Ever since the reactionary and bloody partition of the South Asian subcontinent in 1947, the drums of blame immediately start beating when any major incident that divides the South Asian subcontinent occurs, with fingers pointing across the other side of the border. Lal Khan examines the historical roots of the divisions between Pakistan and India, and looks at the political tensions between these countries today.
Ever since the reactionary and bloody partition of the South Asian subcontinent in 1947, any major incident, whether it be a terrorist outrage, a colossal accident or natural disaster, on either side of the Radcliff line that divides the South Asian subcontinent, the drums of blame immediately start beating in full glare with fingers pointing across the other side of the border.
While Karachi airport was being terrorised by the so-called Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on June 8, the usual hate brigade came out of the woodwork to point the finger at Indian involvement. In India similar merchants of paranoia and loathing blame even a loud firecracker explosion heard in the vicinity on the ISI and Pakistan.
The accusations in both countries invariably start from the religious right, followed up with consenting signals and noises from certain sections of the state and ultimately being lapped up by the media leading to open bashing and whipping up nationalist chauvinism and religious fanaticism. It becomes a raucous and venal sport of the anchors, news bulletins and the press to undermine the real issues. It is very difficult to say whether this is more ferocious and venomous in India or in Pakistan.
This is not entirely based on ignorant oblivion and blind hatred. For there is also a grain of truth in it, but to the extent that it is exacerbated and whipped up, it has very deep ulterior motives. The script is always the same. All sinister designs and acts of state and non-state actors are attributed not just to the ISI or RAW [the Pakistani and Indian intelligence services] but to the whole of society, including one and a half billion oppressed and the deprived souls who have nothing to do with it whatsoever. The relationship between the Pakistani and the Indian ruling classes has been erratic, odd and contradictory. At times there is a phase of ferocious belligerence, with three wars already part of their chequered history, with prolonged periods of hostility and diplomatic brinkmanship.
Then there are intermittent short intervals of “peace and friendship” with hypocritical gestures raising hopes of tranquillity which get rapidly quashed by another catastrophic event or a provocation igniting strains and a tense atmosphere. There is a method in this. These highs and lows in hostility between the ruling elites tantalise the masses and lunges them even further into despair, bewilderment and apathy. It is aimed at entangling them in national prejudice, subjugating them to more enslavement. The quest for visas and cross-border travel is a desperate desire of vast sections of the toiling classes, a dream that soon goes sour. Yet they are continually being given new hopes, only to be crushed at the next move.
This vicious cycle of overtures of peace and impotent rage of war-mongering has plagued the history of the region. Today’s reality is that the ruling elites have reached a stage economically, historically and militarily where they cannot enter into a fully-fledged war, nor can they accomplish a sustainable peace.
The roots of this reactionary political character of the rulers of the subcontinent lie in the historical and socio-economic evolution that this region has gone through in the last two centuries. Less than 350 years ago the Indian subcontinent was far ahead of contemporary Europe. In his renowned book, “A New History of India”, Stanley Wolpert narrates the features of the Moghul Empire:
“The domain spread 1,200 miles along the tropic of Cancer, from the eerie white salts of the Rann of Kutch on the shores of the Arabian Sea, to the verdant delta of the holy River Ganges in Bengal, and from the snowy crags of Kabul to the lush teak forests of the Vindhyan foothills. The 100 million people who lived here under its aegis were cosmopolitan and affluent. In 1577, the average Indian peasant enjoyed a relatively higher income and lower taxation than his descendants ever would again.”
In England, meanwhile, most of the population of around 2.5 million lived in a state of misery and impoverishment. Around 90 percent of the population was rural based often going hungry during the frequent food shortages. The Black Death affected Europe in a big way and broke out periodically, as did pneumonia, smallpox and influenza. Life expectancy stood at just thirty-eight years.
The industrial revolution transformed Britain and Europe into the most advanced capitalist countries within two hundred years. However, the present relentless crisis of capitalism in Britain, USA, Europe and other advanced capitalist countries has now brought these countries into the throes of permanent instability and social strife, revealing the limits and incapacity of the system to develop society.
The decline of the Moghul Empire and the failure of the ruling classes to accomplish the industrial revolution has been extensively written about and discussed by the regional and foreign historians, sociologists and economists. But the most profound analysis and causes of this decline and the situation in India and the colonial subjugation of the subcontinent by the European and British imperialists can be found in the writings of Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels. In their works on the “Asiatic Modes of Production” and in the epic collection in a book form, “The First Indian War of Independence 1857-59” one finds the most scientifically and thoroughly investigated analysis and elucidation of this process.
The end of the British Raj and subsequent “independence” came with a very heavy price. First there was a tragic loss of almost 2.7 million lives slaughtered in an orgy of religious frenzy with its venomous, reactionary vengeance with the largest migration of peoples in modern history. The British Raj’s policy of divide and rule fomented this vicious genocide, the wounds of which are still festering in the region today.
Spectre of Revolution in 1946
A revolutionary situation erupted in 1946 that was pioneered by the gallant Sailors’ Revolt of the British Indian Navy. The Royal Indian Navy Revolt encompasses a total strike and subsequent revolt by Indian sailors of the Royal Indian Navy on board ships and shore establishments at Bombay harbour on 18 February 1946. From the initial flashpoint in Bombay, the revolt spread and found support throughout British India, from Karachi to Calcutta and ultimately came to involve 78 ships, 20 shore establishments and 20,000 sailors.
It was crushed with brutal force by the British imperialists and was stabbed in the back by the native elite politicians. “Only the Communist Party supported the strikers; the Congress and the Muslim League condemned it. This co-called mutiny was actually the precursor of a mass revolt against the British Raj and imperial rule,” notes Ronald Spector in his 1981 book, “Armed Forces and Society”.
The RIN Revolt started as a strike by ratings of the Royal Indian Navy in protest against general conditions. The immediate issues of the revolt were conditions and food. By dusk on 19 February, a Naval Central Strike committee was elected. Leading Signalman M.S Khan and Petty Officer Telegraphic Madan Singh were unanimously elected President and Vice-President respectively.
The strike found immense support among the Indian population. The actions of these revolutionaries were supported by huge demonstrations and strikes all over the subcontinent that paralysed imperialist rule. These included a one-day general strike in Bombay. The strike spread to other cities, and was joined by the ranks of the Royal Indian Army, Air Force and workers in various industries across the subcontinent. Naval officers and men offered left-handed salutes to British officers, as a sign of defiance. At some places, NCOs in the British Indian Army ignored and defied orders from British superiors. In Madras and Poona, the British garrisons had to face revolts within the ranks of the Indian Army. Notably, the revolting ships hoisted red flags, and they attached the Congress and Muslim League flags with them defying communal hatreds.
The revolt was called off following a meeting between the President of the Naval Central Strike Committee (NCSC), M. S. Khan, and Vallabbhai Patel, a reactionary Hindu bigot of the Congress, who had been sent to Bombay to deceive the revolting sailors. Patel issued a statement calling on the strikers to end their action, which was later echoed by a statement issued in Calcutta by Mohammed Ali Jinnah on behalf of the Muslim League. Led by M. K. Ghandi the Hindu and Muslim leaders of the native bourgeois were as terrified of this revolutionary uprising of the Navy, Army and the Air force personnel supported by the workers and the broad masses, as were the British imperialists. They could see that under these circumstances it would be almost impossible for them to impose and continue class rule after the British physically left the subcontinent.
However, tragically the leaders of the Communist Party of India had handed over to them the leadership of the freedom struggle on a platter due to their support for the British in the guise of the “anti-fascist war” under instructions from the bureaucracy in Moscow. Using this position and their exaggerated coverage in the media, the politicians of the native elite unleashed a ferocious campaign against this revolutionary upheaval. However, this heroic episode of the revolutionary struggle of the workers, sailors and soldiers of the subcontinent has be either grossly distorted or totally removed from the official histories and syllabi of both independent Pakistan and India.
Under these intense pressures, the strikers gave way. However, despite assurances of the good services of the Congress and the Muslim League, widespread arrests were made followed up with courts martials and large scale dismissals from the service. None of those dismissed were reinstated into either the Indian or Pakistani navies after independence. At this stage partition became a necessity to quell the revolutionary tide surging towards a complete transformation of the system. The British imperialists and the native elites were acutely aware that this movement would not stop at the juncture of national independence but would go the whole hog and achieve social and economic liberation. That meant a socialist revolution in the subcontinent.
With the ebbing of the revolutionary tide, reaction had set in and political power was transferred from “white sahib to brown sahib”, thus ensuring economic control remained in the hands of Britain and the USA that emerged as the major imperialist power after the war. Their hegemony and exploitation were sustained in connivance with the comprador local elites. This elite had been grafted, nurtured and fostered into the political leadership of the post-colonial South Asian subcontinent by the imperialist masters.
One of the main leaders of this elite, the Harrow educated Jawaharlal Nehru, accepted the reality of these Anglophiles from the Indian upper classes being inferior to their mentors and their role as the successors, with their race relegated to second rank. These had been trained for the job at the elite British institutions like Eton, Harrow and Winchester, etc.
Nehru wrote, “The fact that the British Government should have imposed this arrangement upon us was not surprising; but what does seem surprising is that we, or most of us, accepted as the natural and inevitable ordering of our lives and destiny. Greater than any victory of arms or diplomacy was this psychological triumph of the British in India.” (An Autobiography, p.417).
In this confession Nehru explicitly exposes the reactionary character and the slavish mentality of the ruling elite, the forefathers of the present day states of the subcontinent. After sixty-seven years of so-called independence, the masses of the region are worse off than their ancestors were in 1577. Misery, poverty, disease, filth, illiteracy, destitution and deprivation stalk the subcontinent’s landscape. The impressive present-day development statistics mask societies split by some of the most shocking divisions anywhere in the world. The rich and the powerful enjoy their fabulous wealth behind the iron gates of private towns from which the poor are physically excluded.
According to statistics from the UN world food programme, India and most countries of the region suffer simultaneously from the strictures of poverty and diseases of affluence. It has the largest concentration of poverty, contains 50 percent of the world’s hunger and more than half of the children under five are malnourished. On the other hand the expanding middle class of around 300 million in India, with similar percentages of the population in Pakistan and other countries of the region, is experiencing an obesity epidemic. “South Asia is home to two thirds of the world’s illiterate population. Fifty percent of the university graduates are unemployable due to the poor quality of education and vocational training,” says the former State Bank of Pakistan’s Governor, Ishrat Hussain. Tens of millions enter the already ever-increasing mammoth swathes of the unemployed. These harrowing socio-economic statistics frighteningly sneer at the destiny of these beleaguered societies.
There is a lot of talk of “fight against poverty” by Modi and Sharif. The ultimate scenario is further deterioration of the conditions of the oppressed masses. As the socio-economic system has declined and rotted, the political elites have further degenerated into upstart and neo-rich thugs with very low cultural levels and deeply tangled in all sorts of crime and corruption. The ideological basis has narrowed more and more with religious bigotry being manipulated by corporate capital to further exploit and throw back the consciousness of the working classes.
Origins of the BJP
The newly elected BJP government of India, apart from other things, starkly lays bare the reactionary nature of the so-called national, secular, liberal and progressive bourgeoisie of India. The BJP was set up as a political front of the religious neo-fascist organisation, the Rashtriya Sevak Sayawamsung (RSS) in 1952. On the one hand it used religious rhetoric to whip up Hindu chauvinism to get the support of the primitive layers and lower middle classes in society. On the other, it demagogically proclaimed ending poverty by development. The truth is that the BJP danced to the tune of the corporate bosses of India who had extravagantly spent billions on their resurgence, propaganda and election campaign. Modi and his camarilla have signed up to attacking concessions won by the working class over the long years of struggles around basic trade union and social reforms.
Another aspect of the interests of the corporate bosses’ policy is to increase its market shares and establish hegemony of the Indian bourgeois in the region. With markets in the West and elsewhere contracting and with almost no signs of world capitalism’s recession easing, they want to capture every inch of the regional market in the subcontinent. This was the main reason for the “hardliner” Narindera Modi’s invitation to Sharif to attend his inaugural ceremony.
The intentions of Sharif’s corporate bosses are not dissimilar. The “liberal” sections of the Pakistani bourgeois have been demanding more cross-border trade between India and Pakistan. Some economic experts want to end the conflicts between the two countries to boost trade and growth. They believe that the trade volumes that could result from Indo-Pakistan trade normalization run as high as $40billion, up from $3billion.
Shahid Javed Burki a former Finance minister and a World Bank economist wrote in a 2007, “I estimated that Kashmir dispute alone cost Pakistan 2.25 to 3.2 percent a year in GDP terms. Compounded over a period of six decades, this suggests the magnitude of the damage Pakistan has done to its economy by following this quarrel with India. The study used purely economic factors; it did not take into account the undeniable fact that some of the cost of this approach towards India contributed to the rise of Islamic extremism in the country that has also resulted in serious economic losses.” Now towering behind Sharif are new corporate Mafiosi dons who want this policy to be rapidly accelerated.
The problem with Mr Burki and the likes is that either they are being very naive or shooting in the dark to avert the relentless crisis of Pakistani capitalism. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism is directly linked to the gargantuan black economy that is about thrice the size of Pakistan’s formal economy. This black capital has its own laws and strategies. It controls important sections in the state, politics and media. National chauvinism is the cornerstone of its ideological and political charade, without which its political clout would evaporate, but the financial privileges and vested interests of powerful sections of the state would also be impaired.
This shows how fractured the Pakistani bourgeois has become even in crucial economic, security and foreign policy issues. The liberal sections of the elite are extremely inconsistent and erratic with their so-called policies of peace and friendship with India. The Sharifs have ascended to power on the back of anti-India and Pakistani nationalist rhetoric to appease the state, perhaps more than any other section of the political aristocracy.
The Sharifs have switched their policies in the past and will do so at the first danger they face to their wealth and state power. It is also the character of the so-called “secular and democratic forces” of the political elite to resort to religious appeasement at every crucial juncture to achieve and preserve their wealth and rulership when in power. This political class is weak and fragile due to their historical belatedness and economically debilitated state. The capitalist system on which they depend and impose on society is in the throes of terrible chaos and terminal decay. The religious parties breathe and exist on anti-India and latterly on anti-American rhetoric.
Taking into account these factors the newfound lust for more profits through trade with India is not a long lasting possibility. But the most crucial factor is that this enmity has been blatantly used by the ruling elite to cut across the might of the working class in a number of mass movements on either side of the artificial and traumatic divide. Indian and Pakistani chauvinisms have been used to drive through a wedge every time class struggle erupts in an attempt to overthrow the rule of this oppressive and exploitative system.
The Indian ruling classes have used the bloody ordeal of partition to generate national frenzy even more than their Pakistani counterparts. With Sushma Swaraj at the helm of External Affairs, any peace process would be very hard to pursue. Modi’s regime failing to deliver on his promises and the rising discontent will embolden the hardliners and anti-Pakistan rhetoric that is so widespread in India will be raging. Development and rapid growth rates of the Indian capitalist economy will remain unachievable in the present state of chronic decline. Gone are the days when India touched those double-digit growth figures. This means that even the slightest concession or slight cordiality, let alone any tangible peace accord, are remote. The present status quo of hostility combined with mild gestures of peace based on shaky foundations will continue.
Turbulence and turmoil in the subcontinent
The system, which has enriched the ruling elite, has not only impoverished the masses into excruciating destitution, but its burgeoning crisis is destabilising all aspects of governance including security and foreign policy. This means the turbulence and turmoil in the subcontinent will exasperate and can spiral out of control. The masses have been lulled and bewildered with despair for quite some time, especially in India. They have been trapped in a history of hypocritical embraces, vile duplicitous hatreds and deceitful hostility of the ruling classes.
How much longer can the workers and the oppressed masses endure this tyranny and coercion? There have been severe strikes in India and Pakistan. Bangladesh has seen more general strikes in the last three years than any other country in the world. These class struggles are bound to erupt on a higher plane. Ultimately they will have a deep impact on the political plane.
The traditional populist, socialist, communist and other left parties either will have to abandon their opportunist policies of capitulation to capitalism and provide a way forward for the mass movement for its emancipation or they will be shoved aside by the tumultuous events and militant movements that impend. Fresh revolutionary political parties and Marxist tendencies will rapidly gain mass bases that will forcefully rupture the trap of the elites’ duplicitous history and lead the class struggles towards a socialist victory. Under the present capitalist regime there are the frightening prospects of wars, nuclear holocaust, bloodshed and barbarism. These are now beginning to threaten the very existence of the human civilisation.