THE Partition of India in 1947 is an emotive issue for the Indians. While practicality has forced us to accept the reality, the emotional part has probably not come to terms with it. While the political leadership and a section of the interested (vested) media is trying to drum up aman between the two nations, Indians largely look at Pakistan with suspicion, because every talk of normal relations has resulted in military escalation and aggression at the borders at the initiative of Pakistan. That country for ever is trying to outlive the ‘broken away land’ image. Hence any study on the Partition of India can only be an academic exercise, leading to no conclusion.
The recent book The Partition of India by Ian Talbot and Gurharpal Singh explores the events just before 1947 and thereafter in a clinical academic approach, largely skirting the political vortex. According to the authors, the British were reluctant to partition India. This suggestion is a little hard to accept as British had attempted to divide Bengal (1905) and had assiduously followed a policy of divide and rule, alternately shifting the carrot between the Hindus and Muslims, but always viewing them as separate entities. This is no place to recount the measures. The colonial rulers, the book says, were forced to accept Partition to avoid civil war. If this was the case, then they hopelessly misread the situation, failed on intelligence gathering and were unprepared to face the consequences of their action. Partition claimed thousands of lives. Reports vary from two lakh to two million. What a colossal number of human lives!
Talbot and Gurharpal seek to “differentiate” between the communal violence that happened around 1947 to the other incidents of riots before between Muslims and Hindus. They have listed five features: the 1947 violence contained “a desire to squeeze out, or in modern parlance, to ethnically cleanse the minority populations.” Second, violence was not “about religious differences as in the ‘traditional’ riot, but occurred within the end of political context of the contest for power and territory.” Third, the Partition violence was more intense and sadistic; Four, it moved from the previous public arena to private sphere, engulfing women and children; and five, violence evinced great degree of planning and organisation with the support of para-military groups.
The book repeatedly clubs Punjab, Kashmir and the North-East for references on post Independence India’s failures, putting them almost on par with Sind of Pakistan. There is hardly any common threat between them. The Punjab issue only needed a strong arm dealing. In Kashmir it is the combine of Pak-Islam whereas in the north-east the missionaries and the church are stoking the fire. It is also pertinent to point out that all the three regions have received the highest politico-economic support from the Centre. Punjab was the epicentre of Green Revolution, Kashmir has been accorded a special status and the north-eastern states have received sustained attention.
Neither the reasons for 1947 not the consequences of it can be explained by anybody. Paul R Brass has probably best summed up Partition in his book The Production of Hindu-Muslim violence. He said for most Hindus, it was a “Historical scar that not only divided the subcontinent but defied the truth they had fought for as their rightful heritage: the unity of India. Muslims, for their part, fought for another truth invented out of their past in India, namely, that they constituted a separate civilisation distinct from that of the Hindus, that they had always been separate, and would have to remain so in the future.” It is a tragedy that a large number of Muslims who opted to live in secular India continue to nurture this mindset, which has resulted in continued riots post 1947.
Talbot is Professor of History at the University of Southampton and Gurharpal is Nadir Dinshaw Professor of Inter-Religious Relations in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Birmingham. The authors have concluded that Partition continues to influence the actions of both the countries though “current developments between them are beginning to look beyond the trap of history that Partition has cornstructed.” The volume is intended for students as an introduction, a base point for the study of modern politics of South Asia. With lots of maps, references and a substantial bibliography, the book is of good academic value.
(Cambridge University Press, Cambridge House, 4281/4, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi 110 002)