By: Tridivesh Singh Maini and Shyamal Kataria
The partition of the subcontinent remains, albeit for somewhat different reasons, deeply embedded in the national psyche of both India and Pakistan. This is hardly surprising given that together with the appalling human tragedy accompanying it, for one nation partition constituted the loss of one-third of her territory, and for the other signalled its birth. Yet one aspect of partition and its associated impact that is often overlooked, or at least trivialised relative to other dimensions, includes the plight of what became the new borderlands.
These borderlands, a perfect example being the Punjabi city of Amritsar, cut-off from their markets and demographically modified beyond recognition through the haphazard exchange of minority populations, tended to suffer steady economic degradation as a result. Moreover, as appears to be the fate of many borderlands the world over, these territories have turned into hotbeds for illicit trade. However, the economic degradation of these areas is not beyond remedy.
Interactions between the two Punjabs, along with the appetite for closer business linkages, have witnessed an increase at both the governmental and non-governmental levels over the past decade. This is in spite of the fact that the relationship between New Delhi and Islamabad has witnessed a number of ups and downs during this period, including the Mumbai terrorist attacks. Strengthening business linkages is especially important in the context of India-Pakistan ties, since cynics-otherwise-sceptics dismiss engagement between both countries as a futile process and those in favour of it as utopian and rosy eyed. Apart from the need to rekindle business ties, it is also important to expand the level of interactions between other border regions such as Rajasthan and Sindh, as well as Gujarat and Sindh where there is a strong incentive for such business linkages.
Gujarat-Sindh ties and the last few years
It is often the contentious issues – like that of Sir Creek and the problems afflicting fishermen from Gujarat – which draw media attention in Gujarat. The possibility of strong economic ties between Gujarat and Sindh seldom gets media coverage, though there has been fleeting mention of the possible import of electricity to Pakistan by the Adani Group which is setting up a power plant at Kutch.
What is often overlooked is that the business communities of Gujarat and Karachi have established links and have been enthusiastic to enhance India-Pakistan trade. Exchanges between Chambers of Commerce have been an important feature of this endeavour. The South Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and the Karachi Chamber of Commerce signed an MOU in November 2013 for enhancing cooperation between the two chambers. In 2011, a delegation from Karachi had attended the Vibrant Gujarat Summit and a number of Pakistani businessmen had met with then Gujarat CM and now Indian PM, Narendra Modi inviting him to visit Pakistan. The Gandhidham Chamber of Commerce had also written to both the state and central government in 2011 to open three possible land openings through Kutch. Until now, there has been no response to the demands of the Gandhidham Chamber of Commerce. However, with the current government’s focus on improving ties and strengthening economic linkages in the neighbourhood, there is a strong chance that the government may consider trade through the land route, since a number of business lobbies from Gujarat have been pitching hard for the same.
Potential role of the Diaspora
In addition to the Governments and Chambers of Commerce, the Gujarati diaspora too could play a role in giving a push to economic cooperation between Gujarat and Sindh. As far as the Indian diaspora is concerned, the Gujarati community has been by far the most entrepreneurial, be it in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, or East Africa. Yet the Gujaratis are, of course, not a monolithic group.
Certain Gujarati castes, including, in the case of Hindus, the Lohanas and Banias, and in the case of Muslims, Khojas, Bohras and Memons have, more so than others, made immense progress, and could be important stakeholders in building linkages between both regions.
While Khojas, Bohras and Memons have strong presence on both sides of the border, their ancestral portion of Gujarat, more often than not, tends to be either in Kutch or Kathiawar peninsula, and not the more ‘thriving’ part of eastern Gujarat which consists of the cities of Ahmedabad, Surat and Baroda. With this in mind, those Gujaratis looking to reinvest back home often can face the dilemma of reinvesting back into their former towns and cities for purely nostalgic reasons but for little financial sense, or reinvesting in cities with which they had no prior connection, such as Ahmedabad, with better growth potential. By allowing the border states of Sindh and Gujarat to engage one another along with the participation of the vibrant Gujarati diaspora, this could further improve the economic prospects of other regions of Gujarat, Kutch and Kathiawar, in addition to of course the border areas of Sindh.
In this milieu, diasporans would undoubtedly increase investment into these hitherto-neglected borderlands with far less reservation. Furthermore, on the issue of the Muslim Gujarati communities referred to above, they are in the curious situation of often having family spread across both Gujarat and Sindh. For them, any closer integration and cooperation between the Sindh and Gujarat would be undoubtedly most welcome.
In conclusion, while at present it may seem a bit far-fetched, if political players in India and Pakistan (especially Gujarat and Sindh), business chambers, and members of the diaspora are pro-active, there exists immense scope for closer economic linkages between Gujarat and Sindh.
Tridivesh Singh Maini is a Senior Research Associate with The Jindal School of International Affairs, Sonepat (India).
Shyamal Kataria is a Political Science PhD Candidate at the University of London, UK.
Image: Prakash Singh-AFP, Getty