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Tracing the history...

RETURNING FROM a journalistic tour of Pakistan a couple of years ago, I had wondered if it was possible to look at the history of India and Pakistan from a dispassionate perspective. Finally here comes an opportunity. Vision Books India has brought out not one but two books on the histories of the Indian subcontinent, about the same period, one authored by an Indian diplomat-turned professor of International Relations, Surjit Mansingh and the other by a Pakistani economist and scholar, Shahid Javed Burki.

To their credit, none of the authors suffers from any rabid national subjectivity. Wherever it is necessary they have come down heavily on their respective establishments, both erstwhile and contemporary, but with a conspicuous difference. While Mansingh has omitted nothing of consequence which had even a minor bearing on the pre-Independence history, Burki has faithfully followed the E. H. Kar school of history by avoiding even the mention of Mahatma Gandhi, Indian role in the 1971 war leading to the creation of Bangladesh, human carnage on both sides during the Partition, reversal of Bengal partition in 1911 - the list is enormous.

But, having said that, it would be unfair if a mention is not made of the scholarly appraisal on the shrewd role of Jinnah in the creation of Pakistan and the fateful position in which Field Marshal Muhammad Ayub Khan found himself even after a phenomenal phase of (guided) democracy and economy. Though the Pakistani dictionary does not find even Nehru worth a separate entry, it puts the entire blame at his doorstep for the Partition. It is equally ruthless on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for messing up the best democratic chance in that country, the situations leading to the creation of Bangladesh and makes a critical appraisal of the Pakistani misadventures into Kashmir in particular, and elsewhere in general. These two dictionaries should be read to understand the Pakistani mind. It is easy to rubbish a country that has been carved out of your geographical space, but in order to accept that as a historical reality it is necessary to compare the mindsets of the two respective nations, their builders and present-day leaders. These two books attempt to do just that.


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