Today, Jahane Rumi is publishing a guest post by Ali Eteraz who is well known in the blogopshere.Eteraz is a gifted, fiery writer based in the US. He maintains a blog Eteraz, writes for the Huffington Post as well as for the Guardians blog. Ali also manages a web portal called Plural Politics. The views expressed below are solely those of the author.

Why is NYT’s India Editorial About Pakistan?

On August 15, 2007, presumably to mark India’s 60th birthday, the NYT published an op-ed by Ramachandra Guha, entitled “India’s Internal Partition.” At the outset it appeared to be a promising examination of Hindu-Muslim relations, in India. Guha started by discussing1990:

Bharatiya Janata leader Lal Krishna Advani journeyed for five weeks between Somnath and Ayodhya, making fiery speeches at towns and villages en route, denouncing the Indian government for “appeasing” the Muslims. In many places Mr. Advani visited, attacks on Muslims followed.In New Delhi, where I then lived, Mr. Advani’s march represented a grave threat to the inclusive, plural, secular and democratic idea of India.

Yet moving on from that passage the reader is not treated to any meaningful discussion about India’s “internal” matters whatsoever. In fact, as soon as the discussion about Indian-Muslims begins, Guha starts to discuss…Pakistan. It is depressing that 60 years on, a prominent Indian intellectual still has not managed to learn the simple fact that Indian Muslims are Indian and Pakistani Muslims are Pakistani (and not Indian). However, what makes Guha’s gaffe even more disappointing is that his views of Muslims, Indian and Pakistan both, are downright racist.

Though he is quick to invoke his friendship with Pakistani Tariq Banuri who was the first Muslim Guha ever became “close” with (even having dreams about Banuri during the Ayodha crisis), it would appear that the friendship did not leave any discernible positive residue.

When discussing Muslims in India, Guha simply states the oft-invoked trope that Muslims don’t do anything but films, saying “but in law, medicine, business and the upper echelons of public service, Hindus dominated.” An objective editorial about India’s “internal” partition might have inquired why Muslims in India do not make it to the “upper-echelons” of Indian society. But why would Mr. Guha waste time with trivialities, when, on the 60th anniversary of India, there is plenty of Pakistan bashing to be had. It comes soon enough.
The first episode discusses his Delhi’s landlords “all refugees from the Pakistani part of Punjab.” (emphasis added). Guha describes these individuals in excruciatingly materialist terms, making them appear greedy and crass, apparently they “hoarded diamonds and maintained Swiss bank accounts.” Then, to follow it up, he adds this wonderful nugget:
They also cheated their tenants. In six years in Delhi, my wife and I had four landlords, all refugees from the Pakistani part of Punjab. All four hooked their appliances to our electricity meter, and all kept our deposits when we left.
My question is very simple. If Guha’s article is evaluating India’s internal health, and he wishes to complain about Delhi’s landlords, why is there a need to invoke “the Pakistani part of Punjab.” After all, before 1947, there wasn’t even such a thing as a Pakistani Punjab to speak about! If these people are refugees who didn’t make it into Pakistan, then they aren’t really Pakistani to start with, are they? They are Indian, aren’t they? Yet that is the sinister racism of Guha’s piece. Veiled under his concern for India, he is lashing out against a) against Muslims, and b) rendering them all in some way connected to Pakistan.
This piece of subtle-racism continues in the next section when he discusses a visit to Badshahi Masjid:
Then I went across to the majestic Badshahi Mosque, built by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. It was Friday evening, and a large crowd of worshipers was coming out after the weekly prayers. Walking against the flow, I had to jostle my way through.
As I bumped into one worshiper, I was seized by panic. In one pocket of my kurta lay my wallet; in the other, an exquisite little statue of the Hindu god Ganesh, dancing. I am not a believer, but this was my mascot, a gift from my sister, carried whenever I was separated from my wife and little children. What if it now fell out and was seized upon by the crowd? How would that turn out — an infidel discovered in a Muslim shrine, an Indian visitor illegally in Lahore?
See the use of the terms “infidel” and “panic” and “seized upon by the crowd” (as if all Muslims crowd act as one), and the use of the term “shrine” to describe a mosque? Reality is that Guha is unwilling to accept that when he was in Pakistan, no one cared that he was a Hindu, or had a dancing god in his pocket, or that he was from the upper-echelons of Indian society. In India, by virtue of being Hindu, he’d at least have been able to feel better than Indian-Muslims. In Pakistan, deprived of recognition, and in desperate need for it, he resorted to a simpleton’s victimization-complex.
After all this racism, it is no surprise that he ends by predicting war between India and Pakistan.
Despite their shared culture, cuisine and love for the game of cricket, India and Pakistan have already fought four wars. And judging by the number of troops on their borders and the missiles and nuclear weapons to back them, they seem prepared to fight a fifth.
There is no mention of the peace-initiatives via Musharraf and cricket-diplomacy over the last seven years (during which time Indian visitors were celebrated by Karachites and Lahoris), or that for the first time in ages there hasn’t been any saber-rattling between India and Pakistan. Guha’s anti-Muslim attitude, in which all Muslims, even Indians, really are Pakistanis, leads to enmity between Hindu and Muslim. If anything, this editorial, entitled “India’s Internal Partition” reveals more about why Pakistan was necessary, and a good idea, than casting any positive impression of India.

19 Responses to On Half truths – Guest Post by Ali Eteraz

  1. gulnaz says:

    thanks for posting this, i enjoyed reading the analysis he has done here. none of it surprises much but its something one learns to accept and forget if possible. one faces many such incidents and yet you cannot let them make you bitter or prejudiced though you are often tempted to. Its sad really.

  2. saurabh says:

    hey my paki frnd..i just cm across ur artcl..found it interesting…yet baised…see its not at all about hindu/muslims…india/pakistan…its about how u see things…ppl in india(both hindu nd muslim..as well as of other faiths)..have been tested by times..nd have cm as a winner..!!!..these petty politics..prejudiced articles won’t make much of a differnce to it…!!!we all are one nation!!!..as is the case with u!!…

  3. Asmapk says:

    When I first read the article, I thought the writer would delve into how Advani’s rhetoric and parochial politics paved the way for the internal partition of India, as in how it strengthened the communal politics and mindset in India. However, along the course of the article, it seemed as if he lost his point.

    I see it more as a comment/jibe at India’s democratic facade, that has failed to instill ” Indianness” within the Indian Muslims. This has nothing to do with Pakistan but vividly demonstrates the lack of faith in their own people.

  4. […] Guest Post at Raza Rumi Filed under: Politics — eteraz @ 5:23 pm I have a guest post entitled “On Half Truths” at Raza’s place. […]

  5. Nabila says:

    Raza,
    Thanks for sharing this article to me, I look forward to further discussions on this subject….
    Nabila

  6. I think a reference to Pakistan is bound to spring up in any discussion about Indian Muslims. This is perhaps because of the raison d’etre for creation of Pakistan: a homeland for ‘Indian Muslims’. At the time of Partition, most of the Muslims residing in the Indian part were faced with a decision: To migrate or stay.

    That such a large population of Muslims remains in India points to the fact that Partition only separated Muslims, who used to identify with a common identity. So I think it’s quite natural for Pakistan to be mentioned in discussions about Indian Muslims, for the bearing of creation of Pakistan on the circumstances of Indian Muslims cannot be denied. Guha rightly points to deeper failures of partition. “It had been meant to solve, once and for all, the Hindu-Muslim question. But in both countries, the two communities have only grown further apart.”

    However, his prediction of a fifth war in the current times of goodwill and friendliness between the two neighbours seems out of place.

  7. kinkminos says:

    o the hatred the hatred the hate
    the haters never sated never fated
    to peregrinate or foster cross-border
    amity

    enmity
    forever more
    jeevay puristan
    jai hindutvastan

    —–

    btw, wouldn’t “refugees from the Pakistani part of Punjab” be hindus/sikhs who’d hijrofied
    during or after taqseem?

  8. RR says:

    Dear friends, many thanks for the comments here. This was a thoughtful post, not hesitating to speak out the truth.

    Kinkminos: thanks for the lovely lines – it is wonderful to get a comment in verse!

  9. Ali,
    Do not bother. Mr. Guha is not like this to Pakistani Muslims alone. One of his ‘celebrated’ (lets confess it – it was quite well written) book on a Britisher working with tribals in India was titled – “Savaging the Civilized: Verrier Elwin, His Tribals, and India”. Please note the condescending tone and ponder on “His Tribals.” (His tribals!) Your anger is reasonable.

  10. Sidhusaaheb says:

    A slogan for a campaign against wildlife-based products is as follows:

    “When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too.”

    I think it is equally applicable to communalism.

    I suppose that if people stop ‘buying into’ the ‘ideologies’ preached by Mr. Advani and his ilk, which includes the extreme right-wing ‘leaders’ among Muslims, there can be lasting peace, friendship, economic development and prosperity in the sub-continent.

    I dream of a day when the relations between India and Pakistan shall be akin to those among the member-states of the European Union, at present, where trade and movement of people between the two neighbours will be unrestricted. I hope it will be realised within my lifetime!

  11. Sam says:

    great article by Ali Etearz! he does a terrific job of taking apart Guha’s anti-Muslim/anti-Pak rhetoric which affects so many of the Indian intellectuals who can’t think out of stereotypes

  12. YLH says:

    Written in another context but valid here as well:

    Indian genius H M Seervai’s “Partition of India: Legend and Reality” should be mandatory reading for all Pakistanis and Indians.

    Lets some get some facts straight shall we?

    1. Creation of Bangladesh did not negate anything. Read the Lahore Resolution and you will see that the original idea never envisaged one centralised Pakistan. In 1947 Jinnah, Sarat Bose (Netaji’s brother) and Suhrawardy had agreed to an independent united Bangladesh. It was Jawaharlal Nehru who vetoed the idea and insisted on there being ONE Pakistan. How ironic that his daughter lied about “undoing” the Two Nation Theory (which frankly not many Indians or Pakistanis really understand – interpreting it according to their national dogmas) when all Indira undid was Jawaharlal’s handiwork.

    2. Jinnah and the Muslim League agreed to the Cabinet Mission Plan. It was Nehru who vetoed it ultimately. Read Azad’s “India Wins Freedom”. It is quite clear that the Muslim League was ready for a confederation even as late as 1946. I am surprised now you want to undo what your Patel Sb. and Nehru Sb. did and talk of confederation. Well now Pakistanis like myself… born and raised

    3. The idea of Pakistan envisaged a Muslim majority version of India. It did not envisage an exchange of populations. It was a reconstitution of centers around existing constituent units.
    The two nation theory was not as much as Muslims could not live with Hindus but that Muslims being a permanent minority could not be dominated by a permanent majority, especially when the permanent minority had majorities in congruent units. This fit the in vogue definition of a nation. The solution lay in an India with a confederal loose centre consisting of Hindustan and Pakistan sub-federations. This again was vetoed not by Muslim League but Congress.

    4. There is some confusion about the order of events. While Muslim League was always strong in minority provinces.. Pakistan idea had taken root in the Muslim majority provinces way before League took it up. In 1937 … Muslim League was a party of Muslim urban classes in United Provinces. It did not have a following in Pakistan regions. Muslim League won the Muslims seats in UP and wanted a coalition government with the Congress. Congress turned the League down… not because of anything else but because Congress wanted League MPs to merge themselves in the Congress (Read Durga Das’ “From Curzon to Nehru” on this issue). Muslim League only took up the Pakistan idea after realising that without winning the Muslim Majority areas, it did not have sufficient clout. Pakistan – thanks to Rahmat Ali and Iqbal’s efforts- was already a popular slogan in Punjab and Sindh. Muslims of Sindh had passed a resolution as early as 1938. It must also be remembered that Lal Lajpat Rai had suggested a separate homeland of this kind in the 1920s.

    5. Still an amicable partition could have been achieved had three things not occured:

    a. Congress’ insistence on the partition of Bengal and Punjab. Look Muslim League had won 87% of the Muslim vote in 1946 on the basis of reconstitution of existing units around a new center. Muslim League’s articulation of the Two nation theory recognised ethnic divisions… it rejected the one unitary Indian identity not the ethnic identities. I quote Mahomed Ali Jinnah here:

    ‘Muslim League cannot agree to the partition of Bengal and the Punjab. It cannot be justified historically, economically, geographically, politically or morally. These provinces have built up their respective lives for nearly a century’

    (M.A. Jinnah, the President of the Muslim League, Mid May 1947, in a letter to Lord Mountbatten)

    So you see… Muslim League’s two nation theory was very different from the spin both the high priests of Indian nationalism and Pakistani nationalism have given it to suit their own petty agendas. Congress on the other hand used its own version of two nation theory (while protesting it did not agree with it) cynically to divide Punjab and Bengal.

    b. Even after division of Bengal and Punjab, had Mountbatten not played power politics on behalf of Mr. Nehru… and not given Muslim districts of Gurdaspur/Ferozpur to India at the last minute leaving the masses bewildered… most of the violence could have been stopped.

    c. Had Mountbatten allowed the boundary force to take charge as agreed, things could still have been better. But so upset was India’s first governor general at Jinnah… because Jinnah did not let him become the first GG of Pakistan simultaneously… that Mountbatten willingly allowed “disturbances” so that Pakistan would be choked at inception.

    6. Pakistan benefitted most of all the local and indigenous Muslims of this region- like myself.
    The situation is stark. Forget that Muslim community as a whole lagged behind rest of India. This region that is now Pakistan … Punjab, NWFP, Sindh and Balochistan was industrially extremely backward in 1947. Most Muslims of this region were either caught up in their tribes or were soldiers or were farmers. The rigors of having a new state has created a new and confident bourgeoisie. This was recognised by William Dalrymple in one of his articles. Pakistan for those who can look beyond the biases and the propaganda and who visit it is a remarkably modern country- believe it or not. I quote Mr. Dalrymple:

    ‘On the ground, of course, the reality is different and first-time visitors to Pakistan are almost always surprised by the country’s visible prosperity. There is far less poverty on show in Pakistan than in India, fewer beggars, and much less desperation. In many ways the infrastructure of Pakistan is much more advanced: there are better roads and airports, and more reliable electricity. Middle-class Pakistani houses are often bigger and better appointed than their equivalents in India.

    Moreover, the Pakistani economy is undergoing a construction and consumer boom similar to India’s, with growth rates of 7%, and what is currently the fastest-rising stock market in Asia. You can see the effects everywhere: in new shopping centres and restaurant complexes, in the hoardings for the latest laptops and iPods, in the cranes and building sites, in the endless stores selling mobile phones: in 2003 the country had fewer than three million cellphone users; today there are almost 50 million.

    Mohsin Hamid, author of the Booker long-listed novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist, wrote about this change after a recent visit: having lived abroad as a banker in New York and London, he returned home to find the country unrecognisable. He was particularly struck by “the incredible new world of media that had sprung up, a world of music videos, fashion programmes, independent news networks, cross-dressing talkshow hosts, religious debates, and stock-market analysis”.

    I knew, of course, that the government of Pervez Musharraf had opened the media to private operators. But I had not until then realised how profoundly things had changed. Not just television, but private radio stations and newspapers have also flourished in Pakistan over the past few years. The result is an unprecedented openness. Young people are speaking and dressing differently. Views both critical and supportive of the government are voiced with breathtaking frankness in an atmosphere remarkably lacking in censorship. Public space, the common area for culture and expression that had been so circumscribed in my childhood, has now been vastly expanded. The Vagina Monologues was recently performed on stage to standing ovations.

    Little of this is reported in the western press, which prefers its sterotypes simple: India-successful; Pakistan-failure.

    7. Partition is the past and the past is another country. Pakistan exists. Live with it. No Pakistani worth his salt would ever want to sacrifice his independence and sovereignty to India. Altaf Hussain is hardly someone who can be trusted to form an objective opinion. He is a mobster who destroyed Karachi – albeit someone who knows how to play to the gallery. I strongly suggest we do not put too much faith Altaf Hussains and Fazlurrahmans… and I hope Indians will give up their pipe dreams about Pakistan. We want peace and friendship but only if you recognise that we have the inalienable right to exist as a nation state.

  13. basit says:

    I suppose that if people stop ‘buying into’ the ‘ideologies’ preached by Mr. Advani and his ilk, which includes the extreme right-wing ‘leaders’ among Muslims, there can be lasting peace, friendship, economic development and prosperity in the sub-continent.
    I dream of a day when the relations between India and Pakistan shall be akin to those among the member-states of the European Union, at present, where trade and movement of people between the two neighbours will be unrestricted.

  14. zafar haider says:

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