Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Now We Are Six(ty)

Girls show their faces painted in the colours of the Pakistani (L) and Indian national flags as part of Independence Day celebrations at a college in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad August 14, 2007. India will be celebrating its 60th Independence Day on August 15. REUTERS/Amit Dave (INDIA)In 1997, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the independence of India and Pakistan, the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution “congratulat[ing] the people of India and Pakistan on the occasion” and “look[ing] forward to broadening and deepening United States cooperation with Pakistan and India in the years ahead for the benefit of the people of all three countries.” Undoubtedly not the most consequential legislative act taken in the 105th Congress, although let’s not forget that the 105th was the “Monica Congress,” whose “dismal legislative record,” according to congressional scholar Thomas Mann, “will barely register when its history is written.” So this resolution might actually be up there as one of its highlights.

Regardless, symbolism and good will gestures have their place, and the 1997 resolution was a laudable one. So I was curious to see what the current Congress had to offer ten years later, on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of Indian and Pakistani independence. The differences are at least mildly noteworthy. The only current resolution that I could find (which apparently has not been adopted) was introduced two weeks ago by House members Jim McDermott and Joe Wilson. The resolution, which McDermott and Wilson apparently introduced at the behest of the U.S. India Political Action Committee, a group which (I think) did not even exist in 1997, “applauds the Indian-American community” for its role in promoting bilateral relations between India and the United States, “extends best wishes to the people of India as they celebrate the 60th anniversary of India’s Independence,” and — interestingly, for a resolution of this sort — “recognizes India as a long-term strategic partner of the United States.” Unlike the 1997 resolution, this resolution makes no reference to Pakistan or Pakistani Americans at all.

One certainly should be careful not to read too much into something so insignificant. But this resolution seems just a tad bit petty in its exclusive focus on India. Whatever we might understandably expect from a group like USINPAC, which self-consciously advocates in favor of stronger “U.S.-India bilateral relations in defense, trade, and business,” I do expect more from members of Congress. Especially at a moment in which the Bush administration has stumbled in its policies toward Pakistan, losing Pakistani hearts and minds left and right by lending unconditional support to General Musharraf for so long — and at a moment in which none of the major presidential candidates has yet offered a compelling alternative approach in support of Pakistani democracy — it is unfortunate that members of Congress could not have approached even this small, symbolic gesture with more creativity and thought than this.

* * *

So it is left to the rest of us, rather than lawmakers and lobbyists, to try to make modest symbolism at least somewhat more meaningful. As Ramachandra Guha reminds us in his magisterial new book, India After Gandhi, not everyone in the subcontinent found cause for celebration at the moment of independence, which came with the largest mass migration of people in history and left hundreds of thousands dead in the wake of Partition. As Guha notes, in Pakistan poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote that

This is not that long-looked for break of day
Not that clear dawn in quest of which those comrades
Set out, believing that in heaven’s wide void
Somewhere must be the stars’ last halting-place,
Somewhere the verge of night’s slow-washing tide,
Somewhere the anchorage for the ship of heartache.

In India, Gandhi avoided the independence celebrations altogether, lamenting the violence of Partition and questioning whether anyone should be celebrating “in the midst of this devastation.”

Cheering cricket fan in LahoreHowever, this evening, in New York, some Indians and Pakistanis will lay claim not only to the notion that the independence of India and Pakistan can indeed be celebrated, while simultaneously recognizing cause for mourning and reflection, but also to the idea that the moment can be a shared one that Indians and Pakistanis can celebrate together. While Gandhi observed the moment of independence with a twenty-four hour fast, the organizers of “Flavors Beyond Borders” have creatively chosen instead to embrace food, treating it

as a medium to spread the message of peace, brotherhood and harmony among the people of the two nations. People from across the border will feast on a hearty meal specially prepared by renowned chefs of the two nations and enjoy the musical performances by acclaimed singers.

As Gandhi famously said, "we must be the change we wish to see in the world," even when in seemingly insignificant ways.

* * *

On July 4th, Mike commended to Dorf on Law readers the Declaration of Independence. In the same spirit, today I commend to all of you the speeches on the occasion of independence by both Nehru:

Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. . . . It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity. . . . That future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we may fulfil the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity. The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over. [link to full text]

and Jinnah:

No power can hold another nation, and specially a nation of 400 million souls in subjection; nobody could have conquered you, and even if it had happened, nobody could have continued its hold on you for any length of time but for this. Therefore, we must learn a lesson from this. You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any region or caste or creed --that has nothing to do with the business of the State. . . . We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. . . . Now, I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual but in the political sense as citizens of the state. [link to full text]


Benjam said...

great post anil. thank you. sometimes we tend to be derisive of nationalsit sentiments without realizing that they can serve as a bulwark against sectarianism and extremism, not to mention a source of pride and unity. happy independence day!

Sobek said...

It is a great post. Thanks for the links to the two speeches.

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