What ifs revisited…
My last year’s 15 Aug post formed the basis of a Forum article a few weeks ago. The big takeaway: we have spent a lot of time imagining our nation when there was nothing inevitable about the way things turned out, but we do have a republic that is up to us to shape.
This year, let’s have some quick fun with what ifs. What are the big ‘what if’ questions of the 20th century South Asia?
I have read enough Harry Turtledove to know that a great ‘what if’ event has to meet two tests.
• It has to be something that had a reasonable probability of actually happenning — there was a high probability that India could have lost the 1983 World Cup, there was not much probability that Bangladesh could have won the 2007 World Cup.
• It has to be something that truly could have changed major events — not really much would have happened if India hadn’t won the 1983 World Cup.
Implicit from the two is this corollary: questions like what if partition hadn’t happened? are meaningless. One has to ask why partition happened? If one believes it was a historical inevitability, then there is no event that could have happened that would have changed it. If one traces it to specific factors, then the questions are what if even X or Y had (or had not) happened?
With this in mind, here are my picks, with possible outcomes in italics.
• Gandhi had not called off the non-coperation movement in the early 1920s? Partition of South Asia could have been avoided.
• Congress formed a coalition government with Fazlul Huq in Bengal in the late 1930s? Partition of Bengal could have been avoided.
• Pakistani tribesmen captured Srinagar before the Indian troops arrived in 1947? India could have ignored Pakistan.
• Morarji Desai became the Prime Minister of India in the 1960s? India could have avoided the Hindu rate of growth.
• Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was executed by the Pakistan Army in 1971? Maoists could have captured power in Bangladesh, exporting revolution to the neighbours.
• Rao-Singh reforms had not been introduced? India could have reverted to the Hindu rate of growth.
• India had not nuclearised in 1998? Pakistan could have continued proliferation without scrutiny, leading to all sorts of nasty events in the post 9-11 environment.
Well, fun as they may be to wonder about, none of these happened. At the time of partition, life expectancy at birth was around 37 years in our part of the world. That is, most of the real midnight’s children are long gone. I am sure the generation in this video will write a better future.