Why India must not reject Gandhi and imitate Pakistan

Khaled Ahmed
Minds in India and Pakistan have been gradually closing because of wars and fear of the “other”, strangely becoming identical in the process.
Minds in India and Pakistan have been gradually closing because of wars and fear of the “other”, strangely becoming identical in the process.

Pakistan’s universities are not counted among the world’s top universities. In fact, even in Pakistan nobody in pursuit of knowledge sets much store by them. The reason is an ideology based on religion which doesn’t brook revision. One thought India would learn from this negative example but it has actually succumbed. Following religion, India can start looking like Pakistan. But what will happen to the Indians and Pakistanis deeply convinced by the “inclusive” faith of Mahatma Gandhi who believed in Hindus and Muslims living together as one nation?

Minds in India and Pakistan have been gradually closing because of wars and fear of the “other”, strangely becoming identical in the process. Great Indians were not reexamined after the rift of 1947. Today, as we all look back, Gandhi emerges as the great South Asian genius who couldn’t convince Hindus and Muslims to live together; but in later years kept inspiring others like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. He went further than anyone else in creating a single nation in India. What is happening now will simply create more “nations” and more conflict. The Khilafat Movement, the biggest Muslim movement in history, was led by him. Today, Muslims have become disenchanted with their Partition brainwash and look at him as a martyr who could have created the kind of India that could live with itself without conflict.

The pain of Partition prevented a correct assessment of leaders struggling to come out from the subjugation of British Raj. Looking back, it is Babasaheb Ambedkar who stands out as the extraordinary man who tried but despaired of Hindu-Muslim unity. He founded the new state, so to speak, because he wrote the secular Constitution of India although he couldn’t clearly designate it as such. He wanted those outside the caste system to be considered socially equal but was realistic enough to know that Muslims and Hindus growing up under the divide-and-rule governance of the Raj will not live together after 1947, and wrote the first book on Pakistan as a “separated” state.

The rise of the nation state was bound to influence the thinking of India and Pakistan and give rise to nationalism. It is amazing that it has taken a century to realise the genius of Rabindranath Tagore, who warned the world against nationalism as the wars of nationalism were on in Europe. That three “nation-states” of South Asia — India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka — sing national anthems written by Tagore reminds us of the peace he was thinking of. India ended up producing more leaders of stature because the Hindu community was more evolved intellectually than the others. It is difficult to ignore the fact that the Pakistani recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physics, Abdus Salam, had to travel to India to thank his math teacher, who was a Hindu. Pakistan is weak in math even today because of state ideology. If this is so, why should India reject Gandhi and imitate “ideological” Pakistan?

Had we listened to Gandhi, we could have grown together with the advantage of interaction. William Leitner, a Hungarian Jew who came to India as an educationist, wanted the Muslims of Indian Punjab to learn math and the sciences instead of what was drilled into them in madrasas. His survey of Lahore under Ranjit Singh is discussed by Pakistani scholar Majid Sheikh thus: “What stands out is that the Hindu pundits ran schools which concentrated on Mathematics, Logic, Astrology, Sanskrit and Persian. They had the Chatsalas for traders and the Pathshalas for religious training, medical education and also for astrology and astronomy. The Sikhs concentrated on Gurumukhi and the Granths. The Muslims taught Arabic, the Quran and Persian, with a few also teaching Urdu, which was a relatively new language for the people. This provides a graphic picture of the mindset of the different communal groups.”

If there is anything to learn from this for the Hindutva enthusiasts in South Asia it is this. Religion guides you spiritually and teaches you humanity above all, not violent division based on identity. Leitner tried to furtively introduce this humanity through “new” education for the Muslims in Lahore by founding the Government College Lahore and giving it the motto “Courage to Know”, a translation of Latin “Sapere Aude”, the motto given by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) to the Enlightenment in Europe. He never told anyone about the real meaning of the motto till Pakistan’s great poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz used it in an Urdu poem after Partition. Today, India and Pakistan should be in peaceful coexistence opening up free trade and aiming at “normalisation” rather that “dispute” resolution.

All disputes will be resolved as a consequence of normalisation. (After all China and India, involved in border skirmishes, have a trade turnover of over $80 billion.) Bangladesh and India have disputes but “normal relations” have led to them being friends. Result: A prosperous Bangladesh. A “failed” Bapu would still have liked an “interactive” South Asia rather than a couple of “nuclearised” states lunging at each other.

The writer is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan