An oft repeated claim by many British and other Western analysts and reporters has been that the Hindus and Muslims of the sub-continent have always been at war and there has been centuries of hatred between them. Therefore, partition was inevitable, (perhaps even a historical necessity), and Pakistan can be seen as a logical outcome of that “ancient” animosity between the two peoples.
That some of India’s rulers during the medieval period were Islamic invaders is an indisputable fact – that some of these invaders engaged in acts of terror and vandalism is also undeniable. But if the contradictions between Hindus and Muslims resulted from the destructive force of Islamic invaders and conquerors, shouldn’t the advocates of partition have been the victims of Islamic excess – i.e. the Hindus? But in 1947, the demand for partition was articulated by the Muslim League, not by the Hindu Mahasabha. How do we unravel this apparent contradiction?
Those who argue that Hindus and Muslims are two irreconcilable nations simply based on the fact that India had to deal with Islamic invaders must also quantify how many of the sub-continent’s Muslims identified, or collaborated with such barbaric excesses of conquest. Did ordinary Muslims see Islamic invaders as their champions or liberators, as some argue? Could one conclude that all Muslims were in some way responsible for the acts of violent desecration that took place? If this were true, how is it that a majority of these Islamic invaders had to fight local Islamic rulers to gain control of India? And how is it that ordinary Muslims were as much victims of pillage and plunder as were Hindus?
And even if the invasions had caused a deep divide in Indian society couldn’t a modern democratic society overcome this legacy and create a secular polity in which Hindus and Muslims and people of other religions could live in harmony and unity? (Especially since most Hindus were willing to make very serious compromises for the sake of unity).
Would the 2-nation theory apply if it turned out that the vast majority of converts to Islam practised Sufism as opposed to Quranic Islam and that the essence of Sufic theory and practice went against zealotry or fundamentalist identification with sectarian religio-political theories? If ordinary Hindus and Muslims could relate to each other in a peaceful and friendly way, was partition at all necessary?
Religious Commonality and Nationhood
First, let us examine the proposition that religious commonality is the primary motive force behind modern nationhood. If religious commonality were the essential engine for nation-building, it is odd that Europe’s Christian followers are divided into so many different nations. Even if we accept that it was denominational differences that divided them, we might still ask – why aren’t all the followers of the Roman Catholic faith in Europe nationally unified? Why aren’t they united in Central and South America? Why didn’t all Protestants get together in one nation?
If religion alone could serve as the basis for national unity – how is it that in spite of several attempts at unity, Islam failed to unify the Arabic-speaking people of North Africa and the Middle East?
If Islam could not be developed as the primary basis of national identity in the Arab world where Islam originated and had virtually universal following – isn’t it peculiar that Islam should be viewed as the pre-eminent basis for defining national identity in the sub-continent?
If we were to go by the experiences of the European or other Asian nations, we would find that cultural and linguistic factors, and shared historical experiences have often been more decisive in forging the idea of nationhood.
The claim that the sub-continent comprises two nations – Hindus and Muslims, is a stark exception to the general pattern of nation-building elsewhere in the world. Yet, many Western intellectuals have promoted this claim as if it were within the ambit of a generally accepted or universally valid model.
Perhaps the legitimacy of the 2-nation claim arises from within the unique and specific experiences of the sub-continent as some Western analysts have attempted to suggest. They have argued that religion has played such a pre-eminent and overpowering role in the sub-continent, that unlike anywhere else in the world, religion is the only reasonable basis for defining nationhood in the sub-continent.
But even if these analysts could prove that the secular life of the Indian people were entirely subsumed by religious affiliation, or prove that religion played a substantially greater role in the life of the Indian people than anywhere else, that alone would not be sufficient to prove their two-nation claim. In theory, two people could be devoutly religious, practice different religions, but remain completely tolerant and respectful of each other’s religions and wish to stay together in one nation.
To prove their claim, these intellectuals would also have to demonstrate that of all contradictions between the people – the religious contradiction was most germane. That not only did religion divide the Indian people in a manner that could not be easily reconciled, that it also bound people in a way that nothing else did. They would have to show that socio-economic relations, cultural activities and political actions were propelled by specific allegiance to either Hinduism or Islam. That cultural, linguistic, economic and political antagonisms within Hinduism and Islam were minimal, but conflicts between practitioners of the two distinct faiths were of such magnitude that no democratic framework could possibly resolve them. As evidence of “irreconcilable difference” they would need to show that there were none or few (and exceptional) instances of peaceful co-existence or mutual tolerance between the two communities.
But even a cursory examination of the historical record disproves such a hypothesis. Not only did most Hindus and Muslims live in relative peace with each other, at several junctures, there are important instances of extended collaboration and unity between the two sects.
Hindu-Muslim collaboration during the Mughal period
In the 16th century, when Akbar was the emperor of the northern 2/3rds of India his closest political allies were the Hindu Rajputs of Bikaner and Jaipur. These Mughal-Rajput alliances outlived his death, and continued for over 200 years. The Hindu kingdoms of Datia, Orchha and Jhansi were also generally allied with the Mughals. Akbar’s chief advisor and Prime Minister was Birbal – a Hindu. His most successful general was Raja Man Singh of Jaipur. The Jaipur Rajputs were the most powerful fighters in the country. During Akbar’s reign, they had one of Asia’s best canon factories, and their canons were crucial in extending Mughal power from Afghanistan in the West to Assam in the East. In battle after battle, Rajput generals led the Mughal armies to victory. If contradictions between Hindus and Muslims were so sharp – could this close military collaboration have lasted for over 200 years?
Although these alliances were often coerced and may have been opportunistic, their lasting existence amply demonstrates Hindu willingness to compromise and adapt to Islamic rulers.
The record also shows a pattern of marital ties that bound the Mughals and the Rajputs. Of Akbar’s several wives, more than a few were Hindu princesses. And his most important wife was his Rajput wife from the Jaipur house. The largest palace built for any wife was Rani Jodh Bai’s Mahal in Fatehpur Sikri, and after marriage, Jodh Bai continued to practise Hindu customs. It was her son, Jehangir, who succeeded to the throne after Akbar’s death and continued the practice of taking Hindu wives. His son Shah Jehan, who succeeded him was also reportedly borne of a Rajput wife.
During the battles for succession to the Mughal throne, battle lines were never drawn on the basis of religious affiliation. For instance, Aurangzeb had to fight three of his brothers for the throne. In each of these battles, Aurangzeb got crucial help from his Hindu allies. And each of his brothers counted Hindu kings and generals amongst their allies.
The Muslim rulers of Gujarat and the Deccan followed very similiar practices. Later, when the Marathas of Central India led a revolt against the Mughals, both Hindus and Muslims joined the Maratha army. Although the Maratha armies were led by Shivaji – a Hindu – some of their military campaigns were led by Muslim generals.
In the 18th century, when the Mughal empire began disintegrating after the death of Aurangzeb, kingdoms broke away from the authority of Delhi not on the basis of religious differences, but as an assertion of regional independence, with political boundaries beginning to match linguistic and cultural boundaries more closely. Local contradictions, the struggle against high taxation and the centralizing tendencies of the Mughal empire became paramount.
If there were two distinct nations (based on religion) in the sub-continent, it is quite evident that the rulers of the 16th, 17th or 18th centuries did not think that to be the case. It is one thing that Islamic rulers may have generally favored more Muslims with employment at their courts, and Hindu rulers may have had more Hindus in their top administrative councils. But there is almost no evidence to suggest that any of India’s medieval kingdoms were run exclusively on the basis of religious affinity, let alone strict religious dogma.
Peaceful Co-existence and Unity of the Masses
There is also little in the Indian historical record to indicate that Hindus and Muslims in the numerous craft guilds and peasantry were constantly at war with one another. Here we find a pattern of mostly peaceful co-existence. Hindu and Muslim artisans and craftspeople often worked side-by-side in the manufacturing towns, at construction sites, and in royal factories. Even when they followed different religions, the idealogical underpinnings of their faiths were similiar: that all were equal before god. This was the common message of Sikhism, Sufism and the Hindu Bhakti traditions. It was, therefore, not uncommon for a popular Bhakti saint to have Muslim followers, or a popular Sufi saint to have Hindu followers. Festivals that commemorated such popular saints drew entire communities, cutting across religious lines.
Unlike Europe, who fell prey to the cruel excesses of religious inquisitions during the medieval period, comparable bouts of sustained religious terror are simply not to be found in the Indian historical record. That is precisely why, (in spite of several centuries of rule by Islamic Kings), the percentage of Muslims in the Indian sub-continent never reached a majority. Although conversions to Islam did involve force and coercion, by and large Indian converts did not adopt the militant fundamentalism or Jehadism that is advocated in the Medina verses of Quranic Islam. Conversion was facilitated and encouraged by the preachings of Sufi saints whose teachings were found more compatible with earlier Indic practices. In many instances, peasants and artisans who converted to Islam did not abandon previous religious practices and continued to celebrate popular Hindu festivals. Most Indian converts to Islam had maintained a certain continuity with their earlier tradition that enabled a level of mutual tolerance amongst ordinary Hindus and Muslims.
Ibn Batuta, the 14th century Tunisian chronicler who travelled throughout the Indian sub-continent attests to the relative tolerance and peaceful co-existence amongst the two communities. When he does refer to conflicts between an Islamic and Hindu ruler, it is over rights of taxation, applicability of trade concessions, authority of commercial contracts and so on. These are clearly secular conflicts and could occur just as well between rulers practising the same religion, as in fact happened between the Ottoman Turks and the Persian rulers, or Shah Jehan and the monarchs of Central Asia.
The charge that religion had played a dominant and overpoweringly divisive role at all levels of Indian society is either an ahistorical charge stemming from faulty information and analysis, or else deliberate fabrication. Certainly before the advent of Islam, India was a land where religion was neither fixed nor absolute. There had always been multiple and competitive philosophical streams that had co-existed in India and sufic peace-loving Islam was easily absorbed.
In fact,the Indian masses had most potently demonstrated how united they were during the first war of independence in 1857. 1857 was a revolt that shook the very foundations of British rule in India. For almost a year, the entire plains of Northern India were free from colonial rule. Hindus and Muslim soldiers mutinied together and fought the British soldiers as one. When people in towns like Patna, Lucknow and Meeirut revolted, broke open the jails and stormed the British armories – they did it together – they did not then see themselves as Hindus or Muslims, but as one people fighting a common and hated enemy – the British.
When a rebel administration was formed – all its public manifestos were issued in the name of both Hindus and Muslims. Hindus and Muslims were equally represented in the main governing bodies and proclamations were issued in popular languages. Hindi and Urdu texts were provided simultaneously.
In the first battle for independence – there was absolutely no talk of there being two separate nations in the sub-continent. The shared experience of an alien and brutal colonial rule was shaping into an armed nationalism that transcended religious bounds. Rather than religious particularism drowning the consciousness of the Indian – the idea of an India ruled by Indians transfused the mind of the 1857 revolutionaries. The first expressions of conscious nationhood had subsumed religious distinctions. It took one more century of colonial rule to seriously damage the secular spirit that had emerged repeatedly in Indian political practice.
British Communal Policy – Motivations and Practice
Although India’s Islamic invaders initially saw themselves as very different and distinct from the people they had conquered and colonized in the subcontinet, over time, this sectarian aloofness eroded. Some of the later Islamic rulers began to identify with the land of their birth They had risen from Indian soil and would die in Indian soil. Later generations of conquering clans had no choice but to make India their home and identify with it to a greater degree than first or second generation conquerors. But unlike the descendants of India’s Islamic invaders, the British colonial masters had no intention of making India their permanent home. Whereas India’s later Islamic rulers (especially those who were Muslim converts) saw their own destinies inextricably linked with the Indian sub-continent, the British saw India more as a distant outpost – to be exploited and pillaged, but not to be nourished or developed.
Even as Islamic rulers taxed the peasantry they were also propelled to invest in irrigation schemes and technological improvements that increased productivity. Or else, they recycled that surplus in the towns through the patronage of monumental building projects or manufacturing ventures. But the British promarily drained India to enrich Britain.
Unlike British administrators who knew their terms were limited, and could therefore get away with all manner of lies and cruelty – later generation Islamic administrators knew that they had to live amongst the Indian people, and therefore, could become victims of their wrath. This meant that Islamic rulers could not as easily get away with the same excesses the British could.
These were some important and essential differences between India’s later Indian-born Islamic rulers and the British Colonists. To the extent that India’s Islamic rulers planned to make India their home, and spend their acquired wealth in India – wisdom eventually propelled the more sophisticated amongst them towards some measure of secular practice – towards fostering some degree of peaceful co-existence between Hindus and Muslims. But the beneficiaries of British rule had no intentions of spending the Indian surplus in India. The tenure of individual administrators was temporary, and the capital extracted from India was primarily for use in Britain, or elsewhere in Europe and America. A genuine secular policy was neither essential to their survival, nor helpful to their goal of using India’s wealth to enrich Britain. In fact, 1857 had shown how dangerous the unity of the Indian masses could be to their political authority.
It is therefore not surprising that they had been trying to foment communal unrest between the two communities all through the early part of the 19th century. For instance, as early as 1821, a British officer under the assumed name of “Carnaticus” wrote in the Asiatic Review that : “Divide et impera should be the motto of our Indian administration, whether political, civil or military.” The fright of 1857 made the British even more purposeful in how they used communal propaganda.
One of the insidious practices initiated by the British was to encourage Quranic fundamentalism in the guise of “Islamic Reform” which in practise meant erasing the sufi ethos and forcing Muslim ocnverts to give up their long held affection for earlier tribal or Hindu or other Indic beliefs and practises. In “purifying” the Indian Muslim, British-sponsored clerics (such as Wahhabis) from the Arabian peninsula and other Quranic fanatics helped lay the foundation of sectarian organizations such as the Muslim League in East Bengal who sought to destroy the camraderie that had previously existed between Hindus and Sufi (or moderate) Muslims.
At the same time, they encouraged rumor-mongering, incited riots and deliberately favored one community over another.
“We have maintained our power in India by playing-off one part against the other,” the Secretary of State for India reminded Viceroy, Lord Elgin (1862-63), “and we must continue to do so. Do all you can, therefore, to prevent all having a common feeling.”
Thus, even as they actively aided and abetted the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, they also instigated Sikh separatism by patronizing sectarian Gurudwara Prabandh Samitis in the Golden Temple and at other Gurudwaras. Until the early 20th century, it was routine for Sikhs and Hindus to share the Golden Temple. Religious rites at the temple were peformed by both Sikh religious leaders and Brahmins. But British intervention led to a sharp split between Sikhs and Hindus who had historically seen themselves as close kin.
Furthermore, they exploited cleavages amongst Hindus – whether they were based on caste or attitude towards the Islamic invaders. At the same time they developed the false theory that India had never really been a nation – that it had always been a land of interlopers and invaders and that Hindus were essentially incapable of self-rule.
Hindus were thus caught in a bind. If they pointed to the many acts of resistance to alien Islamic rule, or successful victories over Islamic rulers such as those by the Marathas, the Sikhs or the Vijaynagar kingdome of the South, it had the potential of alienating the Islamic elite. On the other hand, if they kept silent for fear of alenating Muslim opinion, they woud come across as a weak people who were only fit to be conquered.
Both the truth and the suppression of the truth could be used against Hindu aspirations.
At the same time, as British historians began documenting the history of the Islamic invasions, they found ways of using the historical record to divert attention from their own plunder. As they stripped numerous palaces of their marble and jewelled facades, they could justify it by arguing that the damage done by Islamic invaders had been worse.
British historian Sir Henry Elliot, produced his own eight-volume History of India from his own historians in1867. His history showed that Hindus were slain for disputing with ‘Muhammedans’, their idols were mutilated, their temples destroyed, they were forced into conversions and marriages, and were killed and massacred by drunk Muslim tyrants. Such histories enraged the Islamic elite who were not prepared to brook any criticism of their record in India. Hindus wanting unity were thus forced to either ignore the truth. To embrace it meant disunity.
This led to an inevitable dispute amongst Hindus as to how to deal with the history of the earlier Islamic conquests and weakened Hindu unity. It also made the taks of Hindu-Muslim unity doubly difficult.
The policy of divide and rule required a considerable degree of manipulation. Lord Dufferin, Viceroy,(1884-88), was advised by the Secretary of State in London that ‘the division of religious feelings is greatly to our advantage’, and that he expected ‘some good as a result of your committee of inquiry on Indian education and on teaching material’.
Lord Curzon (Governor General of India 1895-99 and Viceroy 1899-1904, d.1925) was told by the Secretary of State for India, George Francis Hamilton, that they ‘should so plan the educational text books that the differences between community and community are further strengthened’.
While it was true that most Islamic rulers oppressed the poor peasantry, British economic exploitation was worse. This was naturally covered up. The many secular activities of rulers who were Muslm-coverts (but not invaders) were omitted. Such Muslim rulers (and even later-generation progeny of invading Muslim clans) had built palaces, inns, courts and hospitals, sponsored irrigation schemes and patronized manufacturing towns. This had provided income and employment to both Hindus and Muslims. When they helped to expand production, it helped both Hindus and Muslims. This was not acknowledged. That the majority of Muslims were not rulers and had little to do with the war campaigns of the rulers was knowingly obscured.
British propaganda was thus consciously and deliberately designed to provoke animosity and hatred between the communities. It is significant to note that the communal problem was a special feature only of British India (those territories of the Indian sub-continent directly ruled by Britain), whereas the Indian states (territories ruled by local Maharajas that owed allegiance to the British crown) were comparatively free from communal strife. The Simon Report (p.29) was compelled to admit “..the comparative absence of communal strife in the Indian states today …”
The idea that Hindus and Muslims were two irreconcilable nations was greatly nourished by the British. And the first time, this idea (that Hindus and Muslims of the sub-continent were two distinct people) was expressed in any concrete and modern political form was when the All India Muslim League was founded in 1906 under the active patronage of the British rulers. This was almost 50 years after the British had defeated the 1857 uprising, and reconquered the Gangetic plain.
The Muslim League
Maulana Azad (President of the Indian National Congress during colonial rule) writing in “India Wins Freedom” describes the emergence of the Muslim League in these words:
“It was said that one of the objects of the League would be to strengthen and develop a feeling of loyalty to the British Govt. amongst the Muslims of India. The second object was to advance the claims of the Muslims against Hindus and other communities in respect of service under the crown and thus safeguard Muslim interests and rights. The leaders of the League were therefore naturally opposed to the demand for political independence raised by the Congress. They felt that if the Muslims joined in any such demand the British would not support their claims for special treatment in education and service. In fact, they described the Congress as a disloyal organization of rebels and regarded even moderate leaders like Gokhale and Ferozeshah Mehta as extremists. During this phase the British Govt. always used the Muslim League as a counter to the demands of the Congress.”
“The Muslim League entered into the second phase of its activites when it found that the Government was compelled to introduce some reforms as a result of Congress pressure. It was somewhat disturbed when it saw the Congress achieving it’s objective step by step. The League still remained aloof from the political struggle but as soon as any advance was made, it put in a claim on behalf of the Muslim community. This program of the Muslim League suited the (colonial) govt. well. In fact, there are reasons to think that the League was acting according to the wishes of the British.”
Around this time, the British did something else to hamper the unity of the Indian people. They had already introduced job quotas based on religious affiliations. Now they introduced voting for local bodies based on a divided electorate. There were separate Hindu seats and Muslim seats. And voting was first restricted to property holders and later to those who were literate. Since literacy was very low – just 8% after the first world war and 11% in 1947 – a very small percentage of people could vote. But even those that had the vote were divided along religious lines.
In spite of all this rigging, the Muslim League initially won little support even amongst the Muslim elites of the sub-continent. Even in provinces where Muslims were in overwhelming majority, there was no League ministry before 1945.
The majority of the Indian people were with the secular program of the Indian National Congress (or with forces more radical). There was a Congress ministry in The Frontier Province. In Punjab there was a Unionist Ministry. The Unionists were a party of the Punjab landed elite but included Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus. In Sindh, the ministry led by Ghulam Hussein depended on Congress support.
Yet, when the British Colonial govt. invited representatives of the Indian people for political negotiations in 1945, the Muslim League was given as much representation as the Congress. The Congress, that represented all sections of Indian society and had support all over the country, was allowed to nominate only 5 members out of 14! The Muslim League with a fraction of the Congress’s mass base was also allocated 5 nominees, and the colonial government picked 4 of it’s own to represent Sikhs, Dalits and Muslims.
Still, out of its 5 members, the Congress chose to nominate only 2 Hindus, and nominated a Muslim, a Christian and a Parsi to reflect it’s secular composition. The Muslim League of course, only nominated Muslims, but it complained when the Congress nominated a Muslim – claiming that only it had the right to nominate Muslims. The Congress maintained that because it represented all communities it would also nominate a Muslim representative. India was thus represented by 7 Muslims in a group of 14, even though the Muslim population at that time was only about 25% of the country. No one could have argued that Muslims were being crowded out or dominated by Hindus in the independence discussions and negotiations. (In fact, it is more relevant to point out that the Indians picked to negotiate with the British were not true representatives of the Indian people.)
Between 1942 and 1945 when the Congress had launched the Quit India movement, all the senior Congress leaders were jailed. This gave the Muslim League a free hand to incite communal passions amongst the educated Muslims of the sub-continent. The British authorities gave overt support to the League in this period. The League told the Muslim elites in the Muslim majority states that they would be denied all rights in a Hindu dominated India and that only they – the Muslim League, could guarantee their rights as Muslims. The fear-mongering worked to the extent that in the 1945 provincial elections, the League ended up with almost half the seats in Bengal; it increased it’s seats in Punjab, winning as many as the Unionist party and more than the Congress. It also increased it’s strength in Sind (but fell short of a majority). Still, the League could not extend it’s influence in the North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan. In the Frontier Province, the Congress was once again able to form the ministry.
But these gains were enough for the British colonial government to claim that the Muslim League deserved to be given as much importance as the Congress in discussing the terms of independence. They discounted the Congress with it’s much broader appeal – an appeal that went far beyond the narrow elites who were allowed to vote in those limited elections. It was forgotten that the Muslim League had only been able to garner some support when the Congress was at a serious disadvantage with most of it’s leaders in jail.
But this was precisely the British plan. They wanted to leave power to the most undemocratic forces in the country – forces that had been most loyal to their rule, and hence traitors to the aspirations of most people of the sub-continent. They conspired to chart India’s independence in a manner that would inhibit and constrain India’s future development. If they were going to lose their direct hold on India, they wanted to ensure that India remain vulnerable to external manipulation and be as subservient to the dictates and demands of policy-makers in the West.
Partition – Colonial Chicanery?
As late as 1946, the Muslim League was prepared to accept autonomy. But their price for unity was based on undemocratic and unacceptable demands. They had wanted reserved seats for Muslims in excess of their population – on the basis that they had been former rulers of the country. They insisted that several aspects of the future administration be run on communal lines, a divisive and again, undemocratic demand. Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League had to become the first Prime Minister even though his popular following was nowhere near comparable to any leader of the Congress.
These were the League’s real demands – but they couched the failure of their negotiation with the Congress in the rhetoric of “Muslim self-determination”. The right of self-determination is usually invoked by the historically oppressed – not those who had once been emperors and members of the ruling elite. That Muslims in India were a minority was hardly relevant since India’s unity had not been forged on the basis of religion, or by any single dominant grouping. India’s Hindus were not a homogenous group. They were divided by caste, region, culture and language. What united Hindus is also what united Muslims – the collectively shared experience of being ravaged by colonial rule and a broad cultural affinity that transcended differences of religion and language.
The choice before India was not between two nations – Hindu and Muslim. It was between several small nations (that would inevitably fall prey to neo-colonial machinations) or one large federal nation that could mediate differences in a democratic way – but create a nation unified enough to develop and progress independently of external interference.
The Congress had promised several constitutional protections for Muslims to practice their religion and Muslims to have their own legislation in matters of personal law and personal property. But the Muslim League rejected all compromises and insisted on partition as the only solution, and the British ordered a mock plebiscite to decide the issue. Without universal voting, no vote could have been seen as decisive or representative. Although the Muslim League narrowly succeeded in it’s aims by getting the educated elite of Punjab and E. Bengal – (the two largest states in original Pakistan) to vote for partition, the parties in the NWFP who were opposed to partition boycotted the plebiscite. And no plebiscite took place in the states where Muslims were not in a majority. Surely a decision as important as political vivisection should have required a nation-wide referendum with ample time for opponents to make their case? That the wishes of the millions of Muslims who lived in Hindu-majority states were not taken into account at all shows how false and weak was the Muslim League’s claim to be the sole or leading representative for India’s Muslims.
It is also noteworthy that all important Islamic theologians were against partition. Maulana Madani undertook a whirlwind tour to campaign against the League. Representatives of the Muslim working class were also sharply against partition. The Ansari Muslims (weaver caste) who were very politically conscious and well-organized in the Gangetic states publicly demonstrated against the Leagues partition resolution.
The Muslim League had connived with the British to present partition as a fait-accompli. With great regret, many accepted it as a temporary setback, but hoped that once the British left, the future would be different. But the Muslim League and the British were taking no chances. To ensure that Hindus and Muslims did not get together to reverse this precipitous course, the Muslim League (with British backing and cover) resorted to several acts of blackmail and terror. All Muslim civil servants and army officers were exhorted to leave for Pakistan. First, they were warned that they would be mistreated in India. When Maulana Azad combated the vicious rumor-mongering by the League and assured Muslims that their rights would be protected in secular India, many Muslims sought to stay on. At that point, the League threatened to harm their property interests and their relatives in Pakistan. Under the pressure of such blackmail, most caved in and migrated to Pakistan.
Simultaneously, armed gangs with the complicity of the League and British officers engineered a campaign of terror against Pakistan’s Hindu and Sikh minorities. Arson, rape, and mass murder resulted in an unprecedented exodus of millions of refugees, with it’s inevitable anti-Muslim backlash in India.
Few of Pakistan’s Hindus and Sikhs had wanted to leave. With strong ties to their neighbours and communities – they had never imagined that the situation would deteriorate as rapidly as it did. They had accepted partition, but hoped that they would be allowed to live in peace as they had for centuries earlier. They had assumed that generations of shared ties would enable free travel and trade between the two nations. The gruesome nature of partition destroyed all illusions. Not only did partition divide the sub-continent on an ahistoric and unpopular premise – the manner in which it took place guaranteed that the two new nations would be borne through bloody anguish and nurse long-lasting wounds.
Writing in 1957, Maulana Azad elaborated on how partition was turning out to be a disaster for the Muslims of the sub-continent. He pointed out how the leaders of Pakistan were migrants from different places in India, and that these leaders did not even speak the local language. Moreover, they feared the masses and evaded popular elections as much as possible. He added that the only result of the creation of Pakistan was to weaken the position of the Muslims of the sub-continent. He emphasized that it was one of the greatest frauds on the people that religious affinity can unite area which are geographically, economically, linguistically and culturally different. 14 years before Bangladesh broke off from Pakistan – he was worried that a common religion may not be enough to unite East and West Pakistan. He pointed out how Pakistan’s enormous military budget would crowd out development and harm the interests of most Pakistanis. He worried that antagonisms between Hindus and Muslims would only increase after partition.
In hindsight, it is clear that partition was an attempt by India’s colonizers to keep the people of the subcontinent divided and weak. The Muslim League had never proved it’s strength in any truly democratic vote. The British knew that the Congress was under great pressure to gain independence quickly. They exploited the mood of impatience and weariness in the Congress to accept partition even when it wasn’t what the masses of the Indian sub-continent had really wished for.
The manner in which the British promoted the Muslim League, the manner in which senior officials in the colonial administration allowed Hindus and Sikhs to be forced out from Pakistan makes it apparent that it was a continuation of it’s long premeditated policy of divide and conquer. It is more than a little ironic that the British who for over a hundred years had taught the Hindus that no one had oppressed them more than the Muslims should have then turned around and argued that the self-determination of India’s Muslims required partition.
It is equally ironic that the Muslim League in the name of “defending Muslims” precipitated a vivisection of the sub-continent in a manner that has left the region’s Muslims divided into three nations. What could be more perfidious than for the Muslim League to have collaborated with the British when they were the ones that conducted a 200 year campaign of vilification of Muslims as violent invaders and conquerors that had destroyed Indian civilization? In the end, it is the people of Pakistan who have least enjoyed the fruits of freedom. It is their tragedy that their new nation was founded by a sectarian and undemocratic organization that had collaborated in the worst way with the greatest enemies of the people of the sub-continent – i.e the British colonial rulers and exploiters.
Pakistan is a living reminder of how our freedom was only partially won, and a much more difficult phase lies ahead.
Notes and References
1) ” Eminent Mussalmans (Neeraj Publishing House, Delhi, 1981 reprint, first edition – 1926) for autobiographies of pro-British Muslims who called for the founding of the Muslim League such as the Aga Khan who once stated: “If they will only give me the opportunity, I will shed my last drop of blood for the British Empire”.
2) Maulana Azad’s autobiographical account of the freedom years: India Wins Freedom
3) Allah Baksh, Premier of Sind (prior to his dismissal by Colonial Governor, Hugh Dow, on October 10, 1942) was a vigorous opponent of partition and campaigned against the the idea of Pakistan through out India. Allah Baksh who was committed to the cause of a united secular India paid heavily for his views when he was murdered on May 14, 1943 by professional killers hired by the Muslim League.
(Prior to his death, Allah Baksh as head of the Ittehad Party had successfully prevented the Muslim League from gaining a foothold in the province of Sind. Although his Party were not part of the Indian National Congress, he supported the Quit India movement, and renounced in protest all titles conferred by the British Government when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made a derogatory reference to the Indian freedom struggle and the Quit India movement.)
4) In his article, Creation of Pakistan – Safeguarding British Strategic Interests, Narendra Singh Sarela, former Indian Ambassador to France wrote to suggest that recently unsealed British top secret documents indicated how Mohammed Ali Jinnah (leader of the Muslim League) articulated his demand for partition in 1940 only after getting the approval of Lord Zetland, then secretary of state for India. The British encouraged the partition proposal in order to safeguard their interests in a post-colonial world. Earlier in 1939, Jinnah had pledged the loyalty of Indian Muslim troops (who comprised over 40% of the British Army in India) and the British expected that this loyal fighting force would come in handy in controlling the oil-wealth of the Middle East, and provide the Western powers with a “reliable ally” that could serve as a foil to the former Soviet Union. (The commentary appeared in the Times of India, March 17, 2000)
5) See the ‘Transfer of Power Documents’ 1942-1947, India Office, London; (also available at the Jawaharlal Nehru Library, New Delhi); The documents describe in quite shocking detail how the British authorities engineered riots between Hindus and Muslims; bribed armed terrorists associated with the Muslim League; deliberately broke up meetings held by pro-unity Muslim leaders of the Congress; and ordered their police forces not to intervene in the wave of terror that led to the expulsion of Hindus and Muslims from what is now Pakistan.
6) See ‘Reassessing Pakistan: the role of two-nation theory’ by Anand K. Verma, under the auspices of the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi ( A Book Review is available online)
7) Also see articles by Asghar Ali Engineer on the subject of partition: Perspectives on Partition and Secularism