Posted by The Himalayan Voice:
[After a year in office, Modi's gestures of conciliation toward Islamabad have gone nowhere. That's because India's founding fathers set Pakistan up to fail.]
Photo credit: RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
Of all the hopes raised by Narendra Modi's election as prime minister of India one year ago, perhaps the grandest was ending the toxic, decades-long rivalry with Pakistan. Inviting his counterpart Nawaz Sharif to the — remarkably, a first since their nations were born out of the British Raj in 1947 — was a bold and welcome gesture. Yet within months of Modi's inauguration, Indian and Pakistani forces some of the most intense shelling in years along their de facto border in Kashmir. Incipient peace talks foundered. And in April, a Pakistani court Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, operational commander of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LT) and the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, infuriating many in India.
Most Indians believe Pakistan's generals have little interest in peace, and they're not entirely wrong. For decades now, hyping the threat from across the border has won the army disproportionate resources and influence in Pakistan. It's also fueled the military's most dangerous and destabilizing policies — from its covert support of the Taliban and anti-India militants such as LT, to the rapid buildup of its nuclear arsenal. One can understand why Modi might see no point in engaging until presented with a less intractable interlocutor across the border.
But however exaggerated Pakistan's fears may be now, Indian leaders bear great responsibility for creating them in the first place. Their resistance to the very idea of Pakistan made the 1947 partition of the subcontinent far bitterer than it needed to be. Within hours of independence, huge sectarian massacres had broken out on both sides of the border; anywhere from 200,000 to a million people would ultimately lose their lives in the slaughter. Pakistan reeled under a tidal wave of refugees, its economy and its government paralyzed and half-formed. Out of that crucible emerged a not-unreasonable conviction that larger, more powerful India hoped to strangle the infant Pakistan in its cradle — an anxiety that Pakistan, as the perpetually weaker party, has never entirely been able to shake.
Then as now, Indian leaders swore that they sought only brotherhood and amity between their two nations, and that Muslims in both should live free of fear. They responded to charges of warmongering by invoking their fealty to Mohandas K. Gandhi — the "saint of truth and nonviolence," in the words of India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. In fact, Nehru, and Gandhi himself — the sainted "Mahatma," or "great soul" — helped breed the fears that still haunt Pakistan today.
There's little question, for instance, that Gandhi's leadership of the Indian nationalist movement in the 1930s and 1940s contributed to Muslim alienation and the desire for an independent homeland. He introduced religion into a freedom movement that had until then been the province of secular lawyers and intellectuals, couching his appeals to India's masses in largely Hindu terms. ("His Hindu nationalism spoils everything," Russian writer Leo Tolstoy wrote of Gandhi's early years as a rabble-rouser.) Even as Gandhi's Indian National Congress party claimed to speak for all citizens, its membership remained more than 90 percent Hindu.
Muslims, who formed a little under a quarter of the 400 million citizens of pre-independence India, could judge from Congress's electoral victories in the 1930s what life would look like if the party took over from the British: Hindus would control Parliament and the bureaucracy, the courts and the schools; they'd favor their co-religionists with jobs, contracts, and political favors. The louder Gandhi and Nehru derided the idea of creating a separate state for Muslims, the more necessary one seemed.
Ironically, Gandhi may have done the most damage at what is normally considered his moment of triumph — the waning months of British rule. When the first pre-Partition riots between Hindus and Muslims broke out in Calcutta in August 1946, exactly one year before independence, he endorsed the idea that thugs loyal to Mohammad Ali Jinnah, leader of the Muslim League, the country's dominant Muslim party, had deliberately provoked the killings. The truth is hardly so clear-cut: It appears more likely that both sides geared up for violence during scheduled pro-Pakistan demonstrations, and initial clashes quickly spiraled out of control.
Two months later, after lurid reports emerged of a massacre of Hindus in the remote district of Noakhali in far eastern Bengal, Gandhi fueled Hindu hysteria rather than tamping it down. Nearing 80 by then, his political ideas outdated and his instincts dulled by years of adulation, he remained the most influential figure in the country. His evening prayer addresses were quoted and heeded widely. While some Congress figures presented over-hyped casualty counts for the massacre — party chief J.B. Kripalani estimated a death toll in the millions, though the final tally ended up less than 200 — Gandhi focused on wildly exaggerated claims that marauders had raped tens of thousands of Hindu women. Controversially, he advised the latter to "suffocate themselves or … bite their tongues to end their lives" rather than allow themselves to be raped.
Within weeks, local Congress politicians in the nearby state of Bihar were leading ugly rallies calling for Hindus to avenge the women of Noakhali. According to reporter George Jones, in their foaming outrage "it became rather difficult to differentiate" between the vicious sectarianism of Congress and radical Hindu groups like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), whose cadres had begun drilling with weapons to prevent the Partition of India.