Gandhi and Jinnah

Published February 25, 2024
The writer, a former foreign secretary, is chairman Sanober Institute Islamabad.
The writer, a former foreign secretary, is chairman Sanober Institute Islamabad.

AS relations between India and Pakistan remain frosty, a theatrical play in Washington has stirred conversations on peaceful coexistence, inter-faith harmony, and the need for a fresh look at the history of the two countries. The play Gandhi and Jinnah return home, discussed at the Karachi Literature Festival last week, describes how far the two countries have drifted from the vision of their respective founding fathers, Gandhi, the Mahatma, and Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam, who both hailed from Gujarat and played central roles in the struggle for independence.

Gandhi had envisioned that India would be a united, secular and pluralistic country once the British left. Fondly called Bapu, he built his freedom struggle on the principle of non-violence, famously remarking that an eye for an eye would make the whole world blind.

Jinnah, too, was a strong proponent of peace, harmony and pluralism, as clearly stipulated in his speech of Aug 11, 1947. He also was not opposed to the unity of India per se, as he had accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946. However, Jinnah was concerned that the legacy of parliamentary democracy the British were leaving behind would keep the Muslim minority perpetually subservient to the rule of the Hindu majority. He did not wish to see British Raj replaced by Ram Raj. Jinnah’s efforts to create Pakistan were essentially aimed at enabling the Muslims of India to protect their political, economic, and cultural rights.

Seventy-six years later, if Gandhi and Jinnah were to, fictionally, return home in 2024, they would find their respective countries to be very different from the ones they had envisioned. Gandhi would find India on course to becoming a Hindu nationalist state, with shrinking space for minorities, growing communal violence, mosques being replaced with mandirs, and the Ayodhya syndrome in full swing to make India a Hindu rashtra. He would be particularly dejected to find that his own state Gujarat had seen the worst kind of violence against Muslims in 2002.

The hostility between India and Pakistan serves neither country well.

For his part, if Jinnah were to return home in 2024, he would find his country mired in corruption, religious extremism, lawlessness, unemployment and poverty. He would be grieved to see a country blessed with such fertile land, minerals, mountains, and splendid coastline ranking depressingly low in social and economic indicators.

The play, conceived by Akbar S. Ahmad, the Ibne Khaldun chair at the American University, Washington, and directed by Manjula Kumar of Global Performing Arts, sends out a powerful message that in the interest of peace, both countries must return to the vision of their founding fathers.

Another, perhaps more important, message that Akbar S. Ahmad sends through this play is that the prevailing hostility between India and Pakistan does not serve either country well. The past cannot be changed. There is a need to look at each other afresh as friends and neighbours.

Jinnah had envisioned India and Pakis­tan living in peaceful coexistence, much like the US and Canada. He even maintai­ned his residence in Mumbai. Gandhi was opposed to partition. Yet, when it happened, he used all his influence on the Indian government to ensure that Pakistan got its share of financial and other dues, signalling his advice for a peaceful coexistence.

For the past seven decades, mutual mistrust has bedevilled relations between India and Pakistan. Since 2016, the two have suspended all bilateral contacts. Such a hostile environment deepens misunderstanding between the two countries. Dialogue is not a favour by one to the other, but an essential means with which to address each other’s concerns. For Pakistan, a resolution of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people is a high priority. For India, the issue of cross-border terrorism is important, which incidentally has also assumed urgency for Pakistan, given the evidence that recently emerged that India had sent assassins to Pakistan to kill so-called anti-India elements, much like what it did lately in Canada and the US. India and Pakistan must, therefore, engage to address these and other issues in order to pave the ground for creating a good-neighbourly relationship.

It is clear that there is a gloomy future for South Asia if India and Pakistan live in perpetual hostility. The play Gandhi and Jinnah return home was a creative way to drive home the message that during these times of hostility, it is worth restudying the lives and works of Jinnah and Gandhi and appreciate how their goals were ultimately common in the desire to see prosperity for their peoples in a post-colonial South Asia. And that they never envisioned nor desired such a hostile relationship that has set back both countries.

The writer, a former foreign secretary, is chairman Sanober Institute Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2024

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