Building bridges in an uncomfortable time


Pakistan turned 69 last Sunday; if a frail, fevered 69. For anyone entering their eighth decade, a birthday might merit reflection. But though we brought out all the bells and whistles this year (Karachi traders said Independence Day business had doubled), stock-taking was nowhere in sight. 
For that matter, nor was empathy: Sunday marked six days since Quetta — a chance for the rest of us to stand in solidarity with that most adrift of places, and say: enough is enough.

We did not. There was a rationale: life must go on, some said, and they were right. Others said we were numb to the pain — kudos this long war — but they were wrong.

After all, we’re not numb to a whole lot else: would we have been celebrating as hard or as happy, had a generation of the Lahore Bar been torn apart? Might the pitch of our rage been higher, the degree of our reflection deeper had another city been attacked?

Back to Orwell we go: all lives are equal, but some are more equal than others.

And all men are equal, if in varying stages of hypocrisy: this Sunday marked another kind of celebration, in Mansoorah. Sirajul Haq, ameer of the Jamaat-e-Islami, hoisted a flag and hailed the crowd.

Even in neighbouring lands, the right was gearing up: the BJP announced a 15-day song-and-dance celebration, as well as a Tiranga Yatra (tricolour rally).

It’s an epic inversion of history, on both sides of the border.

To Pakistan we turn first. According to the press, Siraj told his Mansoora rally, “Thousands of men, women and children had sacrificed their lives for this Muslim homeland. However […] soon after the demise of the Quaid-e-Azam, Pakistan fell into the hands of secular and liberal people who did not have any ideology nor were they aware of the goal of the founding fathers.”

No doubt thousands fell in the fire of Partition, but the JI sacrificed no one. That it now seeks Jinnah’s Pakistan — when its founder defined itself against both Quaid and country — is as ironic. “From [the] League’s Quaid-e-Azam down to the lower cadres,” Maulana Maududi is quoted in Muslims and the Present Political Turmoil, “there is not a single person who has an Islamic outlook and thinking and whose perspective on matters is Islamic.”

Elsewhere, he thought the freedom movement a waste: “Why should we foolishly waste our time in expediting the so-called Muslim-nation state and fritter away our energies in setting it up, when we know that it will not only be useless for our purposes, but will rather prove an obstacle in our path?”

Only, the vast majority thought otherwise. With Pakistan coming to be, the Maulana — far more pragmatic than his successors — had a change of heart. “[Pakistan] is no longer the country of the enemy against which it is our duty to strive,” he said. “Rather, it is now the country of friends, our own country, the strengthening, construction and progress of which are our duty.”

By this point, one can be forgiven for thinking Maududi evolved, and began working toward “construction and progress”.

Work he did, if towards Pakistani society coming apart at the seams: whatever his scholarship, the man was a versatile genius that understood — and harnessed — rage and reaction sweeping the subcontinent. Not six years later, the Maulana was tried for inciting riots in 1953, with thugs roaming the city to murder Ahmadis.

It’s not absurd, then, to say Maududi’s rabble-rousing led to the army’s first takeover (Lahore), the first martial law (Azam Khan’s) and the first government dismissal (Nazimuddin’s) — a chain of events that changed the course of this country forever. Justice Kayani called Maududi’s men “subversives”.

Over half a century later, the JI continues its subversive experiment: corrupting curricula, supporting groups like Bin Laden’s, and declaring this war’s martyrs don’t merit martyrdom. But for a humane interlude under the late Qazi Hussain sahib, the JI continues to drift, winning the same four seats it did before.

In this, perhaps, trends in India are more dangerous: try as they might in owning ‘the ideology of Pakistan’ (whatever that is), the JI’s going nowhere.

But the BJP’s gone straight to Delhi, in a mammoth election victory that sees no signs of being upended in the next poll. And the right’s waving the flag harder than ever before — in the literal sense.

This Independence Day, the lotus boys called for raising the tricolour that Hindutva’s founding father rejected again and again. Vinayak Savarkar, whose birthday Modi commemorates each year, had far fewer colours in mind: “Hindudom at any rate can loyally salute no other Flag but this Pan-Hindu Dhwaja, this Bhagva Flag as its national standard.” As written up by Suhas Munshi, Savarkar only thought the Bhagva fit “to deliver expressly the message of the very Being of our Race”.

Same went for the RSS — whom gave Modi and the BJP to the world (and not the other way round). RSS supremo Gowalkar, a gent that admired Hitler’s take on purity of the races, despised the tricolour and India’s Constitution. Nor was it surprising that the Sangh was heavily implicated in Gandhi’s assassination, with the assassin — Nathuram Godse — a reported RSS member himself.

But all that’s ancient history now, and if our textbooks are any indication, history’s meant to be wiped clean. In the wake of Modi’s election, the Hindu Mahasabha (the outfit the RSS broke away from) called for the rehabilitation of Gandhi’s killer. Pleading that the PM put up his statues everywhere, the Mahasabha head called Godse a martyr and a freedom fighter.

And so it is: the curse of history. Today, the JI incites the fundamentalist fever that so wracks Pakistan.

Today, the BJP government blinds kids in Kashmir, while watching the land that actually belongs to India bleed orange.

In this, the comparison pales: the JI is a fringe party; the BJP reigns supreme. Yet last Sunday, both aped the other: Maududi’s party hoisted the white and green; Savarkar’s the tricolour.

“Fanaticism,” Paulo Coehlo once wrote, “is the only way to put an end to the doubts that constantly trouble the human soul.”

On either side of the border, it’s hard to imagine the flag-bearer’s hand shook.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 16th, 2016.