Partition, in itself, was not a tragedy, rather the only viable solution to the communal problem that infested the subcontinent. Jinnah should not be blamed for insisting on partition, rather should be hailed for his farsightedness in realizing that democracy in Asia would not quite function as it did in the US and the UK, rather would degenerate into a game of numbers. The number game, as it then stood, was stacked against the Muslims, and Jinnah did not want to leave them at the mercy of the Hindus, who he suspected harboured deep-rooted hatred and vengefulness as a result of centuries of oppression. Syed Ahmed Khan had lectured about Hindus and Muslims being two separate nations in the latter half of the 19th century, and Separate Electorates, granted to the Muslims in 1909, was the first step taken towards the eventual division of India. Once the vocal, vehement and numerically powerful minority had decided to break away, there was precious little anyone could have done to keep India united. Blaming the British, the INC, the Hindu Right, and specifically Gandhi, Nehru, Patel or Savarkar, hardly makes sense. In fact, the naïve idealism of the INC, as exhibited by the party’s insistence that it represented both the Hindus and the Muslims, was a dangerous recipe for a protracted civil war. The inevitable would have occurred twenty years later, and cost the civilization much more in terms of land and blood. Our history carried the seeds of partition, the logic of modern democracy only provided it with favourable conditions for germination.
While the partition was unavoidable, the real tragedy lay in the execution and marketing of the idea. A hurried division of land and assets, without the complete transfer of population, was bound to be a disaster in the hands of inexperienced and apathetic administrators. There was really no need to rush into the implementation of the plan, but the grandiloquent Mountbatten was far removed from reality. Nehru was in no position to assert himself, perhaps he was too clueless to really matter. Gandhi was besotted with his nightly Brahmacharya experiments during that period, while Patel was strangely aloof and withdrawn from the proceedings. And of course, Jinnah and his courtiers did not care how many Hindus and Sikhs lost their lives in their dominion, humanity be damned. In the East, Shaheed Suhrawardy played the devil reincarnate, out to consume blood of the Hindus. The administrative ineptitude displayed during the forties must be remembered as an exercise in national catharsis.
India would have recovered from even the severe injuries and maiming suffered during the Partition by now, had the then leaders of the Congress been honest with the people of truncated India. It is a no-brainer that by accepting the proposal of partition, the Congress had willy-nilly accepted the Two-nation Theory. They had conceded to Jinnah’s demand of a separate homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent. This is what the ‘acceptance of partition’ entailed. But the Congress and its leadership, under the heavy influence of Western idealism, failed to realize the full import of what had happened, and sold a bundle of lies to the gullible people of this country.
The idea of complete population transfer was deemed as unfeasible. While Punjab was able to effect substantial exchange of population, Gandhi put paid to such plans in Bengal. As a result, while Pakistan and Bangladesh became Islamic Republics where minorities are mercilessly persecuted even in the present day, India has been saddled with a highly shrill minority which screams wolf even when there is rule of law in this secular country. That to me is the abiding tragedy of partition- a secular country saddled with a large, vocal and electorally substantial minority, yet apologetic about its own dharmic roots, and unaware of what it had signed away at the negotiating table. Partition, as a catastrophic event, and the manner in which it was effected, has managed to confuse our national identity. We still live in a state of denial, and literally accept the lip service to lofty ideals which is routinely offered by the politicians.
India would have embraced secularism even after a substantial population exchange. But such an exercise would have allowed us to move on from the bitter legacy of historical excesses, and done away with the requirement of petty electoral compulsions that get manifested in minority appeasement. If the Indian leadership had been more honest and pragmatic, it would have either not succumbed to the idea of two-nation theory, but if there was no other choice, then would have insisted on complete population exchange, howsoever bloodied would that option have been. The least that should have been done was to own-up their failure, and properly educate the country about the pitfalls that lay ahead. Alas, they ended up peddling falsehood, marketing pseudo-secularism which translated into anti-majority policies, and corrupting the history of the country. False triumphalism and euphoria were injected into the mood of free India, and we became far removed from the truth and the horrors of the partition, and the dangers that stared us in the future.
This is the calamity that befell us, and must be commemorated as such on the Partition Horrors Remembrance Day. The mortal blow struck at the civilization by peddling of false narratives is what is more horrific than the loss of land and lives. Our regeneration rests upon the realization of our follies and failures. We should no longer hide behind sophistry and indulge in denial.
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