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Or the Future of the Past in South Asia

Ashis Nandy


When the Bangladesh war created a new state to the east of India in 1971, it ended Pakistan's unique status as a country in two parts, separated by one thousand miles of hostile India. Before the war, the late Sisir Gupta, scholar and hard-eyed Indian diplomat, used to claim that the crisis of Pakistan's identity was mirrored in the inability of Pakistani children to even draw the map of their country without drawing India. Twenty-five years after the event, Indians have now proved the cultural unity of the subcontinent by successfully redefining their country in such terms that even adult Indians cannot define India without involving Pakistan in that self-definition.

Pakistan has a history and a geography. Beyond them, shaping India's imagination of her neighbour in elemental ways, is the myth of Pakistan. This myth transcends Pakistan's empirical and geopolitical status. It cannot be subsumed under rubrics such as defence studies, class analysis, political history, and development economics. That mythic Pakistan is not even made in Pakistan. It originates in India and dominates India's public life, though it is also sometimes exported or smuggled into Pakistan. When it enters Pakistan, it becomes a deadly bond between the two countries. For the myth is not obediently mythic; it shapes behaviour and policy. People die and kill for it. To use a cliché, if the Pakistani state does not conform to the myth, some Indians will certainly invent a new nation-state to do so.

Pakistan is the name of a country to the north-west of India, carved out of the Muslim majority provinces of British India. It has survived for nearly fifty years, to intermittently haunt the Indian state and army. About twenty-five years ago Pakistan shrunk to less than half its original size, when Bangladesh was born. India played an important part in that shrinkage. But few Indians believe that the bisection taught Pakistan any lesson or reduced its power an iota. Pakistan, they believe, is exactly what it was when it started life as a new nation. Most Indians, therefore, react to Pakistan as if it was the Pakistan of 1947.

For the Indian state, therefore, Pakistan has retained its parity and remained a genuine counter-player. Few Indian state functionaries think of Pakistan as anything but superior to India in its ability to make mischief or subvert neighbouring states. This is no mean achievement, given that Pakistan is one-eighth the size of India, that even after spending nearly 6 per cent of its GDP on defence-as compared to India's 2.5 per cent -its army is about one-third the size of the Indian army, that the country has its own ethnic problems and separatist movements, and Pakistanis seem more unsure about Pakistan's sustainability than Indians are about India's.

Even for many highly educated, urbane, middle-class Indians, what matters is that Pakistan is full of Muslims, most of them from north-west India and belonging to the `martial races'. India's north-west includes Punjab and that makes it worse. Secularism is all right, even commendable, but rationality demands that one recognises Muslims to be hot-headed, tough, masculine, anti-democratic and prone to fundamentalism. More so if they happen to be from the north. One must handle them firmly to protect progress and democracy and to ensure that they get stewed in the global melting pot to become atomised, law-abiding citizens of a proper modern state?

At this plane, Pakistan is what India does not want to be; indeed, it is what India's modern élite would hate to be. This bonding in hate, fifty years after the division of India into two nation-states, is growing. As India becomes more of a modern nation-state, Pakistan for it becomes both a double and the final rejected self. The next-door neighbour now arouses deep anxieties not merely in Hindu nationalist formations like the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena, but also in Indian liberals and leftists. For them, too, Pakistan is the ultimate symbol of irrationality and fanaticism.

Jawaharlal Nehru, we are told, expected Pakistan to collapse within months in 1947. A theocratic state, he thought, could not survive in the contemporary world. (Pakistan always looks a theocratic state to the Indian élite, never as a nation-state created by its modernising middle classes, working with a vague pan-Islamic fervour or an instrumental concept of Islam.) Pakistan, Nehru's reading of world history presumably went, had to be an aberration in history, brought about by a few ambitious nuts who had successfully mobilised the atavistic sentiments of a section of some South Asians. Strictly speaking, the reading is no different from that of the young historian Ayesha Jalal or the respected jurist H. M. Seervai. Only Nehru believed that the stupidity and ambition were concentrated in the leaders of the Muslim League; the other two believe that these qualities were concentrated in the Indian National Congress.
Nation-states in our times, however, have been sturdy entities. In the present world system, they have a logic that transcends the naive social evolutionism of Nehru. Pakistan has survived not only as an `unreasonably' stable nation-state, to trust the Indian policy makers and the leaders of India's main political parties, it has survived to become the equal of India. Today the two national security states stand face to face, more equal that ever. For India's efforts to prove, once for all, its military superiority by exploding a `peaceful' nuclear device in 1973, has misfired. Pakistan in its unending search for parity, has acquired nuclear capability to neutralise India's one-up-manship. This new parity, gifted to Pakistan by India's super-patriots and the international arms bazaar, is going to be a permanent fixture, neutralising the three-to-one superiority India reportedly has in conventional arms.

Is this cultivated nuclear equality unintended? Or does the Indian nation-state, to complete its self-definition, need a powerful, hostile Pakistan as its hated but valued double? Or is the fantasised Pakistan an essential technology, for modern Indians, to complete the conversion of the Indian civilisation to a standard, nineteenth-century the nation-state? From where has Pakistan got this magical strength to take on a country eight times its size? Do Indians secretly believe what General Yahya Khan openly claimed-that each Pakistani soldier is equal to ten Indian? Is it all a matter of American military aid and the Indian state's softness, the ignominy that Professor Gunnar Myrdal so compassionately diagnosed in the 1960s and left the Indian élite to live with?

One part of the answer lies in the shared memories of Pakistan's separation from India. These memories prompt every modern Indian to mutter under his or her breath about Pakistan: `There goes, but for the grace of God, India.' But with it also goes the wistful belief that they should have been little more like the Pakistanis, at least in international relations and cricket.

That ambivalence comes from two pivotal imageries: First, Pakistan is seen as a product of the conspiracy between India's erstwhile British rulers pursuing a `divide and rule' policy and the religion-based parties in the region. Pakistan at this plane is seen as an illegitimate child of the West. The `killer instinct' imputed to it comes partly from this. A bastard of the West is, everything said, half-western and has to be better in wily statecraft than the natives.

That Islam is a Semitic creed and that most Pakistanis are Punjabis feed this imagery. The West might be phobic about Islam and Pakistanis may be suspicious of the West but, for modern Indians, Pakistan cannot but remain a natural ally of the West. They love to see Islam, even South Asian Islam, as closer to European Christianity than to Hinduism. Every modern reform movement in Hinduism, from Brahmoism to Arya Samaj, has tried to make Hinduism more Semitic and incorporate within it elements of Islam? And Punjabis, as is well known on both sides of the border, are pushy, martial, avaricious, and amoral at the same time. A country full of Muslims is bad enough, but a country full of Punjabi Muslims can only be considered a conspiracy against decent politics.

Hence the frequent inability of the Indian rulers to distinguish the Pakistani people-theoretically, misguided Indians who made a wrong choice in 1947-from the Pakistani government, led by a series of military or, as it looks from this side of the border, theocratic regimes. The Pakistani disinclination to be ruled by the army or by the mullahs can be taken seriously by all countries in the world except India. Hence, few Indians have seriously surveyed the political support-base of Islamic parties and formations in Pakistan, their electoral performance, and the resistance they have faced. The success of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan is taken for granted.

Second, Pakistan has to be a successful conspirator against India, because religion, culture and state in Pakistan are seen to constitute a symbiotic triad. The symbiosis explains, to the satisfaction of many Indians, Pakistan's fanaticism and the super-human efficiency of its state. This symbiosis has been a goal of modern Indians since the last century and they feel they have not succeeded in it, thanks to the obstinate inertia of the ordinary Hindus and the `soft', non-martial, fuzzy-ended `effeminacy' their religion inculcates in them. Therefore, the omniscience imputed to the agencies of the Pakistani state is matched by the innocence attributed to their Indian counterparts. The Pakistani Army's intelligence wing, the Inter-Services Intelligence, for instance, has acquired in India a mythic stature as a villain that puts to shame the boisterous villains in the popular Bombay films. In comparison, the Indian intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, is perceived as a set of bungling, politics-afflicted innocents controlled by civilians. Everything said, the staff in the ISI are seen as trained by the CIA; those in RAW are seen as either home-spun or trained by the miserable NKVD.

The obverse of that perception is the constant demand for more masculine, tough statecraft from the Indians and pleas to match the militarisation of the Pakistani society by building a garrison state in India. The fear of separatism everywhere, the tendency to see all demands for decentralisation as a conspiracy against Indian unity, the panicky response to criticisms of state violence by human rights groups-they all are indicators of a concept of a state critically shaped by Pakistan. So much so that it is possible to visualise a time when the Indian state will only mirror the Pakistani-state-as-fantasised-by-the-Indian-élite.

Pakistan is many things to many people. But the mythic Pakistan I am talking about is, above all, a definer of Indianness. It is a means of self-analysis and self-intervention. If Mother India can be put on an analytic couch, the enterprising psychoanalyst who does so will not miss her schizoid personality and the mix of paranoia and admiration with which some of her selves look at each other. That one of these selves is identified with Pakistan is now part of South Asia's psychological landscape. In the dynamics of that self lie crucial clues to the nature of the Indian nation-state.


Pakistan's India, the image of India Pakistan lives with, is also mostly Pakistan's own. It has almost nothing to do with what India is or might have been. It tells us what Pakistan is, feels it should be, or could have been.
Pakistan's India has two selves. The source of one is the official ideology of the Pakistani state; official Pakistan likes to believe it to be the only India that counts. The other is a disowned India; even Pakistani ideologues carry it in their veins, though many of them would deny that vehemently. That disowned India is also a mythic entity that defines Pakistan's boundaries and origins, loves and hates, past and future, its very core.

The official India of Pakistan-the India that looks like a pure product of Pakistani propaganda to many-is actually a desperate defence against facing the unofficial India that Pakistanis carry within themselves. That unofficial India contaminates and subverts Pakistan every day. It subverts not in the way the many Pakistanis fear being subverted-through political deceit or treachery or through the armed might of its larger neighbour-but in the way Sigmund Freud talked of the return of the unconscious to subvert our self-image as rational, normal, sane human beings.

No wily Indian politician scheming to destroy Pakistan could do worse. For the most the clever, dhoti-clad Indian politician can do is to try to wreck Pakistan through inspired statecraft and military adventure, against both of which Pakistan has built excellent defences in the last fifty years. Whereas the latent India that haunts Pakistan has no devious political leader to guide its destiny and no army to back it up. It is entirely a home-made Pakistani product.
That haunting, strangely seductive India Pakistanis cannot share with any other country; they have to fight that apparition alone. Paradoxically, they can sometimes share it with Indians, who also have now begun to live with a home-made ghost called Pakistan.

The manifest India of Pakistan-to judge by Pakistan's official ideology, mainstream historical scholarship, school and college texts, and the language of propaganda used by Pakistani media-has some clear features. I state them in the form of a three propositions. First, India is led by a westernised, highly professional, upper-caste, Hindu élite who, taking advantage of their early modernisation, began to dominate the subcontinent, much before the simple, lion-hearted, Kiplinesque Gungadins-also known as the South Asian Muslims-woke up to it. The élite even had, the self-construction of Pakistan goes, subtly changed the rules of the game in the 1920s under the leadership of the likes of M. K. Gandhi--by introducing symbols and idiom from the Hindu worldview and by refusing to grant Muslims parity with the Hindus, which the Muslims deserved for being the subcontinent's largest minority and erstwhile rulers. It was thus that the Hindu élite ensconced in the Indian National Congress prepared the ground for the creation of Pakistan. For Pakistan, according to the underside of its official history, is the only country in the world to have come into being reluctantly-as a response to the chicanery of the Hindu élite of undivided India. An authentic anti-imperialist and an important leader of the Congress, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, saw through the game, left the party, and decided to lead the Pakistan movement. Being a westernised professional lawyer, and a Gujarati Bania to boot, Jinnah could be a perfect foil for the other Gujarati Bania who was going places with his bogus slogans of non-violence, soul force and moral politics, his unending fasts and tiresome counter-modernism.

Defeated in its own game, the Hindu upper-caste élite gulped the idea of partition of India as a political ploy but continued to have designs on the infant Pakistani state. Not only during the 1971 war but subsequently too, India has been entirely responsible for Pakistan's ethnic problems. In addition, what the Brahminic élite could not do to the bulk of Indian Muslims in pre-partition days, it has now done to India's supine Muslim minority and, for that matter, to all other minorities.
Second, Pakistan is an Islamic state and an Islamic state should not, Pakistan believes, be preoccupied with its Indian past, pre-Islamic or otherwise. For over-concern with that past can only detract from one's Islamic heritage and the solidarity of the Muslims that constitutes the Pakistani nation-state. Pakistan's history should begin neither with the Indus valley civilisation nor with the entry of Islam into India at a time when India's ruling élite was still predominantly Hindu, that is, when Islam in India was not backed by state power. Pakistan's history must begin with the West Asian invaders of India who not only gave Indian Islam a new political and military edge, but also brought along with them a huge majority of the ancestors of the South Asian Muslims. The South Asian Muslims, therefore, are basically an exogenous ruling élite who have found in Pakistan a social and political status appropriate to their true self. It is this status that India's Hindu rulers grudge. The Muslims who do not fit this self-image are irrelevant and can be safely forgotten.

Not only the distant past but much of India's anti-colonial struggle-except probably the rebellion in 1857-is irrelevant to Pakistan, for the struggle sought to bypass the Indian Muslims. Many Hindu leaders of the struggle, the ideologues of Pakistan believe, were dedicated enemies of the Muslims because they wanted to inherit the mantle of the Raj in its entirety, even though representing only the sectional interests of the Hindus.

Third, Muslims and other minorities in present-day India are not only oppressed, the leaders they have thrown up are servitors of the Hindu élite who rule India with an iron hand. Official Pakistan believes that the stridency towards Pakistan displayed by many Muslim leaders of India can be traced to their political ambitions; they want to be more loyal than the king to India's Hindu state, for reasons of personal greed or ambition.

Of course, Pakistan, the declared home of South Asian Muslims, will not like to accept all the Muslims in India, even if they were willing to migrate. For that would be the end of Pakistan. On the other hand, the fact that both India and Bangladesh have as large number of Muslims as Pakistan is a statistical artifact for many Pakistanis. For them, the Muslims stay in India under duress and Bangladesh is merely an Indian concoction and a trickery of history. The Indian Muslims are poor and oppressed, though their Islam is no worse than that of Pakistan; the Bangladeshi Muslims are not only poor; they are fish-eating, Bengali-speaking, non-martial, quasi-Muslims whose numerical strength is a Malthusian artifact. Ideally, India should be officially a Hindu state and the Indian rulers should shed the pretence of running a multi-ethnic state, to justify post facto the creation of Pakistan. For Pakistan still desperately craves to represent the interests of all South Asian Muslims, including the Muslims of India and Bangladesh. The size and political clout of India's Muslim community discomfits Pakistan's rulers. Because granting intrinsic legitimacy to the politics of Indian Muslims-and that of the Bangladeshi Muslims-means recognising that Pakistan is only one among the three major players in the region's Muslim politics and involves seeking sanction from the Muslims of India and Bangladesh before making claims in the name of Islam in this part of the world.

Underlying these components in the official ideology of the Pakistani state-which already makes Pakistan an atypical ideological state in that it depends so heavily on India to define itself-is the unofficial culture of the Pakistani state. That unofficial culture involves India in an entirely different way.

First, Pakistan was built as a home of South Asian Muslims, against the proposal for a multi-ethnic society that looked, rightly or wrongly, to most of the subcontinent's westernised Muslim élite, like a plan to create a majoritarian nation-state dominated by the Hindus. Anti-Hindu sentiments therefore have to be an ingredient of the ideology of Pakistan. Pakistan, however, is a nation-state and, like all nation-states, uncomfortable with the demands of an ideological state. (For instance, it likes to be in good terms with Nepal. The fear of big brother India brings them together but, for both, it is not a happy exposure. Pakistanis discover a Hindu state with whom they are forced to be friendly; the Nepalese, living in the world's only Hindu kingdom, discover a peculiar ally which claims to hate a central plank of Nepal's cultural self.)

Also, thanks to the large-scale violence in 1946-47 and the separation of Bangladesh, anti-Hindu themes have increasingly become an odd, anachronistic presence in Pakistan's national ideology. Many young Pakistanis, who have not even seen many Hindus, do not find the themes evocative, despite being brought up on a steady diet of anti-Hindu texts. That only increases the stridency and bitterness in official Pakistan, for it has come to feel in recent years that the younger generation in Pakistan is not adequately patriotic or aware of the sacrifices made for Pakistan by the older generation of Pakistanis.
Second, everyone in Pakistan suspects, even those who claim otherwise, that a huge majority of the South Asian Muslims have no genuine claim to West Asian ancestry. Their forefathers were converted from Hinduism or Buddhism and their `peripheral' Islam is not a learnt behaviour but an inherited culture. The real fear is of drowning in the morass called Hindu cultural order as other religions and even prophetic creeds have sometimes done or being fitted within its hierarchical order, from which Islam has often been an escape for important sections of South Asians. This fear might or might not have been vaguely strengthened by certain similarities between Hinduism and pre-Islamic Arab faiths that Islam fought in its earliest years.

Third, by conceptualising Hinduism as a negation of Islam, the Pakistani state is forced to take a position on South Asian Islam, which has interacted over the centuries with other faiths, especially Hinduism, influencing them and being influenced by them. South Asian Islam cannot but look to the ideologues of Pakistan a deviant, half-baked form of Islam that has strayed from the straight, narrow path of `authentic' Islam practised in West Asia. The very distinctiveness of South Asian Islam, cultural and social, is seen as its liability, as the final proof that it has been influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism. Virtually every Islamic reform movement in South and South-East Asia has vended the idea of a genuine Islam and the myriad tropical varieties of Islam as essentially flawed. Gradually the largest Muslim communities in the world-Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Malaysia, which among themselves constitute a decisive majority of the global Islamic community-have been reclassified during the last hundred years as the abodes of peripheral Islam where dumb apprentice-believers of Islam perpetually wait to be retooled into text-book versions of Muslims.

Fearful of the egalitarian thrust of Islam and its emphasis on an unmediated relationship between the believer and divinity, this particular form of reformism has also led to the development of an ornate structure of theological justifications for authoritarian regimes that ambitious despots find very soothing. Pakistan's India is an adjunct to this set of justifications. Pakistanis may not like it, but their India comes closest to the India of the Hindu nationalists. What the Pakistani élite imagine India to be, the Hindu nationalist want India to be. In the India that these dedicated enemies have co-authored, there is the same pathetic masculinity strivings, the same uncritical acceptance of the principles of the modern state and nationality, the same contempt towards the ordinary citizen and ordinary believers.

There is, however, one important difference. The criteria used by official Pakistan to conjure up its India are, by the standard of the Hindu nationalists, almost entirely Hindu. Whereas the criteria used by the Hindu nationalists to define their ideal India are, as paradoxically, close to the ones the ideologues of Pakistan consider truly Islamic. Both sets include elements with which the westernised middle classes in South Asia feel at home.

Fourth, Pakistan wants India to leave it alone and accept the partition of India, but Pakistan cannot accept as genuine an India that leaves it alone and accepts partition. India, to qualify as India for Pakistanis, must interfere in and try to subvert the Pakistani state. For Pakistan needs India to be its hostile but prized audience which, after trying out all its dirty tricks, will have to admit someday that Pakistan has made it, that Pakistan is not what the Pakistanis themselves secretly suspect it to be. That acceptance by India and, by implication, the Hindus is even more important for the ideologues of Pakistan than what the common run of Pakistani citizens think of Pakistan. For, everything said, India is the exiled self of Pakistan, by exteriorising and territorialising which Pakistan has built its identity and it remains, fifty years after its creation, the final measure of the worth of Pakistan.


This story is not concerned with history; it is concerned with the future of `reconstructed' pasts, with the myths that frame the fate of South Asia as it enters the twenty-first century. It is actually a story which has many of the ingredients that constitute an epic--a cast of millions, memories of wars and an exodus that have taken the toll of someone near to virtually everyone, and anger over lost or stolen patrimonies. Above all, to please literary theorist D. R. Nagaraj's concept of an epic, it has two antagonistic sides that are intimately related to each other through kinship and shared but often-disowned memories--like the Pandavas and the Kauravas in the Mahabharata. The only concession made to contemporary times is that both sides believe themselves to the wronged Pandavas and other side to be the ungodly Kauravas; yet each is convinced, as upholders of virtue, that they must retain a clandestine Kaurava self to ensure final victory of justice and truth.

Nation-states in South Asia, Ziauddin Sardar argues, are fictitious entities. Indian and Pakistani nationalism, too, is `an artifact,: a fabrication that is treated and enforced as though of the natural universe.' But millions have been uprooted and much blood has already been shed for these entities. Fictions do kill in our times. What gives poignancy to that suffering is that all of it might have been a waste, though it might have consolidated two nation-states and satisfied a lost generation brought up to view the nation-state as the key to survival in the contemporary world.

Much of the ethnic violence-particularly the venom that has come to characterise it in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka-has sprung not from any distance among communities or from clashing civilisations, but from proximity and fear of one's disowned selves. As in the cases of the Hutus and the Tutsis, the Bosnians and the Serbs, South Asian ethnic and religious violence, too, can be identified as a classic instance of what Sigmund Freud might have called a desperate, panicky `turning against the self' as a means of exorcising the feared Other. That attempted exorcism, even at the cost of self-annihilation, is becoming in South Asia the marker of a nihilistic affirmation of one's cultural selfhood. Strangely, that affirmation has come at a time when cultures are under attack not from one's neighbours but from more impersonal forces of global cultural unification and the loss of the life-support systems that once sustained traditional identities.
This is tragic, for there are signs that the coming century may belong not to the nation-states or to public consciousness built around nation-states, but to other kinds of aggregates organised around cultures and civilisations, including those previously marginalised. These aggregates will face formidable challenges from other non-state actors, such as multinational corporations and transnational economic institutions, but these corporations and institutions will have even less to do with the present order of nation-states. South Asia among all the regions of the world seem least prepared to face that situation. I remember economist Rahman Sobhan once predicting that the seven states in the region will walk like so many ghosts in the global corridors of power with none interested either in their plight or mutual bickering.

It is one of the clichés of contemporary sociology of science that, in modern science, major new discoveries or changes in cosmology are brought about not by empirical data or spectacular changes of heart in important scientists moved by reason, but by the death and retirement of the older generation of scientists. As we near the end of this particularly violent century, perhaps we should pin our hopes on an younger generation of South Asians less conditioned or brainwashed by the nineteenth-century European worldview and its obsessive preoccupation with the state. They will, I am confident, look at the organisational principles of their societies less blinkered by nineteenth-century western scholarship and rediscover that the South Asian societies are woven not around the state, but around their plural cultures and pluri-cultural identities. They will also discover, if I might use that paradoxical expression for a region that has not yet been massified, the grandeur of the humble, everyday life of their peoples and their little cultures. It is unlikely that I shall live to see that day, but I am consoled by the thought that I belong to a generation of South Asian scholars whose demise can only hasten the end of the present phase of self-hatred and attempts to live out some other culture's history.



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