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December 30, 2015

Lunch in Lahore


December 30, 2015

As Narendra Modi touched down in Delhi after a two-hour stop-over in Lahore on December 25, BJP National General Secretary Ram Madhavan came up with the old mantra of Akhand Bharat in an interview with Al Jazeera.

In contrast, Shashi Tharoor while addressing the Indian parliament in early December had quoted a Bangladeshi friend of his by saying: “It is safer to be a cow than a Muslim in India”.

The concept of Akhand Bharat has its moorings in the heydays of the Maurya Empire, a geographical mammoth extending from the banks of the Kabul River right up to the Bay of Bengal, ruled by the Maurya dynasty from 322-185 BC. Chandragupta Maurya established his capital at Pataliputra (modern Patna. In the post-Alexander period he consolidated his power on most of the Indian subcontinent and the empire flourished and saw its zenith under the Mauryan dynasty up to the year 185 BC.

The modern-day call for creation of Akhand Bharat has been raised by right-wing Hindutvadi organisations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Hindu Mahasabha, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Praveen Togadia, the leader of the chauvinist right-wing VHP once stated that Hindu birth rates should increase so that the Indian flag flies in “Kandahar, Lahore, and Dhaka”. This nostalgia was echoed by Manmohan Singh when he wished that he could have breakfast in Kabul, lunch in Lahore and dinner in New Delhi – something that was recently accomplished by Narendra Modi.

While the supporters and proposers of Akhand Bharat may have some nostalgic feelings, the ground reality is different. The Maurya Empire was followed by Persians, Arabs, Turko Mongols, Central Asians, Afghans, Mughals and British, who established their empires in the Subcontinent; the resulting cross-cultural exchanges and wars created a complicated matrix for a better part of 2000 years in the Subcontinent.

The Indian fundamentalist political version of Akhand Bharat has outlived its utility. A lot of water has flowed down the Indus and Ganges rivers since the Maurya Empire. Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are new realities; 1.75 billion people would require a mini United Nations to control. When you can be killed for mistaken identity between beef and mutton and when slogans like ‘Love Jihad’ and ‘Ghar Wapsi’ are used to get voters consent, then the concept of Akhand Bharat falls flat on its face.

On the lighter side, Akhand Bharat – with 600 million Muslims and 300 million Dalits – would be a nightmare to govern; I remember one of our seniors in the military saying that a combined Subcontinent would return Muslim rule in India – as was the historical trend and practice before the British Raj.

Can attending a private wedding ceremony or having breakfast, lunch and dinner in three different capitals pave the way for Akhand Bharat? What about the vision of our forefathers and founding leaders? Whereas Pakistan’s quest for peace is based upon the urge to bring prosperity to its people, other countries of South Asia including India too have the right to work for their own people.

With a nuclearised South Asia, sense has now prevailed in the two big powers to sit down and talk. The second decade of the 21st century has also brought epoch-making changes in the strategic environment of West Asia. The Chinese quest for opening a trade and energy corridor across the Himalayas up to the mouth of the North Arabian Sea, and the growth of Pakistan’s strategic weight in Middle East and Central Asia are the new realities of this changing dynamics.

Even an energy-thirsty India needs Pakistan to be the conduit for Central Asian gas to energise Bharat. Pakistan is now at the giving end in this matrix; but goodwill does not warrant that we fritter away the fruits of our sacrifices in the war against terrorism and forget about Indian involvement in Afghanistan.

Akhand Bharat may be nostalgic but the fact is that Akhand Bharat is dead – buried under the weight of tens of empires and rulers who ruled and created new cultures, introduced new faiths, created new languages and established new governance systems.

The demographic realities of the early 20th century forced the British Raj to divide India. And the ground realities of the early 21st century warrant an ideology of living and letting others live; peace is a necessity but it cannot be imposed upon the South Asian people through the concept of Akhand Bharat.

Yes Pakistanis are generous and large-hearted hearts, but we need to be wiser in these tricky times of the second decade of the 21st century, and mindful of any Chanakyas sitting in the South Block.

The writer is a Lahore-based defence analyst.

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