By Zahid Jamil
British captured India when it was popularly known as the Golden Bird, the richest country in the world. Two hundred years later, despite a few positive contributions such as railways and scientific education, they left it in shatters, as one of the poorest nations. The British further divided India into two nations and left Kashmir in limbo over which the two divided nations would fight over next 70 years, with no resolution in sight.
Though Muslim rulers did invade India as they were attracted by its enormous wealth but they stayed back to enjoy it while Britishers looted it to take the wealth away to England.
During the period when the Mughals ruled India, the country’s income was 17.5 million Pounds, which was greater than the entire treasury of Great Britain. Ex PM Manmohan Singh said, “There is no doubt that our grievances against the British Empire had a sound basis. India’s share of world income collapsed from 22.6% in 1700, almost equal to Europe’s share at that time, to as low as 3.8% in 1952.”
After the Muslim rule of nearly 800 years, influential Muslims in general, at the time of British invasion, had become aristocrats after acquiring large estates. They had become decadent and lazy. The result of such aristocratic life and inaction of larger Muslim societies had weakened them seriously.
The decades long political turmoil between Hindus and Muslims before independence led to the division of the nation. The partition in fact divided Muslims into three portions, thus weakening them and united Hindus into one strong nation. Pakistan’s unnatural geographical set up of two territories being two thousand kms apart, with enemy India in between, could luckily survive 24 years but no more, thanks to the ego of great nationalist Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
Since its creation, political leaders in Pakistan failed to establish sound governmental institutions. Military intervened repeatedly as Civilian governments could not offer stability. For almost half of 70 years since its creation, Military ruled Pakistan. India, on the other hand, successfully established its democratic institutions, invested heavily in industrialization and higher education and could bring stability to a nation, after centuries of external rule. However, India too failed to offer relief to its very large percentage of poverty stricken population. Deep rooted corruption in both countries continued to empty government treasuries as much of the money meant for public development projects was siphoned off by corrupt public service officials and political leaders.
Opening of economy to foreign investment by Dr Manmohan Singh in 1991 brought opportunities for multi-nationals in India. Pakistan was lucky to receive petrodollars from rich Gulf states not only in aid but also in remittances from millions of Pakistanis working there.
Rapid rise of Hindu nationalists over past three decades seems to be creating hurdles to India’s future growth. Muslims of India, who suffered socio-economic downfall since independence, now face uncertain future. Situation in Kashmir has been deteriorating rapidly and all past attempts to normalise relations between the two neighbours seem to have reversed in total. Despite the fact that the two nations have fought three wars, there have been several attempts to normalise relations. In 2005, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were seriously heading towards establishing peace by creating soft borders through initiatives such as Srinagar-Muzaffarbad bus service to add to earlier train service between Delhi and Lahore.
Unlike India, in Pakistan, despite it going through terrible situations due to Afghan war and internal political turmoils, religious extremists could not form a major political party. Yet, they did create enough influence in creating sectarian divisions and harassment of minorities, with multiple related terrorists attacks over past decade.
Millions of Indians and Pakistanis living overseas enjoy cordial relations, as they share common interests, languages and cultural values. Punjabi, Urdu/Hindustani and Gujarati is spoken by large segments of Indians and Pakistanis living overseas. They hold cultural events together. It is common to hold Mushairas with poets from Indian and Pakistan in attendance. Indian Musical events see huge number of Pakistani fans, while Pakistani Ghazal singers draw big Indian audiences. In gulf countries, they work together in offices and at work sites without any problems. Indian Muslims and Pakistanis often enjoy close family friendships which converts to relationships through marriages of their children quite often. In some instances Indian Hindu youth and Pakistani Muslim youth fall in love at work places and in educational institutions and marry each other.
When Indian PM Narendra Modi visited Australia in December 2014, a delegation of Indian Muslims submitted a petition seeking several demands relating to Muslims. Not only we sought normalisation of relationships between the two neighbours, we made special request for concessions on visa restrictions for Paksitani spouses of NRIs.
Muslims in India should make similar demands such as easing of borders from the leaders of two countries. They should demand withdrawal of Indian army from Kashmir, the highest militarized zone in the world, to allow ordinary Kashmiris to live life without fear and persecution. They should also demand that Pakistan stops infiltration of fighters from across the border.
Unfortunately,in current environment, Indian Muslims are scared to have such demands as they fear to be labeled anti-national. They are expected to declare Pakistan an enemy nation despite the fact that many of them have family ties across the border.
The two nations need to learn lessons from Europe where the neighbours, who had fought two world wars resulting in millions of deaths, brought down their border fences to come together again. Berlin wall was made to fall by popular uprising. European Union was formed creating huge opportunities. Travel restrictions were removed and Millions of workers from Eastern Europe, traveled to Western Europe to work and seek better lifestyle.
With Hindu nationalists becoming stronger every passing day in India and influence of very powerful Military in Pakistani politics, any hope of better relationship between the two nuclear armed neighbours will remain a dream for a long time to come.
[Zahid Jamil is currently based at Sydney, Australia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org]