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September 4, 2001

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Rajeev Srinivasan

A Plebiscite for annulling Partition

PART I: You want a plebiscite?

Despite all the noise made by the 'South-Asia'-wallahs, there is no monolithic culture that encompasses the entire subcontinent. The Muslim cultures of Pakistan and Bangladesh are worlds apart from the composite Indic (Hindu-Buddhist-Jain-Sikh) culture of India. This is evident from the recent race riots in the industrial northern towns of Britain: grim places like Bradford, Barnsley, Oldham, some of which I have had the dubious pleasure of visiting because my sister, a doctor, used to work there.

What is happening in Britain? It is as close to a controlled social experiment as it gets. There is a clear distinction between ghettoized Pakistani- and Bangladeshi-origin, ill-educated, unemployed youth who are rioting in the streets and upwardly-mobile, well-educated, bankers, lawyers and other professionals of Indian origin. As I suggested some time ago in my
column, 'Why I am not a South Asian,' Indian-origin Britishers resent being lumped in with these delinquent Pakistani/Bangladeshi types, and they are now vocal about it, too.

With good reason. There is a large gap. The British Indians, like Jewish immigrants in the US, respect education and have strong family values that encourage hard work; they rise through sheer determination and effort. British Pakistanis, like some inner-city blacks and to an extent Hispanics in the US, have become a permanent underclass, hopeless and self-destructive: for often the businesses they destroy through rioting are their own.

According to The Economist of July 14, 2001, 'As well as being the most segregated communities, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis suffer some of Britain's worst poverty and unemployment, and do among the worst in school (Indian pupils, by contrast, do the best).'

Why this gulf between the Indians and the Pakistanis/Bangladeshis? If you were to listen to the 'South-Asia' bleeding-hearts pontificating, you'd believe there was this great commonality between Indians and other subcontinentals. I, on the contrary, have maintained for years that I have absolutely nothing in common with Pakistanis. The experience of the British subcontinentals is scientific support for that sentiment.

The Indians and the Pakistanis originally came to the United Kingdom subject to the very same handicaps: those related to racism and discrimination. Indeed, the British tend to be more racist and obnoxious towards Hindus rather than towards Muslims, because at the very least they can understand Islam, it being quite the twin of their own Christianity, whereas Hinduism is a bewildering and chaotic Other.

Furthermore, we saw during Partition the British desire to help Pakistan: they gave away to Pakistan, against all logic, the Hindu-Sikh-majority city of Lahore; and in Gilgit, British-led Gilgit Scouts raised the Pakistani flag despite its being part of Jammu & Kashmir that had acceded legally to India.

In any case, British subcontinentals toiled away for years, but their destinies could not be more different. The Muslims tended to have far more babies, not to educate their children, and to easily become fundamentalists: for instance there is the curious case of British Pakistani Aurangazeb who 'innocently wandered over the Line of Control into India,' which is Orwellian doublespeak meaning 'terrorist infiltrator.' The Hindus and Sikhs, on the other hand, prospered and moved out of the ghettos in the grimy industrial towns. The obvious difference: religion.

I am beginning to believe that this is the most crucial difference. I didn't use to think this: I used to have a generally benign attitude towards Pakistanis until I started encountering them in the US and on the net. Now I wonder if there is any compromise possible: perhaps the Pakistani believes so blindly in the dogma of his religion that there is no possibility of tolerance or even dialog.

Does this mean Muslims cannot live with non-Muslims? I didn't use to think so, but now I wonder. I know a lot of very decent Muslim Indians, but I am beginning to wonder, if whipped up into a frenzy of hatred, would they murder me in cold blood just because I am a Hindu?

The Muslims from the Malabar coast that I know well are very nice people, honest and friendly to a fault. But I shudder to think that it was these very people who went on a murderous dance of death in 1920 or so, the infamous 'Moplah Rebellion', raping, looting, pillaging and murdering and converting by force thousands of their defenseless Hindu neighbors with whom they had lived peaceably for centuries. And all this, just because Mustafa Kemal Pasha abolished the Caliphate in Turkey! What exactly did this have to do with the poor Hindus of Malabar?

Maybe Mohammed Ali Jinnah was right after all. Maybe the Two-Nation Theory is in fact correct: maybe Muslims couldn't possibly live with non-Muslims.

Maybe we should have a plebiscite, as Musharraf insists. Well, why stop at Jammu and Kashmir? Let us revisit Partition, and give the people of India and Pakistan a chance to finally reveal exactly what their desire is. After all, it is suggested by eminent people (eg M J Akbar in The Siege Within) that the Muslim masses never really desired Partition, and that it was basically a demand from the wealthy Muslim landowners of the Indo-Gangetic Plain. Akbar points out that the Muslim League in undivided India never won any power democratically except in an election that the Congress, for other reasons, boycotted.

Let us now take this opportunity to correct this historical error: let us give every citizen the chance to provide his or her opinion on whether we should revert to the status quo ante of an undivided nation or maybe move forward to a federation, a United States of India, which is what the Gadar Party of San Francisco once envisaged. By the way, reader Lehar, the Gadarites were certainly not advocating a theocracy in a part of India, they were talking about a united and single India: hence their secularism.

Let the public give its verdict. I suspect the results will be rather startling. For one thing, I imagine the women of Pakistan, having seen what their own fundamentalists have wrought upon Afghan women, and also images of the freedom Indian women have (thank you, Bollywood, for the inadvertent propaganda), will vote en masse for reunification. Secondly, the MQM chief has proclaimed publicly that Pakistan was a mistake: therefore presumably most Mohajirs will vote to nullify Partition. Third, the Sindhis, Baluchis, Pathans and other ethnic minorities suffering under the Punjabi yoke in Pakistan may also see that their prospects are rather dim. Similarly with Shias, Ahmadiyyas and non-Muslims.

Fourth, the worsening economic situation in Pakistan, as more and more people slide down the slippery slope into poverty, as well as the worsening law and order situation, and the dangers of rampant religious fundamentalism, might move a lot of Pakistanis to wonder about their future. After years of boasting a higher per capita income, Pakistan is now sliding backwards, and India has caught up and is rapidly passing them by, with much higher GDP growth (6 per cent vs. 3 per cent) and lower population growth.

Yes, despite religious fervor, I think the majority of people in Pakistan will see that Partition has brought them little good. It is only that small, exploitative, parasitic minority of 10 to 20 per cent of the population, Sunni Punjabi men, at the top of Pakistan's intricate caste structure, that has benefited. Rational economic thinking for the majority would indicate reunification. We may not have a common culture, but then economics makes for strange bedfellows. The Two Nation Theory, just like Marxism, may be passť for purely economic reasons.

In India, arrayed against this dialectical inevitability of history and the rise of the bourgeois revanchists (I simply love the turgid and meaningless vocabulary of the leftists!) will be a few thousand Canute-like Nehruvian Stalinists and JNU types and a half million Marxists, who prefer the current situation: after all, it suits their patron and possible paymaster, China, to keep India off-balance. Also, if there weren't poverty and victims, who on earth would be their acolytes? Isn't it quite amazing how much nuisance value this tiny but extremely vocal minority has? But if it's one man, one vote, their opinions will not amount to very much at all.

I think it will be nolo contendere, no contest: a plebiscite would get a massive mandate for Reunification, for annulling Partition. Even if it does not, at the very least it will be a diversionary tactic to shut the Nehruvian Stalinists and Musharraf up for a while. Yes, bring on the plebiscite!

Rajeev Srinivasan

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