Freedom at Midnight

I had read this wonderful book a long time back and wanted to read it again. Managed to get a copy recently and read it – as fascinating as the first time I read it. The book deals with the time period surrounding the independence of India and Pakistan (1946-1948) and is very relevant in the current context of the sectarian violence in Iraq.

The book describes the painful process of partition that the people of India and Pakistan suffered through and the role various actors played in the surrounding events. What struck me as I was reading it this time is the depth and stature of leadership that was involved in dealing with the crisis – Mahatma Gandhi, Louis Mountbatten, Jawaharlal Nehru and others. These are some of the greatest leaders the world has ever seen. Mahatma Gandhi singlehandedly contained and curbed seemingly uncontrollable levels of violence by fasting on two occasions (and nearly dying on the second occasion) – such was the respect and admiration of the common man for him. No Army (even the famed British Army that had prevailed in WW II) was up to the task.

When I look at the current sectarian violence in Iraq, I see very strong parallels with what happened in India and Pakistan during 1947. However, what appears to be missing (admittedly, I have a somewhat distant view provided by mainstream media) is a strong and capable Iraqi leadership that can lead the country out of its current crisis. In such times, baser instincts rule people and an endless cycle of revenge takes hold. And, going by historic precedent, it seems like even the presence of a mighty army like ours cannot really help quell the violence. What Iraq needs most is leaders that can calm her people down and make them see sense – until then I’m afraid we will only end up wasting the precious lives of our young men and women to no avail …

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