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  • Ramanjit Singh

Partition was imposed from above


Never before in South Asian history did so few decide the fate of so many and rarely did so few ignore the sentiments of so many in the subcontinent ... never before in South Asian history did so few divide so many, so needlessly.

- India's Partition: Process, Strategy, Mobilization by Mushirul Hasan - Indian Scholar and Historian

Those who were not caught up in the political gamesmanship that Jinnah, Nehru and Gandhi were executing on behalf of their own half-baked political ideologies and social experiments, the idea of Partition was an anathema, a misplaced and misguided concept for the Indian masses to accept. Partition was imposed on the masses and it was never accepted by anyone except those who were "representing" the different electorates of the country.

Here are some interesting excerpts from some books that espouse further on the futility of Partition and why it happened.

- Legacy of a Divided Nation - By Mushirul Hasan

In his analysis of the Partition, Perry Anderson, Professor of History at UCLA writes that Nehru and Congress in general was receptive of the idea of Partitioning India and removing the Muslim "problem" from the country so that Congress would become the sole governing power in India. For them sharing of power with another political party was unacceptable. Gandhi in his senseless pursuit of including religion into the independence movement was another indication to the Muslims that India after independence is going to treat them as second class citizens. According to Anderson, the Congress party of Motilal Nehru was solely a Hindu party.

- Why Partition? - Perry Anderson, Professor of History at UCLA

Anderson further writes that the Cabinet Mission's initial draft in 1946 for a federation consisting of Muslim and Hindu represented provinces was outright rejected by Nehru even though Jinnah had accepted the offer which would have kept India united.

For Jinnah, the idea of Muslim sovereignty as stated in his address to Muslim League in Lahore, 1940 was not about Pakistan (as the word Pakistan was never mentioned in his speech) it was more of a statement of intent to ensure that Muslims should not be considered as a forgotten minority in free India. Jinnah's message to his supporters was that Congress and specially Nehru and Gandhi and their coterie of sycophants were all Hindus and were interested in furthering only the Hindu agenda. If one looks at all the Congress plenary sessions and the locations where they were held, it seems they never ventured outside of the Hindu majority areas.

Mostly the Congress was focussed in UP and didn't consider western Muslim majority provinces or province like Punjab, that still had a tenuous demographic parity, as part of their political strategy. Most of the Congress leaders came from UP. To them Punjab was not an important part of their political calculation. Lahore was an alien city to them. They didn't even bothered conducting any large scale attempt to change the perception of the party into a more secular and inclusive party. Meerut or Allahabad was within their reach from Delhi, Lahore or Rawalpindi was not. There was no Punjabi Muslim politician in Congress during the 1940s with any political persuasion to encourage Muslims to consider Congress as an alternative to Muslim League. May be this was deliberately planned in order to accelerate the process of Partition. For Congress, getting a larger portion of British India with almost all of the majority Hindu provinces intact within independent India was acceptable and worth the price of bloodshed that erupted as a result of it.

An alternative narrative is that for the Muslims, supporting the Pakistan movement specially in Punjab, the idea of wresting economic wealth from the rich Hindu businessmen and Sikh landlords superseded any sense of preserving Indian unity.

On Jinnah, author Aijaz Ahmad writes that the idea of Pakistan was not originally his idea, rather it was imposed on him by the British and the Congress.

- Lineages of the Present: Ideology and Politics in Contemporary South Asia by Aijaz Ahmad

There are no clear answers to why Partition had to happen. Why didn't Nehru and Jinnah continuously discuss the possibility of an alternative solution that would have avoided Partition. I don't see any meetings or round the clock negotiations between the two leaders leading up to the Partition. Except for the Shimla conference that was held in the previous year, the year 1947 was more about how to divide India and not about how to preserve it.

There were few attempts in September of 1944 when Jinnah and Gandhi met in Bombay but those were few and far between. Were there no meetings between Jinnah and Gandhi after 1944? Gandhi's plan in Spring of 1947 to offer Jinnah the Prime Ministership was also soundly rejected by Congress as it was too impractical to execute and made one community the sole authority on how to run the country.

Maybe we are mistaken in our thinking that the leaders in 1947 had in them a common interest for the well being of every Indian. Prior to Partition and the days leading up to the fateful month of August, India of 1947 was already divided among political lines, one for the Congress and one for the Muslim League. I believe there were millions of those who didn't see themselves solely through the prism of these political parties.

There were many who didn't want the country to be Partitioned at all and even if the country had to be Partitioned at least it could have been done without such a haste and with a more deliberate and planned process where millions didn't had to suffer. Why was"Partition" the only solution to having an equal representation post independence? Were the Hindus too afraid of the Muslims, were the Muslims too afraid of the Hindus that they couldn't form a coalition government under one inclusive constitution?

Professor Ayesha Jalal in her several books on Partition has written about the role that Congress played in its refusal to even recognize the need for greater inclusion of Muslims in political mainstream not as a minority but as equal partners in the central government. The accommodation that Jinnah sought was to have a more equal power sharing between the Muslim League and the Congress which was rejected outright by Nehru. A loose Federation as espoused in the Cabinet Mission Plan was ultimately not accepted by the Congress party.


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