What is Pakistan?

source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PAK_orthographic.svg

The Indian Constitution begins with a fascinating sentence.

Article 1: India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.

Now, doesn’t it imply that there is also an “India” that is not Bharat?

As the word “India” refers to the land or lands around the River Indus, it then follows that a territory whose official name is the “Republic of India” should also contain the said river.

However, that is not the case. The mighty River Indus runs through the “Islamic Republic of Pakistan” rendering it more Indian than the one currently called the “Republic of India “.

Hence, I think the very first article of the Indian Constitution subtextually addresses this inconsistency. I am not sure the framers consciously took that step. Their intention was to introduce a term originating locally as the word “India” was how foreigners began referring the vast territory straddling between the Iranian plateau and the Gangetic plains.

So, firstly, Pakistan is an India that is not Bharat and that which contains the River Indus. It is the child of this ancient river which binds its constituent parts together.

Secondly, it is an acronym. P stands for Punjab, A for Afghania [the Pashtun lands in the North West], K for Kashmir, S for Sindh, and –tan for Baluchistan. Although it was added to make the pronunciation easy for the reader, the letter I can be taken as a representative of the word Indus.

Thirdly, the word “Pakistan” also signals towards the Persian/Farsi and Sanskrit heritage. “Pak” is a Persian word which means “pure”. It is cognate with the Sanskrit term “pavaka” (पावक). The other component, that is “-stan”, is a Persian suffix which means “place”, “abode”, “station”, etc. It is also cognate with the Sanskrit word “sthan” (स्थान).

Lastly, Pakistan can be seen as a protest against the notion that Delhi is the political and cultural centre of gravity of the region between the Khyber Pass and the Bay of Bengal. It is perhaps the most powerful centrifugal force that resists the gravitational pull that emanates from the centralisation tendencies of the Gangetic plains. And I might add that it doesn’t matter who sits in Delhi.

Of “East Bengal”, “East Pakistan”, and “Bangladesh”:

Here, one may raise an extremely pertinent question. What to make of Bangladesh which, until 1971, used to be known as “East Pakistan” and was governed as a sovereign territory of Pakistan?

Well, until the promulgation of the constitution of 1956, this territory was known as “East Bengal”. It was carved out of Bengal as a Muslim majority region. The founding father of Pakistan, Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had endorsed the scheme of a United Sovereign Bengal but the Nehru-led Indian National Congress rejected the proposal. According to S.K. Majumdar, the measure would have depleted the fortunes of the financiers of the Congress Party.*

My own assessment is that a United Bengal in the East coupled with a Pakistan in the West would have not only encouraged several other centrifugal tendencies, Bengali nationalism would also have shaken the foundations of Congress-backed “Indian Nationalism”. Therefore, the Congress Party that was seeing things from Delhi stood for the division of Bengal, and when after the conflict in 1971 Eastern half of Bengal declared its independence from Islamabad, New Delhi did not try to incorporate it into its own province of West Bengal. Paving the way for a sovereign Muslim-majority “Bangladesh”, the Republic of India undermined its own secular nationalistic credentials and upheld a sort of nationalism the basis of which was religion [in this case Islam].

So getting back to the theme at present, a sovereign territory separated by a thousand-mile of foreign land was a bizarre arrangement to begin with. Bengal should have been allowed to decide its own destiny. Nevertheless, this does not mean that I endorse or sympathize with the foundational fantasies of “Bangladesh”. It is not “Bangladesh” as long as West Bengal remains a part of India. Presently, it is a land of Muslim Bengalis whose political elite brandished linguistic chauvinism but insisted on frontiers drawn on the basis of religion.

* S.K. Majumdar Jinnah and Gandhi: Their Role in India’s Quest for Freedom [pg. 273]

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