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Communalism and the two-nation theory

By Saad Hafiz:

Press Council of India Chairperson Justice (Retd) Katju was quoted recently as saying that “Before 1857, there was zero percent communalism. Today 80 percent Hindus and 80 percent Muslims are communal.” Justice Katju is also reported to have said, “The cause of the Kashmir problem is the partition of India on a totally bogus basis — the two nation theory — that Hindus and Muslims are separate nations.”

In a country which takes pride in its secular and pluralistic society with the second largest Muslim population in the world, Katju’s admission that communalism remains pervasive and that Hindu-Muslim riots can be engineered at the drop of a hat is concerning but welcome. It also raises questions about the frequently made assertion that Hinduism has always tolerated other religious viewpoints. It seems that as long as Indian politicians continue to play communal politics in the name of secularism and ignore the very Indian tradition of religious tolerance that exists for centuries, the country will have more conflicts that are religious.

Pakistan, where the near ‘genocidal’ killings based on sectarianism, ethnicity and communalism are rampant, can hardly take comfort from Katju’s admission. Despite the killings of thousands of people in sectarian clashes, the state has been unable or unwilling to identify the forces and factors behind them or taken serious action against the perpetrators. The standard excuse put forth is that Islam, which gives a message of peace, love and respect for humanity, has been betrayed by those who intend to use the Muslims and Islam for their political gains or attainment of power. One can only wonder what to make of Jinnah’s supposed advice to a supporter in 1942 to “Achieve Pakistan or perish” when Muslims and minorities are perishing at the hands of fellow Muslims daily in Pakistan.

Katju is also reported to have said, “I do not recognise Pakistan as a legitimate country because the whole basis is the two-nation theory and I do not accept the two-nation theory.” He said, “The one and only solution to the Kashmir problem or the militancy problem in Pakistan is the reunification of India and Pakistan under a strong, central, secular, modern-minded government, which just doesn’t tolerate bigotry,” adding that such a government would deal with fanaticism with an iron hand. Katju seems to be in agreement with Jinnah who in a lone stand argued in favour of a unitary government for India at the first Round Table Conference in 1930. Jinnah felt that a federation in a country made up of such diverse elements would strengthen fissiparous tendencies.

A counter-argument to a centralised setup is the political progress made by India from the early enunciation of a linguistic state framework for handling the country’s ethnic and linguistic diversity by the Congress Party, while the reverse holds true for Pakistan. Pakistan’s abysmal experience also does not lend credence to the argument that a strong central government is better suited to hold a country together or confront bigotry, fanaticism and terrorism as compared to a decentralised democratic structure.

Katju’s last comment that the “two-nation theory” is bogus and should be reversed is probably the most contentious. In India, within a secular polity power sharing between disparate ethnic and communal groups in multinational and multi-ethnic states is working despite periodic challenges. No recognisable group questions its validity. Religion is getting more and more personalised, the divisions between religion and state are becoming bolder and bolder in relief. In Pakistan on the other hand the influence of religion on governance of the state is on the increase and the leaders of the government have been seen to bend backwards to accommodate the views of the fundamentalists. In this milieu, the two-nation theory has stayed in place in its pure glory in Pakistan and none can question it.

Finally, Hindus and Muslims, separate nations or not, have to learn to live together as peaceful neighbours. Communal and political issues have to take a back seat to finding economic solutions. The general mass of the people in India and Pakistan are more concerned about problems that concern them directly like employment, rising prices, education and healthcare. Reversing the two-nation theory, impractical as it sounds, is not a priority at this stage. The only way forward is to forget about fighting ‘thousand-year’ wars and invoking cold start doctrines and instead focus on providing a head start to millions of South Asians still languishing in poverty and misery.

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