By Nauman Sadiq
Celebrated Indian historian and former minister for external affairs and finance in the Atal Bihari Vajpaee government passed away on September 27. Among many stellar accomplishments as an illustrious academic and a dignified politician with a political career spanning well over three decades, he was also credited with setting the historical record straight regarding the partition of Indo-Pak subcontinent in 1947.
In a trailblazing historical treatise: “Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence” published in August 2009, he praised Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah for his political acumen and for being an apostle of Hindu-Muslim unity, and claimed that the centralized policy of Indian National Congress leaders Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel was responsible for the partition of India.
His magnum opus caused such a furor that it cost Jaswant Singh his political career, as he found himself marginalized within the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. In the elections of 2014, his party decided not to field him from any constituency. He decided to contest anyway as an independent from his native constituency of Barmer in Rajasthan. He was expelled from the BJP in March 2014 when he did not withdraw his independent candidature, and went on to lose the election.
Though it might sound paradoxical, it’s a historically proven fact that on the eve of the independence, the Congress leadership willingly acceded to the partition of India because it wanted independence and withdrawal of the British colonists to take place in an orderly manner.
Except for the British rule, India was never a unified country, not even during the Mughal rule, as myriads of ethnic groups and assorted princely states comprising motley India were practically autonomous while accepting the nominal suzerainty of the Mughal rulers.
Leaving Mahatma Gandhi’s utopian consternation regarding “the vivisection of Mother India” aside, the pragmatic Congress leaders, Nehru and Patel, preferred centralized control over post-independence India and were worried more about keeping heterogeneous India, with countless ethnic groups and 500+ princely states, united following independence, as became obvious while forcibly integrating Hyderabad Deccan in September 1948 and the ensuing civil war claiming 200,000 lives.
On the eve of the independence in 1947, the All-India Muslim League under the guidance of Jinnah readily accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946, envisioning three separate groups of autonomous provinces with minimal central control including foreign affairs, defense, currency and communications, whereas the Congress’ leadership summarily rejected the plan while opportunistically welcoming British Viceroy Lord Wavell’s proposal to form a Congress-led interim government, forcing Jinnah to resort to “direct action.”
Although secularism, pluralism and multiculturalism are the accepted social axioms of the modern worldview, the demand for separate nationhood on the basis of ethno-linguistic identity is accepted in the Western discourse; and it cannot simply be dismissed on the premise that since pluralism and multiculturalism are the accepted principles, therefore the creation of a nation state on the basis of ethno-linguistic identity becomes redundant. The agreed-upon principles of pluralism and multiculturalism become operative after the creation of a nation state and not before it.
Similarly, even though secularism is an accepted principle in the Western discourse, an ethno-religious group cannot be denied its right to claim separate nationhood on the basis of religious identity; in this case too, the principle of inclusive secularism becomes functional after the creation of a state and not prior to it.
Before joining the All-India Muslim League, Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah was one of the leading proponents of Hindu-Muslim unity. He attended the meetings of the inner circle of the Indian National Congress, and reached a well-considered conclusion that the outwardly liberal and secular Congress was nothing more than a barely disguised Hindu nationalist party.
Even today, 73 years after the independence, Muslims constitute 15% of India’s 1.2 billion population, that amounts to more than 180 million Muslims in India today. Although we do find a few showpiece Muslims in ceremonial positions, most of all in the Indian film industry, I would like to know what is the representation of Muslims in India’s state institutions, their proportion in bureaucracy, judiciary, police and the armed forces, and their presence and participation in India’s civic and political life?
The fact is that just like the Indian National Congress, the Republic of India is also nothing more than a barely disguised Hindu nationalist state. Politically and socioeconomically, the Indian Muslims have lagged so far behind and have been disenfranchised to such an extent that they need some kind of an “affirmative action,” like the one carried out in the US in the sixties to improve the downtrodden lot of Afro-American communities.
Before generalizing and drawing simplistic conclusions, we must try to understand the attitudes and mindsets of the British Indian leaders that why they favored certain rallying calls and disapproved the rest. In my opinion, this preferential treatment had to do with personal inclinations and ambitions of the British Indian leaders and the interests of their respective communities as perceived by the leaders in heterogeneous and multi-ethnic societies like the British India.
A leader whose ambitions were limited only to his own ethnic group would rally his followers around their shared ethno-linguistic identity, but politicians who had larger ambitions would look for common factors that unite diverse ethnic groups, that’s where the role of religion becomes politically relevant in traditional societies.
It suited the personal ambitions of the Muslim League leadership to rally their supporters around the cause of shared Islamic identity, and it benefited the political agenda of the Congress’ leadership to unite all Indians under the banner of a more inclusive and secular Indian national identity in order to keep India united under the permanent yoke of numerical Hindu majority.
However, mere rhetoric is never a substitute for tangible actions, no matter how noble and superficially appealing it may sound. The Indian National Congress right from its inception was a thinly veiled Hindu nationalist party that only had a pretense of inclusive secularism, that’s why some of the most vocal proponents of Hindu-Muslim unity, like Jinnah and Iqbal, later became its vocal critics, especially after Gandhi and his protégé Nehru took over the leadership of Congress in 1921.
Although Orientalist historians generally give credit to Jinnah, as an individual, for single-handedly realizing the dream of Pakistan, in fact the Pakistan Movement was the logical conclusion of the Aligarh Movement. This fact elucidates that how much difference a single educational institution can make in the history of nations. Aligarh Muslim University bred entire generations of educated Muslims who were acutely aware of decadent state of Muslims in British India, and most of them later joined the Muslim League to make the dream of Pakistan a reality.
Regarding the allegation that the Muslim League leaders were imperialist collaborators, until Lord Wavell, the British viceroys used to take a reasonably neutral approach toward communal issues in British India, but on the eve of the independence of India and Pakistan, the Indian leaders Gandhi and Nehru specifically implored Clement Attlee’s government in the UK to appoint Lord Louis Mountbatten as the viceroy of British India.
More importantly, the independence of India and Pakistan was originally scheduled for June 1948, but once again the Indian National Congress leadership beseeched the British Empire to bring the date of independence forward to August 1947. It was not a coincidence that on both critically important occasions, Her Majesty’s government obliged the Congress leadership because the British wanted to keep the Dominion of India within the folds of the British Commonwealth after the independence.
Had the British Raj in India not brought forward the date of independence by almost an year, the nascent Indian and Pakistani armed forces and border guards could have had an opportunity to avert the carnage that took place during the division of Punjab on the eve of independence.
Furthermore, Lord Mountbatten served as India’s first governor general and he helped Jawaharlal Nehru’s government consolidate the Indian dominion by forcefully integrating more than 500 princely states. Mountbatten also made a similar offer to Jinnah to serve as Pakistan’s governor general, too, and when the latter refused, Mountbatten threatened Jinnah in so many words: “It will cost you and the dominion of Pakistan more than just tables and chairs.”
No wonder then, it was the collusion between the Congress leadership, Radcliffe and Mountbatten that eventually culminated in the Indian troops’ successful invasion of the princely state of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir by using the Gurdaspur-Pathankot corridor that was provided to India by the Radcliffe boundary commission. Thus, creating a permanent territorial dispute between the two neighbors that has not been resolved 73 years after the independence despite several United Nations resolutions and mediation efforts.