Over 60 years after Partition, it is not just of historic interest but much more fundamental to ask again the perennial question: Could Partition have been avoided? Was it merely the result of the British colonial power’s attempt to divide India before leaving so that Britain and other western powers could still have an elbow room in the subcontinent by playing India and Pakistan against each other? Or were there in built contradiction in the demographic profile of the country which eventually led to a bloody split?
Though Jaswant Singh has been shown the door by the BJP, his book has already reached the top of the chart even before its official release because he has added much zing to the raging controversy over who was responsible for the Partition. According to a pre-publication version of the book, Jinnah was not actually seeking Pakistan but a certain “space” for Muslims which the Congress, more specifically Jawaharlal Nehru, was adamant on denying. In his TV interview, Jaswant Singh has broadly agreed with this version. He says in that interview that Jinnah, the “nationalist” became a compulsive advocate of Partition after he found step by step that the Congress would not share power with the Muslim League.
I have yet to read the new book in its entirety before understanding the Jaswant Singh thesis. But one thing is certain – the Muslims of India did have dominant separatist streak and interested quarters exploited it for their respective ends. The British wanted to leave India in a mess and prove to the world that the India minus them was a big chaos. The ghost of Muslim separatism, nursed by them over several decades, as a part of their policy of ‘divide and rule’, was rejuvenated, put to use, to meet their imperial ends.
For the Communist, it presented them with a godsend opportunity to emphasise their belief that India was not a nation but collection of 15-16 nations held together by force by the British Empire. And all these nations (Muslims, Sikhs, Tamils -. ) had an inherent right to break away and form themselves into independent nations. They happily supplied all the intellectual arguments the Muslim League needed to push its demand for a separate theocratic state. Jinnah, who had no followers worth the name till 1930s, became an instant pan-Indian Muslim leader after he started articulating the cause of a separate Muslim nation – a desire which had kindled in the hearts of most of the believing Muslims. In the bargain Jinnah got a mass to follow and hail him, and the Muslims an efficient lawyer to plead their case for separation.
The Muslim psyche in the country was shaped by history of the sub-continent. Though Marthas were in control when the British enslaved India, the Muslims had ruled the country with a sword in one hand and Koran in the other, for most of the 600 odd years. Many of them foundly remembered the exploits of their ‘Gazi’ ancestors and the second class status of the ‘kafirs’ in that ‘golden’ era. The prospects of living as equals with the ‘kafirs’ after the departure of the British frightened them. No wonder most of the Muslims found sense in Sir Syed’s ‘two-nation’ theory and nothing, but the politics of separatism, touched their heart.
Against this background, Jaswant Singh’s hypothesis is like a proverbial red-herring – for it seeks to deflect the focus from the real sinners of partition. The seeds of vivisection of India were sown long before the arrival of either Jinnah or Nehru on the Indian political scene. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (founder of Aligarh Muslim University which played a leading role in the creation of Pakistan) was the one who had provided an intellectual paradigm for the creation of a theocratic Islamic state.
Sir Syed was born in a reputed Delhi family and had entered the services of East India Company prior to 1857 uprising in which he sided with the British. He advised the Muslims not to join the newly formed ‘National Congress’. In the last ten years of his life he bitterly opposed the Congress trough his writings and speeches. Thanks to him only a handful of Muslims joined the Congress and his creation, AMU, played a pivotal role in the movement leading to the creation of Pakistan.
Speaking at Meerut on March 16, 1888, over a year before Jawahar Lal Nehru was born to Kamla -Motilal, Sir Syed had espoused the two nation theory. He asked: ” Is it possible that under these circumstances two nations – the Mohammedans and the Hindus – could sit on the same throne and remain equal in power? Most certainly not. It is necessary that one of the should conquer the other”. To hope that both could remain equal is to desire the impossible and the inconceivable”.
Calling upon the Muslims to make a common cause with the British, Sir Syed said, “We ought to unite with the nation with whom we can unite. No Mohammedan can say that the English are not `people of the Book’. No Mohammedan can deny this: that God has said that no people of other religions can be friends of the Mohammedans except the Christians. He who has read the Koran and believes it knows that our nation cannot expect friendship and affection from any other people. Now God has made them rulers over us. Therefore, we should cultivate a friendship with them, and should adopt the method by which their rule may remain permanent and firm in India, and may not pass into the hands of the Bengalis”. Sir Syed had dismissed the Congress as a `Bengali’ outfit.
Sir Syed’s paradigm paved way for several steps which the Muslim Community in India took, (with the encouragement of the British) in the following years. On October 1, 1906, at Simla, Aga Khan led a Muslim delegation to Viceroy Lord Minto with two main demands – Muslims should be represented only by Muslims in all democratic institutions like municipalities, district boards, legislative councils etc; elected through Muslim electorates and the representation of Muslims in such political bodies as well as in the judiciary, senates of universities and government jobs should be in excess of their numerical strength.
Writing in Pakistan or the Partition of India, B. R. Ambedkar saw it as “the beginning of the British government’s policy of giving favourable treatment to the Muslims” and “to wean them away from the Congress and to create a breach and disunity between the Hindus and the Musalmans”.
Two months later, in December 1906, the Muslim League was formed in Dacca. The inaugural address by the Chairman, Viqar-ul-Mulk was a follow up of the agenda of the Muslim deputation which had earlier called upon Lord Minto at Simla in October. Three resolutions summed up the League’s agenda : to promote a feeling of loyalty to the British crown among Muslims of India and to protect and advance the political rights and interests of the Muslims. Only four days earlier (Dec. 26, 1906) in Calcutta Dadabhai Naoroji in his presidential address had defined the political goal of the Congress as ‘self government’ or ‘Swaraj’ for the first time in 20 years of existence. What contrast!
In 1908, following his return from England (after a three year stay) Muhammad Iqbal wrote a poem Tarane-I Milli; the first line of which reads; Chino-Arab hamara, Hindustan ho hamara, Muslim hain hum, Watan hai Saara Jahan hamara. (China and Arabia are ours, Hindustan is ours; we are Muslims and the whole world is ours). The British were quick to reward the Muslims in the form of separate electorate, in the Act of 1909, creating a permanent wedge between the two communities.
In his presidential address at the All India Muslim League session at Allahabad (Dec 29, 1930), Iqbal demanded ‘Muslim India within India’. Rahmat Ali (a student at Cambridge University where Iqbal also had studied) gave the name of ‘Pakistan’ to Iqbal’s idea and pamphlets explaining the idea of Pakistan were distributed to the delegates of Round Table Conference in London (1931-32). So the two nation paradigm took just about 40 odd years to develop into a solid political movement and another 17 to become a reality in 1947, with the British playing a helpful role.
The fact that the Muslim masses did not follow Maulana Azad, a deeply religious Muslim while they fell in line behind Jinnah who was not a practicing Muslim, is itself instructive. The Maulana believed in harmony of the two leading religious groups and so followed Gandhiji but his co-religionists in rejecting him, rejected his idea itself. In all historic evaluation of the events of the Partition any impartial analyst must take into count the differing perceptions of majority of Hindus and that of majority of Muslims to the concept of independent India.
Some recent historians particularly of the Left variety have sought to underplay the impression the Muslim masses carried that the British had tricked the Muslim rulers into giving up India on a platter to them and therefore it is right that when the British leave the status quo ante should be restored. This impression was fuelled by the way British and some of our own historians distorted history-the fact was that in the 18th and 19th centuries when Britain easily over ran India, the dominant power were the Marathas and even the Mughal king in Delhi was a “protected ruler” under the Peshwas.
The Maratha power became a pale shadow of what it was after the battle of Panipat which the Peshwa lost enabling the British to swallow the Indian princes one by one. That the last of the Mughal emperors, the poetry loving Bahadur Shah Zafar was reluctantly drawn into the 1857 revolt against the British and that his domain was limited to old Delhi alone, has to be taken into account.
Whether the revival of the Jinnah controversy and his role in the making of Pakistan and what sort of Pakistan that he wanted, would have any impact in Pakistan itself would be more interesting to pursue. Surely the Jaswant Singh treatise on Jinnah has raised a storm in BJP. But in the rest of country the response on this issue is more likely to be academic rather than emotional as the people of this country have learnt to view the past in its perspective.
We have a changing India today compared to what it was in 1947. It is an open and democratic society and not one ruled by some clerics, Hindu or Muslim. The dominant theme in our Independence Day has been one of development and the role India would be called upon to play in the emerging global order, greater empowerment of women and greater transparency in government.
But the situation on the other side of the border is different. India as a state has battled separatist militancy and survived. The state is fully set to crush any non-state actors who seek to raise a different flag. Governments both at Centre and at states have come and gone in response to freely expressed popular will without any bloodshed. That is not the case in Pakistan. Right now the Pakistan state is battling for survival against a backlash of Muslim orthodoxy.
This is despite the fact that the state of Pakistan itself is by its constitution supposed to be run according to the principles of a religious text rather than the principles of liberal political entity. What the orthodoxy in Pakistan says is that those principles are not applied in full i.e the state is not Islamic enough. Pakistani analysts like Hussain Haqani whose book Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military has exposed the basic forces within that state, have admitted that apart from the clerics, the military is another factor in the politics there. In rest of the world nations have armies. But in Pakistan it is the army that owns the state!
Ever since the twin birth on August 14-15 on the subcontinent in 1947, Pakistan has made hate India the only theme for its existence. After they found over three wars that India cannot be defeated they have resorted to a continuing policy of terrorism, attempts to divide Indian state and lately destroy its economy. Sixty-two years later neither terrorism nor promoting divisive forces has shaken the Indian edifice.
So now Islamabad’s true mentors are destroying the Indian economy-the Mumbai attack, the large-scale printing and distribution of fake currency notes are all part of that conspiracy. It is not inconceivable that Pakistan state is hesitating to nab the main conspirators of Mumbai 26/11 precisely because it does not want these conspirators and planners like Hafiz Mohammad Sayeed to spill the beans in case they are charged. Islamabad is playing games with the US Administration by arresting the lower rung guys but evading nabbing the big fry on one pretext or the other.
I think there has to be a book on whether in a single state of the Indian subcontinent, the Islamic throw back to religious orthodoxy and the concept of the Islamic Umma stretching from the Bosporus to the South China Sea, would have been contained. Those who believe that Jinnah was secular have to explain the India-specific focus of Pakistan.
We need not be taken in by the recent anti-Taliban action of the Pakistani military. It is simply related to the condition that the Obama administration set to Pakistan to raise the annual subsidy from Washington from 700 million dollars to 1.5 billion dollars. Washington has now insisted that the aid would be doubled only on condition that the army acts against the rising tide of the Taliban. And that Pakistan give an account of how the money was being spent, after its sleuths reported about previous such aid that “Much of that money has been stolen or spent to defend against an attack from India; little has reached the border with Pakistan” (Time magazine, February 16, 2009).
Even in a single country on the subcontinent would the aim of an Islamic state in the whole of the subcontinent change? Ashley Tellis, the Yale University expert on Pakistan has pointed out last January itself that “India’s achievement in becoming a peaceful, prosperous, multi-ethnic and secular democracy remains an affront to LeT’s vision of a universal Islamist Caliphate begotten through tableegh, or preaching, and jihad.” This aim is not a recent find. It has a history of over 50 years and we know that Al Qaeda is an outgrowth of the dreaded Muslim brotherhood that rejected all modernity and wanted a throwback to the 7th century Islamic society.
We have it from the constant statements emanating from Washington that if Pakistan is eager to resume the composite dialogue with India it is simply due to the pressure that the Obama Administration is exercising on it in the present context. If the context changes with relative peace on Pakistan’s western borders and Pakistani Taliban weakened enough not to challenge Islamabad state, would the known policy of the Pakistan military to destroy India through the “thousand cuts”, fake currency flood, tying up the Indian army in Kashmir, change?
I think the debate on Jinnah’s legacy is almost irrelevant to the present situation though it may have an academic interest much the same as the historians debating on the origins of the World War II. India and the world are facing a new threat from an Islamic throw back to orthodoxy and a global Islamic order based on that orthodoxy. Even some Islamic countries are themselves facing it whether it is in Egypt or Indonesia.
Afghanistan where the international forces are present and the global community is investing billions to set up a modern state, President Karzai has surrendered to the orthodoxy in allowing Shiite husbands to starve their wives for refusing sex on demand. In Sudan Lubna Hussein faces 40 lashes in public for the simple “crime” of wearing a trouser. In Pakistan errant women are stoned to death – under the prevailing Islamic law and any one speaking against God and the prophet of Islam receives a death sentence.
Jinnah did not conform to orthodox Muslim attire or deportment in any manner. But that would be denying him the glory of a sharp intellect that made him what he became from poverty to a leading member of the Bar in Bombay. He was wily enough to co-opt the British and the Communists in his endeavour and brow-beat the Congress leaders to concede him an Islamic country, carved out of an ancient nation. Instead of debating on Jinnah’s secular credentials our policy makers and people must seek to properly evaluate the threat to our values and systems from a resurgent Islamic orthodoxy in Pakistan, of which Al Qaeda, LeT, etc are only symptoms and not the disease itself.