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Halfway to Freedom

11 Sep

Margaret Bourke-White (June 14, 1904 – August 27, 1971) was an American photographer and photo journalist. She was  a correspondent and photographer for LIFE magazine during the WWII years. “My insatiable desire to be on the scene when history was being made was never more nearly fulfilled,” she later wrote, “I witnessed that extremely rare event in the history of nations, the birth of twins”.  For the next two years, starting in 1946, the saga of the independence and subsequent partition of India consumed her attention. She lived in India during those traumatic years, met and talked to the leaders and to the common people; she took some astounding photographs of the agony and horrors of partition.  She was “one of the most effective chroniclers” of the violence that erupted at the independence and partition of India and Pakistan.  She produced her most famous work Halfway to Freedom. It was a chronicle of the fight for India’s independence and the resulting formation of Pakistan. 

In September 1947, White went to Pakistan. She met Jinnah and wrote about her visit. The following  are  the excerpts from her book  Halfway to Freedom  A Report on the New India, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1949.

You will find how prophetic she was : milking the American cow was not a new idea that flashed  in  the blitz of Afghan war of the 80’s , it was there right from the moment of Pakistan’s birth. She foresaw the hegemony of the feudal lords; and, their anxiety to ensure that its people are ever held in the deadening grip of religious superstition.

***

 Pakistan was one month old. Karachi was its mushrooming capital. On the sandy fringes of the city an enormous tent colony had grown up to house the influx of minor government officials. There was only one major government official, Mohamed Ali Jinnah, and there was no need for Jinnah to take to a tent. The huge marble and sandstone Government House, vacated by British officialdom, was waiting. The Quaid-i-Azam moved in, with his sister, Fatima, as hostess. Mr. Jinnah had put on what his critics called his “triple crown”: he had made himself Governor-General; he was retaining the presidency of the Muslim League — now Pakistan’s only political party; and he was president of the country’s lawmaking body, the Constituent Assembly.

“We never expected to get it so soon,” Miss Fatima said when I called. “We never expected to get it in our lifetimes.”

If Fatima’s reaction was a glow of family pride, her brother’s was a fever of ecstasy. Jinnah’s deep-sunk eyes were pinpoints of excitement. His whole manner indicated that an almost overwhelming exaltation was racing through his veins. I had murmured some words of congratulation on his achievement in creating the world’s largest Islamic nation.

“Oh, it’s not just the largest Islamic nation. Pakistan is the fifth-largest nation in the world!”

The note of personal triumph was so unmistakable that I wondered how much thought he gave to the human cost: more Muslim lives had been sacrificed to create the new Muslim homeland than America, for example, had lost during the entire Second World War I hoped he had a constructive plan for the seventy million citizens of Pakistan. What kind of constitution did he intend to draw up?

 ***

 What plans did he have for the industrial development of the country? Did he hope to enlist technical or financial assistance from America?

“America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America,” was Jinnah’s reply. “Pakistan is the pivot of the world, as we are placed” — he revolved his long forefinger in bony circles — “the frontier on which the future position of the world revolves.” He leaned toward me, dropping his voice to a confidential note. “Russia,” confided Mr. Jinnah “is not so very far away.”

I wondered whether the Quaid-i-Azam considered his new state only as an armoured buffer between opposing major powers. He was stressing America’s military interest in other parts of the world. “America is now awakened,” he said with a satisfied smile. Since the United States was now bolstering up Greece and Turkey, she should be much more interested in pouring money and arms into Pakistan. “If Russia walks in here,” he concluded, “the whole world is menaced.”

In the weeks to come I was to hear the Quaid-i-Azam’s thesis echoed by government officials throughout Pakistan. “Surely America will build up our army,” they would say to me. “Surely America will give us loans to keep Russia from walking in.” But when I asked whether there were any signs of Russian infiltration, they would reply almost sadly, as though sorry not to be able to make more of the argument. “No, Russia has shown no signs of being interested in Pakistan.”

This hope of tapping the U. S. Treasury was voiced so persistently that one wondered whether the purpose was to bolster the world against Bolshevism or to bolster Pakistan’s own uncertain position as a new political entity. Actually, I think, it was more nearly related to the even more significant bankruptcy of ideas in the new Muslim state — a nation drawing its spurious warmth from the embers of an antique religious fanaticism, fanned into a new blaze.

Jinnah’s most frequently used technique in the struggle for his new nation had been the playing of opponent against opponent. Evidently this technique was now to be extended into foreign policy. ….

 ***

 Jinnah revived the moribund Muslim League in 1936 after it had dragged through an anaemic thirty years’ existence, and took to the religious soapbox. He began dinning into the ears of millions of Muslims the claim that they were downtrodden solely because of Hindu domination.

 During the years directly preceding this move on his part, an unprecedented degree of unity had developed between Muslims and Hindus in their struggle for independence from the British Raj. The British feared this unity, and used their divide-and-rule tactics to disrupt it. Certain highly placed Indians also feared unity, dreading a popular movement which would threaten their special position. Then another decisive factor arose. Although Hindus had always been ahead of Muslims in the industrial sphere, the great Muslim feudal landlords now had aspirations toward industry. From these wealthy Muslims, who resented the well-established Hindu competition, Jinnah drew his powerful supporters.

One wonders whether Jinnah was fighting to free downtrodden Muslims from domination or merely to gain an earmarked area, free from competition, for this small and wealthy clan.

The trend of events in Pakistan would support the theory that Jinnah carried the banner of the Muslim landed aristocracy, rather than that of the Muslim masses he claimed to champion. There was no hint of personal material gain in this. Jinnah was known to be personally incorruptible. The drive for personal wealth played no part in his politics. It was a drive for power. ..

 ***

 With his burning devotion to his separate Islamic nation, Jinnah had taken all these formidable obstacles in his stride. But the blow that finally broke his spirit struck at the very name of Pakistan. While the literal meaning of the name is “Land of the Pure,” the word is a compound of initial letters of the Muslim majority provinces which Jinnah had expected to incorporate: P for the Punjab, A for the Afghans’ area on the Northwest Frontier, S for Sind, -tan for Baluchistan. But the K was missing.

Kashmir, India’s largest princely state, despite its 77 per cent Muslim population, had not fallen into the arms of Pakistan by the sheer weight of religious majority. Kashmir had acceded to India, and although it was now the scene of an undeclared war between the two nations, the fitting of the K into Pakistan was left in doubt. With the beginning of this torturing anxiety over Kashmir, the Quaid-i-Azam’s siege of bad colds began, and then his dismaying withdrawal into himself. ….

Later, reflecting on what I had seen, I decided that this desperation was due to causes far deeper than anxiety over Pakistan’s territorial and economic difficulties. I think that the tortured appearance of Mr. Jinnah was an indication that, in these final months of his life, he was adding up his own balance sheet. Analytical, brilliant, and no bigot, he knew what he had done.

Like Doctor Faustus, he had made a bargain from which he could never be free. During the heat of the struggle he had been willing to call on all the devilish forces of superstition, and now that his new nation had been achieved the bigots were in the position of authority. The leaders of orthodoxy and a few “old families” had the final word and, to perpetuate their power, were seeing to it that the people were held in the deadening grip of religious superstition.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Books

 

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