Why British India was Partitioned?

REVIEWS: Documenting partition
Reviewed by Rabab Naqvi
Dawn: Books & Authors; May 27, 2007

ALMost 60 years after partition, historians are still exploring whether it was inevitable and who was really responsible for it. It is commonly believed that Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah alone was responsible for the partition of India and the formation of Pakistan. K.C. Yadav has put together a collection of old and new writings which provides an alternative perspective. It is also an opportunity to read excerpts from hard-to-get books such as Rammanohar Lohia’s Guilty Men of Partition, Ambedkar’s Pakistan and others.

The main purpose of the book is to project what is known as the revisionist point of view of the events that led to the creation of Pakistan as opposed to the traditionalist approach: ‘Congress for unity’ and ‘Muslim League for partition’. Running throughout the book is the theme that the division of India was avertable had Congress leadership and other Hindu groups paid attention to valid Muslim demands. Jinnah’s strategy was to protect the rights of the Muslims within a united India. The arrogance of the Congress leadership, chauvinism of the Hindu nationalist and the fear of being dominated by upper caste Hindus in free India, pushed Jinnah, although reluctantly, into adopting an intransigent position.

Under the guise of nationalism, Hindu intellectuals and activists advocated a pernicious ideology. Proponents of Pakistan used the two-nation theory but it was the Hindu supremacist Savarkar, founder of the Hindu Mahasabha, who came up with the term. Lala Lajpat Rai considered Hindu-Muslim unity impossible because according to him Islam did not allow for it. Lala Hardayal believed that the future of the Hindu race lay in the Shuddhi (purification) of Muslims.

In recent years, with the opening up of historical documents to the public, the discovery of new facts, the subsiding of emotions, and passing away of personalities directly involved in the independence and partition of India, intellectuals and historians are in a position to analyse the reasons for this momentous decision more critically and objectively. The traditional approach of holding Jinnah and the Muslim League responsible for the formation of Pakistan is too simplistic. This collection of essays demolishes the myth that the making of Pakistan was the doing of one man. It examines the complex political and economic processes, the power struggle, missed opportunities, and complicities that led to the creation of Pakistan.

There are multiple reasons for the division and the Hindu leadership has also come under attack. Rammanohar Lohia writes that the Hindu leadership refused to accept the legitimate demands of the Muslims. In his first hand account of the meeting of the Congress Working Committee, which accepted the scheme of partition, Lohia is very critical of Nehru and Patel. Lohia writes that Nehru and Patel collaborated with Mountbatten and committed themselves to dividing India without even informing Mahatma Gandhi. “Messrs Nehru and Patel were offensively aggressive to Gandhi at this meeting,” he writes. He is particularly critical of Nehru. He paints Nehru as jealous of Subhas Chandra Bose and a neurotic pro-British.

Unlike Nehru, no one can accuse Jinnah of being in the pocket of the British or question his integrity. B.R. Ambedkar writing on Jinnah says, “It is doubtful if there is a politician in India to whom the adjective incorruptible can be more fitly applied.” Ambedkar also writes that Jinnah “could never be suspected of being a tool in the hands of the British by even the worst of his enemies.” How come that the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity, an ardent supporter of united India, a constitutional expert, became the architect of Pakistan? According to Ambedkar, the Hindu-Muslim divide was there in the making for a long time, it just culminated in the creation of Pakistan. “The Hindus and the Muslims have trodden parallel paths … But they never travelled the same path,” he writes.

If opportunities were not mishandled, Hindus and Muslims could have travelled the same paths, says B. Shiva Rao. He was close to some of the processes that led to the division of India in 1947. He offers his personal insight into the lack of foresight and bad judgment on the part of the Congress leadership that forced the two communities to follow separate paths. Rao’s assertion is that the partition could have been averted and he calls Jinnah “a late and reluctant convert to the scheme for India’s partition”.

Asim Roy also portrays Jinnah as a reluctant convert. He questions some of the myths about Jinnah and the partition embedded in the Indian history books dwelling on the traditionalist approach. He argues that it was the uncompromising attitude of the Congress and the Hindu chauvinists that led to the demand for Pakistan. In his long and scholarly article, he meticulously goes through the traditionalists’ reasoning and demolishes their assumptions.

V.N. Datta examines the causes for the transformation of both Jinnah and Iqbal from devoted defenders of united India to ardent bidders for a separate state.

No history of partition can be complete without reference to Punjab and Bengal, called the ‘bedrocks’ of partition. Two long chapters separately analyse the situation in each province.

R. Palme Dutt explains British motivation in dividing India and traces the long history of the exploitation of India, and now Pakistan too, at the hands of the British and Americans.

Eight out of the nine essays present a different aspect of the problem and are informative. Some offer a first-hand account of the interplay of situations, processes and personalities. All are analytical and insightful. The article by Margaret Bourke-White seems a little out of place. It has nothing new or enlightening to offer but its inclusion may help sell the book in America.

The book also contains valuable and interesting supplementary material. The section ‘The voices of disunity and division’ includes writings of intellectuals and politicians who propagated Hindu-Muslim differences. In this section it is Lala Hardyal, V.D. Savarkar, Annie Besant and Lala Lajpat Rai that top the list not Jinnah or Iqbal. ‘The Muslim voices for freedom and common destiny’ is a listing of the position of Muslim organisations in favour of united India. Amongst the documents having bearing on the subject is Jinnah’s last will and testament and some letters exchanged between Jinnah and Feroz Khan Noon, just before partition, about the purchase of property by Jinnah in the Hindu-dominated Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. Feroz Khan Noon himself owned a house in the Kulu Valley of Himachal Pradesh where his wife went to rest after working for the creation of Pakistan.

Jinnah was lucky that the deal did not go through but it also shows how very ignorant the leaders were of the consequences of partition. Jinnah and some others along with him assumed that after partition they would be free to live in any part of India. Nehru is quoted as saying that he did not realise that the judgment of dividing India was irrevocable. He expected partition to be temporary.

The publication should be a worthwhile contribution to the existing literature on partition. It provides the reader not only access to the views of intellectuals, politicians and historians but also to all other pertinent documents that can help common readers and serious researchers delve into the subject deeper without having to dig up each document separately.


Nagesh said…
The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of India’s Partition

by Narendra Singh Sarila

235mm, 436-Pages, Hardcover, ISBN 81 7223 / 2005/ £24.99

Since 1997, the year in which India celebrated 50th anniversary of her Independence, a plethora of books has been published recounting the drama and the trauma of the Partition, but none so eminently readable as this account by Narendra Singh Sarila, especially so because the obvious has been restated and re-instated as a fact of imperial policy. When the enterprise called The Raj became untenable, the ‘perfidious Albion changed his policy from ‘Divide and Rule’ to ‘Divide and Quit’.

Many a political historian has blamed the British of cynically exacerbating and exploiting the Hindu-Muslim divide. Fact is that they did so exploit the divide, but they had not invented it. Jinnah’s demand for a separate national entity for the Muslims of the subcontinent just came handy in that chess game. The author was an ADC to Lord Mountbatten—the last Viceroy of British India and the first Governor General of the Independent India. He also later became a member of the India Foreign Service.

In writing this book the author has undertaken some painstaking research and digging into the background of the event. In addition to all the papers and maps published in the HMO’s mlti-volume publication titled Transfer of Power, he has also scanned through more recently “unsealed” and “de-classified” Wavell-papers and American documents. Armed with this research, he comes out challenging the conventional wisdom of our historians, blaming the British cynicism in exacerbating and exploiting the Hindu-Muslim enmity and late M.A. Jinnah alone for the eventual vivisection of India.

According to him, greater considerations went into play in partitioning India. Planning for this had commenced under Lord Wavell’s tutelage. It was he, long before Mountbatten’s arrival on the scene, who laid foundations of the Partition plan. It was his plan which was followed to the letter by Lord Radcliffe in drawing the line across Punjab because Winston Churchill had specifically told the ‘dashing sailor’ not to launch ay new initiatives while on his tour of duty for The Raj.

According to Sarila, the resignation of Congress ministries from the provisional government just two months after the end of WW2 and the launching of the Quit India Movement were two major mistakes made by the Indian leadership. These events left the field open to the scheme, hatched by Lord Wavell and the wily Winston, to be put into operation. British oil-interests in the wider Middle-East were at stake. In the Cold War scenario, the Russian desire to expand southward was well-known and the Western powers, especially Britain and the US were too intensely aware of the independent-minded Congress leadership, already groomed to inherit the throne in Delhi. The Partition of Punjab was essential I order to ensure a strategic military base in the North-West of the Indian subcontinent. Jinnah’s Muslim homeland was to be that base.

A plethora of books have appeared, in and after 1997 when India celebrated 50th anniversary of her Independence, almost all blaming the Hindu-Muslim divide and Brain’s cynical exploitation thereof for the Partition of India. The truth is that this ‘divide; had always been there; British exploited it; they did not invent it. Fact is that the idealistic and somewhat naïve Indian, and specifically the Congress, leadership, negotiating with the Raj-runners had had no tradition or experience of strategic thinking, or of the global vision of the future. They fell for the Partition-plan, blaming late Mr Jinnah for all the trauma this nation suffered. Tragedy is, even today, 58 years after the Independence, Indian leadership has not acquired that strategic vision.
Nagesh Bhushan said…
“Untold Story of India’s Partition: The Shadow of the Great Game”

Sarila summarises, "Once the British realized that the Indian nationalists who would rule India after its independence would deny them military cooperation under a British Commonwealth defence umbrella, they settled for those willing to do so by using religion for the purpose. Their problem could be solved if Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League Party, would succeed in his plan to detach the northwest of India abutting Iran, Afghanistan and Sinkiang and establish a separate state there - Pakistan. The proposition was a realizable one as a working relationship had been established between the British authorities in India and Jinnah during the Second World War and he was willing to cooperate with Britain on defence matters if Pakistan was created."

Imperial policy was and is divide and rule - whether setting Muslim against Hindu in India, Bosnian Muslims against Serbs in Yugoslavia, Sunni against Shia across the Middle East, Protestant against Catholic in Ireland, or Scottish against English in Britain. As Sarila notes, "The successful use by the British to fulfil political and strategic objectives in India was replicated by the Americans in building up the Islamic jihadis in Afghanistan for the same purpose, of keeping the Soviets at bay."

Key features that one learns from this book are: i) the British determination to hold on to India as long as possible, and in the event that this becomes impossible, secure the northwestern portion of India to thwart any real or imagined Russian adventures, ii) The naivety of Indian National Congress leaders, especially Nehru, about the survival of an independent India in a predatory world, iii) the aging of Gandhi and weakening of his faculties and judgment in dealing with the changing political environment, iv) Even though Mountbatten contributed to bringing the princely states into the Union he also did double cross Nehru in dealing with Kashmir, and v) Hunger for power at any cost on the part of Jinnah who died regretting what he had done with his life.

The role that President Roosevelt played in pushing Churchill towards Indian independence and the US gesture to be the first country to send an ambassador to India is neither appreciated nor known among the India's polity nor did the historians pay much attention to the subject. Better management of the relationship with US early on might have paid dividends and the world history could have turned out to be totally different than what we have witnessed.

The author has to be specially commended for his assessment that Indian independence came not because the British had an enlightenment about egalitarianism or human rights but because the empire was economically not tenable any longer, and even more important, the events of the second World War and its conclusion created an environment in India where they could not even count on the loyalty of the Indian army any longer. The "awe" with which the ordinary Indian looked at the Englishman had ended. The bluff that worked for two hundred years stopped working.

It is a must read for any student of Indian history and politics since it gives insight into the situations affecting the national security and political decisions made even today. We all have heard so much about the "Divide and rule" policy of English. The reader is able to witness that policy in action in this book.

‘Pakistan was created as part of the great game’

Staff Report

LAHORE: A controversial new book by Lord Mountbatten’s ADC claims that the British nurtured the idea of Pakistan as a sort of pro-West “forward defensive glacis” against the USSR and a potentially pro-Communist Congress dominated India.

The “Untold Story of India’s Partition: The Shadow of the Great Game”, by Narendra Singh Sarila, is a gripping narrative on the basis of the new material he was able to study. Lord Wavell, being a military commander with a global perspective, thought that the Soviet Union would threaten the British empire and the All India Congress would be more prone than the All India Muslim League to side with the Communists.

Wavell was thinking of the Middle East and its oil wealth. Linked to this feeling was the strategic “possibility” that a region within India could be separated to act as the forward defensive glacis against Communism. By 1946, more and more British military leaders were thinking of the threat of “Russia” and anticipating that the next imperial war would be fought in the region.

When the British entered the war against Germany in September 1939, the Congress was ruling in eight out of 11 provinces. It then inexplicably decided to resign from these governments, awarding a walkover to the Muslim League and forcing Wavell to further refine his policy of supporting the Muslim League as a political makeweight. Sarila argues that this Congress resignation not only brought the Muslim League to power through the backdoor, it made partition possible by loosening from the Congress hold the Muslim-majority province of the NWFP.

In the event, says Sarila, Congress could not set foot in Punjab where men were enlisting for war 200,000-a-month, and Congress supporters from big business were producing overtime for the war effort and making profits hand over fist. Jinnah was more pragmatic. Raj politics was not black and white, it did not lend itself to principles, and that is the way it had to be played. Jinnah became sole spokesman under the Conservative Party, and when the Labour Party came to power its efforts to right the political balance in favour of Congress came up against the “precedents” set by the earlier administration.

In 1942, with the Japanese threatening to invade India, it was Gandhi’s turn to do something inscrutable: he tabled a resolution asking the British to “quit forthwith” and told the Japanese India had no quarrel with them. Almost all the Congress high command disagreed but passed it, only to change it overnight when Nehru threatened to quit Congress instead if it went public.

If Wavell thought of withdrawing the British army from what was to become India and locating it in what was to become Pakistan in order to defend the Middle East from Communism, he was disabused by the lack of support his favourite Jinnah enjoyed in Sindh, the NWFP and Punjab. Sarila captures the weak moments of the leaders that let India be divided. When Partition came, Nehru was “tired, worried and unhappy”.

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