By Ramachandra Guha, the author of “India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy” (THE NEW YORK TIMES, 15/08/07):
In the last months of 1990, a property dispute sparked a series of bloody riots across India. The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party sought to “reclaim” for Hindus the birthplace of the legendary god-king Ram, in the small northern town of Ayodhya. That meant demolishing the mosque that had been built there in the 16th century and replacing it with a spanking new temple.
Starting in September, the militant Bharatiya Janata leader Lal Krishna Advani journeyed for five weeks between Somnath and Ayodhya, making fiery speeches at towns and villages en route, denouncing the Indian government for “appeasing” the Muslims. In many places Mr. Advani visited, attacks on Muslims followed.
In New Delhi, where I then lived, Mr. Advani’s march represented a grave threat to the inclusive, plural, secular and democratic idea of India. My boyhood hero had been Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first and arguably greatest prime minister.
When India and Pakistan came into existence in 1947, exactly 60 years ago, Mr. Nehru insisted that India would not be a “Hindu Pakistan.” Three months after the partition, he wrote to the chief provincial ministers about the Muslim minority: “whatever the provocation from Pakistan and whatever the indignities and horrors inflicted on non-Muslims there, we have got to deal with this minority in a civilized manner. We must give them security and the rights of citizens in a democratic state. If we fail to do so, we shall have a festering sore which will eventually poison the whole body politic and probably destroy it.”
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s idea of India was the opposite. Their ideologues treated Muslims as potential fifth columnists. “Pakistan ya Kabristan!” (to Pakistan or the graveyard) they cried during the riots. Nonetheless, many million Muslims stayed in India; after the formation of an independent Bangladesh, in 1971, India had even more Muslim citizens than Pakistan.
Yet among my close friends in India there was not a single Muslim. The novelist Mukul Kesavan, a contemporary, has written that in his school in Delhi he never came across a Muslim name: “The only place you were sure of meeting Muslims was the movies.” Some of the finest actors, singers, composers and directors in Bombay’s film industry were Muslims. But in law, medicine, business and the upper echelons of public service, Hindus dominated. There were sprinklings of Christians and Sikhs, but very few Muslims.
As it happened, my first Muslim friend was a Pakistani I met in America. In the mid-1980s, the economist Tariq Banuri and I, both teaching at East Coast universities, were part of a colloquium on third-world development. Our bond was partly intellectual and partly linguistic, for we had grown up speaking Hindustani, that wonderful hybrid of Hindi and Urdu that was once the lingua franca of much of the Indian subcontinent. My hometown, Dehradun, and Tariq’s, Peshawar, lay at opposite ends of what was once a common cultural zone, fractured by the partition.
After I returned to India, and Tariq to Pakistan, in 1987, the antipathy between our countries meant I could not visit him. The phone lines were blocked, and the Internet had not been developed. News that trickled in from mutual friends was episodic and desultory; inevitably, we lost touch.
In the winter of 1990, Tariq began appearing in my dreams. I was always on the verge of visiting him in Islamabad, only to be thwarted by hostile immigration officials, barbed-wire fences, massed soldiers or canceled flights. That I dreamt of my friend at a time when my fellow Hindus were mounting frequent attacks on Muslims was surely not accidental.
Back in Delhi, I also came to understand (though not support) why so many Indians had favored building a Ram temple in Ayodhya. Once a center of Islamic civilization, later the center of a white man’s Raj, after 1947 Delhi had become a city of the Hindu and Sikh victims of partition. These Punjabi migrants had lost homes and businesses in that bloody summer of 1947. Starting from scratch, they had come to dominate Delhi’s commerce and social life. Yet they remained insecure; who knew when catastrophe might come again? And so they hoarded diamonds and maintained Swiss bank accounts.
They also cheated their tenants. In six years in Delhi, my wife and I had four landlords, all refugees from the Pakistani part of Punjab. All four hooked their appliances to our electricity meter, and all kept our deposits when we left.
In 1995, I finally got to visit Pakistan. I saw Tariq in Islamabad and then proceeded to Lahore, illegally, since my visa was for one city only. I met one of the last seven Hindu families in Lahore and visited the tomb of the Sikh warrior-king Ranjit Singh.
Then I went across to the majestic Badshahi Mosque, built by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. It was Friday evening, and a large crowd of worshipers was coming out after the weekly prayers. Walking against the flow, I had to jostle my way through.
As I bumped into one worshiper, I was seized by panic. In one pocket of my kurta lay my wallet; in the other, an exquisite little statue of the Hindu god Ganesh, dancing. I am not a believer, but this was my mascot, a gift from my sister, carried whenever I was separated from my wife and little children. What if it now fell out and was seized upon by the crowd? How would that turn out — an infidel discovered in a Muslim shrine, an Indian visitor illegally in Lahore?
As a liberal and secular Hindu, I should not have been worried about being found out. But my fear was symptomatic also of the deeper failures of partition. It had been meant to solve, once and for all, the Hindu-Muslim question. But in both countries, the two communities have only grown further apart.
Despite their shared culture, cuisine and love for the game of cricket, India and Pakistan have already fought four wars. And judging by the number of troops on their borders and the missiles and nuclear weapons to back them, they seem prepared to fight a fifth.