A Victory for Hateful Ideologues

Source: Al-Jazeera

Perhaps the most toxic idea that I have learned about as a native Indian is the Two-Nation Theory. To most Hindu and Pakistani nationalists, communal violence in India is a great ideological victory. A vindication of their convictions. A “Thank You Jinnah” or “Hail Savarkar” moment. None of the communal violence that you see in India is a coincidence. The Indian Right Wing, dominated by Savarkar’s Hindutva philosophy, a reactionary cultural nationalist movement that largely sees Islam or any “foreign” faith as a threat to the “Indic civilization,” had been patiently building the popular support for a Hindu nationalist rule. It would have gone

The week following Shivratri and Delhi’s election with Aam Aadmi Party getting a sweeping victory was perhaps the bloodiest in North Eastern Delhi in living memory. The “Hindu retaliation” was in response to the street protests of the Muslim community in North-Eastern Delhi in the wake of the passage of the controversial CAA or Citizen Amendment Act, which singles out Muslims as a community. The retaliation particularly erupted after an angry speech by local BJP leader Kapil Mishra who warned of consequences for protesters blocking those neighborhoods in the capital. At least 30 people lost their lives, mostly Muslims, as a result, except dozens getting injured and losing their homes and businesses.

I recall that no too long ago, I used to have heated discussions with my fellow citizens in Pakistan about the Indian secularism and the BJP being a theocratic, fundamentalist political party. Even though I still believe India is a secular democracy as of this date, I do confess that I have to reconsider my stance on Narendra Modi’s and Amit Shah’s BJP. I do believe that the BJP is not any different from a dangerous theocratic party such as the Jamaat-e-Islami and the TLP in Pakistan. The supporters of these hate groups are potential murderers of their opponents and are very dangerous people indeed.

This is not just a matter of opinion anymore, it has become an almost verifiable fact with plenty of evidence on social media. Examine the commentary of any pro-Hindutva or even a moderate BJP supporter and you will find an openly Islamophobic and malicious intention to purge India of anything that does not fit their view of what is supposed to be Hindu patriotism. They have successfully otherized a minority, Muslims, and convinced their followers that they are an oppressed majority persecuted by Muslims whose faith is a constant existential threat to them. Here are only a few specimens but you can literally follow them to read and watch such bile at just about any time of the day.

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That’s alright. This is their politics and they are proud of the fact but actually taking them as serious, well-meaning people reflect poorly on people who give their opinions space. I am always willing to listen to them but I wonder what many of the Muslims, especially those of the Bengali or Rohingya descent, might think about them. It is more like talking to your potential killer, you know, the kind of feeling a Pakistani Christian, Hindu, or Ahmedi might go through when speaking to a Sunni Punjabi.

In the end, Indian Hindus, and yes, largely Indian Hindus will decide how they want to see their country. Do they want to see it a bastion of theocratic nationalism that it is on the path of becoming, cornering, if not eliminating, unfavorable minorities, kind of like Pakistan, or whether it wants to be a liberal, secular democracy where each citizen has an equal chance, at least in theory. The Hindu-Muslim riots may be an ideological victory for communitarian theocrats in the subcontinent but it surely threatens the idea of the Indian Republic that gave the people of this land a hope after a dark partition.

As for Pakistanis such as myself, the death of a secular India will mean the death of a political idealism that associated us with the Indian subcontinent. With darkness all around, perhaps the American Constitution remains the only last hope for a liberal democracy if it is not consumed by partisan polarized politics in the United States.

So what if Indian democracy is dead.

The Rare Proud Moment of the Kartarpura Corridor

Source: Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Dawn

Today is Gurpurab or the Birthday of Baba Gurunanak, the founder of the Sikh religion. On the occasion of his 550th birthday, Pakistan and India achieved something unprecedented and historic. The Kartarpura Corridor was opened to the Darbar Saheb Gurudwara from Amritsar. Prime Ministers of both the countries inaugurated their respective sides of the Corridor.

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Source: Nighat Dad facebook

Source: Nighat Dad facebook

However, there is a shade of doubt behind the Kartarpura Corridor as well. The opposition is raising questions about the funding of the project, considering its efficient and speedy construction and completion within months. Many believe that the project comes directly from the Army Chief General Bajwa, whose interest in it makes more sense than that of Imran Khan. Others believe that Pakistani intelligence has pushed it to help encourage the Khalistan movement in Eastern Punjab.

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Furthermore, leaders of progressive parties are also raising the issue that the farmers whose land has been withheld by the state for building the corridor and the temple complex infrastructure have still not been compensated. Opposition leaders are even asking the tough questions regarding the funding of the Kartarpura Corridor, let alone the idea of opening the border in Punjab when civil freedom in Kashmir has still not been restored ever since the passage of the revocation of Article 370.

There is little doubt that this project was instantly initiated and completed because the Pakistani military was behind it because such efficiency cannot be expected from the PTI administration. You also cannot expect the PTI administration to have the courage or imagination to launch such a huge infrastructure project. This is why it is unfortunate that such projects with India can only be initiated and realized when Pakistani generals push the idea. Otherwise, any civilian leader like Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, who also tried taking similar initiatives, were dubbed pro-Indian traitors by the deep state.

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But is it a project initiated completely out of malice? And can Indians trust the Muslims of Western Punjab with their strangely newfound love for their Sikh brethren? These are not unreasonable questions to ask. At the same time, it is the kind of passion that only a Punjabi can understand. This project was completed out of the shared love and reverence of Baba Guru Nanak, who is revered by both Sikhs and Hindus and even Muslims. He is an undisputed saint, if not a manifestation of God. It is out of reverence for him that even Prime Minister Narendra Modi swallowed his pride and inaugurated the Indian wing of the Kartarpura Corridor in Eastern Punjab in the presence of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

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With all its misgivings and flaws, and perhaps even the evil intentions of the Pakistani military establishment, Kartarpura Corridor is worth it. It has made possible for Western Punjab to celebrate a Punjabi religion in the 74 years of its post-partition history, or in my living memory at least. It is also evident by the Government of Pakistan taking initiative to mint commemorative coins on the 550th Birthday of Guru Nanak Dev. These words from Indian cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu perfectly elaborate it, eulogizing his friend Imran Khan for making history with this huge step.

The memories of United India are still etched somewhere on our DNA. Those forgotten moments come to life again with Kartarpura Corridor. No words can describe what seeing our own pilgrims returning home feels like. I never thought this would make me emotional but it did. Perhaps we could never appreciate what it means to be together until we are separated. Muslims and Sikhs massacred each other for a partition based on faith and are today embracing each other for the same faith. It is surreal.

 

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The Kartarpura Corridor only reminds us of the sheer disaster that was the partition of Punjab, and the partition of India in general. When we see Punjabi brothers and sisters from both sides of the borders embracing each other, we realize what our shortsighted forefathers have taken away from us out of their bigotry and insecurities.

They have taken away from us that little India that existed in every town and village in United India. They have taken away our Sikh and Hindu brothers and sisters in our neighborhood. They have taken away our shared celebrations of Eid, Diwali, Holi, Dussehra, Vaisakhi, and Gurpurab. And it simply cannot be put back together even if we unite Punjab and India again. It is a venom that even Shiv’s throat cannot hold.

It is the kind of hate that even God cannot contain, let alone undo.