We, the Delusional Liberals

It was published as BAAGHI in Daily Times on Monday, July 25, 2011. I wrote this in response to an article by Mr. Shashi Tharoor, India’s member of Parliament and former Minister of State for External Affairs that appeared in Delhi Chronicle on July 21, 2011 and Mr. Aatish Taseer’s article that appeared in Wall Street Journal on July 16, 2011

Shashi Tharoor

A place where you can understand the dynamics of international relations and make judgements about an entire nation just by going through Twitter ‘timelines’ of some columnists: welcome to Indo-Pak subcontinent!

In a simplistically written article in The Asian Age (and Deccan Chronicle) on July 21, Shashi Tharoor — one of the most refined and brilliant politicians of India — baffled many Pakistanis. He was reacting to the comments a few of us sent via Twitter on a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article, which declared that Salmaan Taseer, the late Governor of Punjab, hated India. The article started with this poorly reasoned point and developed into a powerfully worded argument covering various ailments Pakistan’s establishment has been inflicting on this fateful country since its birth. One would not disagree with the main argument of the article, as it appeared to reproduce what this scribe and so many fellow columnists in Pakistan have been writing for so long. But not everything in that article was agreeable.

Without undermining Indian pride and doubting its strong credentials of democracy and freedom of thought, it is possible to disagree with an Indian writer, one supposes. My disagreement with the WSJ article was at a factual level. Replying to Mr Tharoor’s question about why I “attacked” his favourite author, I asserted my strong agreement with the central argument of the said article. Not only that my agreement could get no attention from Mr Tharoor but my disagreement was painted as my complacency and bid to smokescreen the mistakes on the part of the state of Pakistan.

My disagreement with the WSJ article stood on two deeply flawed arguments of the author. One: that Salmaan Taseer hated India; and two: the idea of Pakistan was given by Sir Mohammad Iqbal. I have written so many times in the past addressing distortions of history by Pakistan and sometimes India too. The ‘delusional liberals’, as we are labelled by a “headline writer” as per Mr Tharoor, do not agree or disagree with an idea based on who said it, but emphasis almost always is put on what is being said and to what degree it compromises on facts.

The proclamation that Taseer hated India is one of the biggest crimes against the truth. Based on many discussions with the late governor, I can say it with full responsibility that the claim is wrong and must be based on some personal considerations, certainly not factual. Many close friends of late Taseer would bear me out on this. This very paper, owned by him, was inaugurated among many Indian guests, including Arundhati Roy. Taseer’s speech on this occasion would still be fresh in the memories of many, in which he not only emphasised the importance of peace between the two neighbours but also made his famous statement about Siachen. He said something to the effect that we cannot afford to keep fighting for a piece of land covered with snow. I am also aware of his tweets, most of which he would write in sheer jest and would enjoy the reaction on them afterwards. His taunts and wittiness was not limited to India; it equally irritated his political rivals at home as well.

Secondly, the downright faulty perception that Iqbal or even Syed Ahmad Khan gave the idea of Pakistan needs to be contested. To see the evidence, one could study the works by Pakistan’s revered historian K K Aziz who wrote Murder of History, an epic work to correct the way history has been distorted to fit poorly envisioned, shortsighted momentary agendas. His work became the inspiration for Professor Krishna Kumar, who wrote Prejudice and Pride: School Histories of the Freedom Struggle in India and Pakistan, the pioneering comparative study of textbooks, in 2001 and one which covers many issues including a mention to this too.

K K Aziz has also written about the evolution of the idea of Pakistan in his five volumes work, History of the Idea of Pakistan. He, strongly evidenced and duly referenced, has comprehensively dealt with the subject, parts of which can be corroborated by India’s respected historian, Bimal Prasad in his landmark three volumes work Pathway to India’s Partition. At around 64 instances in history before even Syed Ahmad Khan, different people — including Britons — had given the idea of partition in one way or the other. In fact, Iqbal in his letter that appeared in The Times on October 12, 1931, page 8 (now available on the internet), clearly dispels the impression that he had, in his famous Allahabad address, demanded or even spoken of any idea that resembles the establishment of a new state. So powerful is the force of distorted historical texts that even Indians, living in a freer and more democratic environ, appear to have been losing their vision of history.

Coming back to Mr Tharoor, his preconceived notion seems to be that whenever a Pakistani would opine about a foreign — specifically Indian — writer on his Pakistan-specific writing, it is going to be negative. It is going to be an ‘attack’ however slightly a disagreement is made on factual information. It might be true elsewhere, but we in Pakistan keep raising uncomfortable issues with the state, and that too quite frequently. Sometimes by even putting our lives in danger.

Tharoor sahib may also like to know more about the diversity of Pakistani ‘liberals’ before passing judgements, just as we would like to know more about how Mr Tharoor defines ‘liberalism’ and if our liberalism determines the degree to which we should hate our country, it is essentially one certificate that I would not like to get from him. Similarly, for making my voice heard by the masses, I do not need to get a certificate of patriotism from the state of Pakistan.

The difference between him and I may be (in addition to his intellectual superiority) that in order to love my country, I do not feel the need to hate India, which still carries the roots of so many Pakistanis. Just like an Indian liberal is an Indian first, a Pakistani liberal is a Pakistani first. Whenever the conscience has demanded to choose, Pakistani liberals have made the right choice — truth vis-à-vis blind complacency. The reason why we are so critical about our own state is precisely this: we love Pakistan. Please take it as it is.