The first half of the 20th century was a very sensitive period in the history of the Indian subcontinent. It was a time when people began dreaming of an ideal society—being fed on romantic dreams and utopian schemes. Propagandists presented these fanciful ideas and visions through their writings and public speeches and gathered vast crowds of supporters.
Some of these propagandists were extremists, who stirred up people with their powerful rhetoric. There were extremists among both Hindus and Muslims. Because many Hindus and Muslims at that time were attracted by utopian visions and promises, these extremists gathered a considerable number of supporters, especially among young people. The devastation that the subcontinent witnessed in the 20th century owed principally to these extremists.
Ideological extremism is a sort of madness. Ideological extremists always insist on trying to force history to fit their self-invented ideological mould. They make every effort to drive the wheels of history in the reverse direction. That does not make history turn back, of course, but it plays havoc with the possibilities for progress and constructive work.
If you examine the record of Hindu extremists over the last few decades, you will realize that they have done only three ‘big’ things: firstly, the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948; secondly, the destruction of the historical mosque in Ayodhya in 1992; and thirdly, conducting five nuclear bomb test explosions in 1998, which set off a nuclear race in the region.
The record of Muslim extremists in this regard is not very different. Driven by ideological madness, they engineered the Partition of India in 1947 and sowed the seeds of perpetual hate in this region. After that, again driven by their ideological madness, they set off an enormously devastating cyclone in the name of ‘Islamic war’, in which scores of people have been killed and because of which Pakistan and Kashmir have been turned into arenas of deadly, and seemingly never-ending, civil war. These Muslim extremists have also played a major role in creating conditions that led India and Pakistan to almost go to war with each other.
The worst thing about ideological extremism is that it does not recognize dialogue, agreement and conciliation. Ideological extremists know just one thing: and that is, to seek to make the whole world think like them, to force them into their own ideological mould. Because of this, ideological extremism always leads to hatred and violence. Unfortunately, in the Indian subcontinent, Muslim and Hindu extremism have sown the seeds of this poisonous fruit, with devastating consequences for the people of the region.
If a leader falls prey to ideological extremist madness, the consequences can be deadly. In such a case, everything other than his ideological extremist position becomes of little or no consequence for him. He is ready to bulldoze everything, even ethics and humane values, in order to establish or impose his self-created ideology. Stalin’s ideological madness led him to kill 25 million people. Hitler’s ideological madness drove him to launch the Second World War.
Sadly, after Independence, the Indian subcontinent, too, fell prey to such ideological madness. In Pakistan, so-called ‘lovers of Islam’ have, through their ideological madness, destroyed the country. India was first gravely damaged by the ideological madness of Nehruvian Socialism, and now it has fallen victim to Hindu extremist madness. Only God knows when this mad politics will come to an end in the Indian subcontinent.
In every society, there may be some people who are fanatically wedded to their ideology, to the extent of ideological madness. But, on the other hand, the reality is that in every society there are people who think differently, who have different ideologies. Now, the question is: What sort of governmental apparatus is required in such a situation, when members of a society have different, and conflicting, mentalities? We must have a peaceful and practicable formula for this, otherwise society will be torn apart by civil war.
This formula has been found, and its name is democracy. Put briefly, it means that the different groups living in a country agree that the government be formed through a process of elections. Every few years, there should be free and fair elections. The party that wins the elections forms the government to run the administration of the country for a limited period of time. The victorious party agrees that if in the next elections it loses, it will accept its loss in the same willing way as it accepted its earlier victory.
There are people who think differently from this, though, who wish to offer a better solution, but who do not presently enjoy the support of the majority of the public. The only proper and practicable way for them is to adopt what can be called a policy of waiting. That is to say, they can propagate and preach their ideology within the legitimate limits. They can try to educate people and help make them favourably inclined to their way of thinking. In doing so, they must not use any violent or immoral methods. They should keep up their efforts through peaceful propagation alone till the time comes that elections might decide things in their favour.
In 1947, when India and Pakistan came into being as politically independent countries, they became enemies from the very first day. From the very outset, their relations were based on enmity. Now, it is not always wrong to have an enemy. Sometimes, the existence of an enemy can prove to be a means for your progress. For instance, it is said that the secret of America’s success lay, at least to some extent, in its having an enemy in the form of the Soviet Union. And so, when, in 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, some American thinkers argued that America would now have to find a new enemy in order to sustain the country’s progress.
The fact of the matter is that competition engendered by enmity is not always a bad thing. In some senses, it can be regarded as a course of nature. Nature has established this course for human progress that people should compete with each other, and in this everyone should try to excel over the rest. This can lead to the collective progress of humankind.
The competition that arose between India and Pakistan was, in its essence, something of this nature. But it soon produced devastating effects for both countries. This was because this competition assumed an extremely negative form. In both countries, the media kept up a steady propaganda against the ‘enemy’ country. But when an Indian Hindu visited Pakistan, he would be overwhelmed by the hospitality and warm welcome which he received from Pakistani Muslims. And when he returned to India he would remark, ‘Pakistanis treat us so nicely! So, why this enmity between our countries?’ Likewise, when a Pakistani Muslim visited India and met with Hindus here, he would be touched by their affection. And he would go back to Pakistan and say, ‘The Indian Hindus gave me a lot of love. Then why is it that enmity continues to prevail between our nations?’
The answer to this question is that when individual Hindus and Muslims from India and Pakistan respectively meet, they meet as one individual meeting another. And whenever one individual meets another at the individual level, it is a meeting of two manifestations of nature—and as far as essential human nature is concerned, there is no difference between a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani. But the matter is different when two communities relate to each other. When two individuals meet, their guide is their own nature. But when a Pakistani Muslim wants to know about the Indian nation, he gets its information from the Pakistani media. Likewise, when an Indian Hindu wants to know about the Pakistani nation, he accesses the Indian media. And, as if well know, the media specializes in sensationalist, negative news, news about violence, enmity and hate, presenting the opponent as despicable and utterly evil.
This is why when two individuals from two different communities meet, their reactions to each other are very different from when two communities seek to relate to each other at the collective level. If at the collective or national level, Indians and Pakistanis could relate to and view each other in the same way as an individual Indian and an individual Pakistani do when they meet each other, shorn of the influence of media conditioning, it would go a long way in improving relations between the two countries.
(This essay is a translation of an excerpt from Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s Urdu book Hind-Pak Diary)