Volume 23 Issue 8, August 2019


By Justice (R) M. Shaiq Usmani

There is a well known adage that is “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”. What it essentially means is that one cannot comment on the quality of a dish unless one has eaten it. This expression aptly applies to the outcome of the struggle for independence of India from the rule of the colonial British by the two major political parties at the time that is, the Congress and the Muslim League. It is in the middle of August, 1947 that due to the efforts of the two political parties, figuratively speaking, two puddings, came to be prepared, i.e. India and Pakistan.

The question that we are faced with is what sort of pudding or, in other words, outcome was intended or expected by those who had led the Independence Movement. There is no doubt, even if it is now not politically correct to say it, that the British ran a tight ship and generally administered the country well and fairly and provided adequate security to the populace. The independence, therefore, was intended to bring about freedom from want and servitude and to give freedom of expression and also provide equal opportunities to all in the vast land that India was. The question then arises that as to what extent were these objectives achieved and the answer to this question would determine the taste of the pudding and whether the efforts of the leaders of Independence Movement were worthwhile?

We are well aware as to how the two countries have evolved after seventy years of their existence. Given the political and cultural differences amongst the two people, surprisingly they have evolved identically. While Pakistan is fast moving towards becoming almost a fundamentalist Muslim state, India too, in spite of an outright secular philosophy being espoused by its leaders is in fact emerging as a fundamentalist Hindu state. This trend in India has been aptly portrayed by the famous poet, late Fehmida Riaz, who on a visit to India, in a function recited a poem, the opening stanza of which read as follows:

“Little did we know
You too, have become like us!”

To understand why and how this happened in this land of India, it is necessary to examine the social mores of the Indian Muslims before the advent of Sir Syed’s Renaissance movement, if it can be termed so, through which he introduced the English mores into the social ethos of the Indian Muslims. The Hindus, on the other hand, had already started on this path much earlier out of sheer expediency mainly to curry favour with their British colonial masters.

Now, as far as the Muslims before Sir Syed’s movement are concerned, uninhibited by westernization, had their own peculiar character which was by no means fundamentalist nor for that matter could it be termed as secular. Indeed, if anything, it was a happy medium between the inherent urge of the Muslims to practice the rituals of their religion and the unabashed hedonistic ways of the Mughal nobility. Nothing epitomizes this hybrid state of Muslim intellectual and social ethos than Ghalib’s famous claim whereby he owned to be ‘only half a Muslim’. When asked why was it so, with his usual wit he quipped, “because I drink but do not eat pork”.

There is no doubt that what Ghalib said was figurative but his words clearly express that while Muslim intellectuals and the gentry prior to Sir Syed were conscious of their duty as Muslims to shun what was forbidden, they were yet prone to soften rigours of their religion to enable them to indulge in epicurean delights. Sir Syed’s movement brought the Muslims to a crossroads and thus an intellectual struggle ensued amongst those who were inclined to adopt Western ways and those who preferred to be rooted in the past. While this cold war raged between two sections of the Muslims, the Hindus had clearly opted for the path of Westernisation wholeheartedly if only to endear themselves to the English colonial masters. This was helped in no small measure by the inherent permissiveness of Hindu culture that permeated all spheres of their activities on the social plane.

Ironically, at this point, both the Muslim and Hindu gentry arrived at the same intellectual terminus though having travelled divergent and different paths. It is for this reason that the English idea of Nationalism, which previously had no place in the political philosophy of the Indian people, found a foothold amongst them and metamorphosed into the Independence Movement. If Lord Macaulay had been alive at the time of Independence he would have found it most disconcerting that his aim to supplant Pharsee with English as the official language with a view to alter the way the Indians thought would eventually lead to disbandment of the British rule itself from India. The only saving grace for Macaulay was that the English language became firmly entrenched in India and ironically became the vehicle for expression during the Independence Movement and continued to hold sway in both India and Pakistan even after Independence as the official language of the two countries.

It was thus natural that in such a political and intellectual atmosphere it would be the Westernised classes amongst the Indian people who would take the lead in the Independence Movement in the late thirties and indeed they did so through formation of the Congress Party whose membership consisted of Hindus as well as Muslims. However, a schism occurred in the Movement when the Muslims realized that a movement for Independence of Joint India would eventually lead to dominance of the Muslim nation by the Hindus in view of their brute majority and because of their built-in prejudice towards the Muslims because of the thousand year rule over India by the Muslims, which was far from benevolent at the best of times.

Nevertheless in spite of this schism, the leadership of the Movement for Independence in the Muslim League as well as the Congress remained in the hands of the Westernised classes. In this regard, Gandhi on one side and Jamiatul Islam Hind and Jamaat-e- Islami on the other, were no more than an inconvenience for these classes and almost an aberration. Jinnah and Nehru, the leaders of the respective parties were both essentially Westernized and were committed to creating two separate but secular countries.

Alas; it is in the resolve of these two outstanding individuals to put their respective countries on the secular path lay the germ of the deluge that came about after they were gone, earlier in Pakistan because of the death of Jinnah only within just over one year of independence. It is only the force of personalities of these two individuals that initially kept the forces at bay that were propagating conservatism by invoking the two people’s respective mythical glorious past. Considering that these forces in both countries could not make much headway during the initial years of independence, made these forces much more aggressive, more so because of their realization that they lacked support amongst the masses demonstrated by their poor showing in elections in both countries.

These forces in both countries persevered not because they had some kind of hidden agenda as believed by their detractors but because they firmly believed that secular leaders of yore were responsible for detaching them from their roots and their true ethos and that it was their destiny to correct this and, in their view, the two countries were destined to be what they have become now. The commonality of their intention has so aptly been captured by Fehmida Riaz’s couplet cited here and the manner in which the two countries have evolved in the succeeding years after independence can lead one to no other conclusion but that the taste of the pudding of Pakistan and India is not what its founders intended it to be. An analogy can be drawn from it to the state of affairs in Turkey today which too, has veered from secularism to quasi-fundamentalism for almost identical reasons.

Ifs of history usually lie in the realm of speculation and hence often ignored but it is worth considering that in the event the two major political parties of British India that struggled for independence of India had not openly espoused secularism thereby putting the fundamentalists in their midst on the backfoot, compelling them to regroup and react with greater ferocity, would the succeeding course of events been different?

If, instead, the leaders of the Independence Movement amongst the two people had used their political skills to carry the conservative elements along and made them feel that they too had made their contribution to the Independence Movement in the same measure as the secular elite, then perhaps the gentry in both countries would have lived up to the metaphorical description of half a Muslim or Hindu as per Ghalib’s inimitable witticism. The two countries would then, while being fully committed to their respective beliefs, would have shunned extremism through being tolerant and thus would not have been at daggers drawn as they are today to the mutual misfortune of the two nations. The taste of the pudding then would have been somewhat subtle resulting in ridding the people of the subcontinent of misery of poverty and degradation in which they continue to wallop even after three quarters of a century of their independence. The answer to the theme question then whether there has been a great betrayal by the leaders of Independence Movement would thus remain unanswered though it can be safely said that there has indeed been a betrayal but of another kind.

The writer is a former Judge of the Sindh High Court. He can be reached at contactus@usmaniandiqbal.com.pk.

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