Two Diamonds

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India and Pakistan had the rare experience of separating from one another at the same time they achieved independence from Britain, 75 years ago this month, on Aug. 15, 1947. Both countries appear to still be in search of themselves since then.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi used his massive country’s diamond anniversary to pledge that India would become a “developed” nation in the next 25 years, as CNN reported. “The way the world is seeing India is changing,” he said. “There is hope from India and the reason is the skills of 1.3 billion Indians. The diversity of India is our strength. Being the mother of democracy gives India the inherent power to scale new heights.”

Indian news outlet the Wire noted how Modi appeared to be echoing the so-called ‘Tryst with Destiny speech’ by Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. “A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new,” Nehru said on the eve of Indian independence. “When an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”

But Modi’s Hindu nationalism appears to have overlooked or even shunned the cosmopolitan and pacifist tradition of Mahatma Gandhi that underpinned the drive for independence, the Washington Post wrote. Instead, Modi seeks to create a more muscular India with Hindu traditions made central to its identity, despite the country’s long commitment to secular government and tolerance.

Similarly, many Pakistanis who celebrated their independence on Aug. 14 evoked a multicultural, tolerant vision propounded by the country’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Jerusalem Post reported. Some called on their fellow citizens to band together to overcome the difficult, post-Covid economic climate that was currently challenging their country.

But, as correspondent Umair Jamal wrote in the Diplomat, the country’s political culture has veered away from that open-minded vision as intolerance and militant Islam have become more widespread there.

The scars of India’s and Pakistan’s births still linger. When British lawyer Cyril Radcliffe drew the new borders between the two countries after 200 years of British rule, he had five weeks to prepare and had never visited India, Al Jazeera explained. The result was the largest forced migration in human history as 15 million people moved to, or remain in, either Hindu-dominated India or Muslim-dominated Pakistan. Two million people died in the violent transfer.

The two countries still fight over control of Kashmir, an area that both have claimed since the partition, the BBC added.

And even today, families and neighbors remain separated by the borders, drawn 75 years ago.

But then lines on a map are only part of a journey to nationhood.

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