Now It Can Be Told; Publication Prabhat Prakashan, Pp 224, Rs 210.00
It is not often that one writes about a book with a heavy heart. “Now It Can Be Told” is a book that leaves you with a heavy heart and a mind laden with anger and guilt. Anger at the way our political leaders caved in to Muslim League goons, the way they let our own victim brethren of Partition suffer whose only fault was that they ended up on the wrong side of the line because of our leaders; and guilt that our governments, even society did not really take care of their brethren with an open heart the way they deserved. It was not their fault that they were left on the other side of the border, defenceless, almost orphans.
“Now It Can Be Told” is a first-hand account of an economist, a teacher and a prominent Hindu who lived in Lahore through the trauma during the period of Partition, late Shri AN Bali. It is a piece of history put together with authentic data, details culled from eye witnesses and victims of violence about loot and plunder and atrocities of that time. The Hindi word for this is much more evocative ‘smaranika’ – a book of remembrance. However, the book is an authentic historical account.
When the book was released a few weeks back, veteran journalist Kanchan Guptaji noted that this book was indirectly banned by the Nehru Government by getting it removed from all the bookshelves and shops because it criticised the leadership of the time and exposed their blunders. It was published when the history of Independence was still unravelling and was still being written. I happened to find a PDF of the original publication in the RSS documentation centre while I was doing research for my PhD. And Prabhat Prakashan has done an excellent job of republishing by reproducing faded graphics and tables with care. It is a difficult book to read as it describes one of the most painful and violent periods of our history and a period of political follies that could have been avoided. It shows that our best leaders had feet of clay and hearts so weak that it would have been better if they had abdicated their job rather than play with the future of Bharat and its people.
The book starts on a casual easy note describing the life of average Hindus-Sikhs of Punjab, specially of the Western part which eventually went to Pakistan. It was the grain bowl of Bharat, a prosperous, happy agrarian area irrigated by five rivers and also the centre of commerce for the entire North Western region. Lahore was a hard working and food guzzling populace. ‘A famished looking socialist leader from Bombay once remarked after seeing his Punjabi host a lavish dinner, “Good gracious! Now I understand why we are starving in the South. The entire food of India is being eaten away by the Punjabis.”
Then it moves on to describe the geographical, demographic and economic status of people populating that region. AN Bali provides statistical data that shows that much of the geography had balanced population data and was fudged in a calculated manner. He illustrates the huge dominance of Hindu-Sikh population in agricultural land holding and in commerce with hard data.
He moves to the developing situation, uncertainty in the minds of the Hindus and Sikhs, but their faith in Gandhi and Nehru. Acceptance of Partition on 2nd June 1947 was like thunder out of the blue. Still hope was alive as actual division had not been marked out. While most had begun trudging out due to Muslims attacks and massacres, some held on. They stuck to their homes and hearts despite watching the deteriorating situation all round and the rising goon behaviour of Muslims. It breaks one’s heart to understand how they hung on the slender thread of hope and faith in Congress leadership. He calls the Partition lines drawn despite huge data against such a division as “the greatest farce in history”. Yes, Muslim League was able to convince the British that Congress represented only Hindu interests and they were the real voice of the Muslims.
Though massacres had begun from June 1947 itself, August 14th was a blackest night for all the Hindus-Sikhs of West Punjab and North West Province. One feels embarrassed with near inaction or weak response to atrocities on the minorities in the newly created Pakistan even while they trudged all the way to Bharat and our leadership’s inability to protect them in Pakistan. Our leaders were more busy providing strong security to Muslims leaving Bharat and punishing the majority population who attacked Muslims on the Indian side. Stiff penalties were imposed on them in case of any complaint. But, on Pakistan leaders’ demand, police protection of minorities in Pakistan was diluted. I am not sharing the gory details of violence narrated by the author. They must be read by all Indians.
I quote the author contrasting Pakistani and Indian leadership. Respective clarity and muddled thinking is striking – “Mr Jinnah had shown expert leadership. The quality of the staff work put in was of the highest order. He did not visit the ‘battle fields’ even once. By keeping himself aloof from the din of the ‘war’ and overcome the will of his opponents. The Hindu leaders, on the other hand, committed blunders. In the first place, they refused to take the ultimatum seriously and wishfully looked upon it as a mere camouflage. In the second place, even when the war was declared, they refused to see in it, anything but a ‘phoney’ war that could be won by mere statements and fasts…. (Jinnah’s) offer for truce should have opened eyes to the grim realities, but alas, it was not to be.”
The author dedicates an entire chapter titled towards the end “A friend in need is a friend indeed”, narrating the great work done by youth of RSS in protecting the Hindu-Sikh people right from the time disturbances began in west Punjab. He talks of their courage and sacrifice
The worst fate followed them when our brethren reached Bharat. We would make us ashamed is that the provincial Indian Governments led by Congress did not receive them with empathy. They were denied entry in many States claiming their infrastructure was overloaded. They were treated harshly. The author dedicates an entire chapter titled towards the end “A friend in need is a friend indeed”, narrating the great work done by youth of RSS in protecting the Hindu-Sikh people right from the time disturbances began in west Punjab. He talks of their courage and sacrifice and says,
“These young men were the first to come to the help of the stricken Hindus and Sikhs and were the last to leave their places for the safety of East Punjab. I could name several Congress leaders of note in various districts of Punjab who openly solicited the help of the RSS even for their own protection and the protection of their kith and kin. No request for help for any help was refused and there are cases which came to our notice where the Muslim women and children were safely escorted out of their Hindu mohallas (localities) and sent to Muslim Leage refugee centres in Lahore by the RSS men.” His testimony is critical as he was not a member of RSS. He also covers the period of strong Congress resentment against RSS, its ban and lifting of ban as a knowledgeable observer.
This book is a living document, written during the turbulent time by a knowledgeable intellectual and a first-person account, hence much more authentic than any academic work produced subsequently. Sant Tara Singh had noted that it was a ‘smarinika’ that every Punjabi should keep at home. I would say that this book should be in every Indian’s home so we don’t forget and don’t allow our leaders to make similar mistakes again.