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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 35, August 15, 2009 (Independence Day Special)

Was Partition of India Inevitable?

Wednesday 19 August 2009, by R M Pal

This article was sent to us quite sometime back but could not be used earlier for unavoidable reasons. —Editor

On the black Saturday evening my family and I switched on the TV and heard the black and sad news of Pakistan coming under emergency rule, which meant Martial Law. We changed channels but all channels were telecasting the same news. I said, to the great annoyance of my wife, for she does not like my criticism of Gandhi, in Hindi, “Yeh sab Gandhi ki meharbani hai.” What I wanted to say is narrated below.

If Gandhi and the Congress had accepted the Cripps’ offer, the country would not have been partitioned. There are two aspects to this observation: one, that partition could have been prevented; two, whether or not unified India would have been a better place to live in. I am dealing with the first issue. One thing is clear, namely, that if there were no partition, Gandhi would not have been assassinated in 1948 and there would have been no Kashmir war. The main grievance of the few Hindu nationalist militants who had been planning to kill Gandhi was that Gandhi was pro-Pakistan and pro-Muslim. The Kashmir war that has been going on since 1947 in one form or another has cost us a lot of money, which could have been used for social development and welfare. The immediate provocation to give a fresh look at this question was provided by the black and sad news of Pakistan coming under emergency rule (Martial Law). One can be reasonably sure that if India were not partitioned, this situation, and also that Pakistan has been under more or less perpetual military rule, would not have arisen.

Instead Gandhi launched the ‘Quit India’ movement. One fails to understand why Gandhi scholars like Prof Bhikhu Parikh and Raj Mohan Gandhi do not analyse as to why Gandhi resorted to starting the ‘Quit India’ movement in spite of opposition from his colleagues like Maulana Azad. Earlier in 1924 and 1939 Gandhi was rattled in that he lost his position of supreme leadership of the Congress party. In 1924 during the Ahmedabad session of the All India Congress Committee Gandhi was rattled by the Swarajists led by Motilal Nehru and C.R. Das. Gandhi had declared that if his programme and also resolution declaring the members who did not spin for half-an-hour a day and did not observe the five-fold boycott of legislative councils, law courts, government schools, titles and mill made cloth would have to resign from the All India Congress Committee. This resolution, if carried, would have automatically excluded the Swarajists from power. Speaking for the Swarajists Pandit Motilal Nehru said: “We decline to make a fetish of the spinning wheel or to subscribe to the doctrine that only through that wheel can we obtain Swaraj. Discipline is desirable but it is not discipline for the majority to expel the minority. We are unable to forget our manhood and our self-respect and to say that we are willing to submit to Gandhi’s orders. That Congress is as much ours as our opponents and we will return with greater majority to sweep away those who stand for this resolution.” With these words Pandit Nehru and Desh-bandhu Chittaranjan Das left the hall taking with them 55 Swarajists. One hundred and ten members remained when the resolution was put to the vote and was carried against 37 with six per cent abstentions. This apparent victory of Gandhians was not a genuine win. Had the Swarajists remained in the hall, the resolution would have been defeated by about 20 votes. However, Gandhi recognised his defeat and dropped his resolution on compulsory spinning and the five-fold boycott by the workers making it only advisory in nature. And with this and other concessions the Swarajists were persuaded to rejoin the Congress. About the 1939 issue M.N. Roy wrote in an article: “The second defeat came when a much younger man than Gandhi, Subhash Chandra Bose, defeated Gandhi’s nominee, Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramayya, in the Congress Presidential election. Gandhi’s tormented soul made him acknowledge after the election ‘Pattabhi’s defeat is my defeat’. Gandhi and his disciples brought a charge of indiscipline against Subhash Bose. One would fail to understand what act of indiscipline Bose had committed except that he contested the election against Gandhi’s nominee. But for the immoral political practice adopted by Gandhi and his followers in throwing out Subhash Bose from the Congress, things might have been different in the sense that Gandhi might not have remained the absolute leader for a long time.” It would not be wrong to suggest that Gandhi expected to regain the supremacy of his position in the Congress through a movement like the ‘Quit India’ movement.

LET us give a quick look at what happened to the movement. One heroic figure of the Congress, Aruna Asaf Ali, wrote: “We know ours is the voice of lost souls that championed a lost cause.” Another heroic figure of the Socialist Party, Achyut Patwardhan, told the veteran journalist, Kuldeep Nayar, that it was not necessary to have the ‘Quit India’ movement to attain India’s independence. Patwardhan repeated this in a speech at Gowalia Tank in Mumbai on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the ‘Quit India’ movement. The residents of the nearby residential complex, ‘Nirmal Niwas’, heard his speech in Marathi. Gowalia Tank is the venue from where the ‘Quit India’ movement had started. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad writes in his book India Wins Freedom that from many serious considerations he had tried to dissuade Gandhi from launching the ‘Quit India’ movement. But Gandhi then wrote to him to resign from the Presidentship of the Congress and also withdraw from its Working Committee. It was, however, Patel, having no special love for Azad though, who pressurised Gandhi to withdraw the letter.

The well-known historian, R.C. Majumdar, has written in his book The History of Freedom Movement in India: “That the Movement was crushed within two to three months and that it failed to achieve any tangible result not to speak of the end for which it was launched, admits no doubt.”

On another occasion when Lord Wavell became the Viceroy of India, he met Jinnah. What the British Government wanted to do in India was to install an interim government in Delhi, which would have the support of the Muslim League, that is, Jinnah and the Congress, that is, Gandhi; so that the British could transfer power to this government in Delhi after World War-II (after defeating the Axis powers). So when Lord Wavell met Jinnah, his main demand was that Muslim Ministers in the proposed government would be nominated by the Muslim League and by nobody else. Wavell then met Gandhi and asked him to show statesmanship** and accept Jinnah’s demand for the sake of peace but Gandhi would not. If Gandhi had accepted Wavell’s plea united India would not have suffered any loss except that men like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, who were the Congress’ Muslim candidates for Ministership and would in no case have been nominated for the post by the Muslim League led by Jinnah, would not have become Ministers. But in that case the partition of India would have been avoided and thousands of people would not have become victims of that tragedy. In 1939, the Congress Ministries in the provinces resigned. Instead of resigning if the Congress had invited the Muslim League to join the Congress to form coalition Ministries, the British rulers would have got a clear signal that the Muslim League and the Congress had come together. Neither Gandhi nor Jinnah made any effort in this regard. On the contrary Jinnah announced that the resignation of the Congress Ministries be celebrated as the deliverance day.

A young friend of mine, who was till recently a card-holding member of the CPI-M, one day asked me what has been Jyoti Basu’s contribution to the politics and government of Bengal that he has been the uncrowned king of West Bengal for such a long time. I said that the most important contribution made by him is that he was a party to the decision to partition Bengal. As you know all the Hindu members in the Bengal Assembly, including the Communist members, voted for the partition. The reason was that in the united Bengal a Muslim would almost always have become the Chief Minister, and the bhadralok Hindus did not want to live under a Muslim Chief Minister.

This reminds me of my very kind friend, the late Justice Dorab Patel of Pakistan, making a comment at lunch at my place in Delhi, that the whole tragedy was that we did not have any statesman in pre-partition India and that we had only clever and crafty politicians.

Jinnah did not want India to be partitioned. Let me quote M.N. Roy in this context.

Unfortunately Jinnah’s coming to the front rank of politics synchronised with desecularisation of nationalism, which doubtful development introduced communalism in politics. If distrust and hatred of the British were the hallmark of patriotism, Jinnah was always a strong patriot as any other Indian. In the General Council meeting of the League held in the Imperial Hotel of New Delhi to endorse the plan of partition, Jinnah concluded his speech by declaring, “I have won Pakistan for you. Now do what you can do with it.”

If Jinnah had known that his men would rule Pakistan through emergency and Martial Law he would have perhaps given a second thought to the idea. What I suggest in this brief article is that Partition could have been avoided and undivided India would have been a less unhappy place than what these two countries are today.

It was not Jinnah but the Hindutvavadi leader Sarvarkar who first propounded the two-nation theory. Veer Sarvarkar, while presiding over the 1937 session of the Hindu Mahasabha, said in plain and simple words, advocating the two-nation theory:

I warn the Hindus that the Mohammedans are likely to prove dangerous to our Hindu nation. India cannot be assumed today to be a Unitarian and homogeneous nation. On the contrary there are two nations in the main, the Hindus and the Muslims in India. (Source—Mohandas by Raj
Mohan Gandhi, p. 411)

Another important thing, which has prompted me to give a fresh look at this question, is to explore the possibility of bringing about peace between India and Pakistan. (In fact, the matter came up in a short discussion at a meeting organised by the Jamia Millia Islamia University under the aegis of the Academy of Third World Studies recently.) I don’t believe, like some Gandhian and RSS ideologues, that there can be peace between India and Pakistan only if Pakistan joins India in a confederation. What a well-known Gandhian and others like him want to say is that the partition should be undone, then only there would be peace and there is nobody to question him as to why Gandhi did not prevent partition when he was in a position to do so as I have argued in this article. Also there is nobody to question him: is India truly a federation? That Gandhian intellectual wrote an article in a national daily, wherein he pleaded for Pakistan to join India in a confederation. Subsequently, while presiding over one session of an annual conference of the Indian Radical Humanist Association he advanced the same argument. I questioned him and wanted his permission to speak on the subject. Later in the course of private discussion I asked him why was it that Gandhi did not accept Jinnah’s demand? What harm would have befallen if Jinnah’s demand had been accepted except that people like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Rafi Ahmed Kidwai would have found no place in the Council of Ministers of the Government of India? This intellectual dismissed the question saying that these are all old issues mixed up with the question beginning with the two-nation theory. I, therefore, add some information which is not generally known even to the Gandhivadis.

IT is for intellectuals like the one I have referred to above to enlighten us on how Gandhi reacted to one ruler of a Muslim majority state signing the treaty of accession with India, and also when Jinnah wanted to go to Kashmir for a holiday, why the Maharaja said that he would not allow Jinnah to enter Kashmir. It was only after this that Pakistani leaders had a meeting and decided to send infiltrators as secret agents to Kashmir to evaluate the situation and determine the Maharaja’s real intentions.

This was one of the greatest tragedies in Indian history and I have to say with the deepest regret that a large part of the responsibility for this development rests on Jawaharlal Nehru.

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was India’s quin-tessential politician. He ran the machinery of the Congress party. I was surprised when Patel said that whether we like it or not there were two nations in India. He was now convinced that Muslims and Hindus could not be united into one nation. It was better to have one clean fight and then separate than have bickerings. It was surprising that Patel was now an even greater supporter of the two-nation theory than Jinnah. Jinnah may have raised the flag of partition but now the real flag-bearer was Patel. Jawaharlal Nehru, the firm opponent of partition, had become, if not a supporter, at least acquiescent to the idea. (Source – Crisis in the Indian Subcontinent: Can it be Undone by Lal Khan, Aakar Books, New Delhi- 91) So far as Gandhi was concerned, Mountbatten told Gandhi that the Congress was not with him, it was with Mountbatten to which Gandhi replied that the Congress might not be with him, but the country was with him.

In fact those in India who advocate directly or indirectly that the partition be undone may read this book. It is a well-researched and scholarly book. The book has relevant quotations, for example, Trotsky’s critical comments on Gandhi and relevant quotations from Abul Kalam Azad’s book India Wins Freedom. One such important quotation, which relates to Sardar Patel and his advocacy of the two-nation theory, has been referred to above.

My article may be read in the context of recently published book The Great Partition: the Making of India and Pakistan by Yasmeen Khan, a book backed by massive scholarship and massive research. The main thesis of the book is that the partition of India in 1947 promised its people both political freedom and a future free of religious strife. Instead, the geographical divide brought about an even greater schism exposing huge numbers of the population to devastating consequences. Thousands of women were raped. At least one million people were killed and 10 to 15 million were forced to leave their homes, to live as refugees. It was the bloodiest event of decolo-nisation in the 20th century. My thesis is that Gandhi could have stopped this devastation.


** I can’t define statesmanship but I would refer to two instances of great statesmanship.

1. When Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, Churchill announced on the BBC that he would fight with Stalin in the air, on the sea and on land and destroy the common enemy of human culture, civili-sation and democracy. Some of his friends asked him how he could do so for he had been opposed to the Soviet Union and Communism all his life. Churchill replied that if Hitler attacked Hell, his friend should not be surprised if he were in alliance with the Devil to destroy the evil.

2. A few months before Abraham Lincoln was tragically assassinated in a theatre hall, some of his friends asked him about his views on the system of slavery to which his reply was that his first concern was the Union, and to keep it steady and if to that effect he was required to support slavery he would do that and if he was required to oppose it he would do that.

Editor of PUCL Bulletin, Dr R.M. Pal is a former editor of The Radical Humanist and former President of Delhi State PUCL. He has co-edited with G.S. Bhargava the volume Human Rights of Dalits, proceedings of a conference held in Chennai organised by the National Human Rights Commission in collaboration with the Dalit Liberation Trust, Chennai. The initiative for this conference was taken by Dr Pal. Dr Pal has also co-edited with Mrs. Meera Verma the volume Power to the People, the Political Thought of Gandhi, M.N. Roy and Jaiprakash Narayan, published by Gyan Books, New Delhi (in two volumes).

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