Prisoners Of Nostalgia

by Surajit Dasgupta - Nov 4, 2016 05:06 PM +05:30 IST
Prisoners Of Nostalgia The Wagah Border
  • Nothing other than romanticism cut off from reality explains the naive yearning of elderly Punjabis and their likes for peace with Pakistan. Welcome to the “Lahore Club”.

Two contrasting imageries: One, a Bengali born in East Bengal, later called East Pakistan and finally Bangladesh, not associated with a group that seeks close Indo-Bangla ties—whether in these better times or when the bilateral relations had hit an all-time low as television beamed pictures of two Bangladeshis carrying the corpse of an Indian soldier hung from a stick during the NDA-1 years. Two, a Sunil Dutt found in a pensive mood at home one day by his son. When Sanjay asks what the matter is, he says “Watan di yaad aa rahi si (I miss my homeland).” The son says, “But you are in your country.” The father says he is actually referring to the village that is now in Pakistan, where he was born. (Indians with roots in rural lands often refer to their village as their “desh” or “watan”.)

Add to the second club a Kuldip Nayar, former journalist and India’s ambassador to the UK, standing near the Wagah gate every 14-15 August night, holding a candle, and a Manmohan Singh who signed on the wholly unacceptable joint declaration of Sharm el Sheikh. In fact, L.K. Advani, another luminary born in what is now Pakistan, almost ensured the end of his career by delivering a speech on how M.A. Jinnah was a wholly secular person, egged on by an adviser from the “Aman ki Asha” (Hope of Peace) cartel, Sudheendra Kulkarni.

Nothing other than unrealistic romanticism explains this wistfulness of the group that is sometimes referred to pejoratively as the “Lahore Club”. First, if it is their childhood memories, which we are all entitled to cherish, every refugee of 1947-48 vintage knows that the “enemy property” laws in all the three countries—India, Pakistan and Bangladesh—make it impossible for him to get back his home and hearth, or their worth. Second, you have to be 90 years old or older to have clear memories of those times. The memory of Pakistan in an Indian approaching his 80th birthday or one who has just crossed it will be vague. In fact, the bloodbath of Partition could still haunt him not just for the sheer barbarity on display in those days but also for the fact that the person would be grown up enough to remember that episode of his life. If you grew up hearing your parents reminisce about those years, they surely also related to you the mayhem that closed the chapter. Should it not be more likely in that scenario that you cannot stand even the mention of the people who butchered half your kins and clan while leaving the rest traumatised for life? Ah, objectivity! “Let my past not cloud my judgement of the present!” an intellectual might say. But this premise does not wash either. If the past is diabolical, the present is worse. We then had a recently created country based on hate; that western neighbour is now a place where children grow up on the propaganda of hate.

So, how does this peace brigade justify its stand? Kuldip Nayar, born in Sialkot, does not agree Partition was inevitable. He told a Pakistani newspaper that “the Cabinet Mission Plan held promise of resolution, but as events panned out, and Nehru and Jinnah remained implacable, it became inevitable”, pinning the blame entirely on the political leadership. This defies the fact that the Muslims of what is now Bihar and Uttar Pradesh were the greatest votaries of Pakistan in pre-1947 India. Take these mohajirs (displaced people) out of Pakistan’s demography, and you’re left with a North-Western Frontier Province whose Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan had said that the Congress had betrayed his people. You have a Balochistan whose people never believed they were part of British India and, hence, they could not be handed over to Pakistan when India was divided. You have a Sindh that still begrudges the dominance of Punjabis in the state of affairs of that country. And you have the Pashtuns who were bombed by Pakistan to quell their rebellion.

Never mind! “One day, all of South Asia will be a union — one visa, one currency... everyone will be free to work, travel, think!” says Nayar, who, in 1992, began the annual practice of the candlelight vigil along Indian Punjab’s border with Pakistan. Beat this optimism!

No doubt, there are romantics on the other side, too. The late Iqbal Haider, then a senator in Pakistan, had said to a newspaper in 2008, “Dekhya sadia koshishan da natija! Aaj pehli war uthe vee majma laga hai, log pyar de geet gaa rahe hain (Look, what fruits our efforts have borne! For the first time people are in a carnival-like mood, with many singing songs of love)!” Haider was also an advocate in the Supreme Court of Pakistan and co-chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of that country. In 1947, he was all of two! One has got to be a bit older in the period that he is nostalgic about, it is presumed. But what is the status of these peaceniks on either side of the border? In Pakistan, they are treated as renegades. It was reported in September 2015 that Kashmiris in PoK who refuse to turn mujahideen (Islamic holy warriors) to wage a war on India are randomly arrested by the ISI, tortured and, in some cases, never returned to their families.

Liberal intellectuals in Pakistan with voices of sanity are so exasperated by the constant snide remarks they face in their country that human rights activist Asma Jahangir quipped in August this year that all “disloyal”, “rebellious” and “renegade” Pakistanis must form a political party of their own. She made the statement after Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai led a group of demonstrators outside Pakistan’s parliament to protest the terrorist attack on the Quetta Civil Hospital, and drew upon himself the epithet of a “traitor”.

Most mohajirs have fallen in line in fear of violent reprisals—compelled to prove their loyalty to Pakistan. Some of them go to the extent of being more loyal than the king. Pervez Musharraf, born in Delhi, is the foremost in this context. Most infamously, he waged the Kargil war. Muhammad Sharif, father of current Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, had migrated from Jati Umra, Amritsar, during Partition. PM Sharif touted the Pakistani nuclear tests of 1998 as a response to Indian tests (though experts say they had long had the bombs of Chinese make).

The nuclear physicist infamous for smuggling atomic knowhow out of Pakistan, Abdul Qadeer Khan, was born in Bhopal. Muhammad Mahmood Alam, though a Bihari-Bengali, chose to remain a Pakistani even after the formation of Bangladesh. He was a fighter pilot hailed in Pakistan for bombing Indian targets in the 1965 war. He was born in 1935 in Calcutta.

Belonging to the royal family of Rampur of what is now Uttar Pradesh, Sahabzada Yaqub Ali Khan retired with a three-star rank in the Pakistan Army and turned a hardliner bureaucrat. He was the commander of the first Armoured Division of Pakistan Army Armoured Corps during the 1965 war.

A rare “dove” one could stumble upon in the long list of India-born Pakistanis is former Foreign Secretary and present chairman of the Cricket Board in Pakistan Shahryar Khan. Hailing from the royal family of Bhopal, he is a cousin of the late Indian cricket captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi.

In India, the peacenik industry came to a grinding halt following the Pathankot and Uri attacks, especially after the latter when, by ordering surgical strikes into PoK, the Modi government made it clear that the diplomatic niceties to deal with Pakistan had been exhausted.

About two years ago, the NDA government was informed by several Indian nationalists that the sources of funding as well as the activism of thousands of foreign-funded NGOs were dubious. Interestingly, the “Aman ki Asha” brigade tended to agree with this NGO syndicate even on issues that have nothing to do with Pakistan.

Sudheendra Kulkarni, in particular, finds every stand India takes under Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrong. Perhaps this has something to do with his being rather ignominously ousted from the BJP. On the conclusion of the BRICS summit, he tweets, “…India shd (sic) stop trying complete global isolation of Pakistan. Cannot be done. Even USA will not support.

Engage, not isolate.” On the issue of India’s nationalists wanting to boycott Chinese goods in the wake of its not-so-covert support to Pakistani terrorism, he says, “Instead of saying ‘Ban all Chinese goods’, which is impossible, let’s resolve to produce better, cheaper goods for Indian and global markets.” While an advocate of free markets would tend to endorse the second view, that is not the drift of the former communist who had begun his political career as a member of the CPI(M).

Echoing Prof Ni Shixiong of Fudan University, Shanghai, Kulkarni thinks the rise of China and that of India are mutually complementary. Most strikingly, he dismisses the Indian military operation across the LoC with the statement, “India’s soft power, which has great influence in Pakistan, is in danger of surgical self-strikes.”

But Kulkarni is a rare Maharashtrian in a crowd that is otherwise overwhelmingly Punjabi. The 2008 candlelight vigil also saw the then BJP MP Navjot Singh Sidhu going maudlin at the international border. Following the Gurdaspur terror attack in 2015, these incorrigible Punjabis conducted seminars, conferences of poets and other cultural programmes in Lahore and Amritsar.

Outfits like Hind-Pak Dosti Manch (HPDM), South Asia Free Media Association and Folklore Research Academy, all full of Punjabis, thrive on the Utopian idea. There is a beeline of elderly Punjabis for Pakistani visas at the High Commission in New Delhi before every Independence Day. HPDM general secretary Satnam Singh Manak believes that the people of India and Pakistan can “exert pressure on their governments to frame… policies” related to the bilateral relations, much as his dovish line has few takers on the other side of the border. Mercifully, the young in Punjab, who were born to refugees, do not share the longing of their parents. A discussion on social networking site Quora throws up reminiscences of pain but no yearning for the land the previous generation lost. “My grandparents told me that it was by far the most painful and horrific occurrence of their lifetime. My grandma is 87. She still has nightmares of her street being set on fire. My grandpa had to part ways with his best friend (a Muslim). They were so close that they had tattoos of each other’s initials on their left biceps (just in case they meet after Partition and time or injury disfigures their faces). Well, my grandpa died with M.A. (Mohammad Aslam) tattooed on his arm. I hope that somewhere in Pakistan, a grandpa with S.K. tattooed on his arm is still alive. They lost life, limb and property when they got here,” writes a user called Sunanda Khosla.

Pankaj Bhatia, another user of the site, says, “Hardest times. My grandpa tells about how he along with his sister used to hide in space between the railway tracks. Once all the Hindus were lined up and shot in front of him when he was just eight years hiding between those tracks.” Bobby Singh replies, “During the Partition, some Islamic extremists took swords in their hands and attacked Hindus and Sikhs. They tortured, raped, murdered, abducted and humiliated Hindus and Sikhs, and then denied everything.”

A Pakistani acknowledges the agony. Usman Qazi responds, “Pakistani Muslims with origins in East Punjab tend to be ultra-nationalists. Think of Zia-ul-Haq, Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan. Likewise, for the refugee side of my family, Pakistan was unquestionably a blessing, although they had a deep nostalgia for what they had left behind—although one almost never heard of a specific Hindu or Sikh person. I understood the reason after I travelled to Patiala, India a few years ago to flesh out the old stories. There was a lot that I was able to reconstruct after meeting some old-timers…”

When will the elders wake up? One can only hope that they come to terms with the reality, insha’Allah.

Surajit Dasgupta is National Affairs Editor, Swarajya.
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