Pakistan’s Favorite Indians

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.

Then I came across an old Russian fable about two poor peasants, Ivan and Boris. The only difference between them was that Boris had a goat and Ivan didn’t. One day, Ivan came upon a strange-looking lamp and, when he rubbed it, a genie appeared. She told him that she could grant him just one wish, and it could be anything in the world.

Ivan said, “I want Boris’ goat to die.”

It was then that I gave up hope although I saw no reason to stop wishing India success.

A lot of other things became clearer too – that after all is the power of fables – like Pakistan’s favorite Indians, for example.

Arundhati Roy is at the top of list, not because she is the author of A God of Small Things, which probably no more than half a dozen Pakistanis have read (alright, alright, double the number), but because she gives India hell. Arundhati ought to be India’s favorite Indian too, if you ask me, because she is amongst the few saying the things that need to be said. But despite all the progress India is making, the ability to listen to the truth remains severely limited. And Arundhati seems disinclined to communicate her message in a manner that would help it get across – she seems too enamored of hearing the thunder in her own voice.

Shabana Azmi is next on the list, not because she is probably the finest actress in South Asia (many more Pakistanis have been spellbound by her performances), but because she complained about not being able to rent an apartment in Mumbai. Which proves, doesn’t it, that all the talk about progress in India is just hype and India is in fact quite as bad and bigoted as Pakistan?

And, finally, Jaswant Singh has joined the ranks, not because he outsmarted the Pakistanis when he was in charge of Foreign Affairs, but because he has finally admitted what Indians knew all along but had been obdurately denying all these years – that Jinnah was a much greater leader than Nehru.

Once you have absorbed the fable of Boris and Ivan, the list of Pakistan’s favorite Indians makes perfect sense. Note that Manmohan Singh is not on the list. It is not that Pakistanis don’t know who Manmohan Singh is – they do very well – but Manmohan Singh is remembered in quite another way that illustrates the flip side of the fable of Boris and Ivan.

India is succeeding because of Manmohan Singh. And who gave Manmohan Singh to India? We did, we gave the smartest man in South Asia to India. And what did they give us in return? A fanatic like Zia ul Haq and a dimwit like Musharraf, both of whom suffered from the illusion they had been sent by God Almighty to do Her bidding. Evil Indians!

If India succeeds it would all be due to the munificence of Pakistan. Do you really believe they could have done it on their own?

Pakistan Paindabad.

I would like to thank Sohan Singh for the inspiration for this post.


  • Vinod
    Posted at 03:30h, 11 October Reply

    I must admit – it took me some thinking to get the exact point of this post. Even then, I’m not sure if I did. Correct me if I’m wrong –

    It is a satire on the Pakistani outlook of India that tends to pick favourite Indian personalities based on how much it kills “India’s goat”.

    Did I get it right?

  • Anil Kala
    Posted at 06:29h, 11 October Reply

    Bang on the dot I guess.

    But you would think Ivan was being stupid by not asking for two goats for himself. If he did, he would have ended up with none while Boris smiling with three goats. In real world Boris would have either stolen or bullied Ivan to hand over his goats.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 15:41h, 11 October

      Vinod: Going by Ibn-e Eusuf’s track record I would also assume the same.

      Anil: You have a point but therein lies the entire moral of the fable (and the applicability to India and Pakistan that, I presume, Ibn-e Eusuf intended). When one thinks negatively the world becomes very small and limited. Recall that the genie told Ivan she could grant him just one wish but it could be anything in the world. If Ivan had been positive but concerned about the possibility you raised he could have asked for two goats that Boris could not steal. Had he been positive and visionary he would have asked for mutual prosperity and good relations.

      We are limited only by our thinking. In school, we were told there were three types of minds – mud mind, clear mind, and sparkling mind – and the choice of which one to inhabit was ours.

    • Anil Kala
      Posted at 06:13h, 12 October

      I suppose our natural instincts are driven by two objectives viz. self preservation and acquiring partner/s for mating. Running down an adversary may seem irrational but works fine for acquiring a mate. But this is at individual level. How it translates into a collective trait, beats me!

  • Vikram
    Posted at 14:05h, 11 October Reply

    I dont know if a lot of work has been done on the topic of collective jealousy. On an individual level, jealousy often leads to a celebration of the ‘flaws’ of the object of jealousy. I guess that is just natural human behaviour. One can also not discount the general Indian (and South Asian) tendency to put others down.

    • Vikram
      Posted at 21:55h, 11 October

      I guess I completely failed to understand this post.

  • Anil Kala
    Posted at 14:11h, 11 October Reply

    ” A fanatic like Zia ul Haq and a dimwit like Musharraf, both of whom suffered from the illusion they had been sent by God Almighty to do *Her* bidding.”

    I always had problem giving shape to God, settled for a sphere. It looked same from everywhere. Thanks Ibn-e-Eusuf for presenting a ‘She’ God. I am told that basic form is female i.e. we are all born female until ‘Y’ control gene triggers transformation into a male. Some times it fires partially but on extremely rare occasions it fails to fire completely then we have a XY female. ‘XX’ can never be male. God has to be a female.

  • Vijay
    Posted at 13:43h, 12 October Reply

    The post has a very thoughtful title and I immediately assumed it would make for a stimulating read. Ibn looses his way at some point in the middle. To imply that manmohan Singh is the architect of India’s modest economic achievements betrays a lack of knowledge of India’s political functioning. The country is a perfect, functioning kakistocracy.

    Perhaps we could have a post on India’s favourite Pakistanis? I know Imran Khan would top that list.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 17:36h, 12 October

      Vijay: I didn’t read the post the same way. I doubt Ibn’s intention was to provide a scholarly analysis of India’s economic achievements or its political functioning. He seems more to try to capture a general sentiment in which one side will not even let the other take credit for its success. It will try and appropriate it by some specious argument.

      What is a kakistocracy?

      I think the Pakistan-India relationship is quite asymmetrical. I doubt too many Indians would think of listing favorite Pakistanis.

  • Vijay
    Posted at 18:16h, 12 October Reply

    Kakistocracy is a wonderful term. It means government by the least qualified and most corrupt.

  • Vikram
    Posted at 15:11h, 22 August Reply

    Wonder what Ibn-E-Yusuf thinks of Manmohan Singh now. 🙂

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 17:01h, 23 August

      Vikram: I can’t speak for Ibn-e Eusuf but I think plausible answers to your question are possible. First, it is possible for a person to be a very good technocrat and a quite ordinary politician. Congress might have made a mistake in elevating Manmohan Singh to the PM’ship because the people had not elected him for that job. Second, it is possible for a very competent person to lose competency over time; people can become slow or senile. Third, even a major failure cannot take away credit from a singular accomplishment of the past.

      I suppose some of this must be going though MS Dhoni’s mind now!

    • Vikram
      Posted at 21:58h, 23 August

      I actually think that elevating MMS to PM was a smart move. It accomplished two things, it won the Congress middle class support and it elevated Sonia Gandhi’s stature. I think the Congress has just lost it, a resounding victory lead to arrogance which lead to incompetence. Also, the alliances with the DMK and NCP (both of which are highly corrupt by Indian standards) was useful in the short term but has created problems in the long term.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 23:03h, 23 August

      Vikram: At that time most people shared that opinion. I suppose, the insiders should have had a better assessment of the political capabilities of MMS. Or perhaps, that was the best option available at that time despite the political limitations. It is hard for outsiders to know for sure. Could a transition have been made at the beginning of the second term? The problem seems to be that Congress doesn’t have a credible and consensus replacement except Rahul who does not inspire much confidence.

      I keep thinking that the underlying governance framework is that of a monarchy. Rahul is the heir apparent and because he is not ready, a Regent is acting in his stead. Do you think that if Rahul fails, Priyanka would be drafted in, just as her father was?

    • Vikram
      Posted at 01:09h, 24 August

      I think PG will come in at some point, but I am not quite sure how. A lot of things RG and SG have tried to do have actually been alright, reviving the youth congress, inner party elections. I still think there is enough talent in their top ranks. And I think they will probably give AK Antony a shot as PM before RG.

  • Ashraf Tayyabi
    Posted at 13:36h, 20 December Reply

    The post seems to be reflective of the most common discord that Pakistan has, ever since its creation. The Mohajir vs the non-mohajirs discord. Ibn-e-Eusef is simply complaining about India sending Pakistan some inept leaders who were Mohajirs and his home country parting with the smartest man (as he calls Dr. Manmohan).

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 17:39h, 20 December

      Ashraf: In my opinion, you missed the point of the article by reading it too literally. Ibn-e Eusuf is not complaining at all; he is describing a streak in the Pakistani mindset that attributes all of Pakistan’s problems to India and all of India’s success to Pakistan. That is an exaggeration, no doubt, but one intended to make a point about a tendency the author believes exists in Pakistan.

  • MM
    Posted at 15:08h, 01 December Reply

    In recent times I have been following Pakistani’s on the net. It really pains me. Admittedly many Indians are rabid anti-Pakistan too. However we seem to have a lot more things going on in our hearts than religion based ideologies or aspirations. Most would wish Pakistan was never created but, few wish Pakistan got wiped out. Arundhati Roy is brilliant but she can’t take us far. Our sympathies are with Shabana for that experience but most Muslims here have to completely blend. And that means looking at the mirror too. We all felt Nehru had his failings but so did Jinnah. Just for too long are Pakistanis trying to validate the creation of their country and that too by finding faults with us. No nation is a collection of pure souls. People have to evolve as a civilisation. That involves writing off a lot many of angst & grudges. Why perpetuate the cold war concept?

  • Indian
    Posted at 08:34h, 08 December Reply


  • Vikram
    Posted at 15:54h, 19 July Reply

    SA, I have thought a lot about the term ‘kakistocracy’ that one of the readers used to describe India and its politics.

    The explanation never really sat well with me, it just seemed too convenient, from an urban, English-medium Indian perspective. It tends to fall into the category of explanations that accord importance to people’s inherent natures or purported intellectual capabilities.

    Such explanations are very urban focused, both in what they really seek to explain (why are Indian cities so dysfunctional), and their reasoning (focus on urban elites and their habits etc).

    I think the recent protests by Jats, Gurjars and other peasant castes give us important clues to what actually makes Indian politics tick. In fact, I feel India can be much better described as a ‘peasantocracy’ a country ruled by its dominant agrarian groups, and perhaps is the first society in modern human history to experience this for a longish period of time (close to 40 years now).

    I think we need to pay critical attention to India’s labor force, and understand that land has been the chief source of wealth even after independence. Half of the workforce is engaged in agriculture, and 70% of the population lives in villages even today.

    The structure of land ownership and control over inputs like water is such that a quarter of the agrarian workforce (consisting mainly of groups like Jats, Yadavs, Gurjars, Patels, Marathas, Kapus and Vanniyars, who are widely dispersed but also closely knit by caste ties) controls most of the land and access to water, and the bulk of remaining agrarian workforce (consisting mainly of Dalits and OBCs, who are effectively landless, or whose holdings are too small or poorly serviced) and are compelled to work for and vote for the dominant caste land owners.

    Needless to say these groups control state governments, and the overall priorities. Consider the sops given to farmers in India, no income tax, free power, free water, subsidized fertilizers, cheap insurance and fixed minimum support prices. Big farmers control the state and corner all these benefits,

    “So measures to help the 833 million people who live in villages in India also benefit landowners like Singh. He can buy fertilizer at reduced rates, a subsidy that costs the government about $10 billion a year nationally, more than it spends on healthcare or higher education. Farmers also get cheaper electricity than factories or homes. Some states, like Punjab and Tamil Nadu, offer power virtually for free.”

    But this dominance is starting to erode as India urbanizes and industrializes. Also, the upper caste groups, whose rural dominance ended after independence and widespread land reforms, have established themselves firmly in the urban and even global economy. Dominant caste efforts to replicate their rural status in cities are not bearing fruit. So the reservation push is an effort to convert their political dominance into some kind of urban, and non-agrarian foothold.

    “The community probably owns three-fourths of agricultural land in Haryana, with the Jat being synonymous with the ‘zamindar’ just as much as the Bania with the trader. Given this, why do zamindars actually want the reservation? …
    The average size of holdings for all operational classes (small & marginal, medium and large) have declined over the years and for all classes put together it has come down to 1.16 hectare in 2010-11 from 2.82 hectare in 1970-71.”

    In this explanation, religion appears a peripheral issue. And it should be, since the economic and political interests of urban, upper caste Hindus and Muslims align very strongly, and so do those of Hindu and Muslim agrarian laborers. But there are two factors that make upper caste Hindus insert religion into the mix:

    1) India’s rural population is overwhelmingly Hindu, whereas the urban areas have about 20-40% Muslim population, and the perceptions of urban Hindus are shaped by this world.
    2) The use of religion, ‘Hinduism under threat’, gives them the means to circumvent dominant caste politicians, and appeal directly to OBCs and Dalits.

    The question now is will India go from ‘peasantocracy’ to a true democracy where ‘swaraj’ prevails in its full spirit, or will it continue to be a game of numbers.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 18:01h, 23 July

      Vikram: I looked back at the term ‘kakistocracy’ and its author has employed it to mean ‘government by the least competent and most corrupt.’ This has no social, class, or geographic limitations so one can’t object it to from that perspective. The only argument can be whether it is a reasonably accurate characterization or not.

      ‘X-ocracy'(with X being different prefixes) is an attempt to refer to the class that rules. In that sense I don’t think any country has ever been a ‘peasantocracy’ and I doubt India can be characterized as such. Every country has at some point been predominantly rural and agricultural which does not mean that peasants or even agrarian classes have been ruling. However, the peasantry has been very important because of its numbers (think of the French Revolution driven by peasant disaffection but led by urban elites) but rarely become a decisive political force (for the reasons that Marx articulated).

      In India, the political dominance of rural and marginalized groups has increased over the years because of the mobilization of the vote which is a good thing but national leadership still remains urban and much more responsive to industrial/business interests than to agrarian ones. However, because of the still large rural vote concessions have to be made to rural interests but only to the extent that would deliver the vote. The agrarian groups are not in the driving seat making minimal concessions to urban/business sectors which would be the case if India were a peasantocracy.

      Religion/caste still remain very important because that provides a very effective way for the urban/industrial ruling groups to divide the unity of the rural vote and even the urban vote in a number of cases. It is not as if the urban ruling class reflects the interests of all urban residents – just look at the treatment of migrants in Mumbai.

      India will continue to be a game of numbers for a very long time and urbanization will only make it more complex as the ruling groups are faced with a challenge to their privileges which is an inevitable consequence of an increase in democracy, i.e., rule by the majority.

  • Vikram
    Posted at 07:54h, 25 July Reply

    Regarding the claim that is is the urban/industrial group that dominates policy making and priorities. I see scant evidence for this.

    Lets see where things stand on key parameters which the urban/industrial groups would demand:

    1) Tax rates: India’s corporate tax rates are on the higher side, compared to the world average.
    2) Labor laws: Among the most stringent in the world.
    3) Infrastructure: Mostly appalling. Transportation network is slow and poorly maintained. Power situation is difficult, tariffs are high.
    4) Land acquisition: Again very stringent.

    Indeed, most industrial activity considerable activity occurs outside these constraints, but that imposes extra costs on the industrial groups, not to mention it leaves these groups extremely vulnerable to state officials (this manifests itself as demands for bribes, favors etc)

    In view of these realities, I dont see how one can say that urban industrial groups dominate policy making in India. For an external observer, they may seem vocal because of their urban location and articulate communication in English, but few of their demands seem to be met.

    The main influence these groups can have is via financing of political parties. This has become more significant in recent years as the population urbanizes, and we are begin to see some movement towards better infrastructure and more rational labor laws.

    However, I will claim that with 52 % of the labor force still in agriculture, and only 13% in industry, the impact of the industrial urban groups on the electorate is minimal.

    I will say that a true widespread urban/industrial interest group in India is yet to emerge. Currently, the interest groups remain the military and the bureaucracy (as is true in all post-colonial countries), and the rich farmer class (due to years of rural based democracy).

    • Vikram
      Posted at 06:33h, 26 July

      Lest people’s thinking about urban industrial groups remain restricted to mega billionaires like Tata and Ambani, I wanted to give some more common examples of the life of the bulk of industry owners in India. All of the following are personal acquaintances over many years,

      1) Kolkata: High quality steel maker, mainly for export. Used in manhole covers throughout the US.

      The owner needed to pay ‘hafta’ to CPI-M cadre every month to be able to keep running. The hafta increased greatly when the TMC came into power. No local Bengalis would agree to work for him, so his workforce was almost entirely from Bihar and Bangladesh.

      2) Chandigarh: Owners of a marble making business.

      Om Prakash Chautala (former CM of Haryana, currently in jail) appeared at their niece’s wedding with his men and extorted 50 lakh rupees from them, or he wouldnt let the wedding proceed.

      3) Delhi: Maker of steel parts for Indian railways.

      Need to generate their own power.

      4) Mumbai: Chemical making factory owner.

      Harassed throughout the 90s by callers demanding upto a crore rupees as extortion. Finally gave up the business and put the factory on lease. Left Mumbai.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 01:57h, 07 August

      Vikram: You make valid points but the fact is that the composition of the labor force has virtually no impact on policy. Think back to Nehru’s time when perhaps 75% of the labor force was in agriculture. Were the policies made at that time favorable to the rural areas? Take only one area – education. Were there land grant colleges set up for rural populations or IITs and IIMs for urban populations? Were schools in rural areas better endowed than schools in urban areas?

    • Vikram
      Posted at 11:37h, 11 August

      SA, during Nehru’s tenure far more money was spent on building dams and irrigation networks (especially in North West India) than on IITs or IIMs.

      Even today, the government of India spends 10 billion dollars a year on fertilizer subsidies. This is equivalent to the cost of the entire Delhi metro rail network.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 16:45h, 15 August

      Vikram: A locational hypothesis would be too simple – urban lobbies spend money in urban areas; rural lobbies spend money in rural areas; more money gets spent in rural areas, therefore rural lobbies are stronger.

      It is quite possible that urban lobbies would want to spend money in rural areas for the benefit of urban residents. Money is spent on dams in rural areas to generate electricity. Who gets better electricity service, urban or rural areas? Vast amounts of money are are also spent in rural areas for agriculture. Who is better fed, urban or rural residents? Without cheap food urban residents would riot while the rural poor just starve quietly. Billions of dollars are spent on fertilizer subsidies. Who benefits more, rural farmers, rural middlemen, urban agribusiness, or urban fertilizer producers?

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