REVIEWS: Why they took separate paths?

Reviewed by Zubeida Mustafa

Partition & Convergence by Prof Jamal Naqvi, an eminent scholar, is a most thought-provoking book. While its focus is said to be South Asia in the 21st century, it is actually a summing up of the author’s philosophical analysis of world affairs and its impact on our region.

Identifying the key features of the emergence of the European political system, which determined the course of the history of the continent, the author traces briefly the milestones that carry a lesson for Asia. Thus feudalism and how it disintegrated, the renaissance, the “massive institutionalization” of society and the creation of powerful traders’ and craftsmen’s guilds in the towns and cities ultimately proved to be the major catalyst in creating Europe as a force to be reckoned with in world affairs.

This historical development was responsible for the emergence of capitalism that drove the Europeans in their quest for new markets and a source of cheap raw material and labour. These were found in plenty in the colonies. It was capitalism that led to the successful colonization by the European powers of Asia and Africa.

The thrust towards institutionalization was aimed at protecting the rights of the people and was confrontationist in character. The new institutions developed on the basis of guidelines of professionalism. Hence they promoted the rule of law and a vibrant civil society which led to the emergence of the concept of democratization.

The British conquered India because of their superior knowledge and technology. That helped the colonizing power to hold on to massive areas with a small military force. It was the British strategy of “divide and rule” which sustained and consolidated its hold on India. This land of millions provided the rapidly growing British industry of that period the market it needed. It also proved to be a source of cheap raw material. The so-called mutiny in 1857 proved to be a watershed in the history of the British raj for it clearly established that Britain’s own policies would work against it. Thus the soldiers who had rebelled were trained as professionals by the British rulers themselves. When Britain was weakened by the Second World War it felt it had to disengage itself from its colonies.

The most significant aspect of the history of the subcontinent was the way relations evolved between the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League, and subsequently between India and Pakistan. This cast a long shadow on the post-Independence international politics of South Asia. A lot has been written about the different course the politics took in the two countries of the subcontinent and its impact on their bilateral relations.

While in Pakistan the military gained ascendancy and became the wielder of power directly or by proxy (with a civilian government providing the facade), a democratic, secular system evolved in India. As a result Pakistan failed to develop a feasible system of governance. The civil society proved to be strong enough to overthrow an oppressive military ruler but did not have the strength to sustain a democratic system. Religion had to be used as an instrument to hold the country together. This approach failed and the country broke up in 1971 when Bangladesh was born.

The militarization of the political system in Pakistan displayed some common features irrespective of the military ruler at the helm. The country would be closely allied with the United States, the civil society would be fragmented as the government’s policy would invariably be that of divide and rule, a local government structure would be developed to let out steam, and confrontation on the Kashmir dispute would be intensified to sustain a hate-India posture and justify the expansion of the defence infrastructure.

The emergence of Bangladesh, however, had a profound impact on South Asia. It eased the pressure on India and saw the rise of popular expectations, which the ruling elites had managed to brush aside. The response to this phenomenon was populism which Prof Naqvi defines as “political jugglery that counters the hopes of the common man and the fears of the ruling classes in a way to give the impression of change when in fact the status quo is largely maintained”. This populism in Indira Gandhi’s India and Mujibur Rahman’s Bangladesh ultimately paved the way for the democratization of politics in these countries.

But this did not happen in Pakistan. Bhutto’s populism was interrupted by the army. The changes taking place in South Asia are, according to the author, the result of post-Cold War imperatives. The thrust is towards the regionalization of South Asia. The age of the nationalist state is now dead and a collective South Asian nationalism is emerging, Saarc being its strongest manifestation. Prof Naqvi is optimistic about the new trends which he believes will lead to better India-Pakistan relations. He makes a powerful plea for peace in South Asia.

This is a book full of profound analysis and observations from a scholar, who was once a Marxist but “quit Leftist politics in 1990” as the author’s introduction proclaims. He is, therefore, objective and profound since he can detach himself from the controversies of the day and interpret the history of South Asia in the light of his knowledge of Marxism and his own political experience. These combine to make his analysis deep and interesting.

The only problem — and a serious one — with the book is that it has not been provided the expert touch of an editor. This is not strange for the institution of a professional editor is virtually non-existent in Pakistan. Had an editor worked on the book, it would have had a cohesive theme running from the first to the last chapter and the far too many spelling and grammatical errors would have been eliminated. One hopes that these shortcomings will be rectified in the next edition to make the book reader friendly and a profound work of scholarship.

Partition & Convergence: South Asia in the 21st Century
By Prof Syed Jamal Naqvi
Xlibris. Tel: 001-888-795 4274 . Website:
ISBN 1-4134-5935-8
155pp. Price not listed

Source: Dawn