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Thursday, May 25, 2023

India and Pakistan at 75: So different but so similar

This 75thIndependence Day celebration must come with a moment of reflection for both countries and the path we are heading into. Peaceful co-existence with free trade, people-to-people contact, economic democracy in addition to electoral democracy, and celebration of our diversity and cultures should be the only way forward.

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India and Pakistan will both celebrate their 75thIndependence Day this coming weekend. Incidentally, I was in Pakistan last week, and in Lahore, numerous signs on streetlights of “Jashn-e-Azadi Mubarak” sprung up mainly in the posh neighborhoods.

But what does this 75thIndependence Day means for India and Pakistan? So writes a faculty at Brown University in the United States. While Indians might be joyous of their numerous achievements, this 75th birthday must come as a moment of reflection for both, especially all Pakistanis residing inside or outside Pakistan. What path was chosen by India, where it is headed as a country, which route did the Pakistanis select, and where are we headed?

Read more: Comparative analysis of the nuclear doctrines of India and Pakistan

Understanding the matter better

Soon after independence, Pakistan suffered its most significant setback; Jinnah died. This was momentous in shaping our history but let’s focus on what happened in India first and what Nehru did in the early days.

After 1947, India and Pakistan faced similar problems. A Bloody partition, massive migration, and divisions of casts, creeds, and languages left many fractures and open wounds on both sides of the border. According to William Dalrymple, the partition displaced 15 million people and killed over a million alone.

Famous Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal writes about the partition as follows “A defining moment that is neither beginning nor end, the partition continues to influence how the peoples and states of postcolonial South Asia envisage their past, present, and future.”

This violent partition not only rewrote the history of British India but also led to deep wounds on both sides of the border, some of which are still seeping, namely Kashmir.

Despite all that, Indians have achieved remarkable progress in many domains and still face some challenges. Unfortunately, for Pakistan, progress has been very sketchy.

Read more: Climate change: India and Pakistan’s biggest threat?

When the British left India in 1947, its literacy rate stood at merely 12%, and life expectancy was 30 years; it was almost a poster boy for poverty, disease, malnourishment, and some historians even predicted that India would not survive.

Moreover, its industrial and technological base was simply non-existent

Fast forward to 2022, Its literacy rate is more than 77%, life expectancy is around 70 years, and other human development indices are significantly better than Pakistan. Moreover, India has developed a vibrant and modern technological and industrial base and is a significant international power already.

India’s first prime minister Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru was instrumental in this transformation. Nehru was the leading figure in India from 1947 to 1964. Nehru’s India was built on four pillars: democracy, non-alignment, socialism, and secularism. Nehru’s non-alignment gave India its political independence from the major world powers. But Nehru realized political freedom means nothing without economic independence, so he embarked on the industrial transformation of India.

Nehru’s focus on democracy did not mean merely conducting elections or the right to vote. He believed in economic democracy. He introduced Panchayati Raj, the idea of self-governance for villages.

This was instrumental in sowing the seeds of democracy in all segments of Indian society

“If poverty and low standards continue, then democracy ceases to be a liberating force for all its fine institutions and ideals. It must therefore aim continuously at the eradication of poverty. In other words, political democracy is not enough. It must develop into economic democracy as well. — Nehru, 1952”

Nehru had seen the violent partition and how the British had used communal divides to their advantage and believed in secularism. But, on the other hand, he was aware of the large Indian Muslim population and how peaceful co-existence was in the Indian interest if India must progress and prosper.

Read more: A tale of two states: India and Pakistan

Nehru stated in 1951: “If anyone raises his hand against another in the name of religion, I shall fight him till the last breath of my life, whether from inside the government or outside.”

Finally, he laid the foundation of the Indian knowledge base

Nehru was educated at Trinity College in Cambridge. He inaugurated the prestigious Indian IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology), the CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research), the National Physical and Chemical Laboratories, and the AIIMS (All India Institutes for Medical Sciences, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre. Nehru’s three 5-year Plans from the 1950s ensured India’s industrial sector grew at almost 7% each year, losing of zamindari system and its agricultural transformation.

Despite all the technological and industrial advancements of Indian society, it has failed to create an all-Indian identity. On the contrary, India is bitterly divided as it has ever been under the current government, and these divisions are intensifying. Some have suggested that India has always been communal, which has foundations in the Indian caste system. Even Nehru hoped that economic change would marginalize the Indian caste system, but this has not happened.

The rise of Hindu fundamentalism with its “Hindutva” and the demise of secularism have put India in unchartered waters with an unclear destination. Increasing attacks on Muslim men and women, lynchings, and demolition of their homes are burning the “Idea of Nehru’s India.”

But across the border in Pakistan, things worsened soon after 1947

Soon after independence, Pakistan suffered its most significant setback; Jinnah died. Jinnah’s death radically shaped the course Pakistan took after 1947. While Nehru was busy transforming India, Pakistanis had a prime minister murdered; they were actively looking for foreign alliances and aid. Pakistan had its first coup, and things only got worse. Pakistan lost half its land mass in 1971 and never had a stable democratically elected government. Although Pakistan had elections, but never really had democracy.

Read more: A call for bilateral agreement on cruise missile pre-notification between India and Pakistan

Economic democracy is a distant dream. Pakistan’s foreign policy depended on whoever was the biggest donor to Pakistan at that time. The only notable achievement was Pakistan becoming a nuclear state, but Pakistanis failed to integrate any military or scientific success into their civil society or commercialize it for economic benefits.

Due to a lack of democratic norms and principles, and repeated interference by internal or external powers, no institution could evolve and progress in Pakistan and attain any global stature.

We, Pakistanis, failed to develop knowledge and scientific base; hence, Pakistanis even food insecure today. Pakistan’s human developmental indices are among the worst in the World and cannot be compared to India or even Bangladesh. Pakistan’s literacy rate is 58% in 2022 compared to almost 80% in India.

Like India, Pakistanis have failed to create a national identity too, and even today, Pakistan remains as politically unstable as it has been in its history. Pakistani society has become increasingly polarized and divided in recent years. Increasingly politically unstable, insecure Pakistan with rising anti-Muslim sentiment and hatred against Muslims in India can create a dangerous cocktail. The rabid media particularly inflame this on both sides of the border.

Read more: Looking at India and Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals

So, this 75thIndependence Day celebration must come with a moment of reflection for both countries and the path we are heading into. Peaceful co-existence with free trade, people-to-people contact, economic democracy in addition to electoral democracy, and celebration of our diversity and cultures should be the only way forward. Any other path will be too turbulent and violent for people on both sides of the border.


The author is a graduate of the University of Oxford’s Said Business School and currently works as Faculty at Brown University in the United States. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.