By B Z Khasru
The partition of India in 1947 by Britain to create two independent countries wreaked havoc in human lives and caused miseries. It killed two million people, according to various estimates, and displaced 14 million. Its legacy, the two siblings of the midnight— nuclear-armed Pakistan and India, which have fought three major wars since the separation— are still at loggerheads. Was this inevitable?
This question assumes a greater relevance today in the light of India’s recent decision to annex the Muslim-majority Kashmir state. On August 5, keeping Kashmiri Muslim leaders under house arrest and deploying tens of thousands of soldiers in heavily fortified Kashmir, Delhi snatched away their special rights— their own flag, own law and property rights, which were granted to Kashmir by India’s constitution— in a blitzkrieg exercise in a matter of hours.
By scrapping Kashmir’s special status and dividing the state into two, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken a dangerous step toward making India an ultra-nationalist Hindu nation. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has threatened war again— even nuclear. China, which occupies parts of the state, denounced India’s action as “unacceptable.” The warring nations might be just a miscalculation away from a nuclear winter.
After the 1948 War, India raised Kashmir in the UN Security Council, which called for a referendum on the status of the territory. It asked Pakistan to withdraw its troops and India to cut its military presence to a minimum. A ceasefire came into force, but Pakistan refused to pull out its troops. Kashmir has remained partitioned ever since.
The USA has pushed the two since the Kennedy Administration to make the existing division their permanent border, but the idea went nowhere because of a fatal flaw in it— it gives nothing to the victims of this tragedy, the Kashmiris. India loves the US idea, but Pakistan wants no part of it, and the Kashmiris outright hate it.
Apart from intricate socio-economic and political reasons, what contributed heavily to the division was mutual distrust of the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League. Congress leaders Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel both doubted sincerity of their League counterparts Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan, and vice versa.
On Pakistan’s creation, Nehru was baffled by Jinnah’s posture. Congress had endeavoured to learn what Jinnah wanted, but never received satisfactory replies. Jinnah never even adequately defined Pakistan. Nehru believed that Jinnah sought some changes, but did not want a democratic government. His argued that prominent Leaguers were landholders, who preferred antiquated land laws—British rule.
The British, however, believed that Jinnah embraced the Pakistan idea for bargaining purposes, but by the mid-1940s the movement had gained such momentum that neither he nor anyone else could apply the brakes.
The crux of the internal problem that India faced before the partition stemmed from differences between Congress and League as to the conditions under which provinces would join or remain out of sub-federations in northwest and northeast India.
“I am confident that if the Indian leaders show the magnanimous spirit the occasion demands, they can go forward together on the basis of the clear provisions on this point contained in the constitutional plan proposed by the British Cabinet Mission last spring to forge an Indian federal union in which all elements of the population have ample scope to achieve their legitimate political and economic aspirations,” the ranking US diplomat in New Delhi, Merrell, wrote to Washington.
Britain wanted the two parties to jointly frame India’s constitution as a prelude to independence. This idea resulted from the British Cabinet Mission to India in 1946. The Mission proposed a united India, having groupings of Muslim-majority provinces and of Hindu-majority provinces. These groupings would have given Hindus and Muslims parity in the Central Legislature.
Congress abhorred the idea, and League refused to accept any changes to this plan. The parity that Congress was loath to accept formed the basis of Muslim demands of political safeguards built into post-British Indian laws to prevent absolute rule of Hindus over Muslims. Reaching an impasse, the British proposed on 16 June 1946 to divide the subcontinent into a Hindu-majority India and a Muslim-majority Pakistan.
This resulted in an unprecedented bloodbath and mass migration. In the riots in the Punjab region alone, as many as a half million people perished, and 14 million Sikhs and Muslims were displaced.
No one knows for sure whether Nehru anticipated the carnage. He should have, though, because his comrade, Maulana A K Azad, had cautioned that if India were divided violence could erupt. Nehru remained convinced that the League would ultimately join the Constituent Assembly.
He, however, doubted that League would ever work constructively in a coalition government in a free India. Congress never liked the Cabinet Mission proposal, but in the interest of a peaceful and fair settlement had joined the interim government before Partition. This decision was based on an understanding that League would cooperate. But League members said they joined the cabinet to fight. If they entered the Constituent Assembly, where Muslims held 73 seats against 208 by Congress, “it would be with the purpose of wrecking it,” Nehru vented.
Still, had Nehru accepted Jinnah’s demand for parity in the federal legislature and regional groupings as outlined in the British Cabinet Mission plan, India would have remained united.
One sticking point was the division of Bengal and Punjab, the two Muslim-majority states with large non-Muslim minorities. Regarding Bengal’s status, Merrell was told that “Congress could not possibly agree to [the] interpretation of cabinet proposals which would inevitably place millions of Hindus under Muslim rule, particularly in [the] Bengal-Assam group.”
Washington strove to persuade Nehru to accept the Cabinet Mission plan.
“We have found that a central [government] initially with limited powers gradually acquires, as experience demonstrates necessity therefor, the additional authority which it must have to meet problems of the Federal Union,” the State Department advised Nehru. “Our hope that Congress accept clear implications Brit Cabinet Mission plan…on reciprocal undertaking by Muslim League to work loyally within [the] framework [of] Indian Federal Union, subject only to reopening constitutional issue after 10 years of experiment.”
Following the partition, Kashmir won a special status as a precondition to join India. By scrapping Kashmir’s decades-old status, Modi has taken a risky step toward implementing the dream of a right-wing Hindu extremist, V D Savarkar.
Sitting in an Andamans prison cell, the revolutionary-turned-nationalist drew up his solution to the issue of India’s minorities, much like Adolf Hitler’s final solution to the Jewish question. It is interesting to note that both of them came up their ideas almost at the same time and under similar circumstances—both were in prison for political violence.
Savarkar initially wanted to convert all Muslims and Christians back into Hinduism. But he faced a significant obstacle. He could not arbitrarily decide their caste. A Hindu must belong to a hierarchical caste, which he acquires through birth only. Hinduism forbids assigning a caste.
First, he came up with a new identify for himself: He is a Hindu, not an Indian. Then he figured that his motherland is Hindustan, not India. Hindustan extends from the Himalayas to the Indus River and boasts a 5,000-year-old rich culture that influenced people from Greece to Japan. India is a parochial concept separating Hindus from their ancient heritage; championed by the nationalists who, unlike orthodox Hindus, wanted an independent and united country for all Indians, regardless of their religion.
In Savarkar’s Hindudom, Muslims and Christians were unwelcome, as were the Jews in Hitler’s Third Reich. Buddhists and Sikhs were no longer as pure as Hindus, but they were still acceptable because their religions originated in Hindustan. Savarkar disliked Muslims and Christians because of their allegiance to Mecca and Rome; they worshiped foreign gods and had no cultural affinity with Hindustan. Hitler branded Jews as Gemeinschaftsfremde (community aliens) and condemned them as communists who aspired to dominate the world.
The situation in India today is worse than it was in the Third Reich. Hitler was a one-man show, a temporary phenomenon, everything was over in a matter of 20 years. Modi is the product of an ideology that has taken root over the past century. India and Pakistan are nuclear-armed nations with diametrically opposite ideologies. The lives of a huge number are at risk.
If India defeats Pakistan in a conventional war, if the Pakistani nation faces a threat to its existence, Pakistan will definitely use nuclear bombs, killing hundreds of thousands, if not millions. India will retaliate with overwhelming force. The international community must act in concert to stop this madness before a miscalculation by either India or Pakistan triggers a nuclear catastrophe.
The article was published in the Pakistan Today on September 7, 2019