The Partition of India was one of the most cataclysmic events in world history and was one of the four partitions wrought by imperial Britain who divided not only India but also Ireland, Palestine and Cyprus, partly on the ground that different communities in these countries could not live together and partly because it was essentially Britain'sown military interests that determined its strategies and tactics during the negotiations leading to the partitions.
Placing the Partition of India in an international perspective, the book under review provides answers to some very pertinent questions: Does it help to divide territories where different communities find it hard to live together? Does separation of warring communities help to end conflicts and save lives? Does the division of a country along its ethno-territorial lines render the new political entities ethnically homogeneous?
More than half a century after the Partition of India, how and why the subcontinent was divided, remains the subject of continual debate. The most important answers that the book provides is to the questions whether Partition was the inevitable result of Hindu-Muslim division or the British policy of ?divide and rule? or Jawahar Lal Nehru'sideological rigidity for alienating the Muslim League in 1937 and in 1946.
On studying closely the reasons for Partition wherever it has occurred in the world, it become apparent that it happens primarily where at least two ethnic groups engage in armed conflict for possession of a particular territory. But as the author puts it: ?Partitions have never produced ethnically pure nation-states in the literal sense of an alignment of territory and ethnicity of religions. How could Bosnia, the Republic of Serb, Croat and Muslim minorities be partitioned into nation-states??
Today India has a larger Muslim population than Pakistan which was created as a Muslim homeland on the Indian subcontinent. This is the case seen not only in India but also in all international conflicts. All partitions have left mixed communities on both sides of the post-partition international borders.
The 1947-Partition of India created the first international conflict over Kashmir which was taken to the United Nations. A similar fate was met by Palestine, Cyprus and Northern Ireland. Indeed one has to agree with the author when she says that ?partitions have only produced running sores? and this is equally true to this day as we witness it in our own country with ever-increasing terrorism and continued conflict over Kashmir.
Creation of new borders by force have led to humanitarian problems of great magnitude. Partition has not helped to provide any permanent solution between the different warring communities; instead, it has proved a recipe for continued armed conflicts. What is required, says the author, is reconciliation and accommodation of different communities through ?an inclusive, pluralist concept of the nation and state in which identities and interests of all communities are safeguarded by the state.? So far so good. But what one would like to ask here is how can you accommodate the pluralist concept when one of the warring communities is not willing to accept the state as its own?
The author tries to prove through arguments and counter arguments that what is involved is respect for, and the protection of, individual human rights, ?which are most likely to be achieved in a democratic state which does not identify with any one community. The ethnic, religious or cultural majority is distinct from the political majority which may represent citizens of all communities.?
(National Book Trust, India, A-5 Green Park, New Delhi-110016.)