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  • Ramanjit Singh

Purity by Separation


Hate is embraced more by those who did not suffer Partition.

One of the constant theme in the Partition narrative is the idea that people who co-existed for hundreds of years all of a sudden were being perceived differently. That the mere thought of co-existence became unacceptable due to religious differences.

The Pakistan Movement was one such experiment in thought that was first espoused in the early 1930's and was given impetus by the Muslim elite who saw an opportunity to gain political and economic power by partitioning India. Some of the key reasons revolved around a misguided belief that the Muslims will remain second class to a more dominant and educated Hindu majority after Independence. I believe that the reason to not remain a second fiddle in a united India was one of the key reasons to demand a separate state for Muslims.

However, there were also other more practical reasons behind this demand. Partition provided an opportunity to gain large tracts of cultivated lands in the canal colonies and in other parts of Punjab by removing the Sikhs. It provided an opportunity to wrest economic and financial power by removing the Hindu business elite from the Punjab cities and towns. It meant the removal of non-Muslim bureaucrats from the administration, and all this further incentivized the demand for a separate state.

The British had already laid the foundation for the final Partition in the early twentieth century by creating separate electorates and by partitioning Bengal on religious grounds. May be the underlying hate between communities was prevalent in India throughout the years before the arrival of the British but they made sure that these differences come out in the forefront and become more explicit. The idea of separation became more pronounced by how the British played the Muslim League against the Congress. During much of WW2, the Congress leadership was put in jail while the Muslim League was all out to expand and solidify its base.

Everyone who discusses the topic of Partition talks about how much the Muslims gained out of this separation. Idea was to gain religious purity by separating the two dominant communities in India. However I think the Partition was a disaster for the Muslims in so many ways. If Partition had not happened, the Muslims would have been more unified and a dominant force in drafting and constructing social and economic policies that would have benefited their community. They would have dominated the Indian armed forces in sheer numbers in the army and the entire western and northern part of India would have been a counter balance to the central and southern Indian states. This was in fact what the initial Cabinet Mission Plan of May 16th 1946 was all about.

The plan provided a way out for the Muslim League and the Congress. It was also an articulation of a reality that existed in India in terms of Hindu-Muslim demographics.

However, Congress rejected the equal power sharing arrangement in the central government which was one of the key part of this plan.

"The plan of 16 June 1946 had a united India, in line with Congress and Muslim League aspirations, but that was where the consensus between the two parties ended since Congress abhorred the idea of having the groupings of Muslim-majority provinces and that of Hindu-majority provinces with the intention of balancing one another at the central legislature. The Muslim League could not accept any changes to this plan since they wanted to keep the safeguards of British Indian laws to prevent absolute rule of Hindus over Muslims."

- 1946 May 16th Cabinet Mission Plan (wikipedia).

I believe that had the Muslim League been clever they should have accepted the status quo and should have remained in India even if Congress had rejected the original Cabinet Mission Plan. The demographics were already in their favor regardless of what the Congress was demanding at the time. They could have still remained a dominant party in India after independence. They could have been a major contributor in drafting the Indian Constitution and could have played a role in addressing the important social and economic issues affecting the Muslim population in India. Having two large religious communities dominating the discourse of modern India would have tempered the right wing extremists on both sides.

Instead the rejection by the Congress of the Cabinet Mission Plan was not merely condemned by the Muslim League but they also considered it as foreshadow of things to come if they remain in India. Muslim League planned for Direct Action Day as a result of the failure of the Cabinet Mission Plan.

The execution of Direct Action Day that resulted in the Great Calcutta Killings can also be seen as a pitiless and ruthless pursuit for separation without realizing the consequences of these actions. Once the daggers and swords were out in Bengal in 1946, it is impossible to rationalize that in the summer of 1947, the Sikhs living in Punjab would have agreed to Jinnah's promise of greater Sikh autonomy if they opted for Pakistan.

With the Partition, the Muslims got scattered and divided between the two countries. And somehow to think that the Muslim League were the sole advocate of all the Indian Muslims is also plain wrong. They were not the sole spokesmen of the Indian Muslims. A large part of the Muslims didn't believe in Partition. The genius of the "victimhood" mentality and politics, that the Muslim League was espousing at the time, is that one only needs a small part of the community to truly think that they are being treated unjustly to create a permanent wedge among people. It becomes a seed for greater disharmony years later as the victimhood mentality is further nurtured and given impetus by the political class.

It didn't matter to the Muslim League that the poor Muslim living in a slum in Calcutta also saw poor Hindus living right next to them. But still they thought they are the victims of Hindu suppression. It didn't matter to the Muslim farmer in Punjab who supported the Pakistan Movement what would happen to their Sikh and Hindu brethren living right next to their land. Idea of Pakistan was a way out from the status quo and it gave change and hope to the Muslims but it also hid the horrendous cost that this separation would require in return. I think once the idea of Pakistan set into the minds of the Muslim masses, the older idea of Hind, Indian, Hindostani became an anathema. The pleadings from Gandhi to Jinnah fell on deaf ears.

It is argued by some that the British were the reason that India existed as a unified geographic and political entity in the first place and once the British left the country simply disintegrated. That the forces that divided India were always there, the British simply paused that eventual breakup for couple of centuries. I'll put forth my thoughts about this topic in my next blog.

#partition #cabinetmissionplan #india #pakistan #punjab #bengal #jinnah #nehru #hindu #muslim

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