How a foreigner, and that too a Pakistani, looks at India or what he makes of that country depends to a large extent on his own value system, his own perspective on life, and the angle he chooses to view the contemporary Indian scene. Like many others I look at India from several points of view and these are personal to me and I am aware that many Pakistanis, perhaps most of them, might not wish to count me in their company.
As one born in India and having spent the first 17 years of my life there, I retain an emotional attachment with the people of India and share many of their aspirations and most of their sorrows. My growing inclination to consider myself a citizen of South Asia reinforces that transnational outlook.
As a student of history, I feel proud of the struggle for freedom the people of India, as it existed until 1947, waged against the mightiest of the imperial powers. They were not only the vanguard of the anti-colonial movement but had also set the model of success through a non-violent assertion of humankind’s most fundamental rights. But as the vast multitudes in the subcontinent observe the 67th day of their independence, they are still waiting to receive their share of the reward for freedom, perhaps more so in Pakistan than in India. How can a people hold their heads high if one-third of them, or more, are living below the poverty line?
India’s claim to be the world’s largest democracy is valid but, alas, only up to a point. That power has devolved from a small, central elite only to a larger collection of regional elites can be explained away as the unavoidable result of the path taken at Independence. What is infinitely more worrisome is the state’s continuing disability to resolve several communities’ aspirations for democratic governance except through force. How long will it take the Indian thought-makers to realise that greatness lies in respecting the meek and the disadvantaged and not in bowing before the strong and the privileged?
If one looks back to the 1950s, it is difficult to avoid feeling sad over the demise of the Non-aligned Movement - of which India was one of the prime movers – which was a brave heave by the less developed but morally sound nations to challenge the hegemony of war contractors and arms dealers. Now one notices different idols in India’s pantheon. Today India seems to value the size of its economy more than the strength of its political creed. Economic prosperity should be welcome, but only if the distribution of its fruits meets increasingly the demands of social justice.
India faces a stiff test as it moves towards becoming a big power: to what extent will it owe its status to the force of its arms and the capacity of its ordnance factories? Arms have a logic of their own and it will be a sad day for India, the region and the whole world if India’s arms prowess start determining its politicians’ choices and its people’s entitlements.
India was ranked high among the nations of the world for going through the Middle Ages without religious wars of the kind that ravaged Europe. It absorbed the finer points of all the great religions that grew out of its soil or arrived from outside and produced a synchronized code of self-discipline, one of the greatest achievements in the world in developing the attributes of civilization. No true Indian or a friend of India can view with equanimity its retreat from the multi-cultural inclusive model of society to one in denial and exclusion of all colours in the rainbow except one. This will not only mean negation of one of the Indian people’s noblest accomplishments but also amount to surrendering to the monster of intolerance that will devour the virtuous as well as the profane.
The Indian people deserve better and hopefully they have the will to achieve what they have all along deserved.
I. A. Rehman is Director, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan