This week I happily yield space to a thinker from Pakistan. He has analysed recent events in a refreshing way, reminding us that behind the terrorist minority that has hijacked Pakistan, there is a sober majority that dreams of progress and the warmth of the human spirit.
Tahir Mehdi works with Punjab Lok Sujag, a research and advocacy group focusing on governance and democracy. He is a blogger who appears in Dawn, Jinnah's newspaper. The newness of his approach is visible in the very choice of theme for a recent blog: “North India and South Pakistan”, Uttar Pradesh and Sindh to be precise. He traces the bond between the two – and the disconnect.
“A huge number of Muslims from Uttar Pradesh migrated in 1947 to Sindh in Pakistan. People with Urdu as their mother tongue are 21 percent of the province's population now. Every fifth inhabitant of Sindh belongs to third or second generation of migrants from India at large and UP in particular... Every fifth inhabitant of the present-day UP is a Muslim”.
Noticing inter alia that UP is bigger than Pakistan in population, Tahir Mehdi turns to the recent elections in UP. “Muslim candidates were serious contenders. In fact 68 of them won and another 64 stood second in contests. Adil Sheikh defeated Speaker Sukhdev Rajbhar, former minister Nand Gopal Gupta was drubbed by first-timer Haji Parvez Ahmed and four-time BJP winner Inder Dev Singh lost to Mohammed Ghazi. No one cried foul, no allegations of rigging were hurled, no conspiracy theories of undermining Hindutva made rounds and above all no one saw the infamous 'foreign hand' behind the defeat of caste Hindus at the hand of 'pariah' Muslims”.
What we take for granted in India must be looking incredible from across the border. “Remember”, says Tahir Mehdi, “that UP is the state where the capital of Urdu culture, Lucknow, is located and so is the epicentre of Hindutva politics Ayodhya, and the hometown of secular Indian nationalism (read Congress), Rae Bareli, and the minority Muslim voters are swinging political fortunes there and tipping balances of political power. Such is the dynamics of elections and the power of democracy”.
How did the reverse process pan out? Tahir Mehdi writes: “A massive number of Hindus migrated from Sindh to India in 1947. But a few hundred thousand did not migrate. Non-Muslims in Sindh are around 9 percent of the total population or half the percentage of Muslims in UP. Have you heard of a non-Muslim contesting elections on a general seat and winning too? There was only one Hindu candidate in the national assembly elections of 2008 who polled votes in thousands. He lost.
“It is not that Hindus in Pakistan consider politics haram; political parties think that Hindu candidates are not halal enough for their pious voters. There were 26 Hindu independent candidates on national and provincial seats of Sindh, nine of them doctors and others mostly engineers and advocates. That is a fair indication that the Sindhi Hindu middle class has taken the first step toward playing its due role in politics. That none of them could actually poll even a hundred votes tells us that they have a long way to go. Will any party dare to give them a hand?”
It requires courage to raise such a question in a country where mad fanatics like Hafiz Saeed run riot and a minister was assassinated for criticising the grossly exploitative blasphemy laws. Tahir Mehdi's boldness in comparing the opportunities Indian Muslims enjoy, with Pakistani Hindus' lack of opportunities should be an eye-opener especially to the Muslim extremists and separatists in India. They play into the hands of a bunch of self-seeking bigots in Pakistan when ordinary Pakistanis are dreaming of the dynamics of elections and the power of democracy on display in India. Our politicians may be scum, but we, Muslims included, have a free and fair system– like no other people have in the subcontinent.