It is tragic that despite centuries of peaceful coexistence, the year 1947 saw such a bloodbath between Muslims and Hindus, former Indian diplomat Mani Shankar Aiyar said on Saturday, addressing a session on the second day of the 9th Karachi Literature Festival.
Aiyar, who was India’s first consul general in Karachi from 1978 to 1982, spoke at the launch of former Pakistan foreign secretary Shahryar Khan’s latest book ‘Bhopal Connections: Vignettes of Royal Rule’.
The book is a collection of reminiscences of life in the princely state, also examines the question of Muslim-Hindu harmony and differences between the two communities that have claimed a heavy toll of lives in Pakistan and India.
The discussion between Khan and Aiyar was moderated by Sadaffe Abid, founder of Circle, an organisation working for women’s empowerment.
As indicated in the book, Aiyar said, there was total Muslim-Hindu harmony in Bhopal, so much so that at a certain juncture, even its ruler was a Hindu man despite it being a Muslim state. He lamented that despite centuries of peaceful coexistence, the year 1947 saw such a bloodbath between the two communities. He claimed there were as many Muslims in India as there were in Pakistan: 200 million.
He said since the time of the partition, politicians and self-oriented elements on both sides of the divide had raised slogans out of very defective arguments that they had been fed on.
He, however, saw hope in the future because “the militant generation that has indoctrinated people on both sides is a passing generation, and 95 per cent of Pakistanis and Indians are the post-partition generation who were not eyewitness to the holocaust of 1947”.
As such, he said, both countries should grab the opportunity offered by that factor and strive to improve ties, something that would go to the mutual benefit of the people of both states. “It’s high time this acrimony came to an end.”
Could this be achieved within the next decade, asked the moderator. While Aiyer did not extend an assurance in that regard, he said now was the time to grab the opportunity to “effect a long overdue détente”.
Khan, who happens to be the son of the last ruler of Bhopal, praised Aiyar as an outstanding supporter of Pakistan-India peace. The author also acknowledged that Muslim-Hindu harmony of Bhopal was exemplary.
He said Muslims of Bhopal respected Hindu rites and their places of worship, and even attended the Diwali and Dussehra celebrations. He claimed that not a single Muslim-Hindu riot occurred in Bhopal during the upheaval of 1947.