I understand it is not the right time to ask questions in India but since I am at a safe distance from Indian TV anchors, I can afford to unleash my inquisitive self.
So, here are my three questions to India:
Democracy suffered paralysis in Pakistan at a young age. Starting with General Ayub’s in 1958, we have had three decade-long military rules.
In between these, political parties tried to resuscitate democracy but hardly ever succeeded in wrenching power from what is now known as the establishment.
We achieved the coveted status of the first-ever democratic transition just three years ago and the elected government is still trying to figure out what powers it really has.
India never experienced military rule.
If you count both the national and the state governments, hundreds of transitions have taken place through elections in the past 70 years. It has a super-efficient Election Commission and election results have rarely been disputed.
The two countries’ democratic trajectory moved in diametrically opposite directions.
But a keen Pakistani student of politics on a voyage to India expects pleasant surprises and not rude shocks. Talk to common people in Indian streets and their rants about governments, governance system, elections and politics are dittos of what I have grown up with in my country.
“All politicians are corrupt. They are thieves and criminals.”
In popular perceptions, politicians are synonymous with corruption and politics is a legitimate form of skulduggery.
There is enough evidence to believe that perceptions are not far away from realities.
- The ruling party in the Indian Punjab is openly accused of being directly involved in drug smuggling.
- The stories of corruption in Karnataka, especially in the mining sector, are just mind blowing.
- A sitting chief minister in Tamil Nadu was sentenced to jail on corruption charges (and later bailed out).
There are dynasties and families ruling provinces since eons in both our countries and then there are leaders with cult-like following.
In reaction to this, the anti-politician politics is as rampant in India as it is in Pakistan. It takes just one negative remark from you to make the feel good coffee table talk about democracy stand on its head.
If you happen to meet an Aam Aadmi Party worker, you can’t resist uttering: Oh my God, not here was I expecting a PTI jiyala.
A routine explanation of all the ills that politics in Pakistan suffers from is simple – lay all the blame at the door of the establishment (or at the gate of the GHQ, if you prefer straight talk) that has been instrumental in scuttling the democratic discourse – and I don’t contest that.
But what went wrong with India?
Why has its impeccable and envious record of uninterrupted democratic transitions through untainted elections not resulted in a clean and efficient polity?
Is it not the democracy’s basic promise to the people?
Is democratic dispensation not supposed to gradually mature polity, strengthen systems and reduce the gap between the government and the governed?
I am desperate for answers to restore my faith in democracy.
The Pakistani state made no bones about its religious orientation from the very beginning or at least from the day its Constituent Assembly passed the Objective Resolution on March 12, 1949 to be exact. It was loud and clear and we never looked back at this decision.
In fact, whenever we came close to realising that this might be the problem – mixing religion with politics – we refused to admit it and instead, tried to treat it by doubling the doze.
Then the recipe mastered by our political actors found global buyers. It became the doctrine to fight back heretic communists. This blew it to the size so big that our own state was dwarfed by them.
We are today fighting a protracted and bloody war to reclaim our own country. But we lost more than just territory to these so-called non-state actors. We lost our culture of tolerance, we lost our vibrant social lives and we lost our right to dissent.
India is losing all that too, if it hasn’t already.
Film-makers are made to eat their words and people suspected of eating beef are killed mercilessly.
Everyone is made to wear patriotism on their sleeves and women are stopped in the street and told what they can and cannot wear.
And the biggest national question is whether one can dare raise hand and ask a question?
Religious extremists in India are just a handful, is the common argument, and that’s what we in Pakistan have been hoping to be true all our lives. RSS has an organisational structure and street presence in its country that the Jamaat-i-Islami or even the Jamaatud Dawa in Pakistan can only envy.
Then the extremists are flanked by a huge army of apologists – comprising regular middle class babus, who coin a new philosophy every day and concoct a conspiracy theory every night in defence of religious extremism.
It is not at all difficult for a common Pakistani to understand how religious extremism works to hold the entire society hostage.
And then the non-state actors make great policy instruments in India in more than one subtle ways. They are the guardians and the guarantors of nationalism. They are a political capital that no party can afford to ignore, come elections. They can choke political discourse, gag dissenters, shape policies and dictate history.
How did India get where it is?
Its constitution is secular. It has been taking pride in its diversity. And they never waged a "jihad" at their borders.
How did then the religious extremists come to hijack the government and bring the society to its knees?
I could find no answer. I wonder if India can.
A policewala in Indian films is almost always a despicable character you love to hate. He is corrupt to the core, criminal in mind and, in many instances, a desh-drohee (traitor) as well.
In contrast, the other institution in uniform – the army – is considered perfect hero stuff. A military man in Bollywood is always an honest, untiring, thorough professional who is ever-ready to go to any length to protect his country from whomever poses a danger, be they petty street criminals or heartless organised terrorists.
An army man is never corrupt or wrong and publicly questioning the army for any of its acts is regarded as anti-national and treasonous.
The role of military in the nation-building process in Pakistan is no secret. But in India, it has always been under strict control of elected governments. It has no independent public relations machine at its disposal and yet when it comes to glorification of military, India can put Pakistan to shame.
The question here, however, is not how or why the two countries have come to equally revere their armies, as the armies occupy a haloed position in many other countries as well. It is the jingoistic nationalism, the hysteric calls for war and above all, the centrality of militarism within nationalist discourse that needs explaining. The bulk of a middle-class seeking redemption of their nationalist pride in "success of surgical strikes" is itself a question.
Pakistanis don’t think any differently but they can, again, rest the blame on the fact that "jihad" has been central to our defence strategy.
In the words of no less a person than late Gen Hamid Gul, we have “two things to our defence: nuclear capability as a deterrent and the spirit of jihad. Madrassahs are vital in imparting and keeping this spirit alive.”
The custodians of jihadist narratives pose as medieval warriors in their jalsas, riding horses and brandishing swords. Many of them prophesy that we, as a nation, are destined to conquer the world and hoisting our flag at Delhi’s Red Fort will be just one step. They glorify violence, aggrandise war and inspire militarism and yet their ilks are tasked to write text books for our children.
That’s Pakistan’s story.
But how did militarism become the main pillar of nationalistic faith in democratic-secular India?
India must find an answer and share it with us.
This article first appeared on Dawn.