Tracing the Path to Partition

If Jinnah‘s ghost still haunts the RSS, more than half a century after his demise, and a debate on partition sparks off the most serious internal crisis of the Sangh‘s history, then it is the surest proof that its Achilles’ heel lies here, in the Two Nation Theory - the forced subjugation of the ‘minority’ nation to the ‘majority’ nation, within or without India. Whatever Advani said in Karachi and howsoever fiercely the Sangh fights to project itself as the most diehard opponent of partition, the fact remains that the Sangh and the Hindu Maha Sabha put whatever skill and resources they had at their command to plunge the country into a communal holocaust, thus pushing the country towards partition.

Taking a clue from the British-sponsored History of India As Told By Its Own Historians edited by Prof. Dowson, Savarkar, the original exponent of Hindutva, propounded the two-nation theory, years before Jinnah - “As it is, there are two antagonistic nations living side by side in India...Let us bravely face unpleasant facts as they are. India cannot be assumed to be a Unitarian and homogeneous nation, but on the contrary there are two nations in the main: the Hindus and the Moslems’

However it is one of the most curious puzzles of Indian history that “Jinnah’s Muslim nationalism arose not as an anti-thesis to Savarkar’s or Golwalkar’s Hindu nationalism, as the latter was too weak those days, rather it was in reaction to Gandhi’s vision of Indian nationalism” [Vinod Mishra, Selected Works]

It is worth recalling that Jinnah was among the foremost leaders of the Indian National Congress till as late as 1920. Brought up in the liberal tradition, he was among the leaders who had opposed separate electorates for the Muslims, as he feared that it might give birth to the two-nation theory and eventual partition of the country. He had played a crucial role in bringing the Muslim League and Congress closer to each other through the Lucknow Pact in 1916. It was not without reason that Gokhale called him the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity.

However the gradual consolidation of the Brahmin-Bania elite, the emerging ruling classes with a distinct Hindu tinge inside the Congress, resulted in growing alienation of the Muslims which was politically articulated by Jinnah: “We are not going to be dictated by anybody. We are willing to co-operate with any group of a progressive and independent character provided its programme and policy corresponds to our own. We are not going to be camp followers of any party. We are ready to work as equal partners for the welfare of India ”.

The gradual build-up, ultimately entered a crucial phase in 1937, with the first fatal embrace of power, through ministry formations in the provinces. It was the fateful events of this phase which made Pakistan a reality within a decade. Despite contesting jointly with the Muslim League, Nehru, after elections, refused the League’s offer for cooperation and power-sharing, on the plea that Congress had secured a majority on its own. “So to share power will be unconstitutional”, said Dr. Rajendra Prasad. Now for any genuine nationalist force, if it chose at all to form government inside a colonial setting, it should have been a means to forge unity of the people to advance the anti-colonial struggle. But for the Congress, it became an opportunity to monopolise its hold over the crumbs of power. Maulana Azad was to note later that Purushottam Das Tandon, the principal protagonist of ‘Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan’ played a major role in the whole episode. Gandhi wavered and finally settled with Nehru’s position.

Now holding office for the first time, and that too, having deprived the League of its legitimate share in power, was a crucial litmus test for the professed secular, nationalist credentials of Congress. Muslims, naturally, watched it anxiously. However, the Congress miserably failed, showing no sensitivity or regard for the Muslim sensibilities on a score of issues – the recital of Vande Mataram at Legislature proceedings, the naming of all schools as ‘Mandirs’ on the lines of Gandhian ‘Vidya Mandirs’, the Congress flag being virtually elevated to the status of the state flag, … Apart from such identity issues, there were complaints about discrimination in economic and administrative fields and the suppression of Urdu. It was mostly on the language question that the Muslims of UP raised the banner of revolt against the Congress.

Last but not the least, Gandhi’s constant talk about establishing ‘Ram-Rajya’, exhibiting stunning insensitivity to Muslim psychology and sensibilities, helped the suspicion linger in the minds of the Muslims that Gandhi and the Congress were conspiring to establish Hindu-Raj and Hindu culture in India. Jinnah reacted, “On the threshold of what little power and responsibility given, the majority community has clearly shown…that Hindustan is for Hindus, only the Congress masquerades under the name of nationalism, whereas the Hindu Mahasabha does not mince words. The result of the present Congress policy will be...communal war and strengthening of the imperialist hold.” Thus the seed of Pakistan was sown which took a formal shape in the Lahore session of the League in 1940.

Even after the Pakistan Resolution, the Cabinet Mission Plan did provide a rare opportunity to avert the Partition tragedy. However, after acceptance by both League and Congress, it was unilaterally rejected by Nehru, President of the Congress. It was reciprocated by Jinnah who reiterated the demand for Pakistan as the only course left for the Muslim League. The League decided to resort for Direct Action on August 16,1946 , after which India was never the same. About all this, Maulana Azad was later to say that “This was one of the greatest tragedies of Indian history and I have to say with the deepest of regrets that a large part of the responsibility for this development rests with Nehru...I have to say with regret that this was not the first time that he did immense harm to the national cause. He had committed an almost equal blunder in 1937...The mistake of 1937 was bad enough, the mistake of 1946 proved even more costly.”

How can one explain such apparently whimsical acts of the leaders? In fact, many analysts, including Maulana Azad and Dr. Lohia hold the individual weaknesses of the leadership (the tiredness and greed for power of ageing leaders) and their blunders responsible for partition. Now there can be no denying the role of individuals and institutions; however, the crucial, often conscious role of class forces concealed behind the aura of the ‘great’ leaders and the institutions is often lost sight of or deliberately obscured. Partition was, in fact, inbuilt in the logic of the class forces at the helm of the affairs, leading our Freedom movement, and the role of individuals was constrained by their historical class limits. Beneath the whole drama of the Congress rejection of the League offer for participation in ministries in 1937, the subsequent Pakistan demand, rejection of Cabinet Mission Plan by Nehru (which proposed a weak centre that might be detrimental to the interests of the bourgeoisie represented by Congress) and then the hurried acceptance of partition – the crucial role of the emerging ruling classes may be traced.

In fact after 1857, with the introduction of a new imperialist policy and expansion of industry, trade and services, new classes came into existence who were dependent on the empire for their power and pelf. Then began a new era of competitive communalism for jobs and power, reinforced by British-inspired communal historiography. Naturally, it was a class totally cut off from its roots. It had nothing to do with our great composite culture (Ganga-Jamani Tehzib), nor with the great achievements of medieval India - its language, culture and values. It was either ignorant of it or was prejudiced against it. It believed that pre-British India , which colonial historiography termed ‘Muslim India’, was a Dark Age and then quite naturally these grateful comprador classes found a Saviour in the benevolent empire.

If Manmohan Singh today praises the Raj for its ‘good governance’, he is only trying to prove himself a worthy successor to the ‘great comprador tradition’. One section of them, playing the communal card, overtly or covertly, became a tool in the hands of the British policy of ‘divide and rule’, while the liberals, cut off from their roots and history, were overwhelmed by the marching juggernaut of communalism, propelled by powerful social forces.

These classes, naturally, were extremely inimical to the radical assertion of the masses, especially the working class and peasantry. The mass movements, used as a lever for political concessions, were often aborted midway, lest they acquire radical proportions and the vacuum was always, almost as a rule, filled by communal strife. Finally, “when popular action, above all, made continuance of British rule untenable; fear of popular ‘excesses’ made Congress leaders cling to the path of negotiations and compromise, and eventually even accept Partition as a necessary price, and the limits of popular anti-imperialist movements made the truncated settlement of August ’47 possible.” (Sumit Sarkar, Modern India ) Thus what we achieved at the barricades in 1857 was lost at the altar of elections and accords in 1937 and decisively in 1947.

Partition was among the most tragic and horrifying events of modern world history, with far reaching consequences. It is really ironic that the independence claimed to be achieved through non-violent and peaceful means, resulted in the most barbaric of communal holocausts of 20th century wherein around one lakh eighty thousand innocent people were butchered in the state of Punjab alone, across the border, accompanied by one of the biggest-ever migrations of world history. Even the tallest leader, himself, fell victim to a well-orchestrated conspiracy of the communal outfits. The artificiality of the partition on the basis of religion was to be proved most glaringly a quarter century later by the creation of Bangladesh .

The partitioned independence proved disastrous – and not only for the contemporaries. In fact, all major problems facing us today - three wars and constant tension between India and Pakistan, enabling imperialism to fish in the troubled waters, and thus keep India and Pakistan both competing for its patronage; the sway of communalism and fundamentalism as well as growing menace of terrorism in the entire subcontinent, the dangerous rise of communal fascism - are all rooted in the ill-fated partition.

So undoing the Partition, not through an Akhand Bharat of Hindutva dreams based on the subjugation of ‘minority’ nation by ‘majority’ nation, but through some form of Confederation of India-Pakistan-Bangladesh, on the basis of independence, equality as well as a shared culture and heritage, is an important dream and shared need of the subcontinent.