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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 June, 2005, 07:48 GMT 08:48 UK
'Partition generation' looks to future

By Nick Bryant
BBC News, Delhi

LK Advani after laying a wreath at Jinnah's mausoleum
Mr Advani after laying a wreath at Jinnah's mausoleum

At the grand old of age of 77, the Indian opposition leader, Lal Krishna Advani is trying to reinvent himself, which is both wonderfully ambitious and fantastically Indian.

The sharp-talloned hawk of the Hindu nationalist movement used a high-profile visit to Pakistan to repackage himself to voters as a white-feathered dove.

To put it another way, he wants to be "the acceptable face" of the BJP, the epithet long attached to Atal Behari Vajpayee, the party's last prime minister.

Even now, Mr Advani has ambitions to rise to the climax of power, emulating Morarji Desai, who became prime minister at the age of 81.

Controversy 'revealing'

For Mr Advani it is a matter, it seems, both of new-found conviction and hard-nosed calculation. Clearly, he believes the Indian electorate will not countenance a hard-line prime minister.

For Mr Advani it is a matter, it seems, both of new-found conviction and hard-nosed calculation


India is a country where collective historical memory continues to shape contemporary public debate.

That is why the controversy about Mr Advani's description of Mohammed Ali Jinnah - the founder of Pakistan and long-time hate figure of the Hindu right - as "secular" has been so revealing.

Whether it is at the Jinnah Mausoleum in Karachi, on the international cricket field, around the diplomatic negotiating table or across the Line of Control in disputed Kashmir, Indian and Pakistan leaders, of all political shades, are making a definitive break with the past.

With varying degrees of success, they are trying to set aside the 1947 partition, a convulsion of such pain and bloodshed that its memories have been impossible to erase.

There is much, and well-placed, talk here of a "new maturity" in Indo-Pakistan relations: of two countries not yet prepared to forget the tragic events of 57 years ago, but who are no longer held captive by them.

'Peace milestones'

That is surely the main lesson to draw from the restored bus link between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar and the success of the recent Indo-Pakistan cricket series, which reached its emotional and political climax when President Pervez Musharraf received a standing ovation at the final one-day international in Delhi.

Pakistan-controlled Kashmir's peace bus
The Kashmir bus service represents a "new maturity" in relations

It also explains why Mr Advani has been asked to stay on as President of the BJP, despite uttering such "heresies" in Karachi.

What makes these events all the more salient is the involvement of "the partition generation".

Aside from cricket - where one of the most striking aspects were the stands packed with designer clothes-wearing, mobile phone-carrying youngsters - the other peace milestones involved Indians and Pakistanis who lived through partition.

By a strange quirk of history, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was born in a small village not too far from Islamabad, and President Musharraf was born in Delhi. Mr Advani was born in Karachi.

Most of the passengers on the first bus link were in their sixties and seventies, looking to be reunited with relatives, who, in some instances they had not seen for more than 50 years.

Even the negotiating table is filled not so much with men in grey suits, but diplomats with silver hair. Natwar Singh, the Indian foreign minister, is 73; his opposite number, Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri, is in his mid-sixties.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah
Mr Advani's comments about Mr Jinnah have been revealing

In a joint press conference last year, Mr Kasuri spoke of "living in a new modern age", part an updated diplomatic lexicon which has quickly replaced the rhetorical posturing of the past.

President Musharraf constantly refers to "soft borders", Prime Minister Singh talks about a "borderless" Kashmir and transforming the Siachen Glacier into a "peace mountain".

Again, the agenda here seems to be about the setting aside of partition.

But more important than the memory of partition is the goal of participation in the wider community of nations.

'Massive mental leap'

For President Musharraf that means being a good global citizen. For Prime Minister Singh, it means making India a strong global powerhouse.

Pragmatic internationalism is vying with principled nationalism, and will likely come out on top.

To borrow a phrase from the Bush administration's post-9/11 national security strategy, both sides have decided it is better to compete in peace than continually prepare for war.

During a period of such fast-paced change, it is well to remember the transformative importance of that massive mental leap.

Mr Advani's recent comments fit within this rubric - a politician dubbed "Demolition Man" in Pakistan for his alleged role in the destruction of the Babri Mosque at Ayodhya in 1992 has decided to present himself as one of the main architects of peace.

Back in the early 1990s, Mr Advani used the Ayodhya crisis successfully to stake the BJP's claim to national leadership.

Thirteen years on, Jinnah's Mausoleum is playing much the same role. Yet the main beneficiary of this controversial strategy is not the 71-year-old leader, even though he has remained as BJP President.

It is the two nations 20 years his junior.

If you would like to send your views on this column you can use the form below this selection of comments.


Pakistan, even now, is not a conservative nation. We are a moderate nation and are proud of the leaders who founded Pakistan. The path of enlightened moderation that we are on now will make Pakistan a more tolerant nation. Indians and the West have usually shown the worst sides of Pakistan; while we are shown the best of India on the media. The Indians and the west need to see the real Pakistan; colorful, accepting, tolerant and kind.
Fawwad Shafi, Lahore, Pakistan

The article is well written. It gives out honest description of contemporary realities of Indian subcontinent. Realization on both sides, of the need to compete in peace, is well brought out. Author has done commendable job. We appreciate this well thought out attempt.
G M Iska, India

Any steps for the encouragment of peace between two countries who have squabbled for the last 60 years is a welcomed notion for most Indians. Alteast from the standpoint of the new generation of Indians, I consider the change in Mr. Advani`s political thinking a very bold step, moreover a step that will propel us into a friendship with our brothers across the border and dispel this rivalry between Hindus and Muslims
Prashant, Japan

9/11 changed the world, but for Pakistan it was a 180 degree about face. It was Musharraf that was the architect of the Kargil conflict, now he is considered champion of peace. Pakistan army was the creator of many Jihadi groups in Kashmir, Afghanistan and within Pakistan. When the Generals realize they cannot win Kashmir in conventional way, they decided to go the guerilla way. For India, Kashmir is a distraction from its economic growth, getting permanent seat on UN Security Council. I feel sorry for the Muslims of Kashmir because it's a wonderful opportunity for them to get India to give concession.
Ali, Chicago, USA

While the press and the government celebrate every time a new link is established with India, the majority of the Pakistanis remain suspicious. They talk of the Indians playing this "game" to make them give up their nuclear weapons. Some of them go as far as accusing their president of being an American and Indian stooge!
Chao Chee How, Taiwan-Pakistan

A very good analysis. However painful the memories of partition might be but indians and pakistanis have to look beyond it and establish a new relationship based on mutual respect. We share the same culture and history so lets not be blinded by 60 years of separation. So much needs to be done in South Asia and only peace can bring positive change. Kudos to the politicians who have taken the initiative.
Satya Prakash Dash, UK/India

If we going to keep on talking about the past we are not going to solve anything. I am surprised how ignorant the South Asia population is about history. I am surprised how a small statement can cause an outcry in India. I believe Mr Jinnah was neither secular or religious. He was an opportunist he used religion to gain power after he realised this was not possible in United Hindu dominated India. A man who used to eat pork and drink can be anything but religious fundamentalist (Ref: Freedom at Midnight). Furthermore, his daughter decided to stay on in India after partition.
Yusuf Bhai Patel, India

Sometimes we need to hope against hope and expect a miracle. May be, just may be, Mr. Advani has had a change of heart and he truely wants to see the two countries progress together. May be he actually meant what he said. Sometimes all the manipulation, exploitation, vote-mongering and all the "politics" could be done for the eventual benefit and for the greater good. Sometimes we have to hope that by the time younger generation is mature enough to hold the flagship of the two countries, sanity would have prevailed.
Asad, Toronto, Canada

Peace in South Asia is hostage to history as nationalism determinant of politics. In South Asia, peace has been a misnomer and peacemaking an empty phrase. Politicians are doggedly pursuing pursuing their interests by parlying the tones of history or that of future domination. Well! a geopolitical shift is in progression, ever since the 9/11, both implicitly and explicitly. Politicians are approaching politics dynamically and looking things from the prism of peace. They have realised the need for peace as the politics of fundamentalism is outdated. A new political regime, that of coexistence, adjustment and dialogue, is maturing. Peace can therefore can be realised only if the the change in political regime is left unabated.
Imran Khan, Peshawar, Pakistan

Thanks for writing a positive story of it. Let the peace prevail.
Ajit, India

Rather than analyzing how Advani stands to gain from his statement, we should look at what good this has to do to India - Pakistan relations. The perspective held by Advani would help to allay the misguided Pakistani fears about the Indian intention of building an 'Akand Bharath (One India)'. Also, accepting the stature and role of Jinnah in Independence struggle would exemplify India's respect for Pakistan. After all, Good relations can be built only in places where there is mutual trust and respect.
Shanmugam Kulandaivel, India

My gut feeling is Mr. Advani is vying for the topmost job of the country viz. Primeministership, after the recent BJP debacle.. Must, we say are we to see the makeover of party... Oh, what these old fogeys would do to stay on in power... Move on and give way to the new...
Bimla Mehta, USA

It is interesting to note that Mr. Advani who is a member of the nationalist Hindu BJP party, has said that Jinnah was secular. The BJP is known to be such a hard line party and yet the leaders have decided to take a different stance where they are praising the Pakistani leader after all these years. The most important point to note is that Advani, who has experienced the independence struggle, is making these statements. It is this generation that has most vivid memories of the struggle and now Advani seems to be taking a turn from his party's ideologies. Whatever he decides to say now, it does seem that these statements just might have been good diplomatic skills. Not only that, but Advani has created this racket in Delhi and maybe it was another calculated move to attract attention from all sides. No matter what, the Indian government can be compared to a soap opera where there is always some drama unfolding in everyday politics.
Aarsi Sagar, Philippines

The partition was one of those mess left over by the British as they have done in other parts of the world. They did find a willing participant in Mr. Jinnah to carry out the deed. India and Pakistan are interlinked with each other through language, religion and culture. These two nations should merge like East and West Germany did and think about the power it can unleash.
Jacob Chacko, USA

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