M. J. Akbar's talk in the CALM ( creative arts, literature and music) Festival Shillong on the evening of the 3rd November 2012 was excellent, not only for its very good commonsense, outlined with a line of sustained logic, but also for its strong historical base, and debunking myths such as perverse notions of theocracy, and the fact that religion and race do not always go together. There is cultural predilection, as in the case of the Bangladesh freedom movement.
M.J. Akbar started off by saying that his love for North East India dates back to the days when he was editor of The Telegraph. He then spoke of the fact that journalists are not performing with responsibility, have become corruptible due to nexus with industrialists and politicians. The two nation theory, one based on theocratic ideals and the other on democratic, was then mentioned. It was ironic he said that two of the great nationalists Gandhi and Maulana Azad, who were personally religious pursued secular principles in the nation state formation, while the other two Nehru and Jinnah who had strong secular lifestyles, capitualted to the composition of Pakistan on very overt ideals of theocracy. While India chose democracy, Pakistan opted for a theocratic state. He went on to say that the common Pakistani, is very similar to the Indian in behavorial patterns, but India is greater than Indians, whereas Pakistan is less than Pakistanis. This is the irony and incompatibility of the two countries. That a theocracy cannot survive is testified by the division of Pakistan, leading to the emergence of Bangladesh. Bangladeshis generally value language and culture more than Pakistan, which gives primacy to theocracy. That is the tragedy of Pakistan he says, and that is the cause of its downslide.
India stands on the principles of secularism, democracy, gender fairness, economic equity ( not equality) and modernity. This is India, where it is greater than Indians, where the church bells, or the call in the mosque can be heard in nooks and corners of the country, despite the fact that Hindus constitute 80% of the country's population. This is the cornerstone of secularist and democratic principles he says. Yes there have been more than aberrations, the Babri Masjid and Gujarat, but things are certainly looking up, unlike the debilitating forces in our neighbouring country. Kashmir and North East too have improved and the youth in Kashmir are looking for more space in other parts of the country, in terms of exposure and employability. The same thing is happening in North East India. The youth there are venturing to other parts of the country for better career options. Even in the recent wake of the exodus of North East people from different parts of the country, as a result of the trouble in the Bodo areas of Assam, the communities were ensured safety by the local communities, so that they could return without further fear.
India will not disintegrate because of secularist principles, upheld by our Constitution. This, in short is tolerance, which is not even prevalent in a ' powerful ' country such as China. Rousseau he says separated religion and the state, Marx demolished the former, but India has upheld secular principles which is based on the sacrosanct notion of tolerance for all. This is the greatness of India. True there is poverty, there is suffering, the Naxalite syndrome is a result of abject hunger and poverty, although they are impugned with charges of extremism or terrorism. The cause is rancid impoverishment and hunger.
Implicit in his talk was the notion that the partition of the country on the basis of the two nation theory was an obfuscated and bigoted perspective, which ultimately led to the emergence of Bangladesh, which in turn has led to geo political subversion and complexties.
M.J.Akbar's talk was sustained with a strong historical base, and this what made it full of good sense, relevance and an abididing faith in democracy as opposed to doctrinaire or theocratic thinking. It was brilliant, sanguine and punctuated with witticisms.