What do the Baluch think of Jinnah?

Trapped in imagined communities

Millions of displaced people, ideological radicalism and secession tendencies: on the Indian subcontinent, the negative consequences of nation-building and nationalism can be seen in an almost ideal-typical way.

By Markus Spörndli

The historian Benedict Anderson, who died a few weeks ago, coined the term nation as an «imagined community» (see WOZ No. 51/2015). Even with the small-scale, relatively homogeneous nation-states of Europe, it is an astonishing phenomenon that millions of individuals equate their actually anonymous society with an invented, unifying community - the nation. In South Asia this phenomenon is taking on completely different dimensions. In India alone, 1.3 billion people are supposed to be united, even though they speak over a hundred different languages ​​and belong to just as many ethnic groups and different religions.

Nation-building on the subcontinent, which began only seventy years ago and may not have been completed, claimed millions of displaced people and dead. The division of British India in 1947 led to an aggressive nationalism in the resulting nation-states India and Pakistan, which has resulted in four wars, permanent border skirmishes and a nuclear arms race. In addition, nationalism in both large countries ensured that minorities who do not correspond to the ideal of the “imagined community” are discriminated, which in turn favors regional nationalism and secession tendencies.

In short: on the Indian subcontinent, the negative consequences of nation building and nationalism can be studied almost ideally.

Two nation states in one night

As early as the 19th century there was an Indian national movement in British India, which extended to Iran in the west and far into what is now Myanmar in the east. It was institutionalized in the Indian National Congress (INC) in 1885 and consisted of two main currents: that of the Hindu nationalists, who wanted to ensure the predominance of the Hindu majority population, and that of the multiculturalists, who wanted an independent state made up of ethnic-religious communities with equal rights. From 1906 onwards, in addition to the INC, another major national movement was added: the Muslim League took the position that Hindus and Muslims formed “two nations”. Accordingly, she called for a Muslim state - although she left it in the dark for a long time whether this meant an independent nation-state or a federal state within India. The former INC politician Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who headed the Muslim League from 1913, was also influenced by this idea. Jinnah originally campaigned for a unity of Muslims and Hindus in order to achieve India's independence together. However, he gradually came to the conclusion that Muslim interests could not be asserted in the INC.

Although it was not the Hindu nationalists who ultimately prevailed in the INC, but the religious and secular multiculturalists with Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, Jinnah increasingly called for the formation of a Muslim nation state called Pakistan in the course of the 1940s. It is quite possible that he only wanted to introduce this as a maximum requirement in the negotiation of a post-colonial order with the INC, but actually did not strive for a radical division. And certainly no hostility: In an interview on the day of the division, he stated that he would keep his house in Bombay in order to move there after his retirement.

In the Punjab in particular, pogroms and outbreaks of violence between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs had flared up weeks beforehand, which led to the collapse of public order in many places. The reason for this was that in early June 1947 Jinnah, Nehru and the British government representative Louis Mountbatten had agreed on a division. Due to the civil war-like developments, Britain withdrew from the subcontinent earlier than planned: At midnight on August 15, 1947, two new, independent large states emerged.

Immediately afterwards there was a refugee disaster unprecedented in human history: around 14.5 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were immediately resettled, deported or driven out. Another 4 to 5 million people followed over the next few months, moving from India to Pakistan or from Pakistan to India. By comparison, there were around twice as many refugees globally during the Second World War. At the same time, massive outbreaks of violence and massacres occurred on both sides of the border in many places, killing up to a million people.

Separatist tendencies

As the official successor state of British India, India not only had an institutional advantage over Pakistan in that it was able to take over large parts of the previous state structures. The country was also more successful in creating a national identity: namely through its democratic character, which was a unique identifier in South Asia. Pakistan, on the other hand, tried to define itself as the «Islamic Republic» and with Urdu as the national language, although only ten percent spoke it as their mother tongue. Religious nationalism was a headbirth because many citizens defined themselves much more strongly through their language, ethnicity or culture.

Bengali nationalism in the east wing, separated from the rest of Pakistan by India, was only a matter of time: in the early 1970s, the Bengali nationalists declared the “war of liberation” and founded the new nation-state of Bangladesh. This was also a consequence of the systematic neglect by the central state: the east wing did not even receive thirty percent of the state budget, although the majority of the population lived there. The attempt by the Pakistani military to crack down on separatist tendencies is now recognized as genocide. Hundreds of thousands died in the process; Millions fled to India.

Since the fall of the east wing, today's Pakistan has been somewhat more homogeneous, but Islam functions even worse as a generator of national identity. Because not only are there still various local practices of Islam - in addition, the influence of intolerant Saudi Wahhabism has been increasing sharply for several years, while the roughly twenty million Shiites are being taken over by neighboring Iran. With the support of Islamist terrorist groups that were supposed to pursue Pakistani interests in India and Afghanistan, the politico-military complex in Islamabad has also cut itself into its own flesh: They have long since turned against the Pakistani state authority. And in Balochistan Province, which makes up over forty percent of Pakistani territory, nationalist and separatist tendencies have been increasing dramatically for years.

Meanwhile, India has also been struggling with separatist movements for a long time, especially in the northeast (Assam, Nagaland, Tripura) and the northwest (Kashmir), but also in the Indian part of Punjab. Hindu nationalism has also experienced a renaissance. It has institutionalized itself in what is now the largest central government Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). A dangerous chauvinism directed against the Indian minorities has thus spread. Lynchings of Muslims have increased dramatically in recent months.

Celebration of dangers

In these circumstances, celebrating an external threat is a welcome means of preserving national identity for both countries. Since the partition, therefore, the enmity between India and Pakistan has been cultivated. The two states have already fought four times. It dealt three times with the divided Kashmir claimed by both states; once, in 1971, the Indian army helped found Bangladesh.

Both leaderships built up huge nuclear arsenals that serve no other purpose than to keep the other country in check. Pakistan, in terms of population, in particular, is five times smaller in population and is working manically on its gigantic neighbor in the east - no wonder, its nuclear program is already larger than that of India. The expensive arms race is taking place in two countries that together house 37 percent of the world's poorest people, but development policy objections have little weight when it comes to national cohesion.

Nevertheless, there are also positive signals. After extremely strong border violations and mutual threats of war at the end of August (see WOZ No. 37/2015), India and Pakistan surprisingly agreed in mid-December to resume “comprehensive peace talks”. Apparently the two governments have recognized common interests - especially the stabilization of Afghanistan. So far, the two countries have fought a proxy war there: Pakistan supported the Taliban, while India armed the opposing United Front. But the longer the country remains at war, the more terrorists it will produce, who will then pose a threat to India and Pakistan. On New Year's morning, Islamist bombers broke into an important Indian air force base and killed seven soldiers. It was probably a reaction to the renewed attempt at dialogue.

Perhaps India and Pakistan, which for decades have cultivated each other as the greatest danger, need exactly that: the idea of ​​a common danger from a third party. While this is not an ideal solution, it is still a viable option for the time being to peacefully maintain the huge "imagined communities" of South Asia.

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