Politics / 19.02.2016

By Anjum Altaf The ongoing row at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) reminded me of the following statement by Vir Sanghvi: “the gap between Indians and Pakistanis has now widened to the extent that we are no longer the same people in any significant sense” (The same people? Surely not). I am not convinced of this claim and believe that the underlying social and attitudinal propensities in both countries (towards violence, religion, and nationalism, for example) remain fairly alike. It is only accidents of time and place that lead to seemingly differing outcomes in the emergent landscapes. I explored this argument earlier in a couple of posts (How Not to Write History and Pakistanization of India?) and the response to the recent events at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) strengthens my conviction further. Despite its very different political trajectory, India is repeating the patterns observed in Pakistan albeit with a...

Identity / 17.12.2015

By Anjum Altaf A rose is a rose is a rose – Gertrude Stein A rose by any other name would smell as sweet – William Shakespeare I know, I know, I know – which is why I didn’t have much of a problem when Aurangzeb Road in Delhi was remuslimed as Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Road. I couldn’t quite figure out what all the fuss was about. A road is a road is a road and people have the right to call it what they will. Some would continue to call it by its old name, some would use the new one, and most others would traverse it quite unaware of the name at all. In any case, life would go on without much care for passing passions. We don’t need to wander far to vouch for that: Bunder Road is still Bunder Road in Karachi and The...

Politics / 17.12.2015

India and Pakistan are engaged in a high-stakes game in which the outcomes (and non-outcomes) are significant for many of the players involved. The essential ABCs of this game are well known; the finer XYZs are less obvious and I aim to address some of them in this article. It might be useful to treat the high-stakes game as just that – a game – and employ some of the features of game theory to better understand the situation. For those unfamiliar with game theory, here is a very brief orientation. We regularly engage in transactions in which our actions are independent of the actions of others and have no measurable impact on them either. If you go to the market to buy a cup of coffee you are engaging in this sort of a familiar independent action. There are other situations in which the choice of your action...

History / 29.11.2015

By Anjum Altaf I was reading an interview about philosophy when I came across some tangential remarks I felt would be useful to reproduce on this blog in this time of rising fundamentalism in the Indian subcontinent. The interview is between 3:AM Magazine and the  philosopher Jonardon Ganeri (one of whose latest books is Identity as Reasoned Choice: A South Asian Perspective on the Reach and Resources of Public and Practical Reason in Shaping Individual Identities). The tangential remarks pertain to the evolution of intellectual history in India. The bottom line for JG emerging from his detailed research in the history of Indian philosophy is the following: “In India what Navadvīpa demonstrates is how wrong-headed are Hindu fundamentalist histories of Indian Islam.” This fundamentalist history is very familiar and repeated in countless comments on innumerable blogs: Muslim invaders imposed Persian, oppressed Hindus, destroyed temples, decimated Indian scholarship, etc., etc. Instead, what...

Politics / 13.11.2015

By Anjum Altaf Could the 2015 state election in Bihar signify anything about the future of politics in India? It could, and I want to draw out that possibility by linking this analysis to a previous one related to the equally surprising outcome in Delhi earlier in the year (Electoral Choices). Very briefly, the point made was that while the BJPs share of the vote between the elections of 2014 and 2015 in Delhi remained the same, about a third, its share of the seats dropped sharply from 52 percent to 4 percent. This, it was argued, was a vagary of the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) method of election in vogue in a very few countries in which the candidate with a simple plurality of the votes in a constituency is declared the winner. Now look at the parallels in Bihar between the results of the 2014 Lok Sabha...

Democracy/Governance / 23.10.2015

This billboard from the ongoing elections in Bihar revived our reflections on democracy. Focus first on the panel of four messages in the middle of the picture. For those who do not read Hindi, the messages, from left to right, are as follows: Kheti ke liye 0% byaj par rna (loan for cultivation at 0% interest) Har dalit va mahadalit parivaar ke liye ek rangeen TV (a color TV for each dalit or mahadalit family) Har beghar ko 5 decimal zameen (5 decimal land for every homeless) Har ghareeb parivaar ko ek jori dhoti, sari (a dhoti and sari for every poor family) What should one conclude? This is a striking case of a picture speaking louder than any number of pious words, the starkest commentary possible on the nature of democracy in a very poor country. Undeniably, votes are being purchased and for a price as low as...

History / 16.10.2015

By Anjum Altaf I am reading Christophe Jaffrelot’s new (2015) book The Pakistan Paradox and in Chapter 2 (An Elite in Search of a State – and a Nation (1906-1947)) came across the following table on page 91. Table 2.6: Main party scores within the Muslim electorate in the 1946 elections Party Muslim League Congress Muslim nationalists Unionists Other Total Muslims 74.7 4.6 6.4 4.6 9.7 Urban Muslims 78.7 2.3 5.0 - 14.0 Rural Muslims 74.3 4.8 6.6 6.1 9.2 Muslim Women 51.7 - 27.9 - 20.4 Jaffrelot’s reference to the table is the following: “Despite the League’s relative setback in the NWFP, after the 1946 elections the party eventually managed to appear representative of Indian Muslims (see Table 2.6)." The table has been adapted from The Sole Spokesman by Ayesha Jalal (page 172). I looked up the citation and the table is the same except that Jalal has also mentioned the total number of votes cast and their distribution across the various parties. Jalal’s reference to the table is as follows: “More importantly, the League secured nearly seventy-five percent...

Cities/Urban / 04.09.2015

By Anjum Altaf Anyone wanting to understand urbanization needs to get past two major misunderstandings. First, urbanization is not about individual cities – neither solving their problems nor enhancing their potential for growth. The end result of urbanization is indeed an increase in the population of cities but the term itself refers to the movement of people from rural to urban locations. But which urban locations do (or should) people move to? That is a more important question.  What are the choices that exist and what determines the attractiveness of one location over another? Should public policy attempt to influence the spatial distribution of population by altering the attractiveness of different types of locations? Second, the pattern of urbanization is not predetermined. People move primarily to seek work and therefore any change in the distribution of employment opportunities should alter the pattern of migration. Different industrial or economic policies...

History / 12.07.2015

By Anjum Altaf The member-secretary of the Indian Council of Historical Research resigned from his post last month without completing his term. Amongst his major concerns was the ‘changing of textbooks’: “The simplification and dumbing down of history in order to support many of the unfortunate stereotypes that circulate in society is something to be worried about.” This controversy raises its head in India from time to time but at least meets vociferous opposition from many professional historians. In Pakistan, the manipulation of textbooks has long been completed and accepted without much protest perhaps because by now the country is bereft of historians. K.K. Aziz wrote The Murder of History: A Critique of History Textbooks Used in Pakistan in 1993 and nothing much has changed since. Later examinations such as The Subtle Subversion: The State of Curricula and Textbooks in Pakistan released in 2003 confirm the perpetuation of...

Reflections / 04.07.2015

By Zulfikar Ghose The Sikh from Ambala in East Punjab, India, formerly in the British Empire, the Muslim from Sialkot in West Punjab, Pakistan, formerly British India, the Sikh boy and the Muslim boy are two of twenty such Sikhs and Muslims from East Punjab and West Punjab, which formerly were the Punjab, standing together in assembly, fearfully miming the words of a Christian hymn. Later, their firework voices explode in Punjabi until Mr Iqbal – which can be a Sikh name or a Muslim name, Mohammed Iqbal or Iqbal Singh – who comes from Jullundur in East Punjab but near enough to the border to be almost West Punjab, who is an expert in the archaic intonations of the Raj, until the three-piece suited Mr Iqbal gives a stiff-collared voice to his Punjabi command to shut their thick wet lips on the scattering sparks of their white Secondary Modern teeth. Mr Iqbal has come to London to teach English to Punjabi Sikhs and Muslims and has pinned up in his...