Delhi and Lahore twins?

By Ishtiaq Ahmed

I spent a week recently in the Indian capital, Delhi, in connection with the very last interviews for my book on the partition of the Punjab in 1947. Coming to Delhi has always been like coming back almost home. Since my childhood has been spent entirely in Lahore, my sensibilities to look for Lahore wherever I go is a primordial weakness. I am sure even the most diehard communalists on both sides of the border will have to admit that Lahore and Delhi are almost identical twins. Also, outside Lahore if you ever want to find the greatest concentration of Lahoris you will find them in Delhi. They would be Hindus and Sikhs; that is the only difference.

But even identical twins are individuals after all, and have to live and grow their own lives. In the regard I must say that Delhi has fared much better at least in the last 10 years or so. The Indian Supreme Court played a most glorious role when it brought to an end political wrangling over the use of CNG gas instead of petrol in taxis, rickshaws and buses. It ordered that all such vehicles should convert forthwith to the environment-friendly CNG. Even private cars are going over to CNG. The result is that pollution has gone down drastically and the air in Delhi is really good. Considering that Delhi has a sprawling population of over 12 million this is an amazing achievement.

Despite all my love for Lahore each time I visit it I am scared to death of developing respiratory trouble since the air is completely polluted and unhealthy. A friend of mine has suggested that next time I am in Lahore I should head straight from the airport to the shrine of Data Sahib and pray for his intercession to protect me from polluted air. Being of the more rational bent of mind I am still hoping that our Supreme Court will give us the leadership to make Lahore green and its air clean. If that does not happen I might prostrate myself before Data Sahib as a last resort.

Pran Nevile is a veteran Lahori, born in the walled city who speaks Punjabi with a characteristic Lahori flavour. He lives in Delhi currently. He paid meritorious compliments to Lahore when he wrote “Lahore: A Sentimental Journey”. Several editions of it have been sold. He has added a new chapter about his recent visits to Lahore.

Pran suggested to me that Delhi and Lahore should be declared twin cities. Further, exchange of students between them and other cities of India and Pakistan should be promoted, and travelling between the two countries should be made as easy as possible. Once again I agree with him and endorse his vision. I am sure we both represent the voice of the silent majorities in both countries who would rather that peace and friendship be built, since war and hostility has nothing to offer except expediting our en masse despatch to kingdom come.

The visit to the Indian capital confirmed my impression gathered over a number of visits in recent years that India is on the right track. The economy is booming and the blessings of democracy have begun to generate a social segment that truly values individual freedom. Also, some recent legal developments should enhance the growth of a democratic culture and society. Among them are the laws that prohibit child labour both in domestic and public environments as well as those which criminalise violence against women at home or in work places. As a social scientist I know that it is always good if the law supports democratic culture. That way half the battle is won. It is a necessary though not sufficient basis for the growth and consolidation of democracy and human rights.

Recently the Sacchar Committee found in its enquiry that Muslims were underrepresented in employment and were backward in education and overall economic development. The Sachhar Report made strong recommendations for greater Muslim representation in educational, government and economic sectors.

Justice Rajinder Sacchar, who headed the committee, was actually born in Lahore. He is the son of the old Congress leader of undivided Punjab, Lala Bhim Sen Sacchar, of Gujranwala. The family has always been in the left wing of the Congress Party. It was heartening to note that Justice Rajinder Sacchar values social justice highly and wanted a fair deal for the Muslim minority.

It is also important to note that the Manmohan Singh government continues to reiterate its commitment to fight poverty and to promote social justice. The great expansion of the Indian economy is not benefiting all sections of society and there is a fear shared by intellectuals, academics and other public figures that the poor and weak may be sidelined while the rich and strong amass more wealth.

Since I came to India so soon after the terrorist attack on the train near Panipat on February 18, my interest in learning how it was reflected in the Indian media and how common people related to it was acute. I was very pleased to know that there was wide condemnation of that terrorist outrage and common people in the villages close to where the train had stopped after the bombs exploded rendered all help they could muster at that time.

The visit ended with a lecture that I delivered on the “India-Pakistan peace process and the role of the two Punjabs” at the Centre for Political Studies of the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University. My host was the young and very bright Dr Rahul Mukherji. The argument I put forth was that the peace process was on track but peace-loving Indians and Pakistanis from all walks of life should actively participate in it to make it succeed. I emphasised the need for India to make reciprocal gestures that can convince Pakistan that both sides would gain from adjustments on Kashmir and other related matters.

The question-and-answer session proved to be very stimulating and encouraging as I engaged in a frank and open dialogue with young Indian scholars who had come to listen to my talk.

The writer is professor of political science at the University of Stockholm, Sweden. Email: Courtesy News International , Lahore