Mainstream Weekly

Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2011 > The Balance-sheet of Partition after 60 Years for Muslims of the (...)

Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 25, June 11, 2011

The Balance-sheet of Partition after 60 Years for Muslims of the Subcontinent

Tuesday 14 June 2011, by Syed Shahabuddin

Though Iqbal had limited his concept of a Muslim homeland in the subcontinent (he enunciated it in 1929 to the NW only), partition was conceived in 1940 for the benefit of the Muslim majority living in the northwest as well as the east of the subcontinent. The Pakistan Resolution, adopted by the Muslim League in March 1940, spoke in terms of ‘Muslim-majority areas’ in these two regions and the creation of Muslim states therein. The Resolution conceived that the religious minorities, living on the two sides of the region under a reciprocal arrangement, shall be able to safeguard the interest of Muslims in multi-community India. The Pakistan Move-ment did receive more enthusiastic support from the Muslims living in the Muslim-minority provinces of British India, particularly UP and Bihar, than from the Muslim-majority provinces (which were to form Pakistan). It is generally conceded that the near-unanimous support of the Muslim electorate in the Muslim-minority provinces in the election of 1945-46 created the unchallengeable basis for the Muslim League to claim the ‘sole’ leadership of all the Muslims of India and from there on, it negotiated on equal terms with the British Government as well as the Indian National Congress for determining the future set-up after the British left.

Real Authors of Two-Nation Theory

THE irony lies in that it was Lajpat Rai who first envisioned Pakistan and proposed the partition of Punjab. And it was Savarkar who first defined Indian citizenship as exclusively Hindu and in 1937, as the President of the Hindu Mahasabha, defined India as a country of two separate nations for Hindus and non-Hindus. So not Jinnah and Iqbal but Lajpat Rai and Savarkar were the real authors of the two-nation theory; Jinnah only reversed the Savarkar proposal to divide India between Muslims and non-Muslims.

In 1947 by proposing to partition Punjab and then Bengal and Assam on the basis of religion and contiguity, the Congress leadership directly contributed to the partition of the country thus foisting Jinnah on his own petard and leaving him with what he called a ‘moth-eaten’ Pakistan.

Why Muslims in the Minority Provinces supported the Pakistan Movement?

The question is: why did the Muslims of the minority provinces signed a blank cheque in favour of Pakistan, shout slogans and vote massively in its favour? Why did they never question the leadership of the Muslim League and the Pakistan Movement on their status after the country was divided? Why did they behave like dumb, driven cattle? Why did they never ask any question? And never receive any answer? In retrospect, this lack of thinking appears to be not only short-sighted but almost suicidal.

Immediately after partition, there was almost total migration of non-Muslims from West Pakistan to India, substantially even from East Pakistan, although the Hindus continued to form some 15 per cent of its population.

The theory of reciprocity, hostage and tit-for-tat, enunciated by the supporters of the Muslim League, even by Jinnah, in negotiations with the Cabinet Mission, thus proved to be hollow and ineffective and useless before it could be put to any test, in protecting the interest of the Muslims of India even if the rulers of Pakistan so wanted.

In any case, India and Pakistan had emerged as independent sovereign states and under international law and as members of the UNO they were both expected to respect human rights of their minorities but they were precluded from interference in the internal affairs of the other state. This explains why the Liaqat Ali Khan-Jawaharlal Nehru Agreement of 1950, which was signed in the wake of communal distur-bances in East Pakistan, remained a dead letter and has hardly ever been invoked. Indeed, the successor state, namely, Bangladesh, has never invoked it in relation to the Muslims of India.

The prevalent view in Pakistan is that the Muslims of the minority provinces were expected to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of the Muslims in Pakistan and for the glory of Islam. In fact they did. Was it bravado or stupidity? In any case Muslim Indians received no reward, not even acknowledgment for the ‘sacrifice’.

Possibility of Mass Migration to Pakistan

Before partition there were some hints on exchange of population but this was an absolutely impracticable proposition considering the lack of balance between the huge number of Muslims in India and the relatively small population of non-Muslims in Pakistan. No doubt after the communal bloodshed, millions of Muslims migrated to Pakistan from East Punjab and some from UP and Bihar. For some time there was relative freedom of movement between the two countries and over the next 10 years a few hundred thousand Muslim Indians crossed the border, largely into East Pakistan.

Ambedkar had proposed an organised exchange of population, agreed to in advance but he underestimated the enormity and impracticability of the undertaking. Neither the Muslim League nor the Congress had ever formally proposed any exchange of population as a concomitant of partition. India was ideologically committed to build a secular state. So how could it object to Muslims living in India? The Indian leadership, including Gandhi, Nehru and Patel, opposed it. Muslim Pakistan never raised the issue because it was never in a position to absorb them. It would have simply collapsed, had India physically forced the Muslim Indians out into Pakistan.

A Vision of a Muslim Corridor

ANOTHER popular Muslim theory was propagated that Muslim concentration areas in the north, in Punjab, UP and Bihar, could form a corridor between East and West Pakistan. The theory was further extended by some to include the Hyderabad state which was ruled by the Nizam who aspired to be independent. All these were illusions. A look at the map will show that the few pockets of Muslim concentration in the north, namely, Mewat or Rohilkhand or Purnea, were far apart from each other and could hardly bridge the geographical gap between the two Pakistans and there was no reason for India to be generous enough to oblige Pakistan and make any special arrangement.

Also anyone with a sense of history should have known that the Nizam could not rule forever in the age of democracy, as his people were 90 per cent non-Muslims and demanded to be a part of free India. Some misguided Muslims, who put their faith in the Nizam of Hyderabad and other Muslim Princes, soon realised that the princes would all be consigned to the dustbin of history. The Nizam’s Army and the Razakars could not protect him. He finally surrendered to India and later Hyderabad was trifurcated on linguistic basis, with the three parts merged with Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

On the eve of partition, it is amazing to recall that a small section of the Muslims in India even believed that the creation of Pakistan was but a step towards another Muslim invasion and re-conquest of India! Fortunately the people who saw hope of security in Pakistan soon saw the stupidity of their own imagination. Pakistan would hardly take care of non-Punjabi refugees from UP or Bihar (except some elite and professionals); the settlement of Biharis in Karachi, in the so-called Bihar Colony, a low-lying area subject to floods, spoke for itself. The Biharis and UP-wallas continued to be margi-nalised in government service and professional education. First they were eased out of the administration. Today the Mohajireen applying for admission to professional courses are asked to indicate where their grandparents were born! Not surprising, many qualified Mohajireen have emigrated from Pakistan to the USA and the Gulf.

Jinnah’s Equivocations

IN his negotiations with the Congress leadership or the British Government, Jinnah used the terms ‘Muslim India’ and ‘homeland for the Muslims of India’, particularly after the Resolution adopted by the Muslim League National Council at its last meeting held in Delhi in 1946 which give final touchés to the Pakistan Resolution. Since 1940 Jinnah had not only spoken of Muslims as distinct from Hindus and other non-Muslims living in the subcontinent, he deliberately ignored the wide variation of language, culture and race as well as social organisation and economic status among Muslims living in various parts of the sub-continent. He loudly proclaimed the concept of Muslim India but no one asked him to define the term Muslim India and the concept of ‘Muslim homeland’ and clarify whether it meant only the Muslims living in the majority provinces or included also those who lived in the minority provinces for record. In some statements after Pakistan was born, Jinnah went on to describe Muslims in India as ‘our minorities’.

In his negotiations with the Cabinet Ministers, Jinnah rather brutally propounded the hostage theory but it collapsed when Punjab and Bengal were partitioned and West Punjab and East Bengal drained of the Hindus and Sikhs. But Jinnah was too much of a jurist to envisage publicly that the Muslims who would continue to live in India on partition shall be in any legal sense Pakistani citizens living in India, with as much right to citizenship of Pakistan as the Pakistanis living and born there. Realistically Jinnah, even though he acknowledged the contribution of Muslim Indians to the making of Pakistan, never offered to open the doors of Pakistan, except to the selected protagonists of the Pakistan Movement. He was no Muslim ‘Zionist’ who would accept the inherent right of any Muslim, anywhere in the subcontinent, to migrate to Pakistan.

Some businessmen, particularly in Bombay and Calcutta, like the Memons, Bohras, Ismailis and Ispahanis, saw a promising field in Pakistan for business, free of competition from the Birlas and Dalmias. Many of them migrated to Pakistan and in collaboration with the local capital set up enterprises in both wings. They thought they would reap a bumper harvest because of their initiative and experience but soon they were overtaken by the Punjabi elite on one side and the Bengali nationalism on the other. Some propertied classes had also migrated to Pakistan in the hope of getting a share of the vast properties left behind by the Hindu emigrants, in Lahore, Karachi and other cities.

Some Urdu poets and writers thought of a glorious future in a state which was created in the name of Urdu. These included Baba-e-Urdu Moulvi Abdul Haque, and the great revolutionary poet, Josh Malihabadi. Many civil servants and Army officers, expecting rapid promotion in Pakistan to fill the vacuum, opted for Pakistan (but there were a few exceptions like Azim Hussain, ICS, and Major General Habibullah). They indeed went quickly up the ladder. For example, Ayub Khan, a Lt. Colonel in 1947, would not have become a General in united India or Ghulam Mohammad and Choudhary Mohammad Ali reach the summit which they could not visualise.

Ulema’s Role in Pakistan

EVEN some theologians migrated. Some of them thought of playing a big role in the politics of Pakistan which was propagated as the biggest Muslim state committed to Islam. These included great scholars like Abul Ala Maudoodi and Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani from Deoband. Some returned, some emigrant Ulema established madarsas on the model of Deoband. These madarsas later, with US help and support of the Pakistan Army, produced the Taliban to take over Afghanistan and now threaten Pakistan itself.

In a global sense, Jinnah was totally out of touch with reality. This became evident after the birth of Pakistan. By virtue of numbers Pakistan aspired to lead the Muslim world which included Muslim minorities in India and elsewhere. This pretension by the Pakistan leadership was rejected forthrightly and out of hand by all important Muslim countries including Iran, Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It was clear, and has been so for centuries, that Muslims who live across international borders do not constitute one nation in the political sense. The nation-state system depends on well-defined territory and borders.

The net achievement of the Pakistan Move-ment was nothing more than to carve out of the subcontinent a territorial state with a Muslim majority. International law debunks and contradicts the so-called ‘ideology’ of Pakistan. Its ideological foundations were so weak that Maulana Abul Kalam Azad predicted its break-up between east and west within 25 years of its formation.

Reality of Pakistan after 60 Years

IT is not surprising therefore that after 60 years of existence, Pakistan has not been able to develop a sense of common nationhood or even social cohesion. It remains fragmented, as it is, among five or six different ethnic groups. Sectarian, linguistic and class differences, exploding into violence from time to time, failed to build up a viable system of Islamic laws. Even in the Malakand Division of FATA, including the Swat, the enforcement of Shariat, often praised by the Pakistani orthodoxy, is based on the British concession in the 1930s to the tribals that the civil and criminal laws that operated in the subcontinent did not apply to their region.

Finally, as conceived by Iqbal, Pakistan was to be a political laboratory for experimenting with an Islamic polity in the modern world or the evolution of Muslim jurisprudence to come to terms with modern life. Neither has made any progress. Nor has Pakistan ever achieved an Islamic personality. In Pakistan itself most of the laws now in force are the same as those in India. Not only from the legal point of view but even culturally, to the extent that Urdu is the language of the elite in Pakistan, and even religiously Pakistan is much closer to India than to any other part of the Muslim world.

Pakistanis Ask: Why Pakistan?

MOST important, if 150 million Muslims continue to be equal citizens of India occasional violence and persistent discrimination notwithstanding, the question is beginning to be asked not only India but in Pakistan about the rationale for the division of the subcontinent.

The Muslim community of the subcontinent, now divided into three states, would have not only prospered but lived more securely and made greater contribution in the realm of fine arts, science, humanities and sports, had their organic unity not been sacrificed at the altar of politics or, shall we say, the interest of the Muslim elite or the hurt ego of an individual, who at one time was one of the top leaders of the national freedom movement, and who was dropped like a fly in the ointment when he raised his voice against Hindu majoritorianism and asked for democratic safeguards and guarantees for the Muslims as the biggest minority. Partition resulted from the failure of the freedom move-ment to evolve a formula acceptable to both communities.

Experience of Muhajirs in Pakistan

NOR did Pakistanis experience any cultural synthesis among the Bengalis, the Punjabis, the Sindhis, the Pakhtoons, the Baluchis and the Biharis. Some of them speak Urdu but prefer to use their own mother tongue. Some of them even agitate against Urdu being given the official language status. Even the great Urdu poet Faiz, a Left activist, led a precession in Lahore against Urdu becoming the sole language for official communication and the first language in schools. Just about five per cent of the people of Pakistan declare Urdu as their mother tongue.

Each ethnic group maintains its identity. So the Mohajirs would socialise only with fellow Mohajirs. In fact either they married among Mohajirs or came to India in search of ‘rishtas’. When they prospered in big cities, they built their own colonies and left their ghettos. They never mixed with the Sindhis or Punjabis. When they formed their own political party, the MQM, the Mohajirs dominated parts of Karachi, but could not outnumber the Sindhis. So they demanded dividing Sindh and forming an Urdu Pradesh around Karachi. Once they raised the political banner they were subjected to repression, abduction and killing and even tamed. Muslim Indians continued to trickle into East Pakistan on what was called the ‘Gardania’ passport. After the explosion in East Pakistan, which created Bangladesh, the ‘Bihari’ Muslims in substantial numbers crossed the border to take refuge in India, sometimes escorted by the Indian Army. The interesting aspect is that when they reached their original villages, their Hindu neighbours welcomed them, albeit with a touch of sarcasm but no hostility. Indeed it is their own relatives who became apprehensive that the returnees may dispute their possession of the entire family property and reported them to the authorities. Hardly any cases were reported by the Hindu neighbours.

If India was Not Partitioned

IN a united subcontinent the Muslims would today number about 450 million out of a total population of about 1800 million. Almost half the national territory would be covered by Muslim concentration States and districts. In a federal Indian polity, these Muslim pockets would enjoy almost complete autonomy but, as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad put it, they neither achieved an Islamic homeland nor equal citizenship in the country of their birth. In the reorganisation of States, Sikhs got the Sikh state; the tribals got many tribal States and some are struggling for more. But the support Muslims extended in the forties to the Pakistan Movement has not been forgotten. Hindu communalism has opposed the reorganisation of pockets of Muslim concentration as in Purnea or Rohilkhand or Marathwada or Malabar or Murshidabad in West Bengal. Even the areas in which the Muslims form 30 to 40 per cent of the population continue to face hostility, distrust and underdevelopment. They are discriminated against and short-changed when it comes to government service, access to higher or professional education or to bank credit or distribution of the fruits of development at the operational level or even the formation of smaller districts and blocks.

Cost of Partition

ON one hand, Pakistan has neither seen the dawn of an Islamic state, nor given any substantial impetus to the further development of Indo-Muslim culture, because its roots—whether the centres of Sufism, or of Urdu literature, or theological seminaries, or even architectural heritages like the Taj Mahal, the Qutub Minor or the educational centres like the Aligarh Muslim University or Jamia Millia Islamia—all remain in India, though under an ever present shadow of majoritarian control and Hinduisation. Pakistan has not been embraced by the Muslim world. Perhaps the Muslims of united India would have been better received.

Yes, Muslim Indians continue to be silently dubbed as Pakistanis and perceived increasingly as terrorists. They live in fear; their mohallas are under close observation by the state. These are occasionally targeted by majoritarian violence; the last genocide occurred in Gujarat in 2002. But their population continuously grows and today they constitute roughly 15 per cent of the national population. Unfortunately without proportional representation in Central or State Legislatures or in administration or even in the Panchayti Raj institutions, they do not enjoy real power. And when they speak of discrimi-nation, they are advised to leave India and go to Pakistan if they are not happy.

Balance-sheet for Muslims of the Subcontinent

WHAT Muslims lost in 1947 is incalculable and the possibilities of their development have been stunted by the very existence of Pakistan. Over the last 60 years, Muslim Indians have suffered and survived, they have proved their resilience, a capacity to rise from the ashes to build a community, which, to quote Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, is as proud of being Indian as it is of being Muslim. As India develops, Muslim Indians are also developing though not in the same measure. But an objective look on cities, towns, qasbas or even villages will show, they have made marked progress educationally, economically and socially. There are no doubt pockets of backward-ness and deprivation. The virus of Hindu majoritarianism has entered the blood-stream of the nation. But secular forces would not let it deny constitutional equality and social justice to the Muslim Indians. Some may be averse to Muslims participating as Muslims in the political transformation which is touching every identifiable and conscious backward class and weaker section belonging to the Shudras, the Achhuts and the Adivasis who are openly and loudly demanding their share in the assets, resources and wealth of the nation, Muslims form part of this social upsurge and, therefore, cannot be totally ignored. Today Muslim reservation has become a universal demand of the Muslim community cutting across languages and baradaris. The Sachar Report has established that Muslims form a Backward Class and are therefore eligible for effective measures of positive affirmation, for example, reservation, which is what the subsequent Mishra Commission recommended. The reservation movement has secured the support of most of the political parties, at least in principle, but this is how political ideas progress and the day is not far when the Muslim Indians would be duly represented in all spheres of life as well as legislatures.

Let us record that the freedom movement failed to secure an understanding between the Hindus and Muslims. At one step the Congress was prepared to grant reservation for Muslims even in the legislatures. But it was not prepared to accept any safeguards like weightage or separate electorates. In retrospect it appears that by sticking to their demand for separate electorate, the Muslim leadership widened the political gulf to make it unbridgeable. Today Muslims are prepared to accept reservation under joint electorate.

Partition was thus ill-conceived and became a bad bargain for the Muslims in the Muslim minority provinces of British India. It may turn out to be a tragedy. It also continues to cast an ominous shadow over their future because the anti-Muslim forces in India, without any rhyme or reason, continue to consider the present generation of Muslims as responsible for the creation of Pakistan and look upon them as Pakistanis or Pakistani sympathisers and in any situation of conflict between the two states, as political aliens and at least fifth columnists.

The Hindu Right has neither forgotten the partition nor forgiven the Muslims nor given up the quest of assimilation under Hindu Rash-travad. But a majority of Hindus do not belong to the Hindu Right.

From the point of view of the Muslims of the subcontinent, a United States of South Asia will open a new horizon for friendly and peaceful cooperation among all the states of the region which will eventually emerge as one of key poles of world politics and economy. Muslims of the subcontinent will then enjoy a special position because to the west, to the north and to the east of India are regions of Muslim majority and they will have the historic task of serving as bridges to them. The mistake that the Muslim Indians made during 1940-47 can be partially mitigated, though not blotted out of history and memory, if they contribute all their energy, resources and influence to the building of the United States of South Asia.

The author, a former member of the IFS, served as the Indian ambassador in several countries; he is also an erstwhile MP and the former editor of Muslim India. Currently he is the President, All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat.

Notice: Mainstream Weekly appears online only.