Yet another August has come, the month of Independence for both India and Pakistan. So many memories, reflections and questions converge as the people of Pakistan celebrate their Independence Day on August 14, and their counterparts in India do the same on August 15. The very first troubling, and also a perplexing question that demands an answer is ─ Why are India and Pakistan so close, and yet so far from each other?
Our history, as well as our geography, tells us how close we are. Foreigners may need a map to know about our geographical proximity, but it was a surreal realization for me when I first travelled from Amritsar to Lahore, crossing the border on foot at Wagah. I could hardly figure out how one part of Punjab was different from the other.
As in the case of India, Pakistan won independence from the British colonial rule. Thus, our very common struggle for independence from foreign rule constitutes a historical bond of unity that can neither be denied nor belittled.
Similarly, when I had gone to visit Sir Creek many years ago, I was told by the locals that they could see the lights of Karachi on a clear night. They also told me about a Sufi shrine located almost on the border where the people from Kutch (on the Indian side) and Sindh (on the Pakistani side) come to pray regularly. Among the devotees are Muslims as well as Hindus. Undoubtedly, sacredness knows no religious or national boundaries.
After all, Allama Iqbal, in his presidential speech at the Muslim League session in 1930, had called for the formation of a separate Muslim state “within India”. Even as late as in May 1947, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the supreme leader of the Muslim League, was willing to consider an agreement with the Congress and the British that fell short of the kind of Pakistan that came into existence three months later. In other words, August 14 and 15 could have assumed a completely different historical significance than what they now have.
Read more: Jinnah’s Pakistan: An inclusive one
The Partition cannot Erase Kinship
Eventually ─ though not inevitably ─ India and Pakistan were born as two separate, sovereign and independent nations on those momentous days in 1947. But did the separation completely dissolve our unity? To this day, even after the passage of seventy-one years, there is still an inconclusive debate in both countries about the exact meaning of the independence of Pakistan and the claimed ideological basis ─ the so-called two-nation theory ─ for its creation.
This is because August 14-15 mark both independence and partition for Indians and Pakistanis. Here is a curious question: from whom did Pakistan gain independence? It could not have been from India, for India never colonized Pakistan or the areas that later constituted Pakistan.
As in the case of India, Pakistan won independence from the British colonial rule. Thus, our very common struggle for independence from foreign rule constitutes a historical bond of unity that can neither be denied nor belittled. The partition debate has remained inconclusive because of another glaring question. The two-nation theory claimed that Muslims and Hindus constituted two separate nations.
What was, or what is, the basis of this? Even after partition, nearly as many Muslims continue to live in India as there are in today’s Pakistan. Do these Indian Muslims have a national identity different from that of Hindus in India? And do the Hindus in Pakistan, now a very small minority, have a national identity different from that of Muslims in Pakistan?
Pakistanis should also accept that the land their national poet praised as “Saare jahan se achchaa” does not exclude today’s India.
This happened because a large number of Muslims in India, responding to the call of the Muslim League ─ please note the full name of the party; it called itself ‘All India Muslim League’ ─ demanded “a separate homeland for Muslims in India”. Indeed, the Muslim League’s ‘Lahore Resolution’, which is regarded as the basis for the creation of Pakistan, mentioned “independent states” (in plural) ─ and not one single independent nation-state ─ in areas “in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority as in the North-Western and Eastern Zones of (British) India”.
Throughout the Lahore Resolution, also in other previous and subsequent resolutions and statements of the Muslim League, the party was speaking on behalf of “Muslim India” ─ namely, Muslims living in all parts of India. Let us not forget that the main activity of the Muslim League and its leader Jinnah, and also the main support base for him and his party, were in areas that remained part of India after 1947.
None of the four provinces that constitute today’s Pakistan were the strongholds of the Muslim League. Thus, the history of the Pakistan movement has an unbreakable ideological link with Muslims in India, and not just with Muslims who later became citizens of Pakistan. This begets three pertinent questions. One, do Muslims of Pakistan and post-1947 India have nothing to do with one another after Partition?
True, they are citizens of two separate nations. But don’t they have a common history that long predates 1947? And aren’t they even now tied by many bonds of common language, culture, kinship, customs and civilisation, not to speak of a common religion? Two, what about the by-no-means-insignificant numbers of non-Muslims who remained in both West and East Pakistan?
Did their historical, cultural, social and civilisational roots with India vanish after 1947? There is also a third question. In 1971, Pakistan, which was the creation of a bloody partition in 1947, itself suffered a bloody partition with East Pakistan being reborn as Bangladesh. But has the existence of Pakistan and Bangladesh as two independent, separate and sovereign nations brought to naught all historical links between the peoples and the two nations?
Not many people (in India or in Pakistan) today know what Jinnah did on 15 August 1947. He hosted a reception to celebrate the Indian Independence Day in Karachi. On that day, on his order, the flags of Pakistan and India flew together!
From Iqbal to Tagore…The Common Theme of Unity
If further proof is needed to show how India and Pakistan (also Bangladesh) are united at birth, here it is. The most popular patriotic song in India, which is played and sung with great gusto, especially on August 15, happens to be penned by one whom Pakistan honours as its national poet ─ Allama Iqbal. He is no less celebrated in India than in Pakistan.
And what does the song say? “Saare jahan se achchaa, Hindostan hamara, Hum bulbulain hai iss ki yeh gulsitan hamara…” (Better than all the world, is our India. We are its nightingales and this is our garden.) Of course, Indians should accept that the Hindustan that Iqbal eulogised includes areas that later became Pakistan in 1947. However, Pakistanis should also accept that the land their national poet praised as “Saare jahan se achchaa” does not exclude today’s India.
This everlasting civilisational bond between India and Pakistan also finds expression in India’s national anthem ‘Jana Gana Mana’. Our national poet Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore had penned it in 1911, when partition was nowhere on the horizon. There is a line in our anthem “…Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat, Maratha, Dravid, Utkal, Banga”, which sings the praises of regions which are either fully (Sindh) or partly (Punjab and Bengal) outside the boundaries of post-1947 India.
But independent India did not change this line because the very roots of the name ‘India’ go deep into the 5,000-year-old civilisation cradled in Sindh (Indus).
From Nehru to Jinnah to Mahatma Gandhi…a Call for Togetherness
Our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, in his historic ‘Tryst With Destiny’ address to the nation on the midnight of August 14-15, 1947, spoke of this ageless India, which belongs as much to Pakistanis as it does to Indians: “Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially.
At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. …
At the dawn of history India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries are filled with her striving and the grandeur of her success and her failures. …The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?”
Our friends in Pakistan should know that Nehru, in his speech on the night of freedom, wished for the wellbeing of Pakistanis too. “We think also of our brothers and sisters who have been cut off from us by political boundaries … They are of us and will remain of us whatever may happen, and we shall be sharers in their good or ill fortune alike.” (Emphasis added)
Read more: Excerpts from Jinnah-Gandhi letters
Jinnah, who almost singlehandedly founded Pakistan, was no less unequivocal in affirming the newly born nation’s special relationship with India. On 1 August 1947, just days before his departure to Karachi, Pakistan’s first capital, he made a startling statement:
“I am going to Pakistan as a citizen of Hindustan. I am going because the people of Pakistan have given me the opportunity to serve them. But this does not mean I cease to be a citizen of Hindustan. Just as Lord Mountbatten who is a foreign citizen has accepted the Governor-Generalship of Hindustan in response to the wishes of its people, similarly I have accepted the Governor-Generalship of Pakistan. But I shall always be ready to serve the Muslims of Hindustan.”
Anyone who reads Jinnah’s speech ─ indeed, the most important speech of his life ─ in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on 11 August 1947 will find that he had not fully shed his ‘Indianness’. Calling for Muslims and Hindus to remain united, and promising that they would have equal rights and responsibilities in Pakistan, he nevertheless made an intriguing appeal.
“Indeed, if you ask me, this (disunity on religious lines) has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain the freedom and independence and but for this we would have been free people long ago. No power on earth can hold another nation, and specially a nation of 400 million souls in subjection; nobody could have conquered you, and even if it had happened, nobody could have continued its hold on you for any length of time, but for this. Therefore, we must learn a lesson from this.” (Emphasis added.)
Pay attention to the fact that Jinnah was still talking of “a nation of 400 million souls”. His reference point was undivided India, and how it could have averted its division. Jinnah made another highly instructive, albeit indirect, reference to India in his speech to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on 14 August 1947.
“The tolerance and goodwill that the great Emperor Akbar showed to all non-Muslims is not of recent origin. It dates back 13 centuries ago when our Prophet not only by words but by deeds treated the Jews and Christians handsomely after he conquered them. He showed to them utmost tolerance and regard and respect for their faith and beliefs.”
Here we see that, on the day Pakistan was born, the founder of Pakistan was holding as his ideal, apart from Prophet Mohammed, one of the greatest emperors of India. Again, a proof of India and Pakistan united at birth. Not many people (in India or in Pakistan) today know what Jinnah did on 15 August 1947. He hosted a reception to celebrate the Indian Independence Day in Karachi.
On that day, on his order, the flags of Pakistan and India flew together! The same thing was done in Calcutta, on the order of Mahatma Gandhi. He was in the city on a mission to douse the flames of Hindu-Muslim violence. His collaborator in this peace mission was Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, who later became the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Gandhiji even had the audacity to declare: “Both India and Pakistan are my country. I am not going to take out a passport to go to Pakistan.” At his daily all-religion prayer meeting on 26 January 1948, just four days before his assassination at the hands of a Hindu extremist, he emphasized the need to safeguard Hindu-Muslim unity and said:
“Before leaving this topic of the day, let us permit ourselves to hope that though geographically and politically India is divided in two, at heart we (Indians and Pakistanis) shall be friends and brothers helping and respecting one another and be one for the outside world.”
This is the stuff our leaders from the Era of Freedom were made of. If India and Pakistan have drifted apart so much in the past seven decades to become enemies of each other, one of the main reasons is that the people and leaders of our two countries have forgotten our unbreakable cultural, social and civilizational unity.
We are overemphasizing the fact that we are two separate nations. We forget that this is merely political separateness. It need not lead to separateness in every other walk of life, as has sadly become the case now.
Though geographically and politically India is divided in two, at heart we (Indians and Pakistanis) shall be friends and brothers helping and respecting one another and be one for the outside world.”
Postscript: Imran Khan’s Commendable Victory Speech
August 2018 will be highly significant for Pakistan and, hopefully, also for India-Pakistan relations. After the elections to the National Assembly on July 25, Imran Khan, leader of the largest party, sworn in as the country’s new Prime Minister. As a well-wisher of Pakistan and as a longstanding campaigner for Indo-Pak peace, I must say that his victory speech on July 26 was very impressive.
It was reassuring to hear him begin his speech by invoking Jinnah’s name and vision: “When I came into politics, I wanted Pakistan to become the kind of country that our leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah wanted.” He pledged that “for the first time, Pakistan’s policies won’t be for the few rich people, it will be for the poor, for our women, for our minorities, whose rights are not respected.”
His remarks on India were truly heartening. He was bang on target when he said, “I am the Pakistani who has the most familiarity with India, I have been all over that country.” True, there is simply no other Pakistani who is as well known, and as widely admired, in India as Imran Khan.
Therefore, when he said, “It will be very good for all of us if we have good relations with India”, and called for stronger trade and economic ties that “will benefit both countries”, it was music to millions of Indian ears. Of course, he was right in drawing attention to Kashmir, “a core issue”, and to the suffering of Kashmiri people.
The path ahead he has shown is the only path that can lead us to an amicable and just solution ─ “Pakistan and India’s leadership should sit at a table and try to fix this problem.” Lastly, Imran Khan deserves our praise and support for stating, “If India’s leadership is ready, we are ready to improve ties with India. If you step forward one step, we will take two steps forward. I say this with conviction, this will be the most important thing for the subcontinent, for both countries to have a friendship.”
This truly is the call of August. May the month of freedom for India and Pakistan mark the beginning of reconciliation and normalisation.
The writer was an aide to India’s former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He is currently engaged in activities to promote India-Pakistan and India-China relations. He lives in Mumbai, tweets @SudheenKulkarni and welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.