Congress created Pakistan, Pakistan created the BJP?
By Jawed Naqvi
A potentially sinister event has prompted this column. It is my sense from a few visits to Pakistan beginning with 1997 that a large number of Pakistanis prefer the rightwing religious revivalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to rule India. On the other hand, they are wary of the Congress. This tendency, I gather, is more pronounced within the Pakistani bureaucracy and the military. I know of Pakistani diplomats and officials who would be privately praying for the BJP to win the April-May elections in India.
To some extent this is true also of some of the journalists I have interacted with from different parts of Pakistan. They include those that claim to work for peace and dialogue between the two countries. The BJP has sold them the myth that it can alone solve the Kashmir dispute, not the Congress or anyone else.
There is a counter grouse among Pakistanis. Many of them feel, and they are probably spot on, that the bulk of the Indian establishment, including that media which works with the establishment, has a subcutaneous liking for the military in preference to civilian governments in Islamabad, and, in recent days, for General Pervez Musharraf in particular. This was reflected in some ways in the standing ovation the former army chief received recently at the end of a televised interaction he had with the movers and shakers of Delhi. And who was the one person Musharraf wanted to meet in Delhi but couldn’t? It was none other than his favourite BJP leader Atal Behari Vajpayee.
By a similar logic, the rule governing the more perverse cross-border affinities should apply to the Taliban and others sharing its mindset. All their acts of terrorism and zealotry within Pakistan, Afghanistan and beyond serve to consolidate rightwing religious politics in India with a more hardened hard-line state to boot. Erosion of democracy and liberal ideals inherited from Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru is a major consequence. The irony is that nothing suits the BJP more than the Taliban-type religious bigotry. It works brilliantly as a counterpoint for its communal mobilisation.
It is ironical too that the most liberal and secular leaders that India ever produced – Messrs Gandhi and Nehru – were responsible in their on ways for eventually edging out an equally secular and liberal Mohammed Ali Jinnah from the Congress. (He is the only of the three who had a love marriage, with a woman not of his religion!) For better or worse, a piqued Jinnah helped create a separate state for a large number of India’s Muslims.
In this sense a mathematical equation has been doing the rounds in my head for some time now: The Congress created Pakistan, and Pakistan, by doing everything to undermine secularism in India, created the BJP.
Let me flesh this out in broad strokes. Firstly, the affinity between the Pakistani establishment and the BJP is not recent. It is grounded in a common ideological corner they shared during the Cold War. Before the advent of Manmohan Singh as a Congress factotum 1991, the BJP was seen as India’s main pro-America party. So were the military establishment and its religious accoutrements in Pakistan. Moreover, having never got to govern India until 1996, when it formed a 13-day government under Atal Behari Vajpayee, the BJP was not directly involved in the bruising wars with Pakistan. The 1971 encounter, which won for Indira Gandhi the sobriquet of Goddess Durga from Vajpayee, left a deep wound in the Pakistani psyche, more so the military and its religious companions.
When Mrs Gandhi was assassinated in 1984, Indian supporters of Pakistan’s Jamaat-i-Islami exulted how all three leaders they held responsible for the dismemberment of the Islamic state of Pakistan – Mujibur Rehman, Zulfikar
Ali Bhutto and Indira Gandhi – had died violent deaths. There was silence from the group though when the Jamaat’s main benefactor Gen Zia ul Haq too perished in similar circumstances. The Cold War had ensured that Indira Gandhi, the closest ally Moscow ever had in India, never visited Pakistan.
Her son was the first prime minister since Nehru to go across the border.
In this vein an ideological tit for tat occurred when Mrs Gandhi decorated Pakhtoon leader Abdul Ghaffar Khan –intensely disliked by the Pakistani military– with the highest civilian award of Bharat Ratna. Zia got his chance for a comeuppance when India briefly had a pro-American government, in which the BJP was a key partner. He decorated then prime minister Morarji Desai with Nishan-i-Pakistan although another reason cited for this was Desai’s steadfast refusal to be involved, as opposed to Mrs Gandhi’s petitioning of Zia, to save Bhutto.
At least two factors could be cited to explain the apparent soft corner the Pakistani establishment – initially the rightwing, now the centre-right as well – harbours for the BJP. One is rooted in a myth the other in religion.
The myth is that only the BJP and none else can solve the intractable issues with Pakistan, including the Kashmir dispute. To keep the story warm the BJP continues to issue periodic warnings to Congress governments and others against a ‘sell-out’ on Kashmir. It did so just before the Mumbai attacks. The reality is different. The toughest resolution to date on Kashmir was passed by parliament during Congress stewardship under the late Narasimha Rao.
Religion is a different kettle of fish. For a long time the BJP had peddled its idea of Hindutva as an aspect of cultural nationalism, distinct from religion. But in practice the idea and its party both worked precisely for religious consolidation, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, all. It is commonplace that the BJP’s idea of India gives heart to the religious caboodle in Pakistan, and in turn fortifies what they would like their idea of Pakistan to be.
Columnist A.G. Noorani last week quoted an encounter Nehru had in 1963 with young and senior foreign ministry officers. His foreign secretary Y.D. Gundevia reminded Nehru that the communists had won power in Kerala in 1957 and asked: ‘But what happens to the services if the communists are elected to power, tomorrow, at the Centre, here in New Delhi?’
Gundevia records: ‘He pondered over my long drawn out question and then said, looking across the room, ‘Communists, communists, communists, why are all of you so obsessed with communists and communism? What is it that communists can do that we cannot do and have not done for the country? Why do you imagine the communists will ever be voted into power at the Centre?’ There was a long pause after this and then he said, spelling it out slowly and very deliberately, ‘The danger to India, mark you, is not communism, it is Hindu right-wing communalism.’
If the Pakistani establishment disliked Nehru, the BJP and its Hindutva partners hate him. Chances are that Nehru’s warning will not go unheeded in the coming elections. But the BJP, meanwhile, has been surreptitiously working at another attempt to convert the secular state into an obscurantist possibly also a theocratic one. A little known letter written by the BJP’s prime ministerial hopeful Lal Kishan Advani to the clergy of different religions was published in The Telegraph of Calcutta on Sunday.
The letter says: ‘It will be my endeavour to seek on a regular basis the guidance of spiritual leaders of all denominations on major challenges and issues facing the nation. For this, we shall evolve a suitable consultative mechanism.’ Iran’s higher interior ministry is known as the Ministry of Islamic Guidance.
Advani’s letter, according to The Telegraph, follows a charter of demands from the Dharma Raksha Manch, a body supported by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad that claims India’s identity cannot be religion-neutral and has demanded the country be declared a ‘spiritual nation.’
‘The Manch has representatives from all major religions but draws its sustenance from the larger RSS fold. Many of its demands –on conversions and the protection of the cow, the Ganga and the Ram Setu– find mention in Advani’s letter,’ according to the report. If he succeeds, neither the Taliban nor the Pakistan military has to try to unravel Nehru’s India. They have the BJP to do the job even better.