A line that parts two worlds for the minorities

The challenge before us today is to keep alive the idea of accommodative India where any citizen can dream of becoming the Prime Minister, and not let turn India into another Pakistan

Image for representational purpose only
Image for representational purpose only

Faisal CK

Aporous border divides India and Pakistan. But for the minorities living on either side of the line, they are two different worlds. The stark difference in treating minorities can be seen from the annals of two parties– one in Pakistan and the other in India– that stood for political mobilization of minorities in their respective countries. The former is the Pakistan National Congress that mainly represented the Hindus and other religious minorities in Pakistan. The party traces its roots to the Indian National Congress.

After the Partition, the communal paranoia and mass exodus significantly reduced the Hindu, Sikh and non-Muslim population in Pakistan. The leaders and activists of the Indian National Congress who continued to live in Pakistan joined with the representatives of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Christian communities to form a new political party, the Pakistan National Congress.

The party had 11 members in Pakistan’s first Constituent Assembly. The Pakistan National Congress stood for secularism, equality of all religions and citizens and protection of religious and ethnic minorities. The party was one of many that opposed the suppression of democracy and civil rights by successive military regimes. The Pakistan National Congress also stood against the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistani society, politics and government.

In the 1954 elections held for the East Bengal Legislative Assembly, the Pakistan National Congress won 28 seats.

The Pakistan National Congress supported the Bangladesh Liberation Movement. After the Bangladeshi War of Independence, the party briefly survived as the Bangladesh National Congress. In West Pakistan, the PNC was branded as an ‘Indian fifth column’ and was forced to vanish into oblivion.

Dhirendranath Dutta was a prominent leader of the Pakistan National Congress. As a member of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly, he made a speech calling for Bengali to be made one of the official languages of Pakistan in1948.But not a single Muslim Bengali politician had courage to support Dutta.

In 1954, he moved an adjournment motion against the declaration of Governor’s Rule in East Pakistan, and was seen as the de facto face of democracy. He was placed under house arrest during the 1965 India-Pakistan War and declared a security threat, primarily because of his Hindu faith.

At the onset of the Bangladesh Liberation War, Dutta was arrested at his Comilla (now Cumilla) house on 29 March 1971, and taken to Moynamoti Cantonment and tortured to death.His remains were never found.

In contrast, the Indian Union Muslim League (Kerala), that never disowned its All India Muslim League lineage, survived in pluralist and accommodative India. The Indian members of the League formed the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) at Madras in 1948 and M. Muhammad Ismail was elected as its first President. He served as a member in the Constituent Assembly, Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha. The Tamil Nadu Government even renamed Nagapattinam district as Nagai Quaid-e-Millat District in his honour.

The IUML (Kerala) belongs to the elite club of the political parties in India that have always been represented in the Parliament. The party was ushered into the corridors of power by the Seven Party Alliance led by CPI-M in 1967 in Kerala. C.H. Muhammad Koya, an IUML stalwart, served as the Chief Minister of Kerala in 1979.

Apart from Kerala the League had Legislative Assembly members in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Pondicherry, Maharastra, Karanataka, Uttar Pradesh, and Assam. In West Bengal, the League had won Assembly seats in the 1970s, and A. K. A. Hassanussaman was a member of the Ajoy Mukherjee cabinet.

The party switched fronts in Kerala since 1969 and forged an alliance with the Congress in 1976. It later became a chief constituent of Indian National Congress-led ministries in Kerala. C.H. Mohammed Koya and K. Avukaderkutty Naha served as Deputy Chief Ministers of Kerala in the 1980s. E. Ahamed, an IUML leader, served as Minister of State for External Affairs in the UPA government (2004–14).

The annals of the Pakistan National Congress and IUML (Kerala) expose two mindsets– first a theocratic and totalitarian one where minorities are purged out; second a liberal and constitutional one where minorities are duly accommodated.

The challenge before India today is to keep alive the idea of accommodative India where any citizen can dream of becoming the Prime Minister, and not to make India another Pakistan where minorities are banished. Let’s not erase the line that divides two worlds.

(Views expressed are personal)

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