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Beyond Partition

Battle for Peace Krishna Kumar; Penguin

Economic & Political Weekly EPW august 16, 200827book reviewBeyond Partition Rita ManchandaSince 1994, every other year or so 200 to 300 Indians and Pakistani citizens cross on foot the Wagah-Attari border, pulling down by a further notch the barriers that have made impass-able people to people crossings. It is the biennial movement of the swelling mem-bers of the Pakistan India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) making their way to Lahore, Peshawar or Karachi and Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore for the PIPFPD joint conventions. It was a ritual enactment of the popular desire for peace and cross border community, a reverse image of the daily evening ritualised cock-fight by the sentinels at the gates of India and Pakistan. The groundswell of a “popular constitu-ency” for peace is fed by many such tribu-taries that strive to open up our minds – Pakistani citizens at the Bangalore PIPFPD joint convention joining Indian Muslims as they strolled off the open street to say namaz, overturning embedded images of stifled Muslims in India; or Indians in Islamabad discovering that the Afghan-Pakistan border had become more com-pelling than the India-Pakistan one, overturning assumptions of “India obsessed” Pakistan.Changing MindsetsChanging mindsets is at the core of break-ing the bonds of prejudice that 60 years anon threaten to become stronger not weaker, reinforced by revivalists on both sides, thus making the pronouncements of the tall leaders of India and Pakistan – that the peace process is “irreversible”, ring hollow. Does the bonhomie of the India-Pakistan people to people embrace, represent the limits of popular initiatives for peace between the two nuclear armed neighbours? The well known educationist Krishna Kumar in the book Battle for Peaceargues that peace between India and Pakistan will remain elusive unless we alter “the prevailing determination to Battle for Peace Krishna Kumar; Penguin, New Delhi, 2007; pp 152, Rs 175.ignore mindsets” rooted in popular stereo-types and moulded by popular prejudices centring on Partition. That is, in the popular Hindu mindset – Partition brought greater suffering to Hindus and the Muslims gained from our losses; and the popular Muslim mindset that Partition revealed Hindu resistance to a fair deal for the Muslims. The“battle for peace” is to be fought in our minds by dismantling the layers of prejudice rooted in our competing histories of Partition, by opening up the “mis-perceptual” closures we have self-consciously erected. Our traditional education acculturation and the mass media have reinforced stereotypes that come in the way of re-imagining a mutually respectful relationship. The pathway to peace, argues Kumar, lies in our recognising the symmetry of the alienating impact on India and Pakistan of the models of modernisation and deve-lopment and the forces of hegemonising globalisation. If earlier it was only Pakistan, today it is joined by India, inviting the United States to broker peace, while its political economy predi-cates the sale of weapons and its talk of the war for freedom and democracy is a smokescreen for pursuing national (oil) interests a la Iraq. Krishna Kumar has dedicated his life’s work to the vision of a “progressive peda-gogy” for transforming the narrow nation-alisms reinforced by (sub)standard educa-tion that turns out a huge army of under-class children vulnerable to recruitment for one kind of war or another. His earlier work Prejudice and Pride focused on school textbooks, used for teaching contempo-rary history in India and Pakistan. He asserts that the mirror images of the negative stereotypes of Pakistan and Indiaare based on a structural prejudice in the framing of history and less on a nationalist bias. This book builds upon that work, and draws in his more recent experience of teaching a course on peace education in Delhi University. Indeed the chapter ‘Birla House and Rajghat’ merits recognition as a model of progressive education, that is, how to enable the student to critically reflect and challenge “his” socialisation that fixes “his” identity as narrowly belonging to family, community and a nation. Kumar invites the student/reader to visit, along with him, Birla House, where Gandhi was violently killed, and his samadhi at Rajghat. He patiently peels layer upon layer to reveal the meaning of the silent agreement between the two rival parties vying for ideological hege-mony and political control, that is, plural-istic secularism and cultural nationalism. It is a pact of complicity that produces the public significance of Rajghat, the abode of the spiritual, saintly and apolitical Gandhi, and the public erasure of Birla House. If the latter reminds us of the political battle for which Gandhi lost his life, the spectre of communalism and why Partition happened, Rajghat is a place to hide from that history. It arouses no curi-osity, whereas Birla House invites us to ask why Gandhi incurred such active hatred and was blamed for Partition. Do we need to demystify Gandhi, popularly imagined as a “political magician”, to rid ourselves of that anger?Kumar, here, is in firm control, prod-ding us to walk that space between Rajghat and Birla House, which epitomises the ambivalence about what we should do with Gandhi, own him as symbol of the nation, but not own his struggle for social peace? The unrepentant murderer, Godse symbolises not fanaticism but what ideo-logy can do. Kumar does not mention that the sympathisers of Godse on the anniver-sary of his execution on November 15, ritually assemble every year in Pune, to place his ashes before a map of the undivided subcontinent and pledge their commitment to undo the vivisection of the motherland. But this is a track that is
BOOK REVIEWaugust 16, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly28not often walked. People do not visit Birla House. The more memorable of these essays are organised around a dominant motif, and Kumar demonstrates his impressive pedagogic artistry in culling out multiple meanings as he walks around ‘Litter in Lahore’ or teases out complexities from an excerpt of an interview of Abida Sultan, begum of Bhopal, who migrated to Pakistan in 1949. Com-menting on the tension between India and Pakistan, she believes it is rooted in the history of Muslims coming as “foreigners”, local Hindus accepting them and the Muslims then betraying them by dividing the country. It epito-mises the common Hindu view and repre-sents what Kumar describes as the “unaccredited historiography of popular imagination”. It captures why Partition has remained a live wound in the Indian national psyche. The accompanying assumptions are that “Partition was not inevitable” and “nothing worthwhile came ofit”. Kumar posits that the stereotype is to regard Pakistan as a pathology and to rejoice in its thus predictable difficulties. The history of modern India does not accommodate the possibility of Partition as a rational outcome. Alongside the grand narratives that plot the manoeu-vres of the three actors – the British, the Muslim League and the Congress, he counter-poses the social reality revealed in Mumtaz Shah Nawaz’s novel,A Heart Divided. The journey of her protagonist from the Congress to the League shows that Partition had already taken place in the hearts and minds of the Muslim and Hindu elite in 1930s when faced with the stark choice of assimilation or separation. Our stereotypes have no place for this history. Insightfully, Kumar points out that these stereotypes are common to the liberal left and the right revivalist forces. Hinging on it is the belief that a day will come when Pakistan will cease to exist as a separate entity. Kumar shows up that even within the peace movement, peace with Pakistan is often disturbingly understood as meaning that its separate existence will become unnecessary. He describes the extreme uneasiness of Pakistanis when faced with the friendly Indian rhetoric of sameness, and the fantasy of reunion. Sameness and DifferenceKumar reminds us that Pakistan’s self- identity is weakly formed, and therefore the importance the state attaches to an education policy that focuses on the sociali-sation of the young in the strong belief in nationhood. Disappointingly, in his probel-matisation of sameness, he stops short of exploring difference. He asserts that the evening enactment at Wagah reveals that the nation-building projects of India and Pakistan were and still are at least partially dependent upon each other. But in Pakistan, social scientists like Mohammad Waseem question the unproblematic assertion of Pakistan’s obsession with India, suggesting that if the first movement was of Pakistan seceding from India, the second movement was of Pakistan seceding from the region and anchoring itself in a west and central Asian nexus. Public intellectual, Aitzaz Hasan in Indus Saga affirms Pakistan’s historical inevitability and irreducible cultural identity by positing the Indus and Gangetic zones as the subcontinent’s
BOOK REVIEWEconomic & Political Weekly EPW august 16, 200829primordial divide. The distinct cultural zone of the Indus region, he identifies with present-day Pakistan. Kumar’s strength lies in demystifying the popular mindsets of Indians and Pakistanis (we might just as well use the terms “Hindu” and “Muslim” because the public discourse seems to exclude all “oth-ers”). However, in ‘Litter in Lahore’, he reveals an asymmetry in his capacity to show up paradoxes in his analysis of the Muslim (Pakistani) mindset in compari-son to the Hindu (Indian) mindset. The central motif is inspired by an introspec-tive question posed by a young Pakistani student – what would Jinnah have thought of the Litter in Lahore? Kumar draws us into a critical reflection of Jinnah’s vision for the new state and the curious yardstick of civic sanitation to judge his achieve-ments. It begs comparison with Gandhi for whom the question of sanitation as Kumar reminds us was entwined with the question of social justice and removal of caste oppression, especially after the Gandhi-Ambedkar Poona pact. In the case of Pakistan, the question on civic sanitation is an invitation to reflect that Pakistanis can be idealistic about their expectations of the state. It unsettles our cynical stereotype of Pakistan as a project not worthy of success. Here, however, the masterly command Kumar demonstrates in the chapter on ‘Birla House and Rajghat’ is missing. Instead, we have a bland assertion – made twice – that Jinnah “lived and strug-gled, it seems out of personal anger…turn-ing his anger into a national dream”. Even allowing that “anger” may be interpreted as a metaphor for extreme anxiety about the future of Muslims in an independent Hindu dominated India, nonetheless this behavioural explanation trivialises the complexity of Jinnah, the political leader and the complex convergence of contingent historical context. He quotes the begum saying that Jinnah would have been satis-fied with autonomy for the Muslim major-ity provinces, an argument that a genera-tion of new scholars has corroborated. But Kumar does not pursue that track. He does not care to arouse our curiosity about a man whom Sarojini Naidu styled as the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity, who then went on to espouse the two nation theory and delivered a separate Muslim homeland. Jinnah’s controversial August 11, 1947 speech in which he arti-culated the vision of a “secular” and “federal” Pakistan should have been an invitation for examining the political paradox of Partition and the ambiguities and uncertainties in translating ideo-logical nationalism into territorial nation-alism for only the Muslims of the majority provinces. Kumar, instead, is content to let it rest as an expression of “confusion” and “delusion”, symbolising the con-tradictions between the clergy and Jinnah’s secularism. Economy of AnalysisKumar’s economy with analysis on Paki-stan is evident in some of his throwaway remarks. The army takeover in Pakistan is explained as predictable given that the Punjab was the army recruitment centre. Admittedly, Kumar’s emphasis is on the whittling away of social space for demo-cratic deliberation and not in explaining the reasons for the military and civil bureaucracy’s domination of the Pakistan state. But he invites the question and myriad reflection. Partition created a Bengali majority population in Pakistan making democratic politics untenable if the Punjabi and Mohajir elite were to maintain their dominance. There was the tension between the implantation of Paki-stan as the homeland of the Muslim nation in a territory with many nations summed up in Waseem’s phrase – “the Pakistan movement came to Pakistan”. Ironically, Partition had been embraced in the name of guaranteeing federal autonomy. It ended up reducing the power of the feder-alism idea and spurred on a strong centre, especially to provide for a burgeoning army budget, thus displacing federal financial requirements. I would have hesitated to open up the federal question, had Kumar in the discur-sive essay on modernity not wandered into ruminating about the bloody challenge of identity politics to the project of modernity. It is an invitation to add to the field of anal-ysis – the modernist paradigm of state making built on the triad of nation (sub-suming peoples’ self-determination) state and citizenship. Here “identity politics” is not just a contradiction as posited by Kumar, but as the anthropologist Andreas Wimmer in Nationalist Exclusion and Ethnic Conflict persuasively argues – the modern project itself is founded on exclusion and inclusion, making for belonging to the “true nation” and becoming “the other”. The production of ethnicity and exclusions are not just a by-product of modern state formations, they are inherent to it. In ‘Why Nobody Minds War’, Kumar turns his attention to Kashmir and the little appreciation in Pakistan that the state of militancy in Kashmir is an outcome of the policies pursued by Zia ul Haq. Admittedly, it was the convergence of Zia’s Islamising zeal and the opportunity of the American project to arm the mujahideen to fight non-believers that gave a new dimension to cross border terrorism. It is also a fact that till 9/11 even leading representatives of civil society in Pakistan were reluctant to speak out against cross border terrorism. The problem with Kumar’s analysis is that he overdetermines it, especially as there is no complementary narrative of the domes-tic origins of the Kashmir insurgency. Ironi-cally, true to the paradox inbuilt in the India-Pakistan relationship, Zia’s period was marked by a diplomatic charm offen-sive towards India. Kumar presciently sug-gests that the Pakistani establishment, as does the Indian, prefers to deal with right revivalist (and military) political forma-tions as they do not challenge the stereo-types, but work on their basis. However as the history of the misadventures in the offi-cial peace track demonstrate, there can be no way of transforming the relationship without first transforming our mindsets. This slim but ambitious volume is in the genre of contemporary social science writ-ing promoted by Penguin, which carries its scholarship very lightly in the interest of lucidity of expression and elegance of style. However, unlike the historian Yasmin Khan’sGreat Partition – a recent Penguin release, Kumar’s book is econo-mical in both footnotes and a missing select bibliography. His more discursive essays would have benefited from a firmer anchorage, but the essays structured around a motif are exemplary pieces of uncovering layers of meaning. ‘Birla House and Rajghat’ is reason enough to read this useful and intelligent book. Email:

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