Go to Ceras Newsletter Homepage

Fifty Years Later

"Whether or not these countries have achieved what was achievable remains a key question in tracing the developments of the last fifty years"
In the spirit of the many programs being organized by CERAS on the occasion of the Fiftieth anniversary of the independence of Pakistan and India, the last two issues of the CERAS Newsletter raised the question of the significance of joint celebration of the independence of the two countries. The present article raises general issues concerning developments in these two countries as a background to forthcoming articles on specific aspects such as the state of the economy, political formations, civil society, the nationality question, and so on.

At the time of independence on August 14-15, 1947, India and Pakistan had an infrastructure more developed than in other British colonies outside South Asia. There existed a network of railways, an extensive educational system with universities and technical institutions in most of the provinces, a parallel free health care system, a well-developed mining industry, several manufacturing units producing both basic and consumer products and so on. In addition, relatively well-developed socio-economic system with thousands of years of uninterrupted civilization (as in China) were the prime factors for the unique place of South Asia amongst various British colonies.

The people of both India and Pakistan therefore hoped that this hard-fought independence would usher in an era of dignity, social justice and democracy as well as provide reasonable economic wellbeing for all. No one expected a miracle nor did people expect a Western standard of living. Whether or not these countries have achieved what was achievable remains a key question in tracing the developments of the last fifty years.

At the time of independence, India inherited two major problems and the manner in which the partition of India into India and Pakistan was managed created a third one. The first was feudal land relations, which instead of being weakened during colonial rule was in fact strengthened to deal with anti-feudal struggles. The second, was the complex bureaucracy based entirely on distrusting every one other than the British, and the despotic police and paramilitary structure trained exclusively for the purposes of repression. The third, could have been largely averted but for the callousness of the British authorities and the leaders of the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Muslim League; the Communal riots could have been generally restricted and the dislocation of populations could have been less traumatic. The bitter legacy of this unfortunate event continues to influence the political outlook of large sections of the population, especially those directly affected by mass exodus and violence.

Uneven development is a characteristic of all countries but most particularly of developing countries and those under colonial rule. British India was no exception to this. There was no effective system of distribution of goods, services and infrastructure so that less fortunate regions did not benefit from the naturally endowed or industrially developed ones. Naturally, India and Pakistan did not inherit the same assets and encumbrances at the time of their independence. For example, post-independence India faced an acute food shortage, which was not the case with most of Pakistan. Thus the two countries started on their course with both similarities and dissimilarities.

A lot has been gained in both countries since independence, although the economic and political framework of the two countries have been in some ways very different. The Indian National Congress, which gained power in independent India, had a history quite different from that of the Muslim League, which formed the first government in Pakistan. It is natural that internal and foreign policies of the two countries were greatly influenced by the experiences and philosophies of these two political parties.

India embarked on a planned economy executed through its Planning Commission and Five-Year plans somewhat based on the model of the former Soviet Union. The first major question facing India was to make the country self-sufficient in food at a time when U.S. policy was to use food as a weapon against developing countries. British India was characterized by regular famines the most severe of which in this century was the Bengal famine of 1943.

India did gain food self-sufficiency by late 60's through a series of measures, the most important of which was the Zamindari (landlordism) Abolition Act. Notwithstanding compensation paid for the appropriation of landholdings and lack of thoroughness in the implementation of the program, this single act not only laid the foundation for food self-sufficiency but also created the basis for the transformation of middle and lower-middle peasants into rich peasantry; this section eventually emerged as a political formation from 70's and is currently represented by the Janata Dal or Samajwadi parties. The so-called Green Revolution, to which is attributed the emergence of India as a food self-sufficient country, would not have been possible without the abolition of Zamindari.

The other plan of India was to develop basic industry through massive state intervention and subsidies. This policy led to increased production of material necessary for consumer goods, a sector which remained in the hands of private industrialists. It can be argued that these two policies led to a major transformation, setting the basis and perhaps the need for the new policy of liberalization from the beginning of 80's. These policies led to the emergence of a large middle class, whose patriotism never leads to sharing national resources but invariably translates into anger against minority communities who are targetted as antinational forces. In India, this middle class began to form the mass base of Hindutva (Hindu dominance) against the Muslim minority under the leadership of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

Politically, India embarked on a path of parliamentary democracy based on the British pattern. As one safeguard against military coups, India diversified its army into separate zones and built a large paramilitary force which served the additional purpose of suppressing independence movement in the far-east India, especially of the Naga and Mizo people and later in Kashmir. India failed to develop a culture of resolving internal questions through political dialogue even on the question of reorganization of states on a linguistic basis although this was a program of the Indian National Congress. Nevertheless, India remained a parliamentary democracy with the exception of a short period of the "state of emergency" between 1975-1977 during Indira Gandhi's prime ministership.

During the past fifty years, India became greatly industrialized. The rural population declined from over 80% of the total at the time of independence to less than 70% by 1997. The large cities of India display most of the modern conveniences as in the Western world. However, the central problem of India continues to be the utter lack of social justice. Along with the most modern hospitals in large cities catering to a few, there exists virtual absence of health care for the vast majority of the poor in the cities and for most of the rural population. There are premier educational institutions for a small minority and neglected schools for the rest. There has been an unsatisfactorly low decline in illiteracy, infant mortality and deaths due to easily-curable ailments. Despite food-self sufficiency, nearly 30% of India lives below the poverty line defined according to Indian standards, which are far lower than those in the West. Secular institutions of India are seriously threatened and the security and dignity of minorities, especially of the large Muslim population, cannot be assured.

Disparities in income and opportunities exist in every country. But the distance between the rich and the poor in India is not one of statistics but rather a separation between lavish living and mere survival. If India has to face the twentieth Century as a modern nation, what it needs is not improving amenities in its metropolis but redressing the dismal living condition of its vast majority. This is the demand of the Indian people, which was expressed when they responded to Indira Gandhi's slogan of "Garibi Hatao" (Eradicate Poverty) by electing her party with an overwhelming majority.

At the time of the independence, Pakistan was confronted partly with the same problems as India but at the same time something quite unique. Unlike India, the governing body of Pakistan, including its founding leader Qaid-e-Azam Jinnah, primarily comprised of migrants from Indian side with armed forces primarily contributed by Punjabis and Pathans; thus began the problem of confrontation between the civil and military authorities. The increase of the Punjabi and Sindhi population into the bureaucracy, administration and political formations led to a decline in the status of Mohajirs, Pakisatanis who had moved from India, and the discontent resulting from this continues to plague the country especially its largest city and the first capital, Karachi.

Pakistan introduced a series of land reforms beginning with the erstwhile East Pakistan (present Bangladesh), which in 1950 abolished Zamindari and limited maximum landholding to 33 acres. Ayub Khan in 1959 and Z.A.Bhutto in 1972 legislated land ceilings. Yet these measures proved ineffective and landlordism still survives in Southern Punjab and Sindh, the home province of the Bhuttos.

Pakistan had no significant industries in 1947. Public initiatives to establish industries were complimented with generous incentives to the private sector. However, protective tariffs on imports, subsidies for the import of machinery and favourable fiscal policies helped industrialization although Pakistani concentrated on the production of consumer goods and agro-processing industries. By the end of the Third Five Year Plan, 22 industrial houses owned approximately 70% of the large industries. This monopoly capitalist class was the target of popular uprising that forced Ayub Khan to resign. Celebrating the glory of the "Decade of Development", Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's populist regime nationalized most large establishments to promote "socialist" economy as was done by India's Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The impact of this policy was marginal. The success story of Pakistan is the small household industry sector. At the same time it is the bazaar (market) sector, which is increasingly assertive local politics with sectarian ideals.

Pakistan became a part of the US military pacts in the Mid-east. Given a reasonable self-sufficiency in food, Pakistan provided a higher level of living standards to its vast majority than did India. However, political instability and the pressure of the US to use Pakistan to its own advantage, prevented Pakistan from developing its full potential as a modern country. At the same time, this relationship placed the Pakistan army in an important position. The direct involvement of Pakistan in the Afghanistan war at the behest of the U.S. created entirely new problems, which continue to plague the country and its institutions. The entire fifty years of independent Pakistan have thus been grossly influenced by internal and external problems not foreseen or at least not foreseen in their real magnitude at the time of independence.

Parliamentary democracy could not take roots in Pakistan. Jinnah, the first President died shortly after independence and the succeeding leader, Liaquat Ali Khan was assasinated, ushering in an era of political instability. Pakistan remained under military rule for most of its existence. Despite that, however, the aspirations of the Pakistani people for democratic governance could not be suppressed and the military dictatorship gave in to civilian rule a number of times. The steps taken by the present Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, to curb the power of the President to dismiss an elected government, is a welcome step in this direction.

The other problem Pakistan inherited at its founding was in its geographical location at the two ends of India based on the assumption that religion alone can become the basis of a nation state. The cost of maintaining this territorial integrity for twenty-five years till 1971 was high as it perpetuated the dominant role of the army in Pakistani politics.

Inability of the leaders of the independence struggle to agree upon a constitutional guarantee to protect political, cultural and linguistic rights of Muslims ultimately led to the formation of the two countries; the historic hostility between India and Pakistan is merely a continuation of this process. Every development in the two countries since independence merely aggravated this conflict. India's friendship with the Soviet Union and Pakistan's with the USA, India's military intervention in East Pakistan helping in the founding of Bangladesh; the Kashmir issue- all contributed to worsening relations between these two countries, to the extent that trade and economic cooperation between the two neighbours came practically to a standstill with deleterious consequences for both. Nearly 30% of Pakistan's GNP is spent on defense; this added to debt servicing leaves little for planning and development. India's official defense budget, in the range of 12%, is less than that of Pakistan; however, real expenditure is a lot higher since the defense budget does not include the cost of its huge paramilitary and ordinance factories.

However, the people of Pakistan, and of India have a glorious history of struggle. It is to the credit of their fearless struggles especially of the women of Pakistan that hope for democracy, secularism and universal social justice is an obvious phenomenon. At the same time both the people of Pakistan and India have redoubled their efforts to end the phase of hostility between the two countries and embark upon a phase of mutual cooperation, friendship and increase in trade and commerce.

In both the short and long term, the achievements of India and Pakistan can and should only be judged on the basis of the universal well-being of its people and not on the basis of their ranking as industrial countries. Fifty years is a long time and there cannot be any rational justification for the destitution of the majority of the people of India and Pakistan.

-Daya Varma

Go to Ceras Newsletter 12 TOC Go to Top of Page