India and Pakistan at 70 – Looking back and looking ahead

Flag of “Indian Empire” (British Raj)

Let me take a point of personal privilege today – we’ll be turning The Florida Squeeze into the “Subcontinent Squeeze,” today as we commemorate 70 years since India and Pakistan were given independence from Britain. The Indian subcontinent is the mother of all civilization. The human race descended from South India after migrations from Africa and the first truly high civilization which featured urbanization was the Indus Valley Civilization in modern day Pakistan and Northwest India.

I’ll outline the few topics here that define the last 70 years.

Partition, Kashmir & the downfall of secularism –

BBC Documentary from 2007 on partition

By Partition_of_India-en.svg:Partition_of_India-en.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Partition cost approximately a 1,000,000 lives as the departing British much like they did in Ireland partitioned India based on religion. I don’t want to rehash all of the history other than to say the Muslim League had gained favor and has argued that the secular Indian National Congress could not fairly govern over Indian Muslims. So basically, Indian Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Jews, Buddhists, etc were classified as one ethnicity and Indian Muslims as another. The partition was then made along these ethnic lines with the areas where the majority of the population was Muslim being ceded to the new nation of Pakistan and those where Muslims were not the majority remaining in India, which was granted Dominion status within the British Commonwealth. The 1,000,000 deaths came from Muslims fleeing India to move to Pakistan while Hindus and Sikhs went the other way. Communal violence broke and the subcontinent has never completely healed. Lahore, Amritsar and the villages around both major cities were particularly violent.

Politicians more than anyone else were responsible for turning Hindu against Muslim and Muslim against Sikh, etc. For generations in the villages of Punjab and Bengal the religions had co-existed but as independence beckoned and then after partition, religion, much like race in the southern US became a way of rallying masses of poor people to support military junta’s in Pakistan and otherwise corrupt politicians in India. It must be stated though that Muslims were often looked down in India prior to 1947 in much the same way African-Americans were by whites outside the southern states in the US. Segregation wasn’t legally enforced but a clear social pecking order was in place even in many areas with Muslim majorities where Hindu’s owned the bulk of businesses and dominated the bureaucracy (Lahore, Punjab’s largest city was a perfect example of this).

I’m a believer that the Indian National Congress (INC) should have ceded control of India to the Muslim League in 1947 to keep India unified or at least accepted a decentralized government to give Muslim-majority areas autonomy within an INC-led Indian union. Also it has been noted by me in the past that India’s regions which were governed by Muslims prior to the British consolidation of power generally were more economically advanced and culturally open than those governed by Sikhs or Hindus. However those were the days of empires and jihad wasn’t the constant mantra as it is today.

The continued legacy of partition is seen every day as the Kashmir crisis continues to dominate the politics of both India and Pakistan as well as being one of the major contributing factors to the rise of global Islamic jihad. Despite being a secular  democratic country, India has regularly suspended its constitution to continue governing a heavily Muslim region where the majority of the people likely either want to join Pakistan or remain independent. However, given Pakistan’s record of oppression of Hindus, which border on genocide, the minority Hindu (as well as Sikhs and Buddhist) population in Kashmir continue to look to being in India as a sole form of protection.

Terrorism has plagued India since the late 1990’s as the Kashmir conflict has been a pretense for Islamic radicals to attack the Indian Parliament, trains in Mumbai at rush hour, hijack a plane to Afghanistan, set off bombs in the financial district of Mumbai and of course, the terrorist attacks of 26/11 (November 26, 2008) in Mumbai which shook the globe and has been called India’s 9/11.

Kashmir is one of the factors that’s led to both countries drifting right. The legality of the Instrument Of Accession of Kashmir to India has been challenged. 

In Pakistan the cleansing of non-Muslims from the large cities made the nation more reactionary and conservative. The one area where socialist policies were still popular as well as leftist social justice was East Bengal, but the 1971 war which led to the creation of Bangladesh, “cleansed” Pakistan or more social conscious Bengali’s, and the secular education system that still thrived in Dhaka at the time. Eventually the combination of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the American intervention in the region including consistent violations of Pakistan’s sovereignty under President’s Bush and Obama as well as India’s increased drift toward communalism contributed to Pakistan being ripe for Saudi-style Wahhabism and Saudi-funded Madrassas.

In India, a nation where parties of the right couldn’t even compete from independence into the early 1990’s (Indian elections pre-1990’s tended to be competitions between varying left-wing groups, ie. communists vs socialists, trade unionists vs social crusaders, etc), right-wing, hyper-nationalist and religious fundamentalist politicians have had increasing success at the state-level since the mid 1990’s and now dominate national politics as well.

In the meantime, misogyny and rape has become a protected offense to a large extent in both nations, a bi-product of religious male chauvinism making its way openly into public life. It’s stunning for two nations that have had revered female leaders in the not-so-distant past in Benazir Bhutto and Indira Gandhi.

Pakistan’s early economic success versus India’s failed Soviet-styled socialism

Educated in American and British ways, India’s leaders might have mostly been socialists (with a few exceptions) but they also had a perhaps misplaced faith in the institutions of democracy and public opinion. So India wasn’t able to replicate the moves forward authoritarian states like the Soviet Union and People’s Republic of China made in terms of industry and centralized control. India’s leaders has been trained to think like Labour Party members in the UK – and had unlimited faith in the electorate and a Westminster-styled democracy. India’s initial leadership also relished the adulation they received among western leftists – Jawaharlal Nehru was one of the most popular global figures among the American and British left from the 1940’s until the 1960’s. Few foreign leaders have ever received the welcome Nehru did when he came to the United States from an adoring public An idealist at heart, Nehru was in many ways ill-equipped to actually lead a nation.

Pakistan raced ahead of India in the 1960’s. The nation with a more authoritarian streak combined central planning and free market mechanisms  – a hybrid economy of a sorts that was the model for the eventual South Korean miracle. An emphasis on manufacturing, the willingness to solicit foreign investment in big numbers and the growth of Karachi, which under the British Raj was more or less a provincial backwater were among the factors in the growth. Strong military leadership and a sense of national pride and purpose drove at least the Punjabi and Sindhi areas of Pakistan, who were monotonically Muslim. India by comparison was a hodgepodge of different ethnic and religious groups with a forced democracy, leading to a dysfunction. 

Meanwhile Nehru and the Indian National Congress who were jaded after years of colonial rule were determined to create Indian institutions and eschew as much as possible foreign assistance and investment. India’s ability to eventually mix nationalism with industry would pay off in the long run when more a freer market and more innovation prevailed in the 1990’s but initially the country fell well behind Pakistan in terms of real development.

But even today, Pakistan shows signs of being more developed than India – take for example the number of intra-city motorways built during the military dictatorship of Pervez Musharaf between 1999 and 2007. Pakistan’s cities are much better connected to one another road than India’s largest cities. Currently India has less miles of superhighways than the state of Florida does.

But India has developed a vibrant air traffic sector, whereas Pakistan doesn’t have service currently from a single airline from a western European or North American nation. The lack of air service to Pakistan’s large cities owes itself largely to the destabilized political climate in the nation.

India inherited the majority of strategic railways built by the British and this infrastructure has persisted. The nation has also built some of the most modern and efficient airports in the developing world over the course of the last decade.  But Pakistan still has on the whole better infrastructure than India and soon will open with Chinese assistance a new deepwater port at Gwadar – provided the growing separatist movement in Baluchistan (which has allegedly thrived thanks to Indian assitance) can be held at bay.

Indira Gandhi’s Emergency – civil liberties and democracy derailed but was it a good thing? 

“Future generations will not remember us by how many elections we had but by the progress we made”

– Sanjay Gandhi, 1976

We are told Indian Democracy has persisted for 70 years – not true, as for two years in the 1970’s India operated like any autocratic government ruled under a cult personality would. When my Grandfather V.R, Krishna Iyer then a Supreme Court Justice issued his ruling on Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s challenge to a unfavorable High Court ruling, all hell broke loose in the country.

Here is a brief summary from Wikipedia as to what brought on the suspension of India’s Democracy.

Raj Narain, who had been defeated in the 1971 parliamentary election by Indira Gandhi, lodged cases of election fraud and use of state machinery for election purposes against her in the Allahabad High CourtShanti Bhushan fought the case for Narain. Indira Gandhi was also cross-examined in the High Court which was the first such instance for an Indian Prime Minister.[10]

On 12 June 1975, Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court found the prime minister guilty on the charge of misuse of government machinery for her election campaign. The court declared her election null and void and unseated her from her seat in the Lok Sabha. The court also banned her from contesting any election for an additional six years. Serious charges such as bribing voters and election malpractices were dropped and she was held responsible for misusing government machinery, and found guilty on charges such as using the state police to build a dais, availing the services of a government officer, Yashpal Kapoor, during the elections before he had resigned from his position, and use of electricity from the state electricity department.[11]

Because the court unseated her on comparatively frivolous charges, while she was acquitted on more serious charges, The Times described it as “firing the Prime Minister for a traffic ticket”. However, strikes in trade, student and government unions swept across the country. Led by JP, Narain, Satyendra Narayan Sinha and Morarji Desai, protestors flooded the streets of Delhi close to the Parliament building and the Prime Minister’s residence. The persistent efforts of Narain were praised worldwide as it took over four years for Justice Sinha to pass judgement against the prime minister.[12]

Indira Gandhi challenged the High Court’s decision in the Supreme Court. Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer, on 24 June 1975, upheld the High Court judgement and ordered all privileges Gandhi received as an MP be stopped, and that she be debarred from voting. However, she was allowed to continue as Prime Minister. The next day, JP organised a large rally in Delhi, where he said that a police officer must reject the orders of government if the order is immoral and unethical as this was Mahatma Gandhi‘s motto during the freedom struggle. Such a statement was taken as a sign of inciting rebellion in the country. Later that day, Indira Gandhi requested a compliant President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to issue a proclamation of a state of emergency. Within three hours, the electricity to all major newspapers was cut and the political opposition arrested. The proposal was sent without discussion with the Union Cabinet, who only learnt of it and ratified it the next morning.[13][14]

Some national English-language media outlets such as The Hindu and The Times of India went along with the emergency measures and filled its pages with propaganda, and were allowed to print as normal. Others like The Indian Express and Statesman skirted the limits and got into trouble. The Indian Express would famously run foreign news accounts of the Emergency and place it in the section which came from foreign wire services. Other smaller media were shut down entirely. At the time India had only state run television and no independent news radio stations. Today India has more English-language cable news channels than any other nation, but at the time no TV news media was active to be shut down.

While freedom of the press and the the jailing of political prisoners was a bad thing, the trains ran on time and ordinary life was largely unchanged for the masses – or perhaps even improved.

Western media and politicians were torn on the Emergency. Many on the left owing to admiration Nehru could not bring themselves to condemn his daughter, Prime Minister Gandhi. Some on the right like Margaret Thatcher were impressed with Gandhi and no doubt sought to emulate her example when she got the chance. Gandhi’s son Sanjay was a dictator-in-waiting. But one with some very interesting ideas to move India forward. These ideas included:

  • Reforming public sector unions
  • Instituting some form of birth control
  • Making automobiles more affordable for the common people
  • Increased incentives for businesses
  • Further rural development

Sanjay Gandhi was a capitalist in a family full of socialists, but one with big ideas for what India could become.  Had Indian democracy died in 1975, it’s interesting to speculate what would have happened

Much like the United States during the depression, a reverence for law breaking developed leading to a further breakdown in discipline in Indian society. The Emergency created an even greater willingness to break the law and defy authority, something that has always been a problem.

Eventually Prime Minister Gandhi gave by freeing political prisoners, allowing newspapers to print whatever it wanted again and calling elections. In the 1977 General Election, Gandhi’s Congress Party was defeated for the first time since independence, in fact  it was defeated for the first time since the party boycotted the 1930 election (the very next election held in the British Raj, in 1934 the INC swept). Gandhi’s defeat was at the hands of a confusing agglomeration of opposition figures – ranging from the far left George Fernandes a trade unionist socialist to L.K. Advani, a far-right Hindu nationalist. The new Prime Minister was the aged Moraji Desai, a veteran of the independence struggles and the first Indian PM not only to be from outside the Congress Party – but also to have a more favorable opinion of the United States than of the Soviet Union. That owed itself to Desai’s conservatism, at least by Indian standards (which would still have put him on the left or centre-left in the US). But Desai wouldn’t last long and once the leftists returned Indian policy tilted strongly again against the US. More on that in a minute.

Superpower relationships

From the time of independence India had a troubled relationship with the United States, despite the two nations being the world’s two great democracies. Pakistan, on the other hand was much more open to cooperation with the U.S. Nehru sought to lead a “non-aligned” movement of developing countries that worked together. However, the interests of formerly oppressed colonial subjects tended to align more closely with the Soviet Union than with the United States. Nehru and his ilk can be forgiven for being suspicious of American imperial overreach. The Soviet Union, it is often forgotten or ignored in the west had a much more egalitarian outlook rhetorically. Unlike the United States that allowed Jim Crow laws and lynchings of African-Americans to persist and propped up right-wing juntas all over the globe. The Soviet Union on the other hand funded and armed revolutionaries that were fighting racism and right-wing governments backed by the US. Nelson Mandela is an example of a revolutionary whose alignment was much closer to the Soviet Union than to the United States which at various times was hostile to the ANC and supportive of Apartheid South Africa. Nelson Mandela was honored on a USSR postage stamp when still in prison. By contrast, he was boycotted in Miami during his 1990 US tour. 

It’s also easy to see from Nehru’s perspective in hindsight why he feared American industry exploiting his nation the way the British did. At least the British had the responsibility of governing India, but the US might have very well simply raped the resources using American corporations and shipped all the money back to the US, leaving a bankrupt India to try and fend for itself or depend on the US military. After all this is how the United States conducted itself in Latin America throughout the 20th Century. So India especially after the early 1960’s and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy put itself in strong alignment with the Soviet Union.

JFK had cultivated Nehru with some success. Drawing on the continued trouble with China especially after India gave the Dali Lama political asylum in 1959, Kennedy smartly pivoted to a relationship where the US sided with BOTH Pakistan and India.

“Chinese Communists have been moving ahead the last 10 years. India has been making some progress, but if India does not succeed with her 450 million people, if she can’t make freedom work, then people around the world are going to determine, particularly in the underdeveloped world, that the only way they can develop their resources is through the Communist system.”

– President John F. Kennedy, 1962

Meanwhile Pakistan was disappointed by the United States’ unwillingness to back it aggressively in the 1965 war with India, who was strongly backed by the USSR. Pakistan and Mao’s People’s Republic of China already were cooperating and had a common enemy in India. China beginning in 1965 became very close with Pakistan, a relationship that persists to this day. In 1971, when India intervened in the Pakistan-Bengali war, China urged Richard Nixon to send an aircraft carrier to the Arabian Sea to threaten India. Nixon obliged as he was well into trying to placate Mao and would visit China just three months later. Nixon also was able to lean on the right-wing Arab states that were in alliance with the US to back Pakistan. This was a stunning development for India which had long backed the Arab side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,

But little known at the time was that P.M. Indira Gandhi had foreseen this difficulty and had opened back channels to Israel whom India did not have diplomatic relations with at the time but had officially recognized the right exist. In the late 1960’s P.M. Gandhi quietly pushed RAW (India’s intelligence service) to begin collaborating with the Mossad, given both nations counted Pakistan as an enemy. It was with the help of intelligence from the Mossad that India crushed Pakistan in 14 days and secured the independence of Bangladesh. In fact, in hindsight it is now felt that India’s official anti-Israeli position had more to do with domestic politics and the large amount of Muslim votes than anything.  In time India and Israel would become closer and closer as both dealt with the jihadist actions often from the same source.

China blocked the admission of Bangladesh to the United Nations for several years and also formally protested the Indian annexation of the Kingdom of Sikkim which continues to be a major talking point right up until today as Indian and Chinese troops are starring each other down at this very moment around Sikkim.

The United States in the 1970’s and 1980’s tended to be supporters of jihad if it was directed at the Soviet Union (or India) rather than Israel. Pakistani-American relations reached a high point in the 1980’s when Pakistan’s military government under General Zia worked hand-in-hand with the Americans and Chinese to fund the Afghan mujaheddin. India considered buying F-5 aircraft to improve relations in the 1980’s but ultimately bought French-built aircraft both for the military and commercial sectors. However this might have been due to the Bofors scandal, and therefore Indo-American relations didn’t improve until the late 1990’s.

India almost collapsed economically only months before the Soviet Union did in 1991. Short of capital reserves, India liberalized its socialist and protectionist economy. But opening its doors also benefited Indian industry which had forty years to mature with limited competition at home, and therefore had the expertise and capital to grow abroad. Mahindra for example has had a major presence in the United States since the 1990’s and Tata has since the early 2000’s.

Indo-American relations improved during the Premiership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1998-2004), India’s first bonafide Hindu fundamentalist Prime Minister. Economic, cultural and political ties have blossomed since owing itself both to the threat of terrorism both countries face and the growing Indian-American population in the United States. Indian-Americans now number well over 3,000,000 and are about to overtake Chinese-Americans as the largest Asiatic group on US soil. India’s rightward drift politically has also brought more pro-American and less secular politicians into national leadership. The two tend to go hand-in-hand as Hindu fundamentalists have long seen a natural ally in the United States, a nation with many similarly conservative religiously-motivated leaders. The more conservative and Hindu India’s leadership gets, the more pro-American it is. 

During this same period US-Pakistani relations have become more troubled. After 9/11 General Musharaf did align under great pressure with the United States, but a prevailing view in Washington was that not enough was being done in Pakistan. The US eventually began conducting a drone war on Pakistani soil and killed Osama Bin Laden just outside Rawalpindi. Attitudes toward the United States are not favorable in Pakistan and the US has shown little respect for the sovereignty of Pakistan or its territorial integrity during the second Bush team and the entire eight years of President Obama. Under President Obama the United States might have violated international law with its activities on Pakastani soil. Unfortunately, things don’t appear like they will change anytime soon, and it is entirely possible the CIA along with RAW are involved with the Balochi separatist movement.

India and Pakistan both turn 70 on Tuesday August 15. 

One comment

  1. Thanks!

    Learned a lot!


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