Preserve social amity, cohesion for progress : The Tribune India

Abhijit Bhattacharyya

Commentator and Author

Learn from history. Create harmony and credibility. Leave behind for future generations a life of peace and prosperity. It’s got to be the mantra of every political party to expunge the lingering trauma of India’s Partition and bloody past. Indeed, the way forward could be to draw lessons from the devastating, fratricidal Mahabharata war which finished after the younger brother’s five sons killed all 100 first cousins, the sons of elder paternal uncle, to gain power. All this happened in Aryavarta (North India), around the present-day capital of India, ending with the peace of the graveyard.

As Indians always pride themselves on ‘unity in diversity’, it would be a travesty of justice, equity and fair play to hear the open call being given for the extermination of minority groups. That’s not done. It’s unacceptable. There’s no place for hate-mongering or venomous sloganeering and malicious utterances of imbecile delinquents. We ought to reject the horrendous history of the medieval age. Any repeat of history or revenge of the past will be a sure way of navigating the country towards utter destruction.

One, therefore, fears to tread and treads with fear as an apolitical citizen or student of history, economics, political science, law and geography. Why some Indians, willingly or unwillingly, wittingly or unwittingly can’t comprehend as to how their (hard-earned) sovereignty is likely to be eroded, and trampled upon by a formidable foe like China, taking unethical advantage to fish in New Delhi’s troubled political waters? Can two wrongs make one right? Is it possible? Shouldn’t the misguided Indians re-learn from the blast of the past for course correction? Is it too much to expect a minimum decorum, dignity and honour from those in position to influence the lives of a billion-plus benign Indians?

Let’s remember that India is a gigantic canvas consisting of a bewildering variety of history, geography, culture and tradition which changes every 75-100 km. It’s a land where till 1947 existed more than 560 Rajas, Maharajas, Sultans, Princes, Maliks and Sardars along with British India, thereby constituting a figure which together far outnumbered more than 110 sovereign nation states in the rest of the world.

Let’s recall the undeniable and indisputable facts and figures. The main linguistic composition of India consists of Hindi (35%); Bengali (8.12%); Telugu (7.20%); Marathi (7%); Tamil (5.95%); Urdu (5.02%); Gujarati (4.48%); Kannada (3.70%); Malayalam (3.21%); Odiya (3.21%); Punjabi (2.84%); Assamese (1.30%); Maithili (1.18%); Bhili/Bhilodi (0.93%); Santhali (0.63%); Kashmiri (0.54%); Nepali (0.28%); Gondi (0.26%); Sindhi (0.25%); Konkani (0.24%); Dogri (0.22%); Khandeshi (0.20%); Tulu (0.17%); Kurukh/Oraon (0.17%); Manipuri (0.14%); Bodo (0.13%); Khasi (0.11%); Mundari (0.10%); Ho (0.10%); and Sanskrit (0.0013%).

Aside stands the religious affiliation: Hindus (75%); Muslims (15%); Christians (3%); Sikhs (2.5%); Buddhists (0.80%); Jains (0.60%); Bahais (0.17%); Zoroastrians/Parsis (0.03%). Hence, there’s no place for hate-mongering or venomous sloganeering and malicious utterances of imbecile delinquents.

All the more, as Indians always (rightly) pride themselves on their ‘unity in diversity’, it would be a travesty of justice, equity and fair play to hear the open call being given for extermination of minority religious groups. That’s not done. It’s totally unacceptable. We ought to reject the horrendous history of the medieval age; the 1947 Partition plight of Hindu Bengalis and the repeat 1971 atrocities and forced migration of the same Hindu Bengalis from Dhaka to Delhi; and en masse mutual retaliatory massacre of the Hindu Punjabis, Sikhs and Muslims in 1947. Any repeat of history or revenge of the past, regrettably, will be a sure way of navigating the country towards utter destruction.

We all know the catastrophic consequences of India’s partitioned Independence, and therefore had rightly rejected the ‘two nation theory’ of Muhammad Ali Jinnah from the very beginning, as he excelled and revelled in the politics of hatred and hostility in the 1940s. Today, however, Jinnah’s venomous policy of murder can’t be emulated by 21st-century India. As any revenge call (for Jinnah’s misdeeds) through extermination of a religious minority will be the recipe for self-destruction. India can do better with saner advice and strictly follow the rule of law, in letter and spirit, while dealing with a microscopic minority of malicious men masquerading as enlightened minstrels-cum-mendicants.

One, therefore, wishes to re-emphasise the need to take lessons from the past tragedies and civil wars and the absolute necessity of avoiding repeat mistakes in the 21st century when after thousands of years, India appears at the cusp of making her presence felt globally as an epitome of civilised, modern and enlightened society/state.

Just recapitulate the venomous sequence of the past. A deplorable decision by Muslim League supremo Jinnah on July 29, 1946, incited the louts and loafers of the land despite it being a day of unprecedented, successful general strike. It was reported on July 31, 1946: “General strike by all communities”. It was an indisputably unique united Hindu-Muslim strike. However, Muslim League daily Morning Post played spoilsport: “Muslim League Council directs the working committee to prepare forthwith a programme of Direct Action to carry out the policy… to prepare Muslims for the coming struggle… when necessary.”

The president of the Bengal Chapter of Muslim League Nazimuddin was ecstatic and emphatic: “Time for test has come” and the Muslim League’s Bengal Prime Minister Shahid Suhrawardy gave a clarion call to the Muslim youth: “Marshal all your forces under the Muslim League banner.” Asked to clarify the content and nature of the ‘Direct Action’ call, Jinnah brusquely retorted: “I am not going to discuss ethics.” Indeed, not once did any Muslim League leader clarify the nature of things to come. And, when the day of mindless massacre and mayhem dawned in Calcutta on August 16, 1946, it ended and resumed, with the final outcome of 5,000-plus dead (mostly Hindus) in four days. Thereafter, retaliation and revenge by the Hindus and Sikhs, resulted in double the number of dead Muslims.

What was achieved? Who won, who lost? Where is the blood-smeared glittering trophy? The questions are many, but the answers are yet to be found.

Contextually, one can’t help but refer to an incredible instance. My father (then 28) was an income tax officer in Calcutta during August 1946, residing in a government flat at Garcha First Lane, Ballygunge. Three unarmed Muslim vendors were butchered in broad daylight in an act of retaliation. The fourth survived as my father sheltered him. Lathi-carrying Bengali Hindus and sword-wielding Sikhs from the adjacent Garcha Gurdwara came at night to seek revenge but gave him one ‘last’chance: “Explain your sin.”

There was no explanation. He challenged the 200-plus gathering: “I will lead you to kill Jinnah the culprit, even though I am part of the government. Let’s murder the murderer, not an innocent. Neither Sikhism nor Hinduism is known to kill innocents. Are you game?” He recited Gurbani and Gita. Miraculously, both Sikhs and Hindu Bengalis dispersed quietly. My father repeated this at least a thousand times in my life. Follow the rule of law, avoid lawlessness, protect the innocent and punish the criminal. It’s time for Indians to stand up. The fractured states of Bengal and Punjab know best. Hence, they don’t talk of a civil war, unlike those whose houses are still intact.

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