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By Ibn-e Eusuf I still wish India success but now without much hope. The point of the story is different from what the sentence seems to convey; and thereby hangs a tale. Let me explain. When I was young I desperately wanted India to succeed. Looking at Pakistan, I could see it was a basket case, the quality of its leadership decaying at such a dizzying pace that the prospects of internally driven progress were non-existent. The only hope was in a miracle or in a dramatic breakthrough in India. The latter development would make Pakistan’s citizens see the light and make them demand change from its leaders who kept feeding the myth that Pakistan was doing better than India. Or so I thought, and so I prayed for India’s success.
Most of the time we imagine history – we carry in our mind a vision of the past that we believe to be true. Given that very few of us are actually studying history these days, or reading it for pleasure for that matter, there is little that can bridge the gap between the vision and the reality. Sometimes the gap can be very wide indeed. How can we test the truthfulness of our vision without investigating it ourselves? I am proceeding on the basis that it is futile to suggest people read alternative accounts of history and weigh their respective claims to objectivity and truth. Rather, I am going to propose something simpler that is more within the grasp of the overwhelmed citizen of the modern age. I am going to suggest a recourse to lived history that requires nothing more than looking around oneself and noting the patterns and rhythms of ordinary life.
The past is political, which makes interpreting it very tricky. In this post we try and illustrate some of the pitfalls involved in thinking about the past. One common tendency is to look at the past from a position that is anchored in the present. If the anchor is political it nearly always leads to finding an interpretation of the past that helps to justify or strengthen the stance in the present. In The Idea of India, Sunil Khilnani puts it very plainly: “In India, as elsewhere, present politics are shaped by conceptions of the past. Broadly, there have been two different descriptions of Indian history…” We need not be concerned here with the details of the two descriptions. We only need to note that more than one interpretation of the same facts is possible and that the choice depends upon which political position in the present is being supported.

Some recent comments have made me reflect on this question. I am intrigued by the notion that someone can think of India as belonging to its religious majority. I am going to argue that such thinking is arbitrary, inconsistent, anachronistic, and schizophrenic. It is also...

I am grateful to reader Ganpat Ram for suggesting a new line of thought with the following comment on Emperor Akbar: Every Muslim ruler with rare exceptions showed great concern to contain and push back Hinduism. Even the relatively broad-minded Akbar destroyed Hindu temples. My response to Ganpat Ram was that this was one opinion in the spectrum of opinions and I recalled an article (East and West: The Reach of Reason) by Professor Amartya Sen published in the year 2000 in which a contrary opinion had been expressed.

By Anjum Altaf We have short memories. Terror did not arrive in America in 2001 when Mohamed Atta flew a plane into the World Trade Center. It did not arrive even in 1993, when Ramzi Yousef planned to blow up that very same bastion of American power. It...

Well, there has been an election in Afghanistan and (surprise, surprise) tensions have risen about large-scale fraud. We have just been through an exercise in Iran whose repercussions are still being visited on the dissidents locked up in jails. And last year there was an election in Kenya in which thousands of people were made homeless in inter-tribal warfare. Kenya? Really? Yes, and already forgotten. Time to move on to the next election. What’s going on folks? Is there really no need to figure out what happened in Kenya? What happened in Iran? No need to pay heed to the mud flying in Pakistan where tattletales are spilling the beans that virtually every election has been fixed (as if people did not know already)? Not only that; political parties have been manufactured and thieves bought and paid off to populate them. Should any of this cause someone to think that something might not be quite right in the Cuckooland of governance?

I am posting this tribute to Aditya Behl here for a reason. His work epitomizes the kind of passion and painstaking effort that are needed to understand the nature of past relations amongst the various communities inhabiting South Asia today. I heard him read a paper...

Jaswant Singh's book provides the excuse for this post. We are going to move away from narratives that seek a villain in the story. Rather, we will present a sequence of events that increasingly predisposed the outcome towards a division of the subcontinent. Along the...