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In recent years, with the opening up of historical documents to the public, the discovery of new facts, the subsiding of emotions, and passing away of personalities directly involved in the independence and partition of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.