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Indias Partition

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THE Partition of India ranks, beyond a doubt, as one of the 10 greatest tragedies in human history. It was not inevitable. India's independence was inevitable; but preservation of its unity was a prize that, in our plural society, required high statesmanship. That was in short supply. A mix of other reasons deprived us of that prize - personal hubris, miscalculation, and narrowness of outlook.

While Mohammed Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League bear heavy responsibility - since they demanded and pressed for Pakistan - the Congress cannot escape blame. Least of all the hypocritical Sangh Parivar. Its chief mentor V.D. Savarkar formulated the two-nation theory in his essay Hindutva, published in 1923, 16 years before Jinnah came up with it. The Hindu Mahasabha leader Lala Lajpat Rai wrote in The Tribune of December 14, 1924:

"Under my scheme the Muslims will have four Muslim States: (1) The Pathan Province or the North-West Frontier; (2) Western Punjab (3) Sindh and (4) Eastern Bengal. If there are compact Muslim communities in any other part of India, sufficiently large to form a province, they should be similarly constituted. But it should be distinctly understood that this is not a united India. It means a clear partition of India into a Muslim India and a non-Mulsim India." This was 16 years before the League adopted the Pakistan Resolution in Lahore, on March 23, 1940 (emphasis added, throughout). Prof. Muhammad Aslam Malik claims: "The present study concentrates only on how the resolution was shaped. It deals with the subject exhaustively and explains some of the intriguing questions objectively... Nevertheless, it is not the last word on the subject." This stroke of modesty is preceded by a sustained belittling of all others who wrote on the subject. In bringing to light important archival material, the author renders high service. In proceeding to analyse them, however, he only amuses the reader when his aim, apparently, is to enlighten him. One who can confidently assert that B. Shiva Rao was "the proprietor of The Hindu", that the hill-station Matheran, which Jinnah loved, was an "island", and that Sir Chimanlal Setalvad was a Parsi, can assert anything. He draws freely on his imagination. "It can be imagined that Jinnah would have agreed to favour Sir Sikandar only when the latter agreed to support the League's Pakistan proposition, which he had vehemently opposed at the Delhi meeting of the Working Committee. It can also be visualised that, for the sake of saving his face, Sikandar should have demanded the inclusion of some of his suggestions in the 'outline'..."

The author is out to prove a thesis which some people in India also espouse - Jinnah was for Partition from the mid-1930s and the Lahore Resolution was not a bargaining counter. He thinks that his leader is belittled if the contrary is averred. One is reminded of the judge who said "this court may often be in error, but it is never in doubt."

There were four forces at work then. The historians of the Hindu Right, R.C. Majumdar and A.K. Majumdar, refer in Struggle for Freedom (Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan; 1969; page 611) "to one factor which was responsible to a very large extent for the emergence of the idea of Partition of India on communal lines. This was the Hindu Mahasabha..." Recently, the veteran socialist Prem Bhasin wrote: "The ease with which a large number of Congressmen and women - small, big and bigger still - have walked into the RSS-BJP boat and sailed with it is not a matter of surprise. For, there has always been a certain affinity between the two. A large and influential section in the Congress sincerely believed even during the freedom struggle that the interests of Hindu Indians could not be sacrificed at the altar of a united Independent India. Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya and Lala Lajpat Rai had, for instance, actually broken away from the Congress and founded the Nationalist Party which contested elections against the Congress in the mid-twenties" (Janata; Annual Number, 1998). G.B. Pant was the architect of the Ayodhya problem.

Gandhi and Nehru opposed such elements doggedly, but they were not prepared to relent on their preference for a centralised federation. Meanwhile, the Muslim Right had begun to play with the Partition idea since Iqbal's famous address to the League session in 1931. But his group of Muslim provinces was confined to western India as a member of the Indian Union. Jinnah did not subscribe to such schemes. He was a belated convert and for tactical reasons.

Both the Congress and the League were opposed to the federal part of the Government of India, 1935. Nehru wrote to Rajendra Prasad on July 21, 1937: "During the General Election in U.P. there was not any conflict between the Congress and the Muslim League. It was the decision of both the parties to avoid conflict as much as possible and to accommodate each other." In October 1937, the League adopted as its objective complete independence and became a mass party. That that round of the Congress-League parleys for coalition failed was bad enough. Far worse, as Tej Bahadur Sapru wrote to Shiva Rao, was the behaviour of Congress Ministries. Jinnah's talks with Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose failed dismally. The Congress took a fateful step. It began advocating the establishment of a Constituent Assembly as a solution to the problem. As K.M. Panikkar pointed out in a brilliant memorandum, dated October 10, 1945, no such Assembly can succeed except on the basis of a Congress-League accord and unless "a procedure of bringing the parties together on some minimum basis of agreement is evolved before the Constituent Assembly meets."

In 1939 the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, asked Jinnah whether he had "a constructive policy", any alternative to the Assembly which Jinnah dreaded because he was certain to be outvoted there. The Viceroy invited Jinnah for talks on March 2, 1939. In these talks, Jinnah, despite his opposition to federation, presented his conditions for accepting it. He told the Viceroy that "the only form of federation which would appeal to him would be one that contained what he described as an equipoise." By this he meant, as Jinnah himself explained, "an adjustment of votes and of territorial division which would give a Hindu-Muslim balance." He added that this equipoise was to be "obtained by a certain degree of gerrymandering" - weightage of votes or seats. Various variants of the Pakistan scheme were then under active consideration within the Muslim League. The Premier of Punjab Sir Sikander Hayat Khan's scheme sought the division of India into autonomous "zones" within a federal India.

The League



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