From Pioneer on Cohen's book: Kaan mein beedi, mooh mein paan; hanskey lenge Hindustan?
Kaan mein beedi, mooh mein paan; hanskey lenge Hindustan?
Stephen Cohen's book is distinctly sympathetic to Pakistan, a state that deserves little sympathy for its various transgressions, not least its role in promoting Islamic terrorism Kanchan Gupta
THE IDEA OF PAKISTAN/ BY STEPHEN PHILIP COHEN/ OUP, Rs 495
Nation states, old and new, are anchored in the idea of national identity, which is the sum total of civilisational, cultural and social identities specific to the people who constitute the nation. Both past and present play equally important roles in defining nationhood; national political identities may have asserted themselves in the closing century of the last millennium, but the ideas behind the construction and legitimacy of these identities have traversed through millennia.
For instance, the idea of Bharatvarsha is ancient, while the political identity of India as a nation state is modern, less than a century old. At the same time, the idea of national identity also raises questions that are greatly discomfiting for some. Is the United States of America a nation of near extinct indigenous tribes or is it a nation of immigrants and settlers whose forging of a federation was a mere accident of history? Is Australia an aboriginal nation whose identity has been supplanted by that of immigrants?
There is neither a single nor a simplistic explanation for the complex construction of the political identity of many a modern nation state. Nor is it easy to locate the idea behind the political identity of these nation states within a specific time frame of history. Pakistan is a prime example.
Stephen Cohen, a long time and respected scholar of subcontinental military and political developments, in The Idea of Pakistan, has provided a grand sweep of history and post-1947 developments in his attempt to locate the idea of Pakistan. But he skirts many a question, focussing, instead, on certitudes that are deeply tinged by the American perspective that is not necessarily the only perspective. To his credit, he concedes as much.
When was the idea of Pakistan born? Was it in 1930 when Mohammed Iqbal, addressing the annual session of the Muslim League in Allahabad, floated the idea of a separate Muslim state within the state of India? Or was it in 1933 when a group of Muslim students in England, led by Chaudhary Rahmat Ali, published the pamphlet 'Now or Never', demanding a separate Muslim state? Or was it much later in 1940 when the Muslim League adopted its 'Pakistan Resolution' at Lahore? Or, was it the culmination of Muslim separatism over a period of time, gaining speed with the collapse and demise of Muslim rule in India?
Whatever the date or time of its birth, the idea of Pakistan required the intellectual definition of a man known for his preference of all that Islam contrabands. Mohammed Ali Jinnah's two-nation theory - "Hindus and the Muslims belong to two different religions, philosophies, social customs and literature... indeed, they belong to two different civilisations that are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions" - and its practical demonstration through "direct action" on August 16, 1946, paved the way to the creation of his moth-eaten homeland for Muslims of the subcontinent.
The idea of Pakistan and Jinnah's theoretical justification were, of course, deeply flawed. The creation of Pakistan was accompanied by large-scale migration of Hindus and Muslims, perhaps the biggest displacement of people in history, and witnessed the slaughter of tens of thousands. But neither did it lead to all Muslims in the subcontinent shifting to their promised homeland, nor did it hold together Pakistan.
The idea of Pakistan may have succeeded in the narrow realm of separatist politics, but it has abysmally failed in the larger political sphere. Jinnah's death and Liaqat Ali's assassination put to rest the Quaid-i-Azam's dream of a democratic, modern republic. For the better part of its existence, Pakistan has been ruled by the Army and not elected governments. Even while scheming to expand its frontiers, it has lost the eastern flank of its original territory. Ethnic, linguistic and tribal identities have dogged the idea of Pakistan ever since 1947, competing for dominance over the imposed national identity. The MQM, which represents the political interests of Muslims who migrated to Pakistan from India, today feels partition was a mistake.
General Ayub Khan tried to redefine the idea of Pakistan as he understood it with his booze-soaked head. General Yahya Khan tried to impose the idea of West Pakistan on East Pakistan with rapacious ferocity. General Zia ul Haq, after sending democratically elected Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to the gallows, tried to impose his idea of Pakistan as a fundamentalist Islamic state. General Pervez Musharraf, who fancies himself as Attaturk reborn, is now occupied with constructing a modern and moderate Islamic Pakistan. In between, we have had Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharief trying their own ideas of Pakistan.
The idea of Pakistan is essentially hinged to its continuous attempt to keep alive its raison d'etre: positing itself as the anti-thesis to Hindustan. Hence, even if the unsettled business of Partition were to be settled, the Pakistani state would have to discover new reasons to remain in a constant state of conflict with the Indian state. Pakistan's demonisation of India, and not the other way round, is the sole constant in the continuing casting and recasting of the idea of Pakistan and the search for a Pakistani identity.
In the run up to Partition and its bloody consequence, roving bands of Muslim League workers would march around, shouting, "Ladke liya Pakistan, Hanske lengey Hindustan!" A popular riposte of that time went: "Kaan mein beedi, mooh mein paan, Hanske lengey Hindustan?" Perhaps the true idea of Pakistan lies embedded in both the triumphalist slogan of Muslim separatism and the sneering response of Indian nationalism. Jinnah's Muslim League may have been reduced to a footnote of history, but that idea survives.
Cohen's book is distinctly sympathetic to Pakistan, a state that deserves little sympathy for its various transgressions, not least its role in promoting Islamic terrorism and its surreptitious, black market peddling of nuclear technology. He scoffs at Jaswant Singh's definition of Pakistan as 'Taliban East', but that is not entirely unexpected. After all, America needs Pakistan, never mind how misplaced that need may be, and to justify this need, Americans must fashion an idea of Pakistan that is free of blemishes and black spots.
Ironically, most Pakistanis, a constituency much larger than followers of Masood Azhar, would disagree with Cohen's thesis. Not necessarily because his book lacks academic rigour - none of his books do - but because he has tried to seek an idea of Pakistan while Pakistanis themselves are not sure if there is any one idea that just about keeps their country from exploding.
The Islamists would, of course, reject Cohen's thesis because their idea of Pakistan is not to be found in subcontinental history, but in the sands of Arabia.