Often, we hear the arguments from leaders like Gandhi, Nehru and Patel that partition was accepted, because it was the need of the hour, to save the country from civil war and hatred. The prominent reasons which justified the acceptance of partition were
- An immediate transfer of power could forestall the spread of communal violence.
- Congress had failed to draw the Muslim masses into the national movement and nationalistic feelings
- British would not have transferred sovereign power until Hindu Muslim differences were settled, and terms of transfer of power are acceptable to both the parties.
In this article, I will discuss how the above arguments were unjustified. Further, I would also try to suggest alternative strategies which INC could have pursued to stop partition of India.
The assumption by INC that communal violence can be checked by transfer of power does look to be true, if we see the relative peace and communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims, achieved after Independence. However, INC failed to realise that it was the British, who gave carrots to Muslims and used sticks against Hindus, in order to divide and rule India. Communal violence was not the popular demand of Muslim masses, but the government apathy and insensitivity, in punishing the fringe elements, which boosted their morale. When one community is given a free hand to be violent, and engage in loot and arson, then the affected community would retaliate to protect its life, liberty and property. The raison d’etre of any government, under the social contract theory of Rousseau, is to maintain law and order, but it was neglected by British by helping rioters. British used army and police to crush any mutiny and Hindu protesters, while turning a blind eye against Muslims.
If we see the example of China, then Muslims in Xinjiang province also protest against Chinese policies, but they are effectively dealt with, if it turns violent, with the help of police and army. Similarly, if undivided India assumed powers of police and army after independence, then no riots or violence could have taken place, by effective use of force. Any demand for independence could have been dealt with sedition charges, while genuine demands could have been met under constitutional framework. After all, INC never resolved to impose a Hindu Rashtra to the Muslims, before or after partition.
Secondly, Congress failed to draw the Muslim masses in the national movement and it seemed that Muslim masses supported the Muslim League, as Muslim League got 97% Muslim votes in 1945 elections. However, 1945 elections took place after congress leaders had resigned from its ministries since 1939, due to Indian participation in WW2, without ascertaining India’s wishes and aspirations. Further, during Quit India movement in 1942, most congress leaders were in Jail, including Gandhi, Nehru and Patel, and thus could not carry INC organisational works. On the other hand, Muslim league continued to occupy ministries and work for the Muslim community. They also boycotted Quit India movement, and were trying to strengthen its Muslim constituency and appease British masters during the Quit India Movement period. Thus, Congress went into 1945 elections unprepared, and with limited appeal to Muslim masses, while Muslim league was strengthening its leadership and organisation for a while. Thus, the 1945 elections cannot be considered to be a true reflection of people’s mandate.
Further, Muslim league was established by Prince of Dacca, and supported by Zamindars and nobles, who professed loyalty to British empire to perpetuate their political and economic dominance, while the illiliteracy and ignorance among Muslim masses was very high. The most prominent example was Md Ali Jinnah himself, who did not adhered to Islam principles in personal life and was from a nobility class, but use Islam to further his political interests. They deliberately did not pursued social reforms, to check the growth of rationality and free thinking among the masses, while controlling them through the orthodox Mullahs and Maulanas, which continues till today.
Moreover, Eastern India and western India Muslims were hardly united, as seen in the division of East pakistan from West Pakistan in 1971. Thus, INC cannot be blamed for not drawing the Muslim masses in Indian national movement, as Muslim league also failed to truly attract the Muslim masses. Similarly, the demands of Muslim league for Pakistan, also cannot be considered to be the demands of the Muslim masses, but only of the few powerful people who wanted to perpetuate their socio-economic and political power. After all, Pakistan is still a feudal and orthodox society, where masses are still poor and ignorant after 70 years of Independence, which is not in coherence with the demands of Muslim league during independence. And Pakistan is still ruled by few elites, in the army and polity and religious organisations.
Thirdly, British would certainly not had transferred the sovereign powers, until communal differences were settled. However, nothing should have stopped our leaders to abolish the unfair treaties of acceptance of partition, after the British left the subcontinent. After all, North Vietnam merged with South Vietnam after USA withdrew. West and East Germany became united after cold war powers left. So, Indian leaders should have scrapped these unfair treaties of partition, on the pretext of correction of historical injustices and signing under compulsion without adequate sovereign powers.
China has annexed Tibet after end of British occupation, while it accepted Tibet as independent during British Rule. Similarly, Nepal is reigniting the claims of Kalapani territory, under pretext that it was signed by King monarch, who was not sovereign against British. Further, British frequently, reversed their treaties made with the princely states and Anglo – French wars to establish their rule in India in the 18th century. So, Machiavelli’s realpolitik demanded that India scrap partition treaties after assuming powers of Army and annex Pakistan.
However, even with these arguments and INC (Indian National Congress) miscalculations, INC still had abundant choices to thwart the demands of partition, as discussed below.
Firstly, the strength of India lays in its diversity. While diversity in terms of religion, language, race, ethnicity,etc have created differences and violent protests, since ancient ages, it has also promoted unity and continuity to Indian civilization. Diversity acts as check and balance against the unilateral demands by any cultural community. Lets take the case of Dravidistan movement of demand of a separate country. South India dravidian races want to create a separate country Dravidistan, with Tamil as its predominant language and culture in 1950s.
However, Telugu, Kannad and Malayalam speakers did not want to get suppressed or overwhelmed by Tamil language and culture, and therefore they didn’t support Dravidistan separatist movement.Thus, South India has remained peaceful since linguistic reorganization of states in 1956. Similarly, Hindi was supported as an official language by non-Hindi speakers also, as long as scheduled languages like Bengali, Oriya, Gujarati, etc. reflected the diversity and its traditions, thereby promoting unity in diversity in India.
Thus, our leaders should have propped Shia leaders like Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan against Sunni Muslims like Md. Ali Jinnah in West Pakistan region. Further, Bangla linguistic speaking Muslim population in East Pakistan region could have been propped against Urdu speaking Muslims of West Pakistan. Further, diversities in terms of caste like upper caste Khans and Kazis, could have been propped against lower caste Qureshis, etc. These diversities, if unchecked, leads to differences and conflicts, as seen in division of Pakistan in 1971 over linguistic domination i.e. between Bengali and Urdu population. Had such divisions been used in 1940s, then votes of Muslim league could have been undercut and partition averted. The contemporary western policy in West Asia is to prop Sunni Saudi Arabia, UAE against Shia Iran and Iraq to perpetuate its dominance. But Indian leaders failed to exploit the divide policy, which was brazenly exploited by the British and co-opted by the Muslims.
Secondly, they should have used Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh region Muslims – by highlighting their fears that they cannot migrate anywhere in East or west Pakistan because of their geographical discontinuity. Even if they wish to migrate to Pakistan, their socio-economic-political power would diminish against the native Muslims of Pakistan region, as some were considered as Kafirs, who had migrated to Pakistan after 1947. Moreover, if they wish to remain in India after partition, their population in the country, in percentage terms, would get further reduced. Thus, they will become further marginalized in numerical terms also, which would reduce their bargaining power, given the democratic set-up India is trying to embrace. Further, there will be anti-Muslim hostility among Hindus for a long period of time, if partition takes place. Therefore, they must support INC and protest against the demands for partition. Here also, INC didn’t needed to take support of entire masses. Only the Maulanas and Elites had to be taken on-board.
Thirdly, Jinnah could have been sidelined through him own party men, through helping the INC loyalists in the Muslim league. After marginalizing and then defaming Jinnah as anti-national, he could have been murdered. Let the killing come from a Radical Islamist to create further divisions in Muslims as good and bad Muslims. If secular Gandhiji could be killed by a Hindu fanatic, then communal Jinnah can also be killed by an moderate Islamist to save a country. After all, life of one person cannot be bigger than the country or lives of crores of people.
Fourthly, after Pakistan attacked India in Kashmir in 1948, India should not only have occupied entire Kashmir, but also upped the ante against Pakistan, and annexed its western front. After all, it was Pakistan who was the aggressor in this war, and India had every moral high ground to annex it. The argument for the world community would have been that “India doesn’t recognizes Pakistan, because British (a third party) have forced India to sign the partition of the country under political pressure while India was not sovereign at that time”. This is what China has done by annexing Tibet completely in 1954 after its independence. However, we failed to use that opportunity and even lost Pakistan Occupied Kashmir by internationalizing this issue, whose consequences are felt even today in terms of Kashmiri unrest.
Had India followed these strategies, then partition of India could have been averted. This would have increased India’s territory and its population and resources, which could have turned it into a superpower, as done by China. It would also have checked internal security problems in Kashmir, Khalistan, North East insurgency, terrorism, etc. Sadly, history cannot be undone. But as historians says “people who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it”. So, let’s learn from our mistakes and try to avoid it in future, so that India can uphold its sovereignty, unity and integrity in the future, while promoting peace and prosperity for the country and the world.