Category Archives: Partition of India

Our Idea of India

We the students of History, in strong terms condemn the authoritarian abuse of the basic human rights and civil liberties that is being carried out in the name of nationalism. As students of History we hold the idea of critical spirit in high esteem and refrain from categorizing the dynamic ideas of nation, nationalism and patriotism in narrow criteria limited by the understanding and the benefit of one section of the population. We enquire into the possibilities of understanding a single concept through various diverse aspects and in the process we, more often than not, contradict ourselves and when we do, we don’t stop, we work towards a solution, this ‘working towards a solution in our opinion reflects the idea that we call India.

A political miracle, India, for us is reflected in dialectic interaction of various strands of thought. It is this privilege of being able to disagree with the powerful is what is under threat due to authoritarian acts of arresting a student leader, stifling critical voices and maiming our beloved democracy. Self-criticism is one of the major elements that push the human race forward and it is this right that is being denied to us. We condemn this act and we struggle towards a society where self-criticism and debate is appreciated and upheld. We work towards what Constitution of India has promised to us. For us the Indian Nation is manifestation of dialogue and debate on every aspect, it is only through this spirit of dialogue and debate that a diverse country like India has come into being and has survived. We uphold the idea of India, We struggle for its survival. It is the Rule of Law based on Justice that we struggle for not Rule of Fear.

A short historical perspective of Kashmir issue



The Britishers  which ruled in India more than 100 years. There were some states Kashmir was among one of them. Basically it was a property or gift was given by British government to the maharaja Gulab singh as he provided better services to the British government and helped them in the first Anglo-Sikh war of 1846, he was rewarded  the state of Jammu and Kashmir by paying rupees of 75 lakhs according to the treaty of Lahore. The British government put some conditions before maharaja  Gulab singh that he had to pay certain kinds  of services such as  goats, shawls, wool etc and he could not signed any treaty with the foreign without the informing the British government. So, he became the hereditary Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir state. His successors ruled till 1947 and its last maharaja Hari singh. People were not happy with with the despotic and aristocratic rule of maharajas.They did not have rights and liberties but they had also to pay certain kinds of services without returns. It was under the leadership of sheikh Muhammad Abdullaha, the people started opposing the maharajas rule and demanding democracy, self-determination and freedom. It was in 1947 the India was partitioned, one Pakistan became free in 14, august 1947 and India that is Bharat became free in 15, august 1947 A.D. It was a provision in the independence act of 1947 that princely states had the option to join either India or Pakistan or remained independent .The Maharaja of Kashmir wanted to remain independent. He did not want to join India or Pakistan, but it is very controversial issue as some of the scholar has opinion that he wanted to join the Pakistan dominion based on the fact majority of the population was was according to the census of 1941  the Muslim population in Jammu and Kashmir was 77 percent, 20 percent were Hindus and 03 percent were Sikhs and Buddhists. Kashmir issue was basically territorial as well as  Ethnic  conflict between India and Pakistan  as well as  china is also involving as china demanded the Aksai chin and Shaksan valley. Kashmir was invaded by Pashtu tribesmen on 20 October, 1947  which were supported by Pakistani government and aided by them. The condition of valley deteriorated. It was maharaja Hari Singh who send Sheikh Muhammad Abdullaha to the centre to ask India for help against these tribals. India sent   his forces to the valley to remove tribalsmen from Kashmir valley. It was on 26,0ctober 1947 Kashmir became the integral part of India but there is also controversy that the instrument of accession was not permanent as it was provisional, conditional and temporary. Even the people of Kashmir demanded for. They were not given the right of self-determination. They were not treated according to the provision of Indian independence act that princely states had the option to join either India or Pakistan or remained independent. Their wishes, wills, rights, liberties were curtail which were the basic human rights but this can be counter on the fact there is no unanimous decision among the people of Kashmir. Some demanded to remain independent, some wanted to join Pakistan and some wanted to remain with India. so, Jammu and Kashmir became the water-melon for India, China and Pakistan as they want to eat it by cut into pieces as China was cut into pieces by European powers in the 20th century.

Growth of Communalism in Independent India




National Movement was not able to counter forces of communalism adequately or evolve an effective strategy against them but it was only because of the strong secular commitment of the national movement that despite the traumatic event of partition and carnage that it accompanied, independent India made secularism a basic pillar of its Constitution,  state and society.

One would have to trace steps back to the time when consciousness of separate ethnic identities started developing in the minds of people to understand the colossal issue of ethnic conflict in independent India.

“Before British officials started to record a Punjabi’s religion, the latter did not necessarily or primarily think of himself as a Muslim, Hindu or Sikh. If asked who or what he was, he might have mentioned his zaat or village before speaking of his religion.” (Gandhi, Rajmohan 2013)

Rajmohan Gandhi, in his book on Punjab history makes this remark which throws light on the concept of identities in the past. When and how these identities became a staple food of political manipulations and manoeuvring is the matter to be thought of.

As a part of imperial design of establishing the stronghold of the empire in the subcontinent, India’s colonial masters created and perpetuated myths about peoples, along with this there was a greater emphasis on homogenising certain ‘communities’ and differentiating them from others through the creation of and perpetuation of knowledge and fear. There have been convincing arguments on the idea of construction of group categories by knowledge elite and its promotion by the powerful, the methods of arriving at a census by categorization and classification may be one such example.

How have these tools of control and manipulation survived into independent India and what pressure they exert on the society and culture would be the matter of deliberation.


Trajectory of communalism in independent India:

The occurrence of communal violence in the post-independence period has been classified into various phases:

  • The calm decade of 1950-60 with sporadic instances of violence
  • The rising of communal tensions gradually across the next decade of 1961-70
  • The ‘peaceful’ period of war and emergency from 1971-77
  • Violent years of 1978-80 ending in Moradabad violence killing 1000 people
  • The most communally charged decade starting in 1980 culminating in the destruction of Babri Masjid in 1992 and letting loose the demon of communal violence across the country

Congress managed to dominate in the first two decades after independence because of welfarist industrialisation and institutionalizing democratic rule, but gradually Congress took to slow decline, challenges from above and below undermined congress’ dominance. The rise of political Hindutva questioning the very principles of Nehruvian model and expanding influence in civil society by the extension of shakhas forms the background of the mobilization by these Hindutva elements of masses against corruption and Emergency of 1970s.

After the dismal performance of Jan Sangh in 1984 elections, a more aggressive policy of Hindutva was adopted. Since the 12% of largest religious minority of the country was small to terrorise the population of subjugation by them, the Hindutva adopted a different approach of criticizing the State of ‘Muslim appeasement’ and ‘Unfair treatment’ of Hindus.

The issue of absence of Uniform Civil Code has been brought up time and again as the manifestation of discrimination against Hindus. The case of Shah Bano that came into limelight because of this absence of Uniform Civil Code where a Muslim woman considered eligible for receiving alimony under the general civil laws was deprived of it due to the application of Muslim personal laws, this case unleashed a series of debates between progressive and conservative muslims. Fearing the loss of support base in muslim fundamentalists the congress government legislatively overturned the ruling of Supreme Court which insisted on the supremacy of Indian Penal Code, this was used by the Hindu communalists for propagating the idea of Muslim appeasement by the Govt. and it was to neutralize this and to appease the Hindus that locks of Babri Masjid were opened.



The secularism of Indian constitution

A secular state with substantially secularized laws resting on secular constitution co-exists with a civil society in which the religious influence is pervasive; this creates the highly tensed atmosphere in India.

Secularism was defined in a comprehensive manner during the national movement, one which meant the separation of religion from politics and the state, the treatment of religion as a private matter for the individual, state neutrality towards or equal respect for all religions, absence of discrimination between followers of different religions, and active opposition to communalism. And since Indian constitution was to a huge extent an attempt at materializing the promises and legacy of National Movement, it had secular spirit from the very beginning. Though the term secular was added only by the 42nd Amendment in 1976, the idea of the constitution was secular from the very beginning, adding the term might just have been an act to asserting that essence.

However, one very major problem with the Indian Constitution has been the gap between the ideals enshrined and the prevalent practices and worsening the problem was the ignorance and illiteracy of the masses.

One needs to define Indian secularism and communalism and their practices before going any further, Secularism in India translates into state power directed against the political use of religion.

  • Secularists and their political organizations respect the religious beliefs of others, as long as they keep clear of politics. Secularists do not blame either Hindus or Muslims as communities for riots but they blame the politicians, Hindu and Muslim where they find either or both responsible and non-communal factors as economic conditions.
  • Indian secularists are also nationalists who believe and teach that there is an Indian history that encompasses all the peoples of the subcontinent, thus secularism is the issue of a particular kind of nationalism, that of composite nationalism.

But with the constant rise in communal forces over the years, there has been an active communalisation of the society, this communalisation not always results in communal carnage but the creation and propagation of fear and the idea of other-ness of a community compromises the idea of  secular India that was perceived.

  • Communalism is essentially and ideology, a set of beliefs which falsely represent the interest of a social group. Religion or religious ideology has nothing to do with communalism; communal politics is the politics of communal identity. The example of Hindutva claiming to represent 85% of the Indian population suggests the gross ignorance by communal forces of multiple identities with in this so called majority of theirs. The idea of majority changing from issue to issue and programme to programme is non-existent to the communalists.

But more important is understanding the meanings of secularization, and communalization.

Secularization implies co-existence between secular and sacred, and in India it would mean a many sided process involving the progressive decline of religious influence in economic political and social life of human beings, and even over their private habits and motivations.

Communalism in a society like India, means a competitive de-secularization. And as communalism has its symbolic equivalents in cultural, political and social terms, secularism lacks any such symbolic representation and that might be the reason of its slow penetration in the society. Secularism might be equated to the development of modern civil society, and it would be wrong to confine the hindrance to growth of  this civil society in just two dimensions of religion and caste, which is affected by diverse cultural, regional, class and group identities.


Manifestation of Communal forces

Communalization not always results in communal violence, there might exist strong currents of communal animosity in a society but not riots or violence, there might be various economic and political reasons behind this prevalent communalism, but the demographic factor plays a decisive role in the behaviour of not only the communities in question but also the political parties. Extensive studies have been undertaken by various scholars in the reasons of the eruption of violence and its relation with various non-religious causes:

  1. Civil Society as deterrent to Communal Strife: It has been argued that when local networks of civic engagement exist between the communities tensions and conflicts are regulated and maintained and when they are missing communal identities lead to endemic and ghastly violence.(Varshney 2002). These networks can be broken down into two parts:
  • Associational forms of engagement in organizational setting, which are significant in cities.
  • Everyday form of engagement as unorganized setting, effective in villages.

and both these forms of engagements promote peace but the capacity of associational form to withstand national-level shocks is substantially higher. These civic links also, according to Ashutosh Varshney, prevent the manipulation of ethnicity by political elite for political purposes, because if electorate is ‘inter-ethnically’ engaged, the politicians may be unable and unwilling to polarize.

Before going any further we would stop here to define what civic society basically is, civic society in any society is the space which exists independent of the state and makes interconnections between individuals possible. Civic space is organized in associations that are modern and voluntaristic, though civic society is highly modern in character but modernity is a necessary but not a sufficient precondition for the rise of civil society and some forms of association that might be on traditional lines but that serve modern ends should be considered a part of the civil society.

Inter-communal engagement leads to the formation of institutionalized peace system.

It has also been argued that due to presence of a strong civic society in villages the communal tensions hardly ever materialize in violence there, with 4% rural death in overall communal rioting in the period from 1950-1995, and it was only during Ayodhya movement that communal violence penetrated villages since independence, but the picture has significantly altered after the Muzzafarnagar violence. Ashish Nandy has maintained the link between the traditional and rural India and he argues that somewhere somehow, religious violence has something to do with the urban industrial vision of life and the political process arising out of it, this refers to the non-religious basis of communal violence.


  1. Violence as the result of political manoeuvring: The idea of riots, pogroms and ethnic strife arising out of popular discontent leads to the displacement of blame from the actual perpetrators of violence who benefit from it ultimately, this is called by Paul Brass as blurring of responsibility and it is this vagueness of communal violence which makes it so effective for serving hidden political, economic and social ends. The riots, it has been argued, have 3 phases, one of rehearsal/preparation, then of enactment/activation and last of explanation/interpretation, and it is the last one that shapes the consciousness of masses and proves the effectiveness of the act, which is marked by diffusion of blame widely contributing to the perpetuation of violent productions in future.

Brass, argues that an Institutionalized Riot System operated in areas where riots are endemic, like Aligarh and Meerut. There exists a vicious circle of political/economic/social rivalry, communal solidarity or polarization and riots. This vicious circle chokes the political parties standing for secular principles and practices. It should be noted here that these kinds of circles play a significant role only in places where the population size of ‘rival’ communities is considerable, thus demography plays a decisive role in the process of riot production.

In addition to that another factor that plays a significant role in the proper enactment of riots and pogroms is the existence of a Police-Politician-Goon nexus, where goons are used as the means of starting the violence and the inactivity of the police forces and of the armed forces results in numerous deaths of minorities that could have been avoided only if the police or armed forces acted on time. The low representation of minorities in the armed forces and the communal feelings harboured by the officers adds up to this nexus.


  1. The Violence around Votes: Arguing very near the argument of Brass, Wilkinson has claimed that ethnic violence far from being relatively spontaneous eruptions of anger are often planned by politicians for clear electoral purposes. He goes on to say that political end may also motivate politicians to maintain peace and control violence at times and incite it at others. Democratic states protect minorities when it is in their electoral interest to do so, politicians in government would supply security to minorities when minorities are in important support base of that party or in the support base of their coalition partners Wilkinson has proposed a criteria of 6months on either side of elections as a proximity measure of violence.

This argument encompasses all the political parties there are, and not spares even the ones claiming to be organized on secular lines, it has been proved by incidents in Indian history that all parties, whether organized on secular or communal lines, often resort to use of violence on ethnic grounds as means of political benefit. Often class wars are manipulated into religious ones The ‘occasionally communal’ character of certain parties en-cashes the consistent work of communal parties and ends in chattering of trust of the affected sections in so called messiahs of secularism, the stand of ‘soft-Hindutva’, which Congress adopted by allowing the unlocking of the Babri Masjid gate and by the ambiguous invocation of ‘ramrajya’ by Rajiv Gandhi set loose a series of violent clashes that led to the worst communal havoc India has seen since Independence.


The rise of the Hindutva :

When in 1949, Rashtra Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) got back its legality, it had agreed to a number of limitations put up by the Government. RSS had limited itself to cultural activities and Ram had been central to its cultural programme from its very inception in 1925, but the mobilisation of masses on the issue of Ram-Janm-Bhoomi gained momentum only in 1980s. Ram in two avatars of Ram-lalla and Warrior Ram has been propagated as a symbol of Hindutva. Hindutva and Hinduism are two different things with Hindutva aiming at propagation of an ideology that bestows a single identity on the country and it banks on symbols and stereotypes, thus it can be stated here that while Hindutva represents use of religious identity for communal ends, Hinduism represents traditional religiosity. The all-encompassing tradition of Hinduism benefits the Hindutva elements to claim the support of 85% of Indian Population.

The Sangh parivar which has evolved numerous organs overtime in response to the challenges that came their way have played a marginal role in the politics of national level for a long time since independence but the trend has changed. RSS-BJP-VHP-Bajrang Dal equation forms the backbone of the Hindutva phenomenon in India, with Bhartiya Janta Party acting as the political organ, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad as the social one and Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh as the ideological organ. The proponents of Hindutva claim to be true secularists and call the so called secular parties and organizations as pseudo secularist, they stand on absolute opposition to the idea of composite nationalism rather they talk of a Hindu Rashtra where non-Hindu should respect and imbibe Hindu culture and language, giving independence to all the religions under the over-arching Hindu umbrella is what true secularism for Hindutva forces stands for.

The parivar has always upheld the autonomy of its constituent bodies, but the political rise of BJP as a national party can be only understood by looking at the intense mobilisation and groundwork undertaken by the RSS and VHP cadres.



The multi-dimensional character of the communal forces in India and their multi-dimensional motives and effects that they produce can only be understood by understanding the Indian civil society and India state and the areas of their interaction. While the communal forces on the extremes of both the Majority and Minority communities keeps pulling India apart, there has been a constant decay in the activity of the secular forces in the country, with the so called secular parties giving in to the communal and political pressures.

Reading the growth of Communal forces another trend that comes to the front is the rusted criminal justice system which lends the recommendations of numerous Inquiry committees ineffectual. This further reduces the trust of the common man in the System of governance.

The tattered fabric of Indian social order needs much more mending, the disparity in representation of minorities in administrative and civil bodies, the backwardness in terms of education and skill in minorities is still prevalent. The gap between the ideals enshrined in the constitution and the level of consciousness of masses needs to be filled but the benefit that this gap provides the politicians of our times forms the main hindrance in this process.

Rise of Communalism in India: Tracing vestiges of the past

Rise of Communalism in India: Tracing vestiges of the past

Rise of Communalism in India: Tracing vestiges of the past


To understand the condition of communally charged times we today live in we need to trace our steps back as historians to the time when it all started. To ask the question if it all started at the same time or is the communal atmosphere a culmination of various processes that pull India apart. When did it become inevitable for “muslims” to have a separate nation of their own and was that nation the true manifestation of dreams of people who fought for it. Why would Ram Chandra Guha call independent India an unnatural nation? What is so unnatural about it?

Here I’ll try to make sense of the events that led to the freedom of united India into two separate nations, divided on the lines of religious affiliations.

The elections of 1937:

It has been said that most of the communalists before 1937 operated within a liberal framework, only after 1937 did the Hindu Mahasabha, the Muslim League and RSS veered towards extreme or fascist communalism. The question arises of the reason of this shift, which can be searched in the elections and results of elections of 1937. In 1936 All India Congress Committee decided to contest elections but left the decision of office acceptance for later. While the Socialist Party members were averse to the acceptance of office, the right wingers wanted Congress to accept office and form the ministries. While office acceptance raised great expectations it also brought power to right wingers who tried to rid congress of the clutches of socialists. And it was due to the pressure of these right wingers that not a single muslim representation was there in these 1937 congress ministries in 8 provinces. This became the basis of the idea of muslim Alienation by the Congress, which had until now been subtly expressed in the absence of major muslim participation in Civil Disobedience and Quit India Movement.  Moreover it has been noted that Congress and Hindu Mahasabha shared their cadres till the 1930s which would have made muslims apprehensive of the actions of Congress.

Dismal performance of Muslim League in these elections in muslim majority areas of Punjab and Bengal due to the presence of class based parties like Unionist Party and Krishak Praja Party, led Muslim League to launch a mobilization plan on the lines of religion. The passage of Shariat Application Act 1937 with spirited advocacy by Jinnah in the Central Legislative Assembly  provided a symbolic ideological basis for Muslim Solidarity on a national scale, transcending all divisive internal political debates.

Thus we see that when protesting against India’s drawing into World War 2 the Congress ministries resigned in 1939, Jinnah celebrated it as a “Deliverance day”.


The blurred idea of Pakistan:

In theory communalists, both majority and minority bank on the concept of a homogenous identity of a community which overshadows all other identities.  And it can be said that the idea of the utopic land of Pakistan was to some extent an elite manipulation of the masses, the intensity of emotions involved had more to do with the political and economic anxieties of various classes than with a profound urge to create an Islamic state.  Pakistan was presented as “a peasant utopia” which would bring in liberation for the Muslim peasantry from the hands of the Hindu zamindars and moneylenders, here again the basic reason was of social and economic in character. Moreover, it has been argued that Jinnah’s stand though belligerent was still inclined towards negotiation with Congress, his major public pronouncements in 1938 were ‘a model of communal moderation’. In an article published on 19th January 1940, he did not refer to Hindus and Muslims carving out their separate destinies, but commented ambiguously on two nations ‘who both must share the governance of their common motherland’.

Thus it can be positively concluded here that the idea of Pakistan as a separate nation sovereign in itself was not very clear, because viceroy Linlithgow could find no genuine enthusiasm for Pakistan among the muslim Leaguers even in 1942, he concluded that they would be content with Pakistan within some sort of a federation.


The Fateful Conference at Shimla:

Prior to the conference at Shimla that sealed the fate of the millions of muslims calling themselves Indians, in 1944 there was a huge blunder on part of congress that was that of the recognition of the demand of Pakistan as legitimate, where in April 1944 C. Rajagopalachari had proposed a plebiscite of the adult Muslim Population in muslim majority areas to assess if they wanted to join Pakistan and in July 1944 Gandhi proposed talks with Jinnah on the ‘Rajaji formula’ which amounted to an acceptance of Pakistan demand. But the talks failed due to non-compliance of Jinnah.

Thus the British intervention in June 1945 to start negotiations led to the Shimla conference, where Jinnah claimed for Muslim League the exclusive right to nominate all the Muslim members in the cabinet of an entirely Indian executive council, with the viceroy and commander-in-chief as the only British members. Congress, which then had Abul Kalam Azad as the president, however, refused Jinnah’s demand for that would amount to an admission that Congress was a party only of the caste Hindus.


The misinterpretations of the cabinet mission of 1946:

Ayesha Jalal argued that at no point between 1940 and the arrival of Cabinet Mission in 1946 did either Jinnah or Muslim League ever coherently define the Pakistan demand. But it was the very vagueness of the demand that made it an excellent instrument for a muslim mass mobilisation campaign in the 1940s, where everyone could interpret it in its own terms, where for peasants it was freedom from Hindu overlords , for the corporates it meant ending of Hindu competition.

The cabinet mission arrived in India to discuss two issue:

  1. The principles and procedures for the framing of a new constitution for granting independence.
  2. The formation of an interim government based on widest possible agreement among Indian political parties.

But it was seen that the two political parties had become more intolerant about their contradictory political agendas, with Muslim League Legislator’s Convention defining Pakistan as a “sovereign independent state” consisting of the muslim majority provinces and congress declaring that complete independence for united India as its demand.

After wide consultation across political spectrum a three tier structure of loose federal government for the Union of India, including both the provinces and the princely states was offered. Constitution would be settled for three levels of Union, Group and Province, the provinces would have the right to opt out of any particular group but not out of the Union. On July 6th,   Muslim League accepted it on the assumption that the basis and foundation of Pakistan was inherent in the plan. Congress announced conditional approval to this on July 6th but on 10th of July it declared that congress agreed to nothing else other than participation in the Constituent Assembly.

This event marks the shift of League from constitutional politics to agitational one. This was the beginning of the frenzy and madness with which Partition is today remembered.



Looking at the series of events that led to the ultimate division of a colony into two nations we can conclude here that religious fervour was basically a cloak in the guise of which many political and social ends were served by the people in position of power to manipulate masses, not all the muslims of undivided India dreamt of a Pakistan. The clever mixture of the propagation of terror and fear, the incapability of secularists, the economic and social desperations and the political manoeuvring were some of the reasons behind the creation of Pakistan but one can never truly find reasons for the inhuman massacres that were associated with it.  Violence was both the cause and consequence of Partition and this Partition was to haunt Indian nation was a long unending time.

What If Attlee Hadn’t Partitioned India?

Unity dreams deferred Jinnah after being sworn in as Pakistan’s head of state on August 14, 1947

Unity dreams deferred Jinnah after being sworn in as Pakistan’s head of state on August 14, 1947

“Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially.” Imagine those famous words spoken “at the stroke of the midnight hour”, not by Jawaharlal Nehru as leader of a partitioned Indian republic, but by Mohammed Ali Jinnah as premier of a confederation of the whole subcontinent. The new state is an independent dominion, like Canada and Aus­tralia, with the British monarch as king-emperor. It has a weak central gov­­ernment and strong, autonomous pro­­vinces like undivided Punjab and Ben­gal. Its constitution is based on the British government’s Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 and acc­epted by both the predominantly Hindu Congress and the separatist Muslim League.

To persuade Jinnah, already dying of tuberculosis, to abandon his largely tac­tical demand for Pakistan, an indep­e­ndent state carved out of India’s Mus­­­lim-majority provinces, Mahatma Gan­­­dhi has given him the premiership of a coalition government at the centre. Nehru, whose arrogance and insistence on the top job had alienated Jinnah, has been slapped down in a realignment of the Congress leadership: Gandhi joining forces with anti-Nehru conservatives like Sardar Patel and Chakravarty Raja­gopalachari (Rajaji). Nehru had been collaborating closely with Lord ‘Dickie’ Mountbatten, sent as viceroy by the new Labour government to “cut and run” as quickly as possible. But the Nehru-Mou­ntbatten axis is seriously discredited by a scandal about Nehru’s affair with Lady Moun­tbatten, including ins­i­n­uations that the bisexual ‘Dickie’ was a willing participant in a menage a trois.

Mountbatten is packed off home in disgrace, while his perspicacious predecessor, Lord Wavell, returns as vic­eroy, resuming negotiations for a more gradual transfer of power to a united subcontinent. This slowly results in a new national unity coalition between Jinnah and the Congress conservatives. With Jinnah as his Muslim prime min­ister, Rajaji, a Hindu Brahmin, in due course succeeds Wavell as the first Indian governor-general of the newly independent dominion.

Night-stained dawn Lord Mountbatten salutes the Indian flag at India Gate on August 15, 1947, as Nehru and Edwina look on

Night-stained dawn Lord Mountbatten salutes the Indian flag at India Gate on August 15, 1947, as Nehru and Edwina look on

Hindu-Muslim tension, ratcheted up by the Pakistan demand and the Con­gress opposition to it, now subsides. Jinnah’s main powerbase, the influential Muslim minority of India’s central Hindi belt, is delighted with the new power-sharing deal. For them, Pakistan was always a tactical rather than a practical demand, because it would uproot them from their homes in a partitioned India. The two largest Muslim-majority provinces of Bengal and Punjab are equally pleased, bec­ause they remain undivided with powerful, devolved governments of their own. A year later, Jinnah dies, and his successors as leaders of the Muslim League, lacking either his charisma or ambition, accept the role of second fiddle to the Congress.  Gandhi’s gamble has paid off, and he lives happily on for another decade, instead of falling victim to a fanatical Hindu assassin.

Is this just a far-fetched, counterfactual scenario born of nostalgia and wishful thinking? Or could it have become a reality if the partnership of Clement Attlee, Lord Mountbatten and Nehru hadn’t rushed through a premature transfer of power to satisfy their own personal and ideological ambitions? The historical evidence suggests that there was no inevitability about Partition and that the key decisions were rather finely balanced.

It’s something of a myth that independence was won by direct action and that Partition was the inevitable price exacted by a colonial power determined to divide and rule. Effective independence was implicit in the constitutional reforms of the Raj in 1909 and 1919, well before Gandhi launched his civil disobedience movement. The Congress was knocking at an open door: the real point at issue was how to introduce parliamentary democracy in a subcontinent so diverse and largely illiterate.

The central problem with elected legislatures was to safeguard the interests of the Muslim minority, still rooted in its feudal past and fearful of domination by the more successful Hindu business and professional elites. The solution accepted by a reluctant Cong­ress was to have separate electorates for additional, reserved Muslim seats. What had still to be resolved was how to guarantee Muslim representation in newly devolved governments in the provinces and eventually at the Centre.

Matters came to a head with the new 1935 constitution, under which provincial elections were held on a greatly expanded franchise. In the United Provinces, the largest province, the Congress and the Muslim League contested in alliance against the loyalist Taluqdars’ party; while the Congress swept the “general” seats, the League won most of the seats reserved for Muslims. The logical outcome was a Congress-League coalition government, but Nehru turned down the League’s coalition offer and the Congress formed a majoritarian government on its own, leaving the League in opposition. This was precisely the scenario that Muslims dreaded at the national level, if independence were to mean majority rule.The United Provinces fiasco of 1937 was a turning point in the radicalisation of the Muslim League and its very moderate, secular-minded leader, Jinnah. It’s hard to imagine a more unlikely founder of a theocratic Islamic state than this whisky-drinking, pork-eating barrister, a ‘Bombay Khoja’ with his London education and his immaculate suits, his love marriage to a glamorous Parsi socialite, and his disregard for Islamic rules. Way back in 1916, when the Congress and the Muslim League agreed on an anti-British pact, Jinnah, as its chief architect, was hailed as “the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity”.

What turned this patriotic, pro-Congress Muslim into the sectarian separatist of the 1940s? Two of his recent biographers, Ayesha Jalal, a Pakistani-American academician, and Jaswant Singh, a former foreign minister of India, have converged on the same answer: the arrogance and intransigence of Congress leaders—Nehru in particular—and the pro-Nehru bias of the last viceroy, Lord Mountbatten. “Partition was the last thing Jinnah wanted,” says Jalal, and she agrees with Jaswant Singh that his demand for it was essentially a bargaining ploy.

The vague 1940 Muslim League resolution adopting the goal of Pakistan left wide open whether it would be a single or multiple entity, a sovereign state or an autonomous state within a state. Jalal emphasises that Jinnah’s two-nation theory was not a territorial concept, but a demand for parity between Hindus and Muslims. Most Muslims, after all, were minorities in Hindu-majority provinces, while the Muslim-majority provinces depended heavily on the commercial and professional skills of prosperous Hindu minorities.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869 - 1948) leaves the home of Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876 - 1948, left), founder of the Muslim League, en route to the Viceroy's Lodge in Delhi, 24th November 1939. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869 – 1948) leaves the home of Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876 – 1948, left), founder of the Muslim League, en route to the Viceroy’s Lodge in Delhi, 24th November 1939. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Quit India movement of 1942 proved a spectacular own-goal for the Congress, because it landed most of its leaders and active cadres in jail for the rest of World War II, while Jinnah filled the political vacuum, dramatically expa­nding his power base across India’s diverse Muslim communities. At the end of the war, constitutional negotiations resumed under the viceroy, Field Marshal Lord Wavell, a remarkable sol­dier-statesman with long Indian experience. His objective was to transfer power to a united India and for Britain to stay long enough to broker a workable settlement. But for the new Labour government headed by Attlee, the priority was a rapid exit, winding up an expensive empire that had long ceased to pay for its keep. Attlee sent out the Cabinet Mission, which did its best to reconcile the Congress goal of a majoritarian, unitary state with the Muslim League demand for effective safeguards and full autonomy for Muslim-majority provinces. The outcome was an ingenious three-tier sch­eme in which sovereignty would be sha­red in a pyramid, with the provinces at its base, groups of provinces with either Hindu or Muslim majorities above them, and at the apex, an all-India centre for defence and foreign affairs.

This would have been a unique constitutional experiment, more akin to the present European Union than a nation-state, but well suited to India’s political diversity. Both, the Congress and the League, reluctantly accepted the plan, but then fell out over its interpretation.

“What the Cabinet Mission intended and the way we interpret what they inte­nded may not necessarily be the same,” Gandhi told the viceroy.

“This is lawyer’s talk,” said an exasperated Wavell. “Talk to me in plain Eng­lish. I am a simple soldier. You confuse me with these legalistic arguments.”

To this, Nehru quipped, “We cannot help it if we are lawyers.”

The coup de grace for the Cabinet Mission Plan was delivered by Nehru in July 1946, when he publicly announced that a new constituent assembly, which would obviously have a large Hindu majority, would modify the Plan as it pleased. The Muslim League promptly seized on this to back out as well, reiterating its demand for a separate Pakistan and launching “direct action” to achieve it.

Two of Nehru’s closest colleagues have laid the blame for this breakdown squarely at his door. Maulana Azad called Nehru’s statement “one of those unfortunate events which changed the course of history”, lamenting the fact that “he is at times apt to be carried away by his feelings”. Sardar Patel, too, criticised Nehru for acting “with childlike innocence, which puts us all in great difficulties quite unexpectedly”.

Nehru himself maintained that he had acted out of the conviction that partition was preferable to a loose federation. He wanted to be master in his own house, free to implement his socialist policies through centralised economic planning; and the Muslim League, in control of large, autonomous provinces, would have been an unwelcome brake on all this. Most important of all was Nehru’s visceral hatred of Jinnah, recorded with brutal candour in his diaries: “Jinnah…offers an obvious example of an utter lack of the civilised mind. With all his cleverness and ability, he produces an impression on me of utter ignorance and lack of understanding…. Inst­in­ctively I think it is better to [have] Pakistan or almost anything, if only to keep Jinnah far away and not allow his muddled and arrogant head from interfering continually in India’s progress.”

Wavell, who was trying to bring both sides back to the negotiating table, lamented in his diary early in 1947: “There is no statesmanship or generosity in the Congress.” But Attlee decreed otherwise and summarily replaced Wavell with another, far more glamorous soldier-statesman. Earl Mount­batten of Burma came armed with the aura of his military victories, his royal lineage and his “progressive” politics. In what Churchill called “a premature, hurried scuttle”, Attlee announced that, regardless of a political settlement, Britain would quit India by June 1948.

No Himalayan blunder then? Troops head for the border during 1962. How would a united India have played the great game? (Photograph by Corbis, From Outlook 19 August 2013)

No Himalayan blunder then? Troops head for the border during 1962. How would a united India have played the great game? (Photograph by Corbis, From Outlook 19 August 2013)

Both Attlee’s deadline, and his choice of the man to implement it, proved dis­astrous. Mountbatten’s vanity was leg­e­ndary. His chief concern on the eve of his departure for India was what he should wear on arrival. “They’re all a bit left wing, aren’t they?” he asked one India expert. “Hadn’t I better land in ordi­nary day clothes?” He was delighted to be told: “No, you are the last vic­eroy. You are a royal. You must wear your grandest uniform and all your dec­­o­rations and be met in full panoply.”

Three months after his arrival, Mountbatten suddenly announced that he was bringing forward the British departure to August 15, 1947, and transferring power to two successor states carved out of Hindu and Muslim majority areas. “The date I chose came out of the blue,” he later boasted. “I chose it in reply to a question. I was determined to show I was master of the whole event.” He was even more cavalier at a public reception on the eve of Partition, saying that the best way to teach a youngster to cycle was to take him to the top of a hill, put him on the seat and push him down the hill—by the time he reached the bottom, he’d have learnt to cycle.

Rushing through Partition before the security forces were ready for it, Mou­ntbatten made little attempt to explore the alternatives. In a meeting with the viceroy, Gandhi suggested that the existing interim government led by Nehru be dismissed and Jinnah invited to form a new one. “What would Mr Jin­nah say to such a proposal?” Mou­ntbatten asked in surprise. The reply was: “If you tell him I’m the author, he will reply, ‘Wily Gandhi!’” The viceroy made no attempt to follow up Gandhi’s wily offer, which might have changed the course of history by offering Jinnah an honourable retreat from Partition.

A major reason for Mountbatten’s failure to conciliate Jinnah was his all too obvious intimacy with Nehru. Widely rumoured at the time, and now confirmed by the memoirs of his daughter, Mountbatten facilitated a love affair between his beautiful, wealthy and very independent wife and his handsome Congress premier. “She and Jawahar Lal are so sweet together,” he wrote to his elder daughter. “They really dote on each other. Pammy (his younger daughter) and I are doing everything we can to be tactful and helpful.” While his daughter saw this as “a happy threesome”, the bazaar gossip was less charitable. There’s one account of a handful of love notes between Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten reaching Jinnah, who chivalrously returned them.

The most appropriate epitaph on the Raj was provided by the Punjabi official who declared: “You British believe in fair play. You have left India in the same condition of chaos as you found it.” As for Nehru, he first crowed about the mangled Muslim state that emerged from the cutting up of Punjab and Ben­gal, saying, “The truncated Pakistan that remains will hardly be a gift worth having.” But a year later, he said, “Per­haps we acted wrongly…. The conseque­nces of that partition have been so ter­rible that one is inclined to think that anything else would have been preferable…. Ultimately, I have no doubt that India and Pakistan will come close toge­ther…some kind of federal link…. There is no other way to peace. The alte­rnative is…war.” Even as he spoke, the two new states were already at war over Kashmir.

For Jinnah, to get even a moth-eaten Pakistan was, as a leading imperial historian put it, “an amazing triumph, the outcome not of some ineluctable historic logic, but of the determination of a single individual”. It is sobering to con­­s­ider what might have happened if Mou­ntbatten, instead of bringing forward the date, had delayed it. Jinnah, already in the final stages of tuberculosis, died 13 months after partition.

** FILE** Muslim refugees sit on the roof of an overcrowded coach of a train trying to flee India near New Delhi , in this Sept. 19, 1947 file photo.  About 5 million Muslims migrated from India to Pakistan after India gained its independence on Aug. 15.  Sixty years ago this month, India and Pakistan won their Independence, now Pakistan, no stranger to domestic turmoil, is embroiled in an increasingly violent struggle between Islamic extremists and moderates, where as India is racing to become an economic powerhouse, lightning growth has transformed the country and fueled a consumer boom. (AP Photo/FILE)

** FILE** Muslim refugees sit on the roof of an overcrowded coach of a train trying to flee India near New Delhi , in this Sept. 19, 1947 file photo. About 5 million Muslims migrated from India to Pakistan after India gained its independence on Aug. 15. Sixty years ago this month, India and Pakistan won their Independence, now Pakistan, no stranger to domestic turmoil, is embroiled in an increasingly violent struggle between Islamic extremists and moderates, where as India is racing to become an economic powerhouse, lightning growth has transformed the country and fueled a consumer boom. (AP Photo/FILE)

The state he left behind was born to fail, and most Congress leaders expected that this malformed offspring would soon return, tail between its legs, to Mother India. It had virtually no industry, with the markets for its agricultural produce left behind in India; although it produced three-quarters of the world’s jute, the processing plants were all in India. The predominantly Hindu entrepreneurial classes had fled with their capital and expertise. The ruling elite of the Muslim League were mostly refugees from India and soon at odds with the predominantly Punjabi population they governed. The Bengali Muslims of East Pakistan had little in common with the western half, a thousand miles away.

Little wonder that Pakistan fell prey to a series of corrupt and repressive military and civilian regimes and that its eastern wing, after another bloody war and an estimated 3 million casualties, broke away in 1971 to become Bang­ladesh. After the Soviet invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan in 1979, Pakistan became the base for militant Islamists fighting the Russians, which further weakened its civil society and radicalised a younger generation  that had already been incensed by India’s occupation of Muslim Kashmir.
The counterfactual story would have been far more positive. Granted, a united Indian federation, based on the Cabinet Mission Plan, would have had its share of friction and tensions; but, over time, the glue of shared power might have held the Congress and the Muslim League together, at least on issues of external security. India, without Nehru’s pro-Soviet brand of non-alignment, would probably have allied with the West and, like the Raj, would have seen Afghanistan as a vital buffer state from which the Russians must be excluded. Under Indian protection, Afghanistan would have remained a benevolent, westernising monarchy with little scope for the Taliban.

Without a hostile Pakistan on its borders, India would also have been far better able to check Communist China’s ambitions. The Raj had seen an independent Tibet as a necessary buffer against Chinese expansionism. “Rather than see a Chinese occupation of Tibet,” a British general had warned in 1946, “India should be prepared to occupy the plateau herself.” In 1959, a serious Indian ultimatum would probably have prevented China from occupying Tibet and ending its autonomy under the Dalai Lama. If so, India would have been spared military defeat in the disastrous 1962 Sino-Indian War, for which the Nehru government was so patently ill prepared.

A decentralised union of sovereign provinces would not have been any less eff­icient or productive than today’s India, with a weak, fragmented coalition at the centre, dominated by strong regional parties. Over time, the Hindu-Muslim religious divide would perhaps have faded, given the myriad ethnic, regional and linguistic identities that make up the Indian mosaic. The union would also have been cemented by rapid growth, as a dynamic private sector, unshackled by Nehru’s state socialism, outstripped the mini-tiger economies. Yes, a united subcontinent could have entered the 21st century as the world’s second largest economy, well ahead of China.

Original Author: Zareer Masani

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