The news that the cosmopolitan city of Bombay (Mumbai) India's financial centre was in lockdown to mourn the death of Bal Thackeray, the head of the Muslim-hating Shiv Sena, must have come as a rude jolt to those who had been lulled into believing that India was fast changing.
Although none here or in India are fooled by such a claim, it does resonate among the Obama lot and, thanks to the large India lobby in Washington, also in the US Congress. But, then, that bunch also believes that they won the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that after Julius Caesar and Napoleon no one has delivered more victories than David Petraeus.
But what must have shocked the more discerning amongst them was how “cosmopolitan” Bombayites, along with the ruling Congress Party, have tried to pass off a notorious Hindu bigot and gangster as a political figure of high stature deserving respect when, in fact, the mere mention of his name among India’s Muslims is anathema and arouses all sorts of murderous emotions.
Consider again: we have the leadership of ‘secular’ India, the world’s second most populated country and an aspiring world power, exalting a man who made a cult out of hating the adherents of an entire faith (Islam) comprising 200 million in his own country. And had directly, or because of his poisonous teachings, been responsible for the killing of more Muslims in Maharashtra state than anyone else since he founded Shiv Sena in 1966; who had actually been arrested (1992, 1993 and 2000), for inciting hatred in his speeches and boasting he would “cleanse” India of Muslims, but was never tried or punished; who branded Muslims as “anti-nationals,” or, in simpler parlance, “traitors,” including the actor Shahrukh Khan who subsequently had to beg for protection. Such, then, is the man who has been given a hero’s farewell by the citizens of Bombay and the “secular” Congress government of India.
How hailing Thackeray helps Congress obtain the Muslim vote, considering how long it will take them to forget this insult, is far from clear. And, even if Congress cares a hoot for the Muslim vote, why abandon all beliefs, principles and values that Congress claims it is sworn to. There is also the matter of India claiming that Hafiz Saeed is the greater evil. A lot of people would dispute that, considering that there are Muslims in Bombay who, deep down in their hearts, carry a small cemetery of those they loved who have been killed at the instigation of Thackeray and by his goons.
A nation is defined as much by its friends as its enemies and as much by what it professes as what it does. A political party of which Mahatama Gandhi, rightly proclaimed as the prophet of non-violence, was the leader can’t have both him and Thackeray as heroes. It’s one or the other, and no amount of Indian smudge will bridge that gap.
When it comes to India-Pakistan relations, I have never believed in the therapeutic effect of “letting the grass grow over the past,” because, as someone said, a society without memory, as much as an individual without memory, is a sick society. That’s not to say that the dead hand of the past should forever prevent us from resolving old or new problems. However, before we can resolve them, the two countries need to help each other achieve an inner balance, to admit their foibles and shortcomings and discover morality in their own actions when dealing with the other. Until that it is achieved, everything will be a game of thrust and parry, but once that is achieved no problem need prove insoluble.
As an example of the sort of confidence and level of trust which we need to build amongst the two countries, I recall Agha Shahi telling me that at one point in negotiations with China on the (Azad) Kashmir-China boundary in the early sixties, the Chinese side pointed out their own claim made no sense as the area they were claiming could only be accessed from our side. Hence, China had decided to forego its claim. And, moreover, rather than have Pakistan forego theirs for the same reason in another sector, to which they alluded on the map, China was willing to give us not only access but ownership of the land.
Agha Shahi said there was a stunned silence. Then someone picked up the courage to ask whether we had properly understood that the Chinese were willing to transfer the whole area to Pakistan even though that had not been demanded. “Yes,” was the emphatic answer, “that is the desire of the leadership of the People’s Republic of China.” A further silence followed, till someone muttered, “Thank you,” and the discussions moved on.
The two delegations proceeded in the same manner, with Pakistan reciprocating the gesture somewhere else, till the entire boundary line was not only demarcated but also made sense. For all practical purposes, said Agha Shahi, that brief exchange established the level of trust which not only determined the successful outcome of those negotiations but, as it turned out, the entire relationship for decades to come.
Compare those negotiations to the disastrous stance Nehru adopted during boundary talks with the Chinese in the NEFA; and that on Siachin in 1988, where Rajiv Gandhi actually signed off on the agreement and then reneged on the insistence of his generals. Nothing was the same either between India and Pakistan or China and India after that.
Nevertheless, and very properly, India and Pakistan consider it best to keep trying, regardless of the false starts and failures, because not to do so would be an evasion of responsibility for which neither side wants to take the blame. After all, war is not merely a terrible threat but a terrible reality.
But returning to the main theme of this article, what requires an immediate explanation is the strange behaviour of the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board in sending Thackeray a get-well card, just so that Thackeray would not carry out his threat to disturb the tour and thereby worsen further the already parlous state of PCB finances. However, the PCB chairman, instead of making a clean breast of the matter, in typically oriental fashion justified his fawning gesture towards Thackeray by claiming he was “following the principles of the Prophet (PBUH).” Needless to say, the whole thing descended into a farce when he claimed in the same breath, and with a straight face, that actually his “message received very good response from many Indians.”
So what was it? Devotion to the way of the Prophet (PBUH) or simply currying favour with Indians generally and with Thackeray, so that Thackeray’s goons do not carry out their threat of disrupting the tour? Sadly, the latter, I suspect. As for what will happen after Thackeray to Shiv Sena, if the past is anything to go by, yet another Muslim-hating firebrand will emerge to take command of his lucrative bhatta-collection racket and pose as an Indian redeemer.
The writer is a former ambassador. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org