Posts Tagged ‘Nehru’

India: A View of People

October 11, 2010

And Why It Matters

Suresh Kalmadi has something to answer for to the Indian people for the chaotic run up to the Commonwealth Games. But given his belligerent stance it seems he feels he doesn’t have to. This would not be a surprise because in India many have gotten away with much more.

What I do find surprising, however, is that he has not even been called up for something that, in my view, no one should be allowed to get away with in this day and age. With reference to the lack of spectators at the Games, Kalmadi is reported to have said: “We are working on the children from schools, already steps have been taken in that direction…. And also from the low level of society, we have been distributing a lot of tickets.” (more…)

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Jinnah, Nehru, and the Ironies of History

March 22, 2009

Varun Gandhi is reported to have said some strong things about Muslims in India. So, I am told, did his father.

Let me use this as a peg to say something about Varun’s venerable great-grandfather whose maturity Varun seems unlikely to emulate. But beyond that, let me speculate about some neglected dimensions of the political history of the subcontinent.

Two remarkable statements made around the time of the partition of British India continue to intrigue me:

Here is Mohammad Ali Jinnah, addressing the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in August 1947:

You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State.

And here is Jawaharlal Nehru, writing to Chief Ministers of provinces in India in October 1947, pointing out that there remained, within India,

a Muslim minority who are so large in numbers that they cannot, even if they want, go anywhere else. That is a basic fact about which there can be no argument. Whatever the provocation from Pakistan and whatever the indignities and horrors inflicted on non-Muslims there, we have got to deal with this minority in a civilized manner. We must give them security and the rights of citizens in a democratic State.

How can we read these two statements given the history of which they were a part?

What intrigues me about them is the following:

Here was Jinnah, who had spent the previous twenty years arguing that Muslims and Hindus were separate nations, so completely different from each other that they could not live together. And here he was, on the creation of the country based on that logic of difference, saying all of you can now live together as equal citizens with equal rights.

And here was Nehru, who had spent the same period of time arguing the secular perspective that everyone was an equal citizen regardless of religion or ethnicity, still thinking in terms of minorities as special groups who needed to be dealt with in a civilized manner and given the rights of citizens.

I would have expected Jinnah to say something along these lines: I know it is going to be very difficult but we must now find a way to live together. And I would have expected Nehru to send out an unequivocal signal: We are all Indians now; there are no more majorities and minorities here.

It is time for some political psychology and this is my very idiosyncratic explanation:

I would argue that Jinnah’s innate values were secular. He belonged to a minority trading community from Gujarat where getting along with others was essential to survival and success. It is clear that Jinnah could never have believed from the outset that Hindus and Muslims were so intrinsically different that they could not live together. Had that been the case he could not have been the leading ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity till the 1920s.

It was something in the politics of the situation that must have convinced him that Hindus and Muslims could not live together in a constitutional arrangement in British India that would be acceptable to both communities. Based on that conviction (here we are not concerned whether that conviction was right or wrong) he fought his case and won. And once he won, and walked out of the courtroom, metaphorically speaking, the political imperatives for him disappeared and he became the secular Jinnah that he always was.

Did Jinnah never see that there was a world outside the courtroom, that the forces that had been unleashed by the politics of separation would never allow the situation to go back to what it was, no matter what he wished or desired? It seems not.

Nehru, on the other hand, was a Kashmiri Pandit to whom the distinctions of caste and creed must have been second nature, a part of every act and practice. But Nehru, while not in the same league as Jinnah as a lawyer, was an intellectual steeped in Fabian socialism with the whole world as his observatory. For Nehru, secularism was not an inheritance by birth but a conviction that came from the exercise of intellect.

When framed in this perspective, one can expect that moments of stress could cause the templates of inheritance to exert some residual influence on how one sees the world. So, one can understand Nehru seeing Muslims, in the aftermath of the carnage of partition, more as minorities needing to be given equal rights and less as Indians who were entitled to them.

As we know from our own lives and times, it is not easy to overcome the prejudices and biases that one inherits at birth and to adopt radically different beliefs through an exercise of reasoned analysis. There seems little doubt that history will continue to accord Nehru the credit and stature that are his due for achieving what he did achieve given the tenor of his time.

But we can now push this psychological analysis further and note the complexity of the interplay between the beliefs inherited at birth and the convictions that are inculcated and sustained through intellectual endeavor.

Without the political imperatives that changed Jinnah’s beliefs, his descendants are avowedly secular. And without the intellectual rigor that characterized Nehru, his descendants are slipping back towards prejudice.

Contrary perspectives are welcome. For another analysis along similar lines, see The Tragedy of Jinnah by Simon Kovar. HM Seervai‘s book (Partition of India – Legend and Reality), written after the release of the Transfer of Power Papers, makes a similar argument.

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Leadership

January 16, 2008

By Anjum Altaf

Professor CM Naim has sent us a unique news report on the creation of Pakistan from the Nation datelined November 15, 1947 (Jinnah’s New Republic by Andrew Roth).

Amongst other things the report remarks on the nature of leadership in the new Pakistan:

With enormous problems, Pakistan has only a very ordinary set of leaders to cope with them. The brilliant Mr. Jinnah, of course, must be excepted, but he is over seventy and has been in poor health since a severe pneumonia attack two years ago. His voice can barely be heard ten feet away, and he chose to become governor general rather than premier partly because it was an easier post. He has repeatedly told subordinates, “I have done my part of the job; I’ve given you Pakistan. It is up to you to build it.”

Premier Liaqat Ali Khan is a competent administrator with the conservative social views of a typical feudal landlord and a strong belief in a political and economic alliance with Great Britain. He had to choose a man of technical ability for his Finance Minister but the other members of his Cabinet are all mediocrities. So farfetched was the appointment of the Calcutta hide merchant, Fazlur Rahman, as Minister of the Interior and Education that an old friend, seeing him in a front seat at the Independence Day celebrations, cried out, “You’re in the wrong row; that’s for the Cabinet!” Top officials are in the main from the landlord class, with a sprinkling of lawyers and merchants. The sole modern-minded industrialist in the dominion, Hassan Ispahani, is being sent out of the way as ambassador to the United States. Provincial officials are of the same kind: the Punjab Premier is the Khan of Mamdot, the province’s largest landholder.

Coincidentally, we were reading Ramachandra Guha’s new book (India after Gandhi) and came across this bit on page 22 about India’s first cabinet:

Apart from Prime Minister Nehru, it listed thirteen other ministers. These included the nationalist stalwarts Vallabhbhai Patel and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, as well as four congressmen of the younger generation.

More notable perhaps were the names of those who were not from the Congress. These included two representatives of the world of commerce and one representative of the Sikhs. Three others were lifelong adversaries of the Congress. These were RK Shanmukham Chetty, a Madras businessman who was one of the best financial minds in India; BR Ambedkar, a brilliant legal scholar and an “untouchable” by caste; and Shayama Prasad Mookerjee, a leading Bengal politician who belonged (at this time) to the Hindu Mahasabha. All three had collaborated with the rulers while the congressmen served time in British jails. But now Nehru and his colleagues wisely put aside these differences. Gandhi had reminded them that “freedom comes to India, not to Congress,” urging the formation of a cabinet that included the ablest men regardless of party affiliation.

We will have more to say about this and will pick up on the evolution of leadership in the two countries at another time. For the moment, we jump ahead to take advantage of another coincidental find in a 2004 book by Strobe Talbott (Engaging India: Diplomacy, Democracy, and the Bomb) in which he recounts his experience as President Clinton’s point person in the dialogue with the two subcontinental countries following the tit-for-tat nuclear explosions of 1998.

Here is how Strobe Talbott describes his comparative experiences (pages 105-106):

In general, our sessions with the Pakistanis, while occasionally more exciting than those with the Indians, lacked a comparable degree of intellectual engagement… While Jaswant [Singh’s] team was highly disciplined in every respect, some of Shamshad Ahmad’s colleagues tended to be querulous, surly, and sometimes abusive. On one occasion, early in our dealings, a member of the Pakistani delegation exploded at our observation that his country seemed always to react in knee-jerk fashion to Indian moves. He rose out of his chair and lunged across the table as though he were going to strangle either Bruce Reidel or me, depending on whose neck he could get his fingers around first. He had to be physically restrained.

For all these reasons, my team had to shift gears when we traveled from New Delhi to Islamabad. The danger with the Indians was that they would wear us down. They had their game plan and would stick with it, waiting for us to lose congressional support for the sanctions and give up on even the modest demands we were making with the benchmarks. 

The Pakistanis had no game plan. They always seemed to be either hunkering down, lashing out, or flailing about. 

Thus, it was apparent from the outset that the Indians were going to be hard to move, while the Pakistanis were going to be hard to help. 

Nothing much has changed since. 

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