Title: The People Next Door: The Curious History of India’s Relations with Pakistan.
Author: T. C. A. Raghavan.
Publisher: Harper Collins: Uttar Pradesh, India, 2017, 345.
Books on various facets of India-Pakistan ties are already present in abundance. The general understanding in this regard is substantial. The People Next Door by T.C.A. Raghavan is, however, meant to reveal a more wholesome essence of the India-Pakistan relationship with a more personal and discerning assessment of events and individuals in the wider domain of the main highs and lows of the association. The book presents a chronological outline of the reasons and means through which India and Pakistan adopted the path they did. It presents the cyclical shifts in the relationship as being dominated by ideology, viewpoints, history, overt bravado and hidden pragmatism. Although, the author has attempted to remain impartial while discussing the relationship, yet it is an Indian viewpoint on a contentious and profoundly disputed history.
Raghavan is a former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan and Singapore. He has a Ph.D in history from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The author has a distinctive outlook on India-Pakistan relations as he has previously served in the External Affairs Ministry in different capacities.
Raghavan has divided the book into eight chapters. The chapters follow a distinct timeline. The first two chapters cover the time span from the inception of the two states in 1947 until the year1960. The third and fourth chapters cover the events till the breakaway of East Pakistan in 1971. The fifth, sixth and seventh chapters elucidate the ties during the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s respectively. The last chapter relates the account up to 2008. The author has condensed the account from 2008 until 2017 in an epilogue.
Besides the fields of politics and strategy, the book brings out other angles as well: such as separated blood relatives, steady comradeships, mediators, hawks, opposing scholars, the impact of Indian film industry and fiction. Such things are an integral component of the tangled ties between the two neighbours.
The book follows seven decades of the India-Pakistan connection. Incidents, tales and individuals guide its narrative to portray the concoction of animosity, patriotism and reminiscence that delineate all the aspects of the linkage. It discerns the incidents through the senses of the real actors and modern-day analysts to elucidate the profoundly divergent lenses through which the events in history are viewed in the two states. It also reflects how historical experiences continue to re-emerge and have an unavoidable reverberation till date.
The initial months, following the inception of the two independent states, pieced together an environment of distrust, crisis and betrayal that Blaid down the foundation for the India-Pakistan connection that lasts till date. Recollections of Indian misdeeds resurface intermittently in Pakistan as part of the amassed stock of complaints. Carnages and genocide, the dissection of resources, the accession of Junagadh and Hyderabad, the injustice done to Kashmir; Kabul’s preliminary disapproval of Pakistan in the United Nations; the ever looming water dispute etc persist as veneers of the foundation of this relationship, despite the on-going deliberations on the twisted past. At any moment of intensified strain in the relationship, the incidents of the early period following independence reemerge and past injuries and grievances become relevant again. Thus, the sense of unfairness lingering in their history arouses strong reactions in both the states even today.
The book underscores the notion that prospects for tomorrow rest in the bygone era. Various events and conflicts of the past transmute and metamorphose to attain fresh features and at times an even severer ferocity. This is especially true in the case of India and Pakistan. Evidently, the projection of history matters a lot in this peculiar relationship. In addition, Raghavan opines that certain other factors also need to be taken into account. Firstly, domestic altercations and clashes continued to remain a key influence on foreign policies of the two countries. Secondly, the international situation has retained an unrelenting influence on the relationship. Thirdly, one cannot undervalue either the level of friendliness or the level of resentment in both the states toward the other. After every few years, prospects for cordiality emerge on both sides of the border but subsequent incidents prove any optimism held in this regard as wrong. Then again, the failed attempts of yesterday have not dissuaded either side from undertaking attempts for bringing a constructive change in the relationship.
Although contention and clash has remained the most noticeable feature of the relationship, yet there has been a tacit agreement on both sides that regardless of the significance of a dispute, a single facet shouldn’t be allowed to overshadow the overall relationship. A key aspect that sets the book apart from the rest of the works in this subject area is the narration of peculiar accounts of individuals in the wider backdrop of chief events in India-Pakistan history. Their thoughts and responses offer an avenue into the curious matrix of India-Pakistan ties at various points in time.
Raghavan poses a question as to whether the on going pattern of attempts and failures itself is resistant to change. Some analysts consider it true while others believe that the current measures are quite above the parameters of old-style enmities and irredentist philosophy. In the world of today, the chant of economic development and the capacity of technology to bring about transformation have gained currency. The author suggests that the ties, during the last two decades, have been different in their capacity to restore normalcy, as compared to those during the five decades before them. In contrast to the longer span of time required to normalize ties after any mishap in the earlier decades, the relations have returned on track much quicker in the later decades. However, it is generally easier to assess a situation while looking back at it in time, rather than identifying a change while being a part of the same time -period. Therefore, it is yet to be seen if such economic and technological advancements suggest any significant change in the India-Pakistan relationship in the present era.
The People Next Door concludes on the note that the recurring pattern of India-Pakistan ties diminishes the significance of warmongers and peacemakers, as both groups take turns to be proven right for some period of time. Such an alternating pattern is the highlight of the curious history of the relationship. The book is a significant read for the students and analysts of India-Pakistan relations, as it aims to scrutinize the often distressed relationship and, in the process, decipher it.
The book review was originally published in Journal of Contemporary Studies, Winter 2017.
A lecturer and lifestyle consultant by the day; an avid reader and writer by the night, I am a student of life.