PAKISTAN’S Foreign Office offered what sounded like a high-decibel response to the routinely chest-thumping comments by Mohan Bhagwat, the head of India’s right-wing Hindu RSS. He had, not for the first time, spoken of the need to undo the 1947 partition.
The fact is that the RSS rallies its cadres with the dream of ‘Akhand Bharat’ — a Sanskritised India constructed on mythology rather than history. Its ambitious map stretches from current Afghanistan to Myanmar. The drawing represents Hindutva’s wishful thinking and, naturally, locates Bangladesh and Pakistan within its boundaries together with the entire erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir, including the China-administered Aksai Chin.
There are quiet (and yet firm) ways to deal with such occasional neighbourly irritants. During the debate to dismantle Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019, Home Minister Amit Shah threatened to take back Aksai Chin from China. A short low-decibel Chinese response was all it took for the topic to never resurface again, by anyone in the Indian government.
The notion of ‘Akhand Bharat’ involving Pakistan is a soufflé that refuses to rise. Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee neatly trashed it. The significance of Vajpayee’s visit to Minar-i-Pakistan in Lahore in 1999 lay in the fact that a pro-Hindutva leader for the first time showed respect to the venue where the Pakistan resolution was passed in 1940. The visit implied a distancing from the calls for Akhand Bharat — for it needlessly, for transient political purposes, appeared to threaten to breach Pakistan’s sovereignty.
The notion of ‘Akhand Bharat’ involving Pakistan is a soufflé that refuses to rise.
Vajpayee’s visit, foolishly opposed by Jamaat-i-Islami activists in Lahore, helped dampen the notion of the puerile RSS map in public discussion. Subsequently, the visit to Jinnah’s mausoleum by Vajpayee’s more right-wing colleague L.K. Advani further sealed the fate of the Pakistan-baiters. The world saw Advani heaping praise on Pakistan’s founder, possibly with the knowledge that the lavish comments ran against the grain of his political schooling with the RSS. Advani’s fall from grace within the Hindutva fold commenced with that visit.
The arrival of a more loose-mouthed establishment since 2014 may have uncorked the stifled discussion once again but few would take it seriously. The farmers and civil society are raising bigger issues that matter anyway. Therefore, why lose composure over meaningless comments, more so if they haven’t come from a responsible official?
A laughable parallel would be that of some Muslim revivalist group in Pakistan dreaming of the return of Mughal rule in India. This is not to say that cataclysmic things don’t happen in a very fragile world. Its own president dissolved the formidable Soviet Union. Pakistan claims a moral stake in uniting with Kashmiris in the Valley. But it opposes Tamils in Sri Lanka from seeking a separate homeland. Elsewhere, key adjuncts of sovereign nations have threatened to walk out of the fold in the UK and Canada, but without excessive rancour.
The Pakistan Foreign Office’s comments in response to an irritating habit from a section of Indians were not dissimilar to fears expressed from Karachi (the capital then) that Nehru noted with empathy. In one of his last interviews, Nehru is quoted in Gunnar Myrdal’s Asian Drama, as saying that he would have liked a loose confederation with Pakistan. “But if we talk about it, they tend to take it amiss.” This is not to say that the RSS chief was speaking in Nehru’s language, far from it. The RSS can’t see India without right-wing Hindu hegemony.
The idea of Europe-like open borders between India and Pakistan is a dream that thousands of ordinary and well-meaning Indians and Pakistanis dream, however. They are tired of their untenable military budgets, avoidable hostilities and the terrible consequences they heap upon their people. The fact is that Bhagwat and his ilk despise Nehru. They aim to dismantle the edifice of a secular, caring republic Nehru strove to build in India, not different to what Zia did with Jinnah’s dream.
It was Constitution Day in India on Nov 26. This day in 1949 the Dalit lawyer B.R. Ambedkar presented the finished draft charter to the assembly. Two months later, the constitution was adopted and the day declared Republic Day. Nehru had taken Ambedkar’s vision into account, and he made this known to the constituent assembly in January 1947.
“The first task of this Assembly is to free India through a new constitution, to feed the starving people, and to clothe the naked masses, and to give every Indian the fullest opportunity to develop himself according to his capacity. This is certainly a great task. Look at India today … The atmosphere is surcharged with these quarrels and feuds, which are called communal disturbances, and unfortunately we sometimes cannot avoid them. But at present the greatest and most important question in India is how to solve the problem of the poor and the starving. Wherever we turn, we are confronted with this problem. If we cannot solve this problem soon, all our paper constitutions will become useless and purposeless.”
This promise of democracy, justice, egalitarianism and rule of law the RSS pooh-poohed. Through its English mouthpiece, Organiser, it said on Nov 30, 1949: “But in our constitution, there is no mention of the unique constitutional development in ancient Bharat. Manu’s laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of (Athens). To this day, his laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing.”
Critics of the RSS say Manu’s laws are primarily violent edicts targeting women and Dalits. The RSS might do better than that to win the affection of a wary neighbourhood. Equally, even Nehru’s ruminations could become a menace to citizens in both countries if they weren’t first conceived in democracy, one especially underpinned by equal rights for women and minorities on both sides.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2021