The Price Of Partition
by Dr.Rafiq Zakaria

Why was India divided? The simple answer is that the Hindus, as represented by the Congress and the Muslims, as represented by the League, could not agree on a constitutional framework for a united India. It is, however, more a simplistic than a simple explanation. Jinnah browbeat Nehru and Patel and the two gave in, thinking that the divided parts would thereafter live in peace and harmony. It is the biggest blunder that they committed: they were frightened because at the call for direct action given by Jinnah in 1946, Calcutta saw the death in the streets of 5,000 Hindus and Muslims -- more of Muslims than of Hindus. Besides, the two leaders were tired of the hostile and obstructive behaviour of their League colleagues within the Executive Council, which Viceroy Wavell had formed as an interim measure.

For such small irritants the land, which had been one unit for more than a thousand years with the two communities living and working together and contributing richly to its composite culture, was divided; it was a most tragic blow, struck at its very heart. It happened because, as Dr Ramohan Ruia, pointed out, ``a tired and an ageing leadership, hungry for power'', surrendered to the subtle intrigues of Mountbatten. Jinnah died within a year of the execution of the latter's plan; Nehru and Patel regretted within months that had they known what was to happen subsequently, they would never have been a party to it. But what was the use of this remorse? The damage, which was irreparable, was done. As a Urdu poet has said:

Lamhone khata kee thee/ Sadyon nay saza payee (Moments made mistake and centuries had to suffer). The basis on which Partition was effected was knocked out within weeks; its aftermath saw the gruesome massacre of more than a million Indians, both Hindus and Muslims, and the uprooting of more than 10 million. Could a civil war to maintain the unity of India have resulted in a worse situation? America faced a similar challenge when Abraham Lincoln became President. On the question of ending slavery, the south decided to separate from the north; the relations between the white settlers on either side became so bitter that tremendous pressure was brought on Lincoln to agree to a separation. He refused and fought a bitter civil war, lasting more than four years. Eventually, the south was subdued and the Union was preserved. Today, America is the greatest world power.

A divided India, even after 50 years, has not solved the basic question of Hindu-Muslim relations, which have deteriorated after 1947. India and Pakistan are at each other's throats, spending a major part of their scarce resources on defence. They scarcely trade with each other; even cultural exchanges are frowned upon. Bangladesh has become a festering sore, struggling to survive. The Muslims of undivided India have suffered the most. They have been divided into Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian Muslims, none of which has any sympathy for the others. If they were a part of united India, with their governments in the states in the north-west and in Bengal and Assam, what a powerful force they would have been. The Muslims remaining in India have been left in a most pitiable condition and even their relatives, who had migrated to Pakistan and Bangladesh -- the Muhajirs and the Biharis -- are living in mortal terror there.

That is why even as a student, I stoutly opposed Jinnah's pernicious two-nation theory. I participated in the Quit India movement, despite the ire of my co-religionists, who damned me as ``a traitor to Islam''. The harm that Jinnah did is incalculable; I have repeatedly said that even the worst Muslim ruler in the Middle Ages did not alienate Hindus from Muslims so badly as the so called Quad-i-Azam had done. The Congress, instead of confronting him, succumbed; the mess that this created has not been cleared even 50 years after Partition; on the contrary, it has gathered more dirt. Gandhi resisted the division to the end; but he was made to believe by his closest lieutenant that it would end hostilities. Soon, the Mahatma realised he had been fooled; in the wake of Partition, he went hither and thither, trying to salvage what he could. But it was too late; the bitterness had penetrated so deep that he fell a victim to it himself. His martyrdom halted the process for some time, but the communal monster raised its ugly head once again. It has not only soured relations between India, Pakistan and even Bangladesh, but has added to the ill will between Hindus and Muslims in India. I have discussed this terrible side in their relationship in my book The Widening Divide (Penguin). There can be no national integration until the relations between Hindus and Muslims are put on sound and rational lines. The biggest obstacles that we face are religious misrepresentation and historical distortions. They are a legacy of the British past, and they are being revived by communalists masquerading as nationalists.

Apart from the social barriers and the economic disparities, our own democratic setup is furthering the schism, letting the two communities drift apart. The so-called secularists are on the retreat; they have lost ground because of their hypocrisy. The communalists are on the march. They have succeeded in mobilising the majority. Hindus have become most distrustful of Muslims and Muslims on their part have lost faith in the sense of justice and fair play of Hindus. Hatred breeds more hatred. Hindus have become more aggressive and Muslims, in desperation, have taken refuge in outmoded traditions, as if this will secure them their survival. Some of them are so misled that they have resorted to terrorism. All this bodes ill for the shape of things to come; it threatens our security and stability.

In the last few years, the situation has further deteriorated; it has resulted in bloody conflicts and communal apartheid. Hindus, in their distrust of Muslims, have developed a pathological aversion to them; this has percolated not only among the elite and the educated, but also the simple folk in villages. There is a division at every level. This has driven Muslims to live in ghettos. Frustrated and depressed, they are in the grip of a terrible disillusionment; they need to be reassured and brought within the mainstream -- not by mistrust and social ostracism but by sympathy and understanding.



Note: What would have happened if there was no Partition, India and Pakistan did not have to spend such Enormous amounts on defence.