Today is India's 75th anniversary as an independent nation after the UK essentially abandoned it after World War II. The Guardian looks at how much—and how little—has changed:
The attack on Salman Rushdie shone a light on where Pakistan and India, both now 75 years old, share common ground. Amid worldwide outrage, both governments were conspicuous by their silence.
The silence came from different roots. Some of the first riots after the publication of Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses were in Pakistan and violent extremism is still very much part of the country’s political life.
In India’s case, it was because Rushdie has been a critic of the prime minister, Narendra Modi, and annoyed his supporters, who the author himself had dubbed the “Modi toadies”.
Intolerance of free speech is an area in which India is coming to be more like Pakistan as both countries celebrate their 75th birthdays. Under Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), political opponents are increasingly likely to be arrested and beaten, and the press and judiciary are under increasing political pressure. India’s democracy has been downgraded to “partly free” by the democratic advocacy group Freedom House, a category India now shares with Pakistan.
Writers Pankaj Mishra and Ali Sethi have had enough of religious fighting between the two countries:
In many ways, the binary constructs of “Indian” and “Pakistani” embody the desolate logic of the event that 75 years ago split British-ruled India in two: the partition, attended by massacres, rapes and large-scale dispossession. Botched products of Britain’s imperialist skulduggery – and fierce struggles for personal power between leaders of the anti-imperialist movement – the new nations were locked right from their birth into military conflict; their pitiless “identity politics” ranges today from intellectual forgeries in history textbooks to the lynching of religious minorities.
The political history of their 75 years – marked by several wars, arms races, anti-minority pogroms, authoritarian rule, and minimal protections for the poor and weak – provokes mostly despair and foreboding. While Pakistan nears economic collapse, Indian fantasies of becoming a superpower lie shattered amid shrivelled growth and ecological calamity. Demagogues in both nuclear-armed countries treacherously exploit the resulting anger and disaffection. While claiming to fulfil the broken promises of modernity, they mobilise the thwarted energies of individual and collective aggrandisement into a mass politics of fear and loathing.
As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of partition, it is abundantly clear to us that politics in India and Pakistan are doomed to keep forging a history of irresolvable enmity between Hindus and Muslims. It is also clear that any reasonable hope for peace between these two nuclear powers cannot rest on a political and economic breakthrough alone. We can avoid an apocalyptic scenario only if we acknowledge and consolidate, or at least not squander, the linked cultural and spiritual inheritance of the two countries. The great truth it underscores repeatedly – of the plural and interdependent nature of human identity – is the best remedy for our rancorously polarised worlds.
Imagine what the world would look like today had the British not drawn arbitrary lines through great chunks of it.