South Asia In The Late Twentieth Century

The Labour victory in Britain in 1945 made the emancipation of India a certainty. But the deep-seated tensions between Muslims and Hindus had assumed critical importance. When the Hindu Congress party and the All-India Muslim League faced the need to draw up a working constitution for the new India, they found themselves in complete disagreement.

The Muslims had long been working for separate Hindu and Muslim states, which were in the end reluctantly accepted by the Hindus. In 1947 Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan were set up as separate self-governing dominions within the Commonwealth.

Pakistan was a state divided into two parts, widely separated by Indian territory—the larger, arid West Pakistan in the northwest, and the smaller, more fertile, and far more densely populated East Pakistan in former East Bengal. The rest of the British Indian Empire and four fifths of its inhabitants became the republic of India. Pakistan, with its smaller population and its relatively poorly developed industry, was weaker than India and at first kept closer political ties with the British.

Violence accompanied partition. It was not possible to draw a boundary that would leave all Hindus in one state and all Muslims in another. Bitter Hindu-Muslim fighting cost hundreds of thousands of lives, as Hindus moved from Pakistani territory into India and Muslims moved from Indian territory into Pakistan.

A particular source of trouble was the mountainous province of Kashmir. Though mainly Muslim in population, it was at the time of partition ruled by a Hindu prince, who turned it over to India. India continued to occupy most of Kashmir, to the economic disadvantage of Pakistan. The United Nations vainly sought to arrange a plebiscite.

In domestic politics the two states went through sharply contrasting experiences. The chief architect of Pakistani independence, Mohammed Ali Jinnah (1876-1948), head of the Muslim League, died shortly after independence. Thereafter Pakistan floundered in its attempts to make parliamentary government work and to
solve its pressing economic difficulties. In 1958 the army commander, the British-educated Mohammed Ayub Khan (1907-1974), took full power, attacked administrative corruption and the black market, and instituted

a program of “basic democracies” to train the population in self-government at the local level and then gradually upward through a pyramid of advisory councils. A new constitution in 1962 provided for a national assembly and also for a strengthened presidency, an office that Ayub continued to fill.

But as Ayub grew older, charges of corruption were made against his family and his officials, and the depressed peoples of East Bengal protested loudly against policies that discriminated in favor of West Pakistan. Disorder spread, and in 1969 a new military government ousted Ayub.

The tension between West Pakistan, whose Punjabis had a disproportionately large role in the central government, and the underrepresented and miserably poor Bengalis of East Pakistan erupted in civil war in 1971. The East, assisted by India, declared itself independent. As fighting continued, 10 million East Pakistanis fled into India, straining to the limit that nation’s resources.

War between India and Pakistan followed, ending in a pact in 1972. East Pakistan became independent as Bangladesh; West Pakistan, shorn of its eastern portion, turned increasingly toward Islamic nationalism. In 1979 the leader of Pakistan’s People’s party was executed by military rulers who had taken over in a coup, and the American embassy in the capital of Islamabad was stormed and burned.

Even though the nation became more reactionary, the United States concluded a new agreement to provide Pakistan with economic and military aid. Benazir Bhutto (1943— ), the daughter of the executed leader, became the first woman head of state in a Muslim nation by election in 1988, and though defeated two years later, she returned to power in 1993.

Newly independent India had suffered a grievous loss when Gandhi was assassinated by an anti-Muslim Hindu in 1948. But Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), a seasoned politician, at once assumed leadership. India successfully inaugurated a parliamentary democracy of the Western type. Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi (1917-1984), who became prime minister in 1966, successfully carried India through the war with Pakistan.

Feeling that the United States was anti-Indian in the conflict, Mrs. Gandhi signed a twenty-year friendship pact with the Soviet Union in 1971. As the old Congress party split into two camps, Mrs. Gandhi’s New Congress party became less democratic; in 1975 she used the emergency provisions of the Indian constitution to arrest thousands of her opponents and to impose press censorship.

However, she did not turn to dictatorship, and in 1977 she was defeated in federal and state elections, in part because of a highly unpopular attempt to institute birth-control measures that were repugnant to most Hindus. She was returned to office in 1980 and assassinated by Sikh extremists in 1984. Her son Rajiv Gandhi (1944-1991) succeeded her until 1989, when he, too, was assassinated.

India faced acute overpopulation; by 1975 it had more than 600 million people, with a projection of 1 billion for the year 2000. The threat of famine was always present. In 1950 the government launched the first in a series of five-year plans for economic development, permitting the expansion of private industry but stressing government projects: irrigation and flood control, transport and communications, and especially agricultural education.

In the late 1960s a new strain of high-yielding wheat was planted experimentally; the initial results were promising. But the very success of the new foods (the green revolution”) threatened a new form of crisis, as farmers displaced from the countryside by new agricultural techniques flooded into the cities of India, where there was no employment for them.

Political controversy also arose over the question of language. There were thirteen major regions in India, each with its own distinctive tongue. Believing that a common language was essential to national identity, the government supported Hindi as the national language, to which it gave official status in 1965. It also recognized English as an associate language. The elevation of Hindi to official status aroused especially strong opposition among the speakers of Tamil in the south. The government met the problem by making some concessions but without abandoning its aim.

The debate over the relative weight to be given to industry and agriculture also continued. In 1970 India dedicated a nuclear power plant near Bombay, built with American assistance. Canada helped build two nuclear reactors, and in Max’ 1974 India exploded an underground nuclear device. India was determined to pursue a path between the West and the Soviet Union, ably playing one against the other, hoping to be dependent on neither.

Nonetheless, India remained the most populous democracy in the world, with a largely unintimidated legal system, continued if declining use of the world’s international language, English, and an apparent commitment to economic reforms.

These hopeful signs were somewhat offset by a wave of communal violence in 1993 and a continuing low-level war between Indian troops and pro-independence demonstrators in Kashmir. Political instability and persistent corruption challenged the democracy at every turn, but it remained intact and hopeful.

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