No one is as capable of telling it like it is, as does Mamata Banerjee. The West Bengal chief minister, at a rally to oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act in Siliguri last week, asked if Narendra Modi was the Prime Minister of India or the Ambassador of Pakistan.
I guess he had that coming. For no Indian Prime Minister has spoken of or promoted Pakistan as much as Modi has. For example, he broke all barriers in accusing former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh – who was born in Pakistani territory but never showed any affinity to the country of conspiring with that country to defeat him in the Gujarat elections of 2017.
But, worse, every time anyone is critical about his government’s policies, they are asked to go to Pakistan - why should an Indian Prime Minister wish to deport his own citizens to Pakistan?
Last week, however, Modi cribbed about the Congress, which despite all its follies and seeming inabilities, has caught the Modi government by its jugular. So, Modi questioned why the party was only talking about the oppressed minorities of India and not of the minorities in Pakistan.
Well, for two reasons, I might say. Firstly, the Congress is an Indian party and does not belong to Pakistan. So why should it be concerned about any internal issue of Pakistan, except when Pakistani actions interfere with Indian interests and their treatment of their minorities really does not. We already know how to deal with those minorities if they run away to India. And that is with a good deal of compassion for all of them from all religions.
Second, I have my personal opinion, shared by many of my friends, on the minorities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, most of who had huge landed properties in these countries and they did not want to give them up to migrate to India during Partition.
I recall my father's East Bengali friend who returned to Bangladesh to visit his grandparents, who had stayed behind for similar reasons. In East Pakistan, they continued to be zamindars while in India they would have been refugees.
They did not really come to much harm even during the Mukti Bahini movement and the war of liberation. But when my father’s friend visited the newly formed Bangladesh, and his intentions became clear, he got into some trouble with the locals.
A day before he was to return to Calcutta, all the traditional ancestral jewellery that had been left in the custody of his grandparents got stolen. Two days after his return, the jewellery came up in a bucket of water in the family's well. The grandmother took no action against the suspected thieves - the family retainers who had taken care of them for decades while her sons had run away to India and now their sons wanted to run away with her jewellery.
But among those Hindus in West Pakistan, I have never forgotten this story by a noted writer, who went visiting her uncle (mother’s brother) in Lahore when the two nations opened up their borders for travel and made some shocking discoveries.
This uncle was the youngest in a long line of brothers and sisters and always had his eye on the huge family property. When everyone hastened to India, he held back his mother and deliberately stayed back to be able to grab that property which would otherwise not have come to him in whole in the manner it did.
But soon he had to convert to Islam to stay safe and alive and had to marry a local Muslim woman to prevent the government from confiscating his land as enemy property. He had his devout Hindu mother converted as well. He had children but when his niece visited him, he just wouldn't let her go. “This is the first time I am meeting my own blood. How can you go so soon?” he asked her.
Shocked, when she pointed to his children as his flesh and blood, he dismissed them off hand as not really his but more his wife’s. On a subsequent visit when she brought a message from her mother to ask if the grandmother had been buried or cremated, he said, “How could I have done the Hindu funeral rites for her when we had converted to Islam? “
I got goose bumps when I read that and ever since, I have had no sympathy for the Hindus who stayed back in Pakistan for selfish material reasons when they could have taken the Indian government’s offer to settle them on appropriate land or shops and other businesses so that they could make a new beginning.
The same was not the case with Indian Muslims. Pakistan had declared itself an Islamic state. India was a secular republic making every effort to keep all its citizens equal. So, Indian Muslims had no fear of conversions or becoming second class citizens in India. Unlike the Hindus in Pakistan, even if they stayed back for their property, they knew they will not be persecuted over their religion – being part of an Islamic nation was less important to them than belonging to a free Indian society.
And because they made that conscious choice to belong to India, it is the bounden duty of the Indian government and every political party in the country, to make sure they do not regret that choice.
As for the persecuted Hindus of Pakistan – yes, many of them are being treated badly in the land they were born in, as are many other minorities. Quite a few have run away to India and we should indeed consider giving them asylum and citizenship.
But why should anyone bother about those contunuing to cling to Pakistan – don’t they continue to love their properties more than they do their freedom? That matter is entirely between them and the government of Pakistan.
So, Modi should stop talking so ceaselessly about a country which is not worthy of Indian attention. Despite having gained freedom from the British at the same time, Pakistan's GDP is much lower than India’s. It can manufacture neither a needle nor a motorcar, its democracy cannot function without military over rule, it continues to be highly feudal where we are democratic enough to have a chaiwala elected as our Prime Minister and only remnants of the Raj make that country worth visiting.
So, Modi is better off being Prime Minister of India than an Ambassador of Pakistan. He needs to take Mamata Banerjee seriously at least this once.