COMMENT : Nawaz Sharif, India-Pakistan peace and Mahatma Gandhi — Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed
In his immediate statement when the news came about Gandhiji’s assassination, Jinnah had described him as “the greatest man produced by the Hindu community”
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s stand on peace and friendship between India and Pakistan has always impressed me. During his second stint as prime minister he met his Indian counterpart, Inder Kumar Gujral, at Male in May 1997, and both agreed to work for peace. Later, he and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee signed the Lahore Accord of February 21, 1999. What happened subsequently, we all know.
However, the Pakistan military has not always been opposed to peace. Field Marshal Ayub Khan proposed a joint defence pact to India in 1959, and General Pervez Musharraf, after the Kargil debacle he was responsible for, showed courage and foresight to become a man of peace. He and Prime Minister Vajpayee were fully prepared to sign the Agra Agreement in July 2001 when someone in the Indian establishment sabotaged it. It would have effectively closed the Kashmir dispute on a win-win basis for all the parties involved.
On August 13, 2011, Mr Sharif told a gathering of Indian and Pakistani journalists attending the SAFMA Conference that the people of India and Pakistan were the same in all essential senses. He interpreted Allah as the God of all human beings and not just Muslims. It was the statement of a statesman. Let me say that even the PPP and Imran Khan understand that the path of confrontation with India is a barren and self-destructive one. The intellectual and moral climate to seek peace with India is conducive currently in Pakistan and the prime minister’s business acumen should only help to go forward on this.
With this background in mind, I would like to draw the attention of Mr Sharif to the greatest champion of India-Pakistan peace, Mahatma Gandhi. He was assassinated on January 30, 1948 by Nathu Ram Godse, an RSS product, who hated Gandhiji for insisting that Muslims who had remained in India should have equal rights along with Hindus and other communities and undertaking a fast-unto-death to compel the Indian government to pay Pakistan its due share of Rs 550 million from the common colonial kitty inherited by the two states. Nathu Ram and his brother Gopal Godse’s statements on why they carried out that crime are easily accessible on the Internet.
It is time to bring before the public the references on the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in the Pakistan parliament and provincial assemblies. In Avtar Singh Bhasin’s India-Pakistan Relations 1947-2007: A Documentary Study (New Delhi: Geetika Publishers, 2012), the verbatim transcript of the references is recorded in Volume I (pages 89-94).
The East Bengal Premier Khwaja Nazimuddin remarked: “Gandhiji led the freedom movement in the pre-partition India and during 1922, Muslims and Hindus worked together for Indian independence. After partition, Gandhiji recognised that partition was an established fact and he impressed on all Indians that in the interest of both Pakistan and India, it was necessary that the two Dominions should work together in harmony and cooperation. It is most unfortunate that at the time he was trying his best to protect the minorities in India, he should have fallen a victim to the bullet of an assassin. I feel his death is not simply a loss to India; it is a loss to Pakistan too.”
Sindh Premier MA Khuhro said, “Gandhiji was undoubtedly one of the greatest men that the world produced and one of the greatest leaders of our times...But really speaking his work which was far more important began from August 15...many innocent people (Muslims), men, women and children were massacred and property looted. At that time this man rose to the occasion and he struggled very hard to see that innocent and helpless minorities are protected. He fasted at Calcutta and at Delhi to save the lives of those minorities. I must say that the minorities, particularly Muslims in the Indian Dominion, were very grateful to him and they owed a great deal to his work from August 15 till the day he breathed his last.”
The Punjab Premier Mian Mumtaz Daultana observed: “We believe he was killed when he was fighting for a noble cause viz the establishment of communal harmony and peace between the peoples of Hindustan and Pakistan...Our hearts are full of grief and sorrow at the loss of this great man who by his noble and spiritual greatness enriched the culture of this world. I hope by his death the two peoples of Hindustan and Pakistan will have mutual friendship, concord and goodwill.”
In the reference in the national parliament, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan said, “It is with deep sense of sorrow that I rise to make a reference to the tragic death of Gandhiji. He was one of the greatest men of our times...” Other members also spoke on that occasion. Governor-General Mohammad Ali Jinnah wound up the homages paid to Mahatma Gandhi in parliament in the following words: “I have heard the deep expression of sorrow and grief and I associate myself with the tributes that have been paid to this great man and his greatness. He died in the discharge of duty in which he was engaged. He was a man of principles and when he believed that it was his duty he took it up and performed it.” In his immediate statement when the news came about Gandhiji’s assassination, Jinnah had described him as “the greatest man produced by the Hindu community” but in the reference in parliament he graciously eschewed any reference to the Hindu community.
Mahatma Gandhi paid with his life for ideals he had always cherished most: Hindu-Muslim unity, and after the partition, India-Pakistan peace and friendship. His dream was a shambles after the partition holocaust, but he did not abandon it. The Pakistani leaders were fully aware of that truth and paid homage to Gandhiji with befitting eloquence and grace; politics had to wait for another day.
The writer is a PhD (Stockholm University); Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University; and Honorary Senior Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. Latest publications: Pakistan: The Garrison State, Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947-2011), Karachi: Oxford Unversity Press, 2013; The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed: Unravelling the 1947 Tragedy through Secret British Reports and First-Person Accounts (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2012; New Delhi: Rupa Books, 2011). He can be reached at email@example.com