The past is history
The second biggest threat to amicable relations between India and Pakistan is the tendency to dig up emotional events and personalities of the past and enter into a passionate debate over their legacy. Whatever his intentions were, L K Advani, the India’s leader of the opposition, succeeded in stirring up a debate over rather unimportant issues.
Whether Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of the Pakistani state, was a ‘secularist’ or not is none of India’s business. Furthermore, it is also not for a leader of an Indian political party to remind the Pakistani people of what he perceives as the true legacy of their founder. Indeed, the average Pakistani cares as much for Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan as his Indian counterpart cares for Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of India. For the most part, Jinnah and Gandhi are just mute adornments that grace currency notes and walls of government officials.
Jinnah’s death soon after the formation of the Pakistani state did not give him enough time to create lasting institutions. Without his towering presence, the Muslim League quickly fell apart. And unlike several leaders of twentieth-century anti-colonial struggles, Jinnah did not even leave behind a ruling dynasty. His influence, therefore, on present day Pakistani politics is negligible. Despite what the Indian Express writes, reopening the question of Jinnah’s place in history does not help the present day attempts to forge better relations between the two countries in any substantial way.
If there was a need to signal to the Pakistani people that India accepts the reality of Pakistan, then that was achieved years ago when Atal Behari Vajpayee, as prime minister, visited Minar-e-Pakistan in 1999. But there is really no need to resort to symbolism here. The best signal is for Indian politicians — of every stripe — to stop raking up the troubled past, and stop throwing about models of various federations and unions in South Asia for the future. These are invariably construed as repackaged attempts by India to turn back the clock on more than half-a-century of development as separate entities.
Debating whether Jinnah was a hero or a villain is of little practical importance, but debating the role Gen Musharraf is playing now is of vital importance. Advani has done India a disservice by diverting the focus of the debate from the objective present to the subjective past.
Tailpiece: Advani holds a constitutional office as Leader of the Opposition. It was extremely poor judgement on his part to inaugurate a Hindu temple complex in Pakistan. The big irony here is that soon after inaugurating the temple, he went on to qoute from Jinnah’s famous speech about separation of religion from the state.
Asking Advani to inaugurate the temple means harking back to the two-nation theory, under which the Hindus, and their temples, are supposedly the responsibility of India while the Muslims of the subcontinent are Pakistan’s — though Bangladesh will demur. Not surprisingly, soon after Advani’s visit to the temple complex, a suggestion was made by a Pakistani leader that Pervez Musharraf can return the favour by inaugurating a mosque in India! [Amulya Ganguli/Rediff]