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Pakistan - India: Unlikely twins

Friday 17 January 2014, by siawi3

by Jawed Naqvi,

Source: Dawn, 31 December 2013

The way Indians assiduously imitate Pakistan, I get nightmares of Indian pilots blowing the conch shell in a religious ritual for the take-off. I have no idea who hijacked the plane’s loudhailers in Pakistan to offer recitation of religious verses on its commercial flights and why. Has that deterred air pockets and late arrivals?

India to me is growing in its fascination for the younger sibling for all the wrong reasons. Take my mother’s reaction when she returned to Lucknow in the 1960s from her sister’s home in Karachi. She brought back fabulous stories of imported cars and other assorted goodies that, as Gandhi’s spartan children, we were scrupulously trained to shun.

Everyone in Karachi kept a new bar of branded soap on their washbasins, we were told to intermittent gasps of disbelief. The surprise was rooted in the reality that Indians were mostly taught to use a single bar of soap till it was worn out and literally vanished in our palms.

Full-blooded consumerism thus came to India from Pakistan. The masked longing burst open with the free market policies unveiled by Manmohan Singh in 1991. As for the obsession with stock markets, feverishly promoted by the corporate media, they were frowned upon as sinful in India, a trick the rich played on the poor to keep them in perpetual penury.

The team of Raj Kapoor and Khwaja Ahmed Abbas told popular stories on celluloid to packed halls of how an essentially wholesome man could be destroyed by the lure of the satta bazaar as the bourse was pejoratively called. Iconic thespian Dilip Kumar played a frustrated journalist in Zia Sarhadi’s Footpath who finds himself singing Shaam-i-gham ki qasam, aaj ghamgee’n hai’n hum, the song number with its self-inflicted sadness. It was filmed on a muddled hero pondering over his murky world as a rich upstart but who stole his innocent brother’s money to conquer the bourse.

Few would believe that it was the Karachi Stock Exchange on Chundrigar Road that led the field among South Asia’s speculative money-spinners as early as 1949. Within a year of the 9/11 chaos sweeping Pakistan, the Karachi bourse held its own to be declared the ‘Best Performing Stock Market of the World for the year 2002’.

That a thriving bourse doesn’t necessarily translate into a growing, or even equitable, economy is a lesson carefully hidden from over 800 million Indian victims of the casino economy their country has become, not unlike the route taken decades ago by the younger twin next door.

India’s growing love of the army, a new love-hate tango with America, infusion of religio-nationalist motifs in cricket, and the arrival of Arvind Kejriwal as an anti-corruption Don Quixote in Imran Khan’s image represent more recent acquisitions imbibed for better or worse by the senior sibling. Let me touch on each very briefly.

Among the most televised responses to the Mumbai terror attack of November 2008 came from renowned TV analysts who called for the suspension of parliament and handing over the country to the army. As worrying as a pivotal role the new middle class is willing to give the army is the military’s increasing penchant for meddling with civilian decision-making.

There have been reports of Indian army officers keeping secret funds to topple civilian governments in Kashmir that cross their path. The senior twin is happy to learn from the cub sibling.

Does the ongoing anti-American uproar in the Indian media presage hardline nationalism that has become the staple of Pakistan’s love-hate relationship with the US? The denial of a visa to Narendra Modi has irked the Hindutva hardliners, and the row over a diplomat’s cheating of a housemaid has only widened the aperture to a lurking tendency that India possibly shares with its neighbour.

The Cold War saw a clearly divided domestic stance towards the US in India, but mainstream parties leading a chorus of protest against a newfound ally is new.

As for cricket, an advantage India had over Pakistan was that it could flaunt its multicultural, multi-religious reality on the cricket field. The rise of Chaudhry Abdul Jalil in Pakistan, the bearded cheerleader of his country’s cricket team, would have gone largely unnoticed. Yet, before you could figure out the symbolism of a cricket-obsessed pious Muslim, bearing undertones of Pakistan’s troublesome and troubled nationalist identity, there was an Indian, sure enough, to keep him company.

If Chaudhry Abdul Jalil didn’t mask his religious identity in a cricket stadium, the conch shell blowing Sudhir Kumar Gautam found no reason to hide his Hindu-ness. His clean-shaven head with a sacred ponytail worn usually by orthodox Brahmins, and a moustache he covers with the colour of the Indian flag, Gautam says he sees Sachin Tendulkar as Lord Ram and himself as his mythical foot soldier Hanuman.

A distinctly religious motif to cheer an Indian cricket team would have been dismissed as a gimmick in the Nehruvian era. But the unemployed youth from Bihar has been virtually advertised as a foil to Pakistan’s cheerleader. We seem to be heading back to the days of Hindu and Muslim Gymkhanas.

Finally, I don’t believe that supporters of Kejriwal are aware of the National Accountability Bureau of Pakistan, the country’s apex anti-corruption organisation. It is charged with the responsibility of elimination of corruption through a holistic approach of awareness, prevention and enforcement. But has it succeeded, or will it? While Kejriwal reflects on an answer, we remain suspended on a wing and a prayer with or without the blowing of conch shells.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.