Book Review: Dilip Hiro’s ‘The Longest August’

The Unflinching Rivalry between India and Pakistan

By Reginald Massey

Dilip Hiro is an authority on South Asian, Central Asian and Middle Asian Affairs. He has authored thirty-five books in 88 editions and writes for the New York Times, The Guardian and the Washington Post. He commentates for CNN, the BBC and Al Jazeera.

His latest book The Longest August: the Unflinching Rivalry between India and Pakistan (Nation Books, Perseus Books Group, New York:ISBN 978-1-56858-734-9) has just been sent to me by the publishers.

Hiro was born in Larkana, Sindh, where the Bhutto family still lords it over thousands of acres of prime land irrigated by the Indus. And yet the dapper Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who liked his Savile Row suits and his Scotch proclaimed that he was a staunch Socialist, a ‘Man of the People’. But Hiro who has seen through all these postures and pretences fearlessly wades into Indian and Pakistani leaders who have left the subcontinent in an absolute mess. It is all very well for the rich and the powerful to trumpet their so-called achievements (such as nuclear missiles) while doing nothing for the poor and the hungry apart from feeding them with heady slogans.

The early chapter Gandhi’s Original Sin: Injecting Religion into Politics sets the scene and oddly enough the problem originated in distant Turkey where the Ottoman Sultan was regarded as the Khalifa of all the world’s Muslims. At that time (1918) Turkey which had sided with Germany was defeated by the British and their allies who had decided to dismantle the Ottoman empire and, most significantly, were backed by the Arabs who like the Turks were Sunni Muslims. Hence the kingdoms of Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Jordan were British creations thanks to the likes of T.E. Lawrence and St John Philby. However, most perturbed were India’s Muslims most of whom were converts to Islam from the lowest classes of the Hindu social order. In other words, the Khalifa’s main constituency was in India where the vast majority of the population was Hindu or as the Muslims would dub them Kaffirs.

Gandhi, very friendly with the Ali Brothers, fully supported the Khilafat Movement in India and backed the Mullahs and Maulvis. He once memorably declared that “Politics cannot be divorced from religion.” Alarmed by this development Muhammad Ali Jinnah, then a staunch secularist who loved his ham sandwiches and evening Scotch, advised Gandhi “not to encourage fanaticism of Muslim religious leaders and their followers.” Gandhi spurned his advice. And being an ardent vegetarian he once naively said that he supported the Muslims of India since he wanted to save the Mother Cow from the Muslim knife. In the process, however, he committed his great error. He reinforced the Indian Muslim psyche that they were not Indians but rather Muslims living in India. Their first loyalty was to the Ottoman Khalifa of Islam who ruled in Istanbul. In short, they were misled by Gandhi.

The Khalifa matter was solved by Kemal Ataturk in a series of swift strokes. He abolished the Ottoman Sultanate and the Khalifat, he shut the mosques and the madrassas, abolished the burqa and the hijab, forced schools and universities to use the Roman script for the Turkish language and encouraged men to wear European clothes. The fez was banned in Turkey. But I remember that in the Forties in Lahore many Muslims wore the fez to proclaim their ‘Muslim identity’ when that distinctive headgear had been banned by law in Turkey itself.

Hiro’s analyses of Jinnah and Nehru are most interesting. Both were London trained barristers and extremely vain. But with a difference. Jinnah, older than Nehru, was largely a self-made man and a leading lawyer. Nehru, the spoilt son of a rich Allahabad lawyer was sent to Harrow and completed a Natural Sciences Tripos from Cambridge. Jinnah never went to an English public school or university. Nehru therefore regarded Jinnah as only partially educated. Moreover, Nehru spoke very good Urdu which in those days was the mark of a civilized North Indian gentleman. Jinnah could hardly speak Urdu; his mother tongue was Gujarati.

While in jail Nehru learnt a lot from Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and wrote his classic The Discovery of India which is now being binned by India’s new government. Fake historians are busy rewriting history and packaging mythology as true history to justify the Hindutva agenda.

Jinnah and Gandhi were fellow Gujaratis and could talk to each other (they were born in nearby small towns in Gujarat). They both belonged to mercantile communities. The problem was Nehru who though born a Kashmiri Pandit was by culture an upper class Allahabad Muslim. Both Gandhi and Nehru were failed barristers. Jinnah was Bombay’s top lawyer and had properties in Bombay, Delhi and London. He latched on to the Two Nation Theory which was deeply flawed and guided the Muslim League to create a new state called Pakistan. In his own words he had achieved a “moth-eaten country” at a very great price. But the man was dying and he knew that. He as a lawyer was prepared to pay any price. The country he created soon went into a series of military dictatorships.

By the end of WW2 Britain was bankrupt and Attlee’s Labour government decided to get out of India as soon as possible. Matters came to a head in early 1946 when ratings of the Royal Indian Navy mutinied against their British officers, pulled down the Union Jack and proclaimed an Indian national navy. Ratings of all religions and castes sang nationalist songs, one of them being Allama Iqbal’s famous quami tarana Sarae jehan se achha Hindustan humara. This shook not only the British government but Jinnah and the Congress Party as well. Jinnah was fighting for a separate Muslim state based on the theory that Hindus and Muslims were two different nations and the Congress wanted to project the idea that Indian independence was the result of Gandhi’s non-violent struggle.

Hindu – Muslim riots broke out regularly and curfews were imposed. Those Muslims who stood for a united India were sidelined by the Muslim League and the right-wing Hindu Mahasabha. And then Jinnah went on the offensive with ‘Direct Action’. He declared “… the British and the Congress held a pistol in their hand… Today we have also forged a pistol and we are in a position to use it.” The Partition was agreed upon. But the vexed question arose: Who was to determine the new frontiers? A British lawyer, Sir Cyril Radcliffe, was flown out from London and he hastily demarcated the boundaries. To this day his Award is hotly debated.

Pakistan was created on August 14 and the next day India was declared independent. The communal holocaust continued unabated. Current research indicates that about 600,000 were killed and about 9 million were uprooted in the Punjab alone. As always the women suffered most. The raping of women highlighted the humiliation of their menfolk. The future of the city of Lahore was not disclosed. Eventually it was given to Pakistan.

The other unsolved question was the future of the Indian States (over 500) who were ruled by autonomous Maharajas and Nawabs, The Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir was a Hindu Dogra but his subjects were largely Muslims. The Nizam of Hyderabad was a Sunni Muslim and the majority of his subjects were Hindus. And then there was the large state of Travancore in south India with a Hindu ruler and a majority of Hindus. The Maharaja of Travancore nursed ambitions of independence or, at least, Dominion status within the British Commonwealth. Fortunately the indecisive Nehru had a deputy who had fists of steel on which he sported gloves of steel. Sardar Patel had framed an Instrument of Accession (a euphemism for Instrument of Surrender) which the Indian princes were told to sign without asking too many questions. A ‘Police Action’ against the Nizam brought him to his knees as did a similar move against the Nawab of Bhopal. But the sticking point was Jammu and Kashmir because Nehru interfered. He allowed the state to have a special status within India. The Kashmir question still poisons Indo – Pak relations.

Hiro’s analysis of the 1962 humiliation of the Indian army at the hands of the Chinese Liberation Army clearly proves Nehru’s ineptitude. His so-called ‘Forward Policy’ was a disaster and he was no match for Mao and Chou. The Indian military was not prepared for a war with China especially in the high Himalayas. And his favourite general (his Kashmiri relative B.K.Kaul) had no combat experience.

This book gives a good account of the creation of Bangladesh which was formerly East Pakistan. The Bengali Muslims of East Pakistan were treated like third class citizens by West Pakistanis, their ‘Brother Muslims’ who were Punjabis, Pathans and Balochis. In 1971 the Two Nation Theory was proved false without a doubt. Here Culture proved more powerful than Religion. Thousands of Bengali Muslim women were raped by soldiers of the Pakistan army from West Pakistan. On March 25, 1971 General Tikka Khan , the ‘Butcher of Bengal’decided to decimate all Bengali intellectuals and activists who opposed the Pakistan soldiery. Bengali professors and students, mostly Muslims but some Hindus as well, were lined up and shot.

Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, the leader of the Bangladesh Movement, begged Indira Gandhi to help the Bengali people. This was her chance to break Pakistan and she unleashed her hounds. Sam Manekshaw organised the whole attack but the man on the spot was Jhelum born Jagjit Singh Arora. After tough fighting General Niazi surrendered unconditionally to General Arora. Over 90,000 Pakistani troops surrendered at Dhaka; the largest Muslim army in Islamic history to surrender to a non-Muslim army.

After almost 70 years there is animosity and nuclear rivalry between India and Pakistan. A couple of times the missiles were nearly deployed. The recent attack on the Pathankot Air Base does not help the fraught situation. Modi and Nawaz Sharif might be talking but will there ever be a binding No War Pact?

RReggie Masseyeginald Massey has been writing a regular Book Page for CONFLUENCE for years. His poetry and prose on a variety of subjects have been widely published.  Most of his books are available from Amazon UK.