The day when Manipur was burning Indian television media happily focused on the turmoil in Pakistan. It was able to show those visuals because it could secure them from Pakistani media that was actively covering the aftermath at home of the arrest of former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. In Manipur, we were told, the national media had no cameras on the ground.
The smugness with which many in India viewed the events in Pakistan contrasted with their nonchalance in reacting to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to the people of Karnataka to say ‘Jai Bajrang Bali‘ while casting their vote. The ‘civil war’ we witness today in Pakistan could envelop India if we continue to pursue divisive and sectarian politics that pits one section of the community against another.
Mainstream political leadership of all hues rejected the ‘class war’ slogans of communist extremists precisely on the grounds that it was a call to arms, to violence. Yet, today a large section of the middle class is blindly encouraging a call to arms in the name of religion. If extremist groups within all religions, Hindu, Muslim or Sikh, are not acted against by the state, they will consume the country the way in which extremist groups are tearing Pakistan asunder.
Arresting advocates of Khalistan and of Jihadism without arresting advocates of a Hindu Rashtra is not in India’s national security interests in the long run.
The national security challenge both within Pakistan and within India is essentially a domestic challenge of rising economic inequality, religious extremism and regional sectarianism. Of course, India has been a victim of cross-border terrorism and Pakistani state agencies are responsible for this. Pakistan too alleges that it is a victim of ‘cross border terrorism’, emanating from both its eastern and western borders. However, the challenge to national security in both countries comes increasingly from domestic sources. It would be no exaggeration to say that internal threats to national security pose a greater challenge in both countries than external threats to security.
A Pakistani columnist, Huma Yusuf, summed up the challenge to her country in words that could easily find an echo this side of the border.
In a column titled ‘Revolution Now?’, Yusuf asserts:
“The number of issues around which Pakistanis should be coalescing is staggering: food security, safety, dignity of work, free speech, minority rights, welfare protections, healthcare provisions, climate resilience. Until we can craft a politics that champions for the people rather than against their overlords, our future will be riot, not reform.”
Why Pakistan became a laggard
Pakistan’s problems are rooted in its domestic political and economic evolution. It is often forgotten that in the period 1960-1980 Pakistan’s economy grew at annual rate of 6.0% while India’s growth rate was 3.5%. In the 1990s, this was reversed with India growing annually at close to 5.5% and Pakistan slowing down to an annual average growth rate of less than 4.0%. Pakistan also performed better on the foreign trade front than India till 1990. In the 2000s, Pakistan has paid a heavy price on the economic and development fronts thanks to the course its domestic politics took.
Many social scientists also believed that an important distinction between India’s growth process and Pakistan’s was that the latter was characterised by extreme social and economic inequality, with a feudal and powerful upper class dominating both the political and military institutions. Pakistan hardly had a middle class of any economic or political significance. India, on the other hand, was able to facilitate the emergence of an aspirational middle class that created a domestic market for growth. The Indian middle class also acted as a break on extremist politics, while Pakistan’s poor fed rising sectarianism and extremism at home.
It is this divergence in the growth processes that enabled India to remain a plural and secular democracy even as Pakistan lived through a cycle of military coups and failed experiments in electoral democracy. The emergence of Nawaz Sharif and a new business class gave hope that Pakistan too would begin to moderate its politics as middle class interests asserted themselves against feudal elements that dominated both politics and the military.
That was not to be.
The Pakistan middle class began to migrate in large numbers to West Asia and western nations, leaving the country in the hands of traditional feudal elites. It is into this vortex that Imran Khan entered, with the help of the military, seeking to stabilise the country internally. However, as Pakistan scholar Ayesha Siddiqa observed recently, while Imran’s supporters came to “express 70 years of anger” against the traditional elite, “the crowd was also raised by the military to think it has the right to own and drive the State.”
Taking Siddiqa’s analysis forward in a perceptive analysis of the situation in Pakistan, Praveen Swami adds:
“The religious right-wing positioned itself as the pole of political resistance to the elitism of the post-colonial state…The religious Right enjoyed influence far in excess of its demonstrated electoral success because of the reluctance of the secular centrist parties to challenge Islamism head-on. Each wanted to recruit Islamism to its side, not seeing it as a threat to democracy.”
Just as Pakistan has experienced a massive out-migration of its educated middle class, along with elements of the elite and working classes, India too has experienced what I have termed as the ‘secession of the successful’ with both the Indian middle class and urban rich migrating overseas. Adding to the out-migration of working class talent (West Asia), and the educated middle (English-speaking countries) we now have the growing out-migration of business and what are called High Net worth Individuals or HNIs.
More worryingly, India’s ‘religious right’ has begun to mimic its Pakistani counterparts, with similar encouragement from the present ruling dispensation.
To imagine that all this would not impact the economic growth process would be foolhardy. If Indian politics walks down the path that Pakistan politics has walked and if the Indian elite, like their Pakistani counterparts, delink their own future from their country’s, the chances that the Indian growth process too would slow down remains a possibility. The growing ‘religious extremism’ of the middle class is, therefore, a matter of serious concern from a national security and an economic development perspective and from a human rights perspective.
After experiencing this worrying trend over the past decade we have in the results of the Karnataka elections a ray of hope. The Karnataka electorate refused to submit to religious blackmail and has extended its support to a developmental agenda. Hopefully the worrying slide in Indian domestic politics will be curtailed as political parties turn their attention to development and welfare, turning away from the communalisation of the electoral process and the institutions of state.
Sanjaya Baru is a writer and policy analyst.