PAST & PRESENT
A warning about Kashmir
`India Revisited: Indo-Pak Problems', though an essay written in the 1950s, is still relevant. Its author? A most unusual Englishman named Lionel Fielden.
Conflict over Kashmir has affected two generations.
I WRITE this as we await the formal response of the Pakistani Government to the "confidence-building measures" proposed by India. As ever, the utopians and cynics have both jumped into the fray, the former insisting that the New Delhi proposal marks a hopeful and perhaps even radical turning-point in Indo-Pak. Relations, the latter arguing that offer and counter-offer cannot mask the fundamental divide between the two nations. As it happens, in the course of some other work I stumbled upon an old essay on the subject that is of striking relevance. Entitled "India Revisited: Indo-Pak Problems", the essay was published in The Indian Review of Madras in May 1950. Its author was a most unusual Englishman named Lionel Fielden.
I first came across the name of Lionel Fielden when working on a biography of the anthropologist Verrier Elwin. Elwin was a rebel against the raj, an Oxford scholar and bishop's son who joined Mahatma Gandhi and later did sterling work among the adivasis of central India. Fielden, by contrast, was a mole within the Raj. For several crucial years in the 1930s, he was the Director-General of All India Radio. High officials wanted the medium to be bland and officious; whereas he wanted it to properly reflect the ideals and aspirations of the Indian people. As part of this effort, he invited Verrier Elwin to speak on the AIR about the poor people he lived with. This was heretical enough; worse still was the fact that the talk formed part of the "Empire Day" broadcast for 1935.
Fielden's work for the AIR features in an essay on "Radio and the Raj" written by the historian Partha Sarathi Gupta. Gupta quotes Fielden as telling his boss, Lord Reith of the B.B.C., that "I quarrel frightfully on paper with all the Secretaries and Deputy Secretaries and I don't see how I can do anything else". For, apart from giving time to renegades like Elwin, he wished also to allot airtime to representatives political parties like the Congress, a proposal that was at once shot down by the authorities.
Fielden has written with feeling about his Indian years in his own autobiography, The Natural Bent. Soon after coming to this country, he realised that a man of his culture and temperament could not mix with the other people here who were white-skinned. For "the conglomeration of English officials and their wives" in India was "the most ignorant, insensitive, arrogant and stupid conglomeration that the world has ever produced". Fielden sought escape by travelling as much as he could from the North-west Frontier down to Madras and by making Indian friends. One of these was Rajkumari Amrit Kaur; another, Mahatma Gandhi. Fielden made the pilgrimage to Wardha to see the great man; and met him also in Delhi and Bombay. In The Natural Bent he writes perceptively about Gandhi's weaknesses notably, that "he was, aesthetically, blind and deaf", while his "literary knowledge was absurdly limited". On the other hand, he had "an endearing Puckish humour, an enormous love and compassion for the human race, and a very shrewd brain. He had a remarkable intuition about people, and pierced through all hypocrisy to the heart". Above all, "it was always fun to be with him."
Lionel Fielden has long intrigued me. I was therefore quite excited when I discovered the essay by him mentioned at the beginning of this column. This was an account of a trip made by him to the subcontinent 10 years after he had left All India Radio.
Fielden had old friends in both India and Pakistan. Visiting them and speaking also to their friends, he found that on either side of the international boundary, "the visitor is assailed by arguments and harangues to prove that the other country is not only wrong but diabolically wrong, and mischievously to boot". As a man of the media, he had a particular eye out for the press. But what he found here deeply distressed him. For "the tone of the Indian Press tends to be a little patronising, sweetly reasonable but nevertheless obstinate, and rather consciously self-righteous. The tone of the Pakistan Press and Pakistan leaders tends to be resentful, arrogant and sometimes aggressive". Pakistani hostility was compounded by the fear that powerful forces in India wanted to reconquer or reabsorb their land in a united "Akhand Bharat".
In 1950, as in 2003, the status of Kashmir was absolutely central to the dispute between the two countries. Fielden thus summarises the respective points of view: "In clinging to Kashmir, India wants to weaken Partition; in claiming it, Pakistan wants to make Partition safe ... ". Kashmir, indeed, had become "the touchstone of all other rivalries". It was an issue on which both sides were absolutely rigid. Thus, "to fight to the last ditch for (Kashmir) is the slogan of all Pakistanis; not to give way on it is rapidly becoming the fixed idea in India".
Fielden ended his analysis with a warning. In the long run, he pointed out, "the most important thing" about the Kashmir conflict was "the expense in armaments in which both countries are getting involved. This means that social services in both countries are crippled, and since both countries, apart from their refugees, have millions of the poorest people in the world, it is easy to see how this can lead to disaster".
These were the words of a wise and impartial observer, of a man who loved both India and Pakistan, and Indians as well as Pakistanis. Tragically, on the Kashmir question the two sides have moved not an inch. Since Fielden wrote his article they have fought two big wars (in 1965 and 1971) and one small one (1999). Both countries continue to spend far more on arms than is prudent or necessary.
The argument that defence spending comes at the cost of development was made, years after Fielden, by the Pakistani economist Mahboob-ul-Haq. It was Haq who pioneered the annual Human Development Index, whereby the world's nations are ranked not merely by economic growth but by the social services they provide their citizens. It is scarcely an accident that both Haq's country and ours have consistently performed poorly in this regard. Sometimes we are ahead, at other times they, but at all times we both hover somewhere around the 130/140 mark.
I accept that this situation is not wholly due to the arms race. Corrupt politicians and inefficient delivery systems have also contributed. But above all, it is the clash of national egos that has placed this burden on our national lives. Two generations of Indians and Pakistanis have been blighted by the conflict over Kashmir. Fifty years down the line, the subcontinent we choose to call our own still has "millions of the poorest people in the world": people without access to decent housing, education, or health care. Our politicians are not known for their sense of history, but it still might not be a bad idea to make copies of Lionel Fielden's 1950 essay and circulate it to them all.
Ramachandra Guha is a historian and writer based in Bangalore. E-mail: email@example.com
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