us understand our own South Asian proclivities. Alas, our media and our analysts were not present in India to watch the campaign. Because of our own urgent distractions, the reports filed by foreign agencies got little prominence in our media.
Take this as a measure of our interest in India that the two Indian journalists posted in Islamabad were handed expulsion orders this week. And our media does not have any representative in India. Media freedom zindabad.