The lingering consequences of partition | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 13, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:32 AM, March 13, 2018

The lingering consequences of partition

There is a grain of truth in Kashmir leader Farooq Abdullah's statement that Muhammad Ali Jinnah was not responsible for partition. But Farooq is wrong to blame Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel for it. I am witness to that era and this is how I understood the events.

Jinnah was an “ambassador” of Hindu-Muslim unity, as Sarojini Naidu, a top Congress leader, put it. He was driven to it. It is clear that the differences between Hindus and Muslims had become so acute by the beginning of the 40s that something like partition had become inevitable.

For those who still regret the division, I can only say that the British could have probably kept the subcontinent united if they had been willing to ladle out more power in 1942 when Sir Stafford Cripps tried to reconcile the aspirations of the people of India with his limited brief. The Congress Party could also have done it if it had accepted in 1946 the Cabinet Mission proposals of a Centre with limited powers. The states would have all the powers except those which were entrusted to the Centre. Jinnah had agreed to the Cabinet Mission plan. But the "ifs" of history are at best hypothetical and at worst subjective.

Has partition served the purpose of the Muslims? I do not know. In Pakistan people avoid the word “partition”. On August 14 they celebrate their deliverance not so much from British rule as from the fear of Hindu rule. During my trips to that country, I have heard people say that they are happy that at least they have “some place” where they feel secure, free of “Hindu domination” or “Hindu aggressiveness”. But I feel that the Muslims have been the biggest losers; they are now spread over three countries: India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Imagine the influence that their numbers—their votes—could have commanded in the undivided subcontinent. They would have been more than one-third of the total population.  

The worst part is that a line has been drawn on the basis of religion. It will always be bristling with enmity and weapons on both sides. The two countries have already fought two wars in 1965 and 1971 and they are growling all the time, not letting people live in peace.

I do not see the subcontinent being reunited. But I do believe that one day the high walls that fear and distrust have raised on the borders will come crumbling down and the peoples of the subcontinent, without giving up their separate identities, will work together for the common good. This might usher in an era fruitful beyond their dreams. This is the faith which I have cherished ever since I left my hometown of Sialkot in Pakistan 70 years ago. And this is the straw I have clung to in the sea of hatred and hostility that has for long engulfed the subcontinent.

Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah came to Law College where I was in the final year. He touched upon his usual theme that Hindus and Muslims were two nations and they would be happy and secure if they lived in two separate countries. One would have Hindus in majority and the other Muslims.

I do not know why he believed that the two states carved out on the basis of religion would be living happily. The question I asked is, how was he so confident that they would not jump at each other's throats when the British left? He said Germany and France which had fought wars against each other were now the best of friends. The same thing would happen to India and Pakistan. He was proved wrong.

The forced migration due to mistrust between the two communities made people leave their homes and hearts. They left, however, with the conviction that they would come back after the post-partition fallout had settled down.

The Hindus and Sikhs left West Punjab and Muslims East Punjab. There was ethnic cleansing. And in the process, one million people lost their lives. I tried to talk to Lord Radcliffe in London who had delineated the border. He did not want to discuss the partition. I am told that he refused to pick up the fee which was fixed at Rs 40,000. He thought that what had happened was on his soul and he could not forgive himself for the killings.    

Why did the people kill one another when they had lived together for centuries? Nothing would be more futile than the effort to pin down who was responsible for the partition. With the sequence of events stretching back over 70 years, such an exercise can only be an academic study. Pakistan's founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah went on saying that Hindus and Muslims were two separate nations and this made them increasingly distant from each other.

Mahatma Gandhi did reply to Quaid-e-Azam's contention. Gandhi asked, would he belong to a different nation if he embraced Islam? And what would happen if he came back to the fold of Hinduism?

The worst thing that has happened is that Pakistan has come to be known as a Muslim country. India has adopted secularism but Hindutva has not been stemmed. Unfortunately, there is a growing feeling amongst Hindus, particularly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's rise to power, that they being a majority in the country should have a system which emits Hindutva. One may recall the secular face of national struggle and the rule for the first five decades or so. But today, RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat calls the shots.

This is despite the secular constitution and the laws framed under it. Farooq Abdullah should not blame Nehru and Patel because they passed on the baton to the next generation which is growing up in an atmosphere of “us and them”—Muslims and Hindus.


Kuldip Nayar is an eminent Indian columnist.


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