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Invisible threads of history: Overlooked contributions of Pakistan to Indian democracy

Pakistan itself may have failed to lay the foundation for strong democratic institutions, but it has made an invisible contribution to strengthening democracy in India. Just before the Partition, its leaders helped the architect of the Indian Constitution, Bhim Rao Ambedkar, get elected to the Constituent Assembly in 1946 – a fact now overlooked in Indian history books.

Another important but lesser-known connection between these two nations lies in Pakistan’s scientific contributions that influenced Indian elections.

At the heart of Indian electoral integrity is the indelible ink used to mark voters — a practice introduced in the first general elections in 1951. This seemingly simple mechanism prevents vote tampering and double voting, which is critical to maintaining the sanctity of elections.

Less well known, however, is the origin of this ink, which was created by Salim-u Zaman Siddiqui, the founding chairman of the National Science Council of Pakistan. Before partition, he worked at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) under Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar. He was also the younger brother of Chaudhry Khaleeq u Zaman Siddiqui, a prominent leader of the Muslim League.

The British authorities had asked Bhatnagar, who was also an eminent chemist, to develop a method to identify voters who would cast their votes during the 1946 Constituent Assembly elections. He, in turn, commissioned Siddiqui to develop a solution and asked him to experiment with silver chloride. The instructions were that the solution must not damage human skin.

After many experiments, Siddiqui mixed silver chloride with silver bromide and developed an indelible ink that stuck to the finger. The ink, which proved to be permanent and harmless, represented a significant advance in voting methods.

Although Siddiqui went to Pakistan after the partition of the country, his innovation remained in India and became an integral part of the Indian electoral system, which is now used in over 30 democracies worldwide.

Gopal Krishna Gandhi, a former governor and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, even suggested naming the system “SiddikInk” to honour its creator — a suggestion that has yet to be officially recognised in India’s current political climate.

Another contribution

Another contribution of Pakistan is the sending of Bhimrao Ambedkar to the Constituent Assembly in 1946 – an underrated but important aspect of Indian history.

Ambedkar, who is today revered as the architect of the Indian Constitution, lost his election from Bombay, largely due to the efforts of Congress leader Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. There was no way for him to become a member of the Constituent Assembly. However, his subsequent entry into the Assembly was facilitated by the Muslim League, especially through the efforts of Joginder Nath Mandal and Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy.

Ambedkar’s candidature for the Jasur-Khulna (now in Bangladesh) seat in a by-election was aided by the resignation of a Muslim League member who vacated the seat for him. This strategic political support not only enabled Ambedkar to participate in the drafting of the constitution but also secured his place as chairman of the nine-member drafting committee.

His role was crucial to the drafting of the Constitution and reflects his deep commitment to social justice and equality that characterises India to this day.

The support of personalities like Jinnah, Suhrawardy and Mandal for Ambedkar underscores a complex interplay of political alliances that transcended the emerging boundaries of the new nations.

This aspect of the story highlights the irony of political narratives: While Ambedkar’s contribution to India is celebrated, the crucial role played by leaders from what would soon become Pakistan is often overlooked.

Six months later, when Jasur-Khulna went to East Pakistan as part of the Redcliff Award, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru asked Congress member M. R. Jayakar from North Mumbai to resign, paving the way for Ambedkar’s return to the Constituent Assembly to continue as the Chairman of the Drafting Committee.

Moreover, Ambedkar’s post-Constitution political journey was not smooth. Despite his monumental contributions, he suffered electoral defeats and was often side-lined by both the Congress and other political groups, reflecting the difficult dynamics of caste and politics in India.

But how ironic it is that soon after the Constitution was introduced, in 1951, when the first general elections were held in India, this creator of the Constitution again suffered a major defeat in Bombay. In 1954, he tried his luck again in the by-elections in Bandra (Bombay), but again he was defeated.

Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar being sworn-in as independent India’s first Law Minister by_President of India on May 8, 1950. Photo/Wikipedia

Ambedkar, Mandal contribution

Interestingly while Ambedkar became the first law minister of India, his political guru, Joginder Nath Mandal was appointed law minister and chairman of the drafting committee of constitution in Pakistan under Jinnah. He was a strong advocate of Dalit-Muslim unity.

His dreams soon disappeared after Jinnah’s death. Soon clashes started between him and Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and his cabinet colleagues.

The massacre of Dalits in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, in 1950 shook Mandal so much that he fled to Calcutta overnight and handed in his resignation to the Pakistani Prime Minister.

After his return to India, Mandal was always viewed with suspicion and was never able to regain his pre-independence status. He spent all his time looking after refugees (mostly Dalits) from East Pakistan. No political party was willing to accept him. He finally died in Calcutta in 1968.

The history of India and Pakistan is intertwined in a way that goes beyond conflict and partition. The contributions of Pakistani scholars and politicians to the fundamental aspects of Indian democracy are an example of a shared history that deserves to be recognised.

These stories not only enrich our understanding of the past but also teach us something about the complexity of political and scientific cooperation across borders.

Both countries had Dalit law ministers, who were to play a central role in drafting the constitution. While in India Ambedkar succeeded in drafting the constitution, Mandal was humiliated and was forced to return to India to an obscure and humiliating death.

This narrative not only highlights the significant role of these personalities but also recalls the invisible threads that connect the histories of India and Pakistan, offering a more nuanced perspective on their shared legacy and continued relevance in shaping contemporary political discourse. Courtesy: Kashmir Times

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