An Unfair Comparison: Modi and Liaqat Ali Khan

Someone on Twitter posted a video of Arundhati Roy speaking out against Indian liberals who have “normalized” Narendra Modi by treating him as just another PM or CM.

The tweeter is an Indian Muslim (who, as far as I can tell, now lives in Australia) and I assume that he regards Modi, Yogi and Vajpayee as Hindu Nationalists who are out to make India a “Hindu Pakistan”, where minorities (especially Muslims) will be second class citizens who will fear for their life and live under humiliating and unfair restrictions. Let us assume this is true (that the BJP is a Hindu Nationalist party with exactly such ambitions), then liberals who “normalize” this party and its leaders are indeed guilty of betraying liberal principles. But even if that is true (and to some extent it surely is; we can debate to what extent), there can be several objections to this tweet, especially to the fact that ALL THREE are being compared to Hafiz Saeed. I raised this particular objection in the following tweet:

I will be the first to admit that this was mildly trollish, since I am well aware of the fact that the “done thing” is to make such judgments in terms of “local standards”.. by Pakistani standards, Hafiz Saeed is a religious extremist and a terrorist. So when Brumby wants an unflattering comparison for Modi, he picked Hafiz Saeed. On the other hand, Liaquat Ali Khan (first prime minister of Pakistan) is a Pakistani moderate. But my point was precisely this: the two standards are NOT the same. What Modi (or Yogi, or Vajpayee) may want is what Liaqat Ali Khan and Jinnah demanded and already got (thanks to some timely British help): an Islamic state, with discriminatory rules and laws that privilege one religion over all others. In that sense, Jinnah and the Muslim League leadership are indeed the correct comparison for a Hindu nationalist party.

But people also have other objections in mind. One is that Modi was CM during the Gujrat riots, when around 2500 people (mostly Muslims) died in a well organized pogrom during which the state machinery either stood aside or actively cooperated with the killers. Surely Liaquat Ali Khan cannot be compared to such a person? but even this objection stands on shakier ground than people may imagine. Liaquat Ali Khan was prime minister of Pakistan during a period when there was near-total ethnic cleansing of Sikhs and Hindus in Punjab and Karachi. This was not simply one or two spontaneous riots; there were well organized pogroms and the state machinery mostly stood aside (as in Gujrat, there were exceptions) and there is at least SOME evidence that Liaqat Ali Khan wanted them to stand aside because he did not really object to this cleansing (at a minimum he considered it the natural response to what was happening to Muslims in many parts of India). You can read more about this aspect here, but I will just post a paragraph from that newspaper article:

The prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was angry with Khuhro when he went to see him on January 9 or 10. Liaquat said to Khuhro: “What sort of Muslim are you that you protect Hindus here when Muslims are being killed in India. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself!” In the third week of January 1948, Liaquat Ali Khan said the Sindh government must move out of Karachi and told Khuhro to “go make your capital in Hyderabad or somewhere else”. Liaquat said this during a cabinet meeting while Jinnah quietly listened. The Sindh Assembly passed a resolution on February 10, 1948, against the Centre’s impending move to annex Karachi. The central government had already taken over the power to allotment houses in Karachi. Khuhro was forced to quit and Karachi was handed over to the Centre in April 1948.

The above facts made me write that the violence against Sindhi Hindus and their mass migration to India was a tragic loss scripted, orchestrated and implemented by non-Sindhis in Sindh. I will happily withdraw my claim when furnished with the evidence to the contrary.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2012.

The final objection I heard to my tweet was that Modi is an illiterate rabble rouser while Liaquat was the highly educated Westminster type. While it is true that Liaquat Ali Khan came from a rich feudal family (his grandfather, the nawab of Karnal was boss of 300 villages and had been given many honors because of his support of the British during the Indian Mutiny of 1857) and was educated in Oxford, he was never as thoroughly English as Jinnahbhoy, and neither is Modi as illiterate as his opponents make him out to be. That said, this objection has does have a little truth to it. My defense is that I was not saying they are exactly alike, I was only saying that as far as comparing BJP leaders to Pakistani politicians goes, the correct comparison is “any Muslim League leader” and not Hafiz Saeed.

I understand that many readers will find this comparison (BJP to Muslim league) hard to digest, but that is the point; it is hard to digest because it is unfamiliar. TIME magazine would not make this comparison and they have conventional wisdom on their side. But then again, we are not TIME magazine 🙂

PS: Arundhati, who admires Lenin (and Mao) has far to go before she can sit in judgment on liberals who “normalize” violent leaders.. If nothing else, we can all agree on that (see my article on Arundhati and her ilk here)

PPS: For details about partition violence (and later episodes of mass killings in Pakistan), see here.. 

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Omar Ali

I am a physician interested in obesity and insulin resistance, and in particular in the genetics and epigenetics of obesity As a blogger, I am more interested in history, Islam, India, the ideology of Pakistan, and whatever catches my fancy. My opinions can change.

23 thoughts on “An Unfair Comparison: Modi and Liaqat Ali Khan”

  1. Omar Ali, my thoughts on these ‘secular’, ‘progressive’ so called intellectuals is by and large the same as yours. Your Outlook article is also spot on. These guys are a curse on India and can live only in negativity about India. Whole generations of educated people are mislead by these people and become cynical and contribute nothing to the society at large

  2. Comparison to Hafiz Saeed has more life in it. Pakistani Army/ISI is trying to normalise terrorists like JeM and otehr groups. They have been allowed make political parties and contest elections. The day is not far off when these political parties will be put on power by the Deep State. At that time the justification would be ‘if a terrorist like Modi can come to power, why not Saeed. After all progressive Indians like Roy have already pointed it out. Pakistan and the world better get adjusted to that.’ .

  3. That the signposts are located differently in the two countries is clear if you compare the representatives of “liberalism” in each. Ms. Roy needs no introduction. Compare her with Kamila Shamsie’s recent interview of the mayor of London where she is at greater pains to champion the rights of her compatriot co-religionists than those who share her gender in the country of her adoption.

    1. Yes I have a lot of respect for Ms. Roy
      I do have a lot of respect for Asma Jahangir; she was an exceptionally brave woman (apparently Qaqazai too like me lol)

  4. Its a very weak point to try and equate the Gujarat Riots to Partition Violence.

    While obviously worse in quantity, Partition was qualitatively different. The birth pains of two nations being born, and the combustive result of the bitter nationalistic sentiments that had festered in the run up to partition. This isn’t to excuse what happened, (its arguably the worst event in South-Asian history), but the violence is of a fundamentally different character.

    The Gujarat Riots are looked upon so unfavorably by the world, because it was a textbook example of what every modern civilized country hopes to avoid. The cold, contemplative massacre of a vulnerable minority. Aided and abetted at every level of the state and society. First denied, and then when it proves impossible, justified by specious accusations against the minority (Muslims burning a train full of Hindus).

    So yes, in the wake of this event, Modi was banned from the United States. Internationally his name was bandied about like the war-criminals from Africa or the Balkans. Because his actions were a dreadful call back (especially in Europe) to the kind of atrocities that become possible when the methodical destruction of minorities becomes sanctioned.

    In fact, if you follow the reporting on human rights by NGO’s (and even governmental organizations like the EU and US), there is fear about how the situation for minorities has deteriorated under Modi. The most pessimistic takes I’ve seen actually point to Assam as following the early trajectory of what eventually became a genocide in neighboring Rakhine-State (Myanmar). I think there’s merit to this, particularly when looking at the “8-stages of genocide”.

    Regarding Assam, India could be placed at stage 6 (before extermination), where undesirables (Muslims) are identified and sorted out. This is already happening with India denying citizenship to those they suspect of emigrating from Bangladesh, and statements from party leaders saying they will write in citizenship for Hindus due to their status as refugees fleeing Islamic-repression. Which would leave the Muslims as a huddled mass of stateless people. Some party official was actually asked about the Myanmar comparison with Assam, and his answers were frightfully reminiscent (they aren’t Indians, and can’t stay here).

    1. Yes but let’s be honest the precipitous decline in % minority in both Pakistan & Bangladesh post Partition and 1971 shows that Partition was particularly harsh for the Hindus & Sikhs on the wings of India.

      The Punjabi Hindus and Sikhs were right to ask for a sub-Division of the Punjab province; we saw what Pakistan did in Bdesh ..

      1. This will be the third time I’ve called you out about blatantly lying about Pakistan’s Hindu population. Its not declining, its grown slightly since 1951 (post-partition).

        Bangladesh’s has dropped, though its been stable since 1991. Its largest drop was during the Pak-India-Bang war in the 70’s, thought I’m not sure what your point is here. That India is better than a state engaged in genocide (Pak against Bengalis)? Great standard to have, though its one Indian Nationalists frequently use (that as long they haven’t tried to murder every single Muslim, nobody can complain).

        I’m not sure what your point is visa-vis Punjab. Partition was hugely favorable towards India in terms of Muslim territory being allocated to it, and the casualties during the violence were over 2:1 Muslims more than Hindus/Sikhs.

        1. “Regarding Assam, India could be placed at stage 6 (before extermination), where undesirables (Muslims) are identified and sorted out.”
          “Great standard to have, though its one Indian Nationalists frequently use (that as long they haven’t tried to murder every single Muslim, nobody can complain).” — May i ask where exactly do you live and where do you get your news from ?

        2. Has the Hindu population grown in absolute terms (fairly believable considering Pak has grown 5x) or the %age as part of the total population?
          I think Zac meant the latter.

          1. Looks like lot of Hindus became Christians since they thought Christians attract less hatred in Pakistan. How wrong they are. Hindus attract hatred due to ‘national identity ‘, Christians due to religious identity. Take your pick how you want to be hated in Pakistan

          2. Minorities in Pakistan have lots and lots of kids.

            I don’t think Indians grasp just how natalistic Pakistani society (across all religions) are..

    2. Assam agitations for deporting illegal migrants have been going for more than 40 years. That is why parties like AGP and AASU came into being. There has been no reports of how many people were identified as illegal immigrants and what happened to them. perhaps Assam is in Stage 6 or 5 for many decades and nothing further has happened.

      1. If we are being fair Assam agitation against Bengalis began during British rule when many were settled in Assam to cultivate the land.

        What has changed is the antagonism specifically against Muslims, whether they are recent migrants (post-Bengali War) or communities with roots dating back to at least the 1700’s (native Bengali or Assamese Muslims).

        This is the result of a concerted effort by the Hindu-right to dampen anti-national struggles against the state of India, by focusing the Assamese anger onto the Muslims. Its the same technique used by Myanmar to squash Rakhine anger about the “Burmanization” of their state, by focusing their anger against the Rohingya.

        Likewise, Rakhine was in stage 6 for decades, until suddenly it wasn’t.

    3. First denied, and then when it proves impossible, justified by specious accusations against the minority (Muslims burning a train full of Hindus).

      Modi’s personally always denied he aided and abetted the massacres, but they were always (from day one) declared as payback for the Godhra train burning. That was not a retroactively cooked up reason, as you seem to think.

      And whether or not Modi was actively involved, he bore some responsibility as the Chief Executive. The buck stopped with him.

      1. You are right I don’t mean to say the Train Burning was imagined up after the Riots, simply that it was used as a flimsy pretext. Like Hindus were just taken over by their emotions once they heard the news, and one thing led to another and before anyone knew it, there was a senseless riot going on, and the police were overwhelmed.

        Which isn’t true. Their was painstaking preparation that went into the massacres in Gujarat, from collecting and distributing names/locations of Muslims (which is alleged to have started before the Train was even burned), gathering weapons (which gov officials knew of and assisted in), and orders to police to not make any moves against Hindu agitators.

        The former is senseless violence (like partition) which is passion-fueled in the moment, but regarded as regrettable soon after. The latter is cold calculated massacre, denied, justified, and apologized for.

  5. Arundhati Roy is right on target. It is the ‘liberalism’ that normalizes dictators and takes away potential for populous revolt. History of liberalism is frought with compromises and easment for global capital and hegemonic imperial domination. A glaring example was support for Mushraff as an army dictator by spineless liberals in Pakistan.

  6. Modi may not be Hafiz Saeed, but he could probably be effectively compared with Zia ul Haq. Just as General Zia “Islamized” Pakistan, Modi’s regime is turning India’s minorities into second-class citizens. The fact that Muslims are being lynched over beef is just one example. “Ghar Wapsi”, “Love Jihad” etc also add to the toxic discourse.

    The difference however is that General Zia was a dictator. Indian voters freely chose Modi as their Prime Minister, despite the fact that he has blood on his hands. “Riots” is too nice a word for Gujarat 2002, which can only be honestly described as state-sponsored pogroms.

  7. “I understand that many readers will find this comparison (BJP to Muslim league) hard to digest, but that is the point; it is hard to digest because it is unfamiliar.”

    Not sure where this is coming from, but a major part of the opposition to BJP is coming exactly from those who think BJP is like the peri-Partition Muslim League. In fact Savarkar, the ideological progenitor of present day BJP, even beat ML’s Pakistan resolution by a few years with his own elaborate Two Nation theory! The Congress political position within India since Jan Sangh days has also been exactly this, that the RSS-Jan Sangh-BJP are ideological twins of Muslim League. Have to caveat this by saying that when this BJP-ML comparison was in vogue, Modi was low-middle rung in BJP and, while “riots” had always existed, the shock-and-awe brazenness of 2002 hadn’t been witnessed.

    1. Good comment.

      I was going to address this above but my original comment was already far too long. Its bizarre to hear some of these takes, where it seems like the writer doesn’t have even a basic understanding of the peoples or places they are discussing.

      It isn’t a Pakistani or Liberal canard to equate the Hindu-Right to Islamists. Such ideology has been proudly claimed by the Hindu-Right since the 1800’s, and as you allude to, predates the Islamist sentiment in Indian-Muslims. In fact the increasingly sectarian and fascist ideology promoted by the Hindu-Right during the 19th century is one of the primary instigators for increasing Islamist sentiment among Indian Muslims.

      Its no coincidence that the Pakistan-movement was born among those Muslims living in regions dominated by the Hinduvata movement (UP, Bihar, Gujarat, Maharashtra, etc).

      1. Lulz @ Omar “doesn’t have even a basic understanding of the peoples or places they are discussing”

        Pure dope! ???
        Never mind the “Hinduvata” and bad grammar:

        “Its no coincidence that the Pakistan-movement was born among those Muslims living in regions dominated by the Hinduvata movement (UP, Bihar”

      2. We agree on some things but maybe not everything. I certainly do not believe ML’s Pakistan resolution came up as a reaction to the marginal Hindutva of the time. I mean if Kashmir’s Muslims in 80s and earlier can demand separation from India, despite nearly non-existent Hindus (forget Hindutva) and an imperfect but largely benign Central government, I don’t think Muslim elites pre-Partition needed a visceral fear of Hindu Mahasabha or even the conservative faction of INC.

        Only making the limited point that Hindutva and ML both were on the same page regarding the TNT idea. Also that the RSS-is-equivalent-of-Jinnah / ML / Pakistan is not an original idea but the standard Congress line, not just when BJP rose to prominence late 80s, but also as a stick against the Janata Party in 70s, and likely earlier. The Congress and “secular” line was exactly what the author makes: “…Jinnah and the Muslim League leadership are indeed the correct comparison for a Hindu nationalist party.”

        I also do not buy the “Modi phenomenon justifies Jinnah” some Indian Muslims seem to be making recently, because, while one can never be certain about these things, a big part of the traction the Hindutva argument currently has is the “Muslim perfidy at 1947” one, which while immensely problematic in its details, has some merit.

        We are on the same page regarding Hindutva’s malign influence and similarity to Islamism. So much so that many of today’s “nationalists” do not even recall the RSS opposed the national flag, the national anthem, that an “ex-RSS” person assassinated Gandhi, and their borrowed icon Patel took the lead in banning the RSS!

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