Pakistan’s Islamist and India’s secular experiments both turned out to be failures. In the case of Pakistan, the modernist form of religion of the initial years gave way to extremist forms of religion at the social level and a Maududi-influenced type of Islamism at the state level. India’s secularism was a more abject failure at the political level. The Indian National Congres, which represents secularism in India’s political arena, is breathing its last breath. And the BJP, the party in the Indian political arena that represents religious vigilantism, religious persecution of minorities and systematic marginalisation of minorities in Indian society, is in continuous ascendance. BJP also represents deinstitutionalisation of Indian democracy where the Indian Supreme Court no longer seems capable of resisting the Indian executive in case of any move to delegitimise the secular content of the Indian constitution.
On these counts, Pakistan was a hopeless case right from the beginning. We were never very fond of passing laws to protect our minorities. Protecting them with force comes next, which was not even once attempted by the Pakistani state. Our political analysts have written one book after another to prove that our political institutions were weak. And now every child in the country knows that this was the case with our political institutions. Our weak political institutions are the result of the military’s dominance of power structures right from day one. Military dominance coupled with India-centric security and foreign policy never allowed us to develop normal relations with India.
Many in Pakistan started hating India and everything that comes from across the border. They hated secularism as they were told that it is the official political philosophy of the Indian political system. A section of our society closely aligned with the military came to hate democracy, and to express it publicly. Whether we genuinely hated Indian democracy or developed envy of their system—as we have failed to develop and run such a stable and continuous system—is a matter of conjecture. Whatever may be the case, our ruling elite used India’s attachment with democracy as a negative argument against democracy itself. They started to develop a counter set of arguments against those who were advocates of democracy in our society. Democracy is the tradition of the enemy, they used to argue. “Our system is Islam” was the shortened form of their argument. “Our heroes are all men of the sword,” they claimed, implying in the process that in the present day our heroes should come from the Pakistani military.
The killings and torture inflicted on Muslim communities in India allowed Islamist ideologues in Pakistan to claim that what was now happening in India was a confirmation of the Two Nation Theory
A bunch of free souls in Pakistani society continued to argue in those dark times that democracy is the only way forward. Due to deep hostility towards anything Indian, these free souls rarely – if ever – pointed out in our political discourse that we should learn something from India or how it had developed a sustained political process, to which all accord legitimacy. Perhaps Pakistan’s left-leaning and liberal intellectuals privately even admired Indian democracy and India’s non-aligned foreign policy in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Pakistani society has changed a lot since then: we now have a large number of intellectuals who openly advocate democracy and independent foreign policy.
Something has changed in India as well. Indian secularism hardly has any reality beyond the text of the Indian constitution inscribed on a piece of paper. No book has captured that change more accurately than that by Christophe Jaffrelot, who has written extensively on politics of India and Pakistan. Modi’s India: Hindu Nationalism and the Rise of Ethnic Democracy effectively describes how the Sangh Parivar is changing the nature of and structure of the Indian political system from a secular parliamentary democracy to a Hindu ethnic democracy that is good for only one religious community or nationality. The Supreme Court has been neutralised, secular opposition parties are almost non-existent, the military has been co-opted into a Hindu nationalist framework, civil society and human rights organisations have crashed and the media is on its knees. Hardly any obstacle is left in the way of the Sangh Parivar to make India a Hindu-only nation. After reading the above mentioned book, it became clear that India was on the path to becoming a “Hindu Pakistan” – as someone important in India described a few years back.
The killings and torture inflicted on Muslim communities in India allowed Islamist ideologues in Pakistan to claim that what was now happening in India was a confirmation of the Two Nation Theory on the basis of which Jinnah argued for Pakistan. Now the Hindu majority is itself saying that Muslims are a separate nation.
“Is there a possibility that secular forces in India will stage a comeback?” I sent Christophe Jaffrelot a question
Let us say, for the sake of argument, that Islamist and Hindutvavadi ideologues are absolutely correct. How will their positions now affect the inter-state relations in the Subcontinent? And how will the culture of religious extremism in one country affect the culture of religious extremism in the other country? Suppose there are acts of lynching in India. Will there be corresponding lynchings in Pakistan? In this country, no religious party has the slightest chance of winning parliamentary elections. But at the social level the atmosphere is no less toxic than that in India. The lynching of a Sri Lanka engineer in Sialkot was a clear sign that we have already destroyed the social and political fabric of our society.
I drew inspiration for this piece from Christophe Jaffrelot’s new book: a blend of history, social and political analysis, a lot of data from present day politics and political theory. But as a South Asian, I went into a deep spell of depression and pessimism. So, I thought to myself, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. I decided to put my question before the author himself.
“Is there a possibility that secular forces in India will stage a comeback?” I sent Christophe Jaffrelot a question through Linkedin Messenger. His reply was short and to the point.
“The point of no return has not been reached yet,” said Dr. Jaffrelot in response to my question. So, there is still hope for normal life in this part of the world.
I say a silent prayer for India.