In the past three decades I have attended numerous book release functions. In my preamble to the comments I have been making on the book to be launched I have often remarked that during the nineteen months of the infamous Emergency (1975-77) which I spent mainly in the Bangalore Central Jail, and briefly in the Rohtak Jail, the one word that used to bring great cheer to all the political prisoners behind bars was the word ‘release’. So, since my own release on 18th January, 1977 – arrest was on 26th June 1975 – whenever I have been approached by an author with the request to ‘release’ his book, I have rarely disappointed him.
One of the most impressive book release functions I have participated in was a couple of months back when Vice President Hamid Ansari launched M.J. Akbar’s TINDERBOX. The book has been subtitled ‘The Past and Future of Pakistan’. Hon’ble Ansari himself described the book as ‘Vintage M.J. Akbar’ – a compliment as much for the book as for its author. The book is a brilliant analysis of not only what motivated the creation of the unnatural state that is Pakistan, but what ails it now that makes it what M.J. calls a ‘jelly state’. Akbar adds “….neither will it achieve stability, nor disintegrate. Its large arsenal of nuclear weapons makes it a toxic jelly in a region that seems condemned to sectarian, fratricidal and international wars. The thought is not comforting”
A very distinguished gathering of eminent scholars and celebrities were present at the book launching held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Akbar’s book was released on a day when a ghastly tragedy occurred in Pakistan. Salman Taseer, Governor of Pakistan’s most populous State, Punjab, was assassinated by a member of his personal security detail, by name Malik Mumtaz Qadri. Taseer invited the fanatic’s ire because of his outspoken defence of a Christian Woman Aasia Bibi currently facing the death penalty on charges of blasphemy. Taseer had been boldly advocating repeal of blasphemy laws.
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In his Introduction to the book, Akbar writes :
“Muslims of British India had opted for a separate homeland in 1947, destroying the possibility of a secular India in which Hindus and Muslims would coexist, because they believed that they would be physically safe, and their religion secure, in a new nation called Pakistan. Instead, within six decades, Pakistan had become one of the most violent nations on earth, not because Hindus were killing Muslims, but because Muslims were killing Muslims”.
It was against the background of this conviction of his that the most significant remark he made in his short speech that day was: “If Salman Taseer had been in India, he would not have died !”
The content of MJs book was such that all those who spoke that day – besides the Chief Guest Hamid Ansari, Publishers Harper Collins Chairman Arun Purie and Finance Minister Pranab Mukerji kept bringing up some or other contrasting characteristic of India and Pakistan which explained their present conditions and success or failure.
Asked to say a few words on the occasion, I recounted a brief conversation I had with some leading politicians during my last visit to Pakistan in 2005. At a reception hosted by India’s High Commissioner in Pakistan at the time, the Centre Table had seats for the High Commissioner and for me and besides representatives of all political parties and three or four Ministers. A question posed to me very pointedly by several of the politicians was: Mr. Advani, you are a Sindhi born and brought up for the first twenty years of your life in Karachi. Today, you have risen in India’s politics to become the Deputy Prime Minister of India! Did not your origin, your birth etc. become an obstacle in your political career ? My reply was: Not at all. In Indian politics, all those who migrated from Sind, N.W.F.P., Punjab, East Bengal etc. to Rajasthan, U.P., West Bengal etc. and decided to become active in politics joined the Congress, Jana Sangh, Socialist Party, Communist Party etc. and became part of the political mainstream. It is really for you to ponder why Muslims from U.P., Rajasthan, Gujarat, Bihar etc. who have come to Pakistan have remained muhajirs (refugees) even after over fifty years and have had to form a separate party MQM !
India’s ethos, I told them, has always been ‘assimilative’, whereas Pakistan’s ethos has been ‘exclusivist.’!
Indeed, Tinderbox repeatedly emphasizes that Shah Waliullah, the premier Sunni theologian and intellectual of his age, proposed “a theory of distance and the protection of ‘Islamic purity’ as his prescription for a community that was threatened by the cultural power and military might of the infidel.”
This book makes this perceptive observation :
“The debate in Pakistan, about the role of Islam in its polity, began while Jinnah was still alive. The father of Pakistan was challenged by the godfather of Pakistan, Maulana Maududi, founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami, and accurately described as the architect of the Islamist movement in South Asia and the most powerful influence on its development worldwide. Islamism did not, and does not, have much popular support in Pakistan, as elections prove whenever they are held; but its impact on legislation and political life is far stronger than a thin support base would justify. Maududi’s disciple, General Zia ul Haq, who ruled Pakistan from 1976 with an autocratic fist for a decade, crippled liberals with a neat question: if Pakistan had not been created for Islam, what was it, just a second-rate India?”
Akbar’s concluding comment in his Introduction is :
“”Pakistan can become a stable, modern nation, but only if the children of the father of Pakistan, Jinnah, can defeat the ideological heirs of the godfather, Maududi.”
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Akbar’s book carries an extraordinary letter written by Shivaji to Aurangzeb which I had never come across before. It would be worth reproducing it. Akbar says :
Shivaji, the charismatic Maratha ruler whose challenge to Mughal suzerainty has often been cited as a principal cause for their decline, wrote an extraordinary letter to Aurangzeb protesting against jiziya: ‘If you believe in the true Divine Book and the Word of God (the Quran), you will find there Rabb-ul-Alamin, the Lord of all men, and not Rabb-ul-Muslimin, the Lord of the Muslims only. Islam and Hinduism are terms of contrast. They are (diverse pigments) used by the true Divine Painter for blending the colours and filling in the outlines; If it be a mosque, the call to prayer is chanted in remembrance of him. If it be a temple, the bell is rung in yearning for Him only. To show bigotry for any man’s own creed and practices is equivalent to altering the words of the Holy Book…’ It was this philosophy, noted Shivaji, which had impelled Akbar towards sulh-i-kul and prevented Jahangir and Shah Jehan from alienating Hindus. ‘They too,’ wrote Shivaji, ‘had the power of levying jiziya, but they did not give place to bigotry in their hearts.’
13th Feb, 2011