Sunday January 20, 2019
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Why Mani Shankar Aiyar is misunderstood

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The issue with my friends on the right side of India’s political spectrum is that they view Pakistan in a different light as compared to Mani Shankar Aiyar or people like me. To understand Aiyar, one ought to understand the Congress of Mahatma Gandhi and so as to apprehend that Congress one must know the role India’s Grand Old Party played in the freedom struggle that culminated into the country’s independence and also partition along the lines of religion in 1947.

68 years ago, a people – who had so much in common in terms of language, culture and food habits and who had been living together for centuries as brothers – were divided in the name of religion, leading to the formation of Pakistan, a separate homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent.

The cataclysmic partition took place despite the Congress party’s incessant efforts to somehow keep India united. But we must remember there were ‘breaking India’ forces at work in the form of Muslim League led by Muhammed Ali Jinnah and Hindu Mahasabha led by the likes of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. The latter was one of the prominent leaders who influenced and shaped the ideology of the RSS.

It is these ‘breaking India’ forces the ‘secular Indians’, whom the Congress is supposed to represent but has apparently failed to do so, have been battling since so many decades and that fight continues till date, be it in Dadri, Gujarat or Muzaffarnagar. It’s a fight between love and hate, good and evil within us.

While Jinnah wanted a Muslim Pakistan, Savarkar longed for a Hindu India. The RSS and the Muslim League were two sides of the same coin, seeking Hindu and Muslim supremacy. In fact, the cadres of both the outfits were allegedly involved in the mass murders and rapes during and after the tragic partition. When the Congress was fighting for India’s independence, these two outfits were allegedly collaborating with the British. When Gandhiji pleaded for unity, no one listened to him.

This could be understood from the fact that almost no one from these outfits went to jail during the independence movement. The gaols of India were filled by the Congress workers and other nationalist forces.

Tushar Gandhi, the great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi in his book ‘Let’s Kill Gandhi’, writes that Savarkar was the first Indian leader to publicly say that India could never be a united country; at the Ahmedabad convention of the Hindu Mahasabha, he stated that there are two Indias – a Hindu Rashtra and a Muslim nation. This was much before Jinnah’s Muslim League voiced the demand for Pakistan.

It is these ‘breaking India’ forces the ‘secular Indians’, whom the Congress is supposed to represent but has apparently failed to do so, have been battling since so many decades and that fight continues till date, be it in Dadri, Gujarat or Muzaffarnagar. It’s a fight between love and hate, good and evil within us.

To my friends on the right, both Hindus and Muslims, the partition of India is a fait accompli. For them, Pakistan is a done deal and it cannot be reversed. This is where the differences in perception arise. For the true followers of the ideology of the Mahatma Gandhi’s Congress or the secular Indians the party is supposed to represent, ‘partition’ was a blunder of Himalayan magnitude committed by the then leadership -Nehru, Patel and Jinnah – under those taxing circumstances when India was under the yoke of a foreign third party, namely Britain, which should be corrected.

Much has been written about Britain’s divide and rule policy, how they fought ‘uniting India’ forces like the Congress by propping up and using ‘breaking India’ forces like Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha. The Hindus and Muslims of India were more than capable of resolving their issues between them, but such ‘uniting India’ efforts were deliberately allowed to be failed by the British so as to achieve their imperial motives.

So after dividing Punjabis, Bengalis and north India in the name of religion and much bloodshed, a theocratic Pakistan came into being, a country which according to The New York Times ‘presents danger’ to entire world today. This and India’s boiling communal pot further show how the powers-that-be committed a mistake by dividing our country.

People like Mani Shankar Aiyar, I believe, have been trying to undo the damage done to India’s unity and integrity by uniting the hearts that have been torn apart. This is how at least I view Pakistan. I look at Pakistanis as our lost brothers who should be reunited with us through the message of love and sincere efforts. For me there is no difference between an Indian and Pakistani; after all we were one once upon a time.

Punjabis live here, there also; Sindhis live here, there also; Biharis live here, there also; Urdu speaking people live here, there also; Kashmiris live here, there also; Pashtuns live here, there also; Bengalis live in Bangladesh, here also. Where is the difference? We are the same people. The only thing that differentiates us is religion and that too is a matter of personal choice. The State should ideally have nothing to do with religion (duh).

I remember the days when I was young and immature when I loathed Aiyar for his ‘love for Pakistan’. I did not then understand the idea of India, the idea of Pakistan, the Congress, the Muslim League, the Hindu Mahasabha, and the reasons behind India’s partition and the role played by the British Raj therein. Now when after understanding all of them, the light has finally dawned on me, I look at Aiyar as nothing but a man on a mission.

The man, for heaven’s sake, has been ploughing a lone furrow for the past 24 years to improve relations between the two south Asian cousins, not because he wants to ‘break India’, but because he sincerely wishes to better the relations between the people of two countries. My friends on the right should know such ‘secular’ forces are extant in Pakistan as well.

Now let’s come to Aiyar’s remarks in Pakistan on PM Modi. While speaking to Barkha Dutt, Aiyar clarified that he gave a straight answer to a straight question asked to him by the anchor on Duniya TV. When he was asked how the current stalemate in India-Pakistan relationship could be ended, the latter replied: “Hume le aaiye, inko hatayiye (Bring us, remove them) i.e. bring in the Congress and remove the BJP at the Centre.

What Aiyar, as he mentioned later, literally meant was that the Congress party will have to be brought back to power to improve the Indo-Pak relations considering the Modi Sarkar’s performance in the past 18 months in this regard. In a democracy like India, needless to say, regime change is only possible through free and fair elections.

That is why he said that was possible only after four years when the new elections would be held for the Centre. Now that is my point of view as well and we can agree to disagree on this. However, to suggest that Aiyar or others are asking for Pakistan’s help in changing the current regime in India is like misreporting or twisting his words to suit one’s agenda.

India and Pakistan are at crossroads today. We must learn from Pakistan’s creation and its painful experience as a theocratic state that ‘Hindu Rashtra’ is a bad idea. Equality for all irrespective of their religion, caste, creed, creed, sex or color should be the way forward.

The time has come to reunite the ‘divided India’.

In legendary bard Rabindranath Tagore’s words,

Jodi tor dak shune keu na ase tobe ekla cholo re (If they do not listen to your call, walk alone walk alone)

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India Needs to Improve its Educational Outcomes to Catch up with China

To catch up with China, India needs to lay emphasis on improving its educational outcomes

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The Article 30 of the Constitution gives religious and linguistic minorities “the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.”
India needs to improve its educational outcomes to catch up with China. Pixabay

By Amit Kapoor

Both China and India started building their national education systems under comparable conditions in the late 1940s. Different policies and historical circumstances have, however, led them to different educational outcomes, with China outperforming India not just in terms of its percentage of literate population and enrollment rates at all levels of education, but also in terms of number of world-class institutions in higher education, and greater research output.

The roots of China’s successful education system date back to the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), which unintentionally expanded access to the primary education through democratising the schooling system, which was previously elitist in character, thus addressing the problem of mass illiteracy.

In contrast, India continued to focus on its higher education system since independence and only realised the importance of basic education in 1986, keeping it behind China and many other countries in Asia in educational development. In terms of enrollment, China reached a 100 percent gross enrollment rate (GER) in its primary education in 1985, whereas, India attained that level only in 2000.

In terms of secondary school enrollment, India and China both started at the similar rates in 1985, with about 40 percent of their population enrolled in secondary schools. However, due to a wider base of primary school students, the rate of increase in China has been much faster than in India, with 99 percent secondary enrollment rate in China and 79 percent in India in 2017.

India is closing in on the Chinese rate in terms of access to education, but on the literacy level front, there is a huge gap in the percentage of literate populations in the two countries. In the age group of 15-24 years, India scores 104th rank on literacy and numeracy indicator, compared to China’s 40th rank.

The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which assesses after every three years the domain knowledge of 15-year-old students in reading, mathematics, science and finance, revealed that students in China performed above the OECD average in 2015. Moreover, one in four students in China are top performers in mathematics, having an ability to formulate complex situations mathematically. Further, China outperforms all the other participating countries in financial literacy, by having a high ability to analyse complex finance products. For India, the comparable data is not available as it was not a participating country in PISA 2015.

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Representational image.

However, in India, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2017 provides data for rural youth, aged 14-18, with respect to their abilities to lead productive lives as adults. According to this survey, only about half of the 14-year-old children in the sample could read English sentences, and more than half of the students surveyed could not do basic arithmetic operations, like division. For basic financial calculations, such as managing a budget or making a purchase decision, less than two-thirds could do the correct calculations.

With regard to the higher education system, both India and China dominate the number of tertiary degree holders because of their large population size, but when it comes to the percentage of the population holding tertiary degrees, only about 10 per cent and 8 per cent of the population possess university degrees in China and India, respectively. By contrast, in Japan, almost 50 per cent of the population holds a tertiary degree, and in the United States, 31 per cent of the population hold a tertiary degree.

In terms of the international recognition of universities, the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Ranking for 2019 places seven of the China’s universities in the top 200, compared to none for India. The global university rankings, which are based on various performance metrices, pertaining to teaching, research, citations, international outlook and industrial income, shows progress for several of China’s low-ranked universities, largely driven by improvements in its citations.

In fact, the Tsinghua University has overtaken the National University of Singapore (NUS) to become the best university in Asia due to improvements in its citations, institutional income and increased share of international staff, students and co-authored publications.

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While India has progressed in terms of massification of education, there is still a lot which needs to be done when it comes to catching up with the China’s educational outcomes. China’s early start in strengthening its primary and secondary education systems has given it an edge over India in terms of higher education. Moreover, Chinese government strategies are designed in line with the criterion used in major world university rankings, especially emphasis is on the two factors which weigh heavily in the rankings — publications and international students.

The relentless publications drive, which is very evident in China, is weak in India and has led to a growing gap in the number of publications contributed by the two countries. Further, China enrolled about 292,611 foreign students in 2011 from 194 countries, while India currently only has 46,144 foreign students enrolled in its higher education institutions, coming from 166 countries. The large number of international enrollments in China is a reflection of its state policies granting high scholarships to foreign students.

To catch up with China, India needs to lay emphasis on improving its educational outcomes. Massification drive for education has helped India raise its student enrollments, but a lot needs to be done when it comes to global recognition for its universities. Further, it needs to focus on building the foundation skills which are acquired by students at the school age, poor fundamental skills flow through the student life, affecting adversely the quality of education system. (IANS)