The Tribune - Spectrum

, April 14, 2002

Analysing the final parting of ways
S.S. Chib

Pangs of Partition, Volume I, The Parting of Ways,
Edited by S. Settar & Indira Baptista Gupta, Indian Council of Historical Research, Manohar Publishers & Distributors, New Delhi, 2002, Rs 700/-.

Pangs of Partition, Volume I, The Parting of WaysTHE edited volume containing 17 articles by stalwart historians, economists and distinguished librarians, serves as an eye-opener for researchers, academicians, politicians, sociologists, planners, bureaucrats and enlightened readers.

V.N. Datta in his article Lord Mountbatten and the Punjab Boundary Commission Award, has dwelt at length on allegations against Lord Mountbatten "accused of collision with Sir Cyril Radcliffe", and accusations that he was villain of the piece, and his villainy is attributed to Jinnah’s refusal to appoint him as the Governor General of Pakistan on the eve of his departure from India," and whether Radcliffe Award was "a territorial murder" or not.

B.R. Nanda in his article Tragedy and Triumph:The last days of Mahatma Gandhi, narrates the anguish, agony and ultimately the helplessness of the Father of the Nation whose "first impulse was to blame him". Gandhi always stood with his conviction: "the majority must repent and make amends; the minority must forgive and forget and make a fresh start". One wishes than the ethnic groups fighting each other these days would heed Gandhi’s advice. One also wishes that Gandhi whose, "walking tours, his prayer meetings and speeches acted as a soothing balm on the helpless victims of the riots", would come back since today he is needed the most. Another article on the Father of Nation — Mahatma Gandhi and the Partition of India — by Chittabrata Palit is equally revealing. He rightly says that Muslim youth were instigated partly by their hawkish but misguided leaders and partly by the British, like Theodore Beck, Principal of the AOM College, Aligarh. On the other hand "Hindu retaliation led to the birth of the Hindu Mahasabha (1937)". And fundamentalism begot fundamentalism and till date this part of the globe continues to pay a heavy price. It was Gandhi and Gandhi alone who worked truthfully and tirelessly against this barbaric communalism. But unfortunately "when the prizes of freedom were within grasp, he was no longer at the helm and saints are out of place when there is bargaining to be done between businessmen".


Sucheta Mahajan critically examines the role of Congress in Congress and Partition. She concludes, "Hopes, beliefs, rationalisation and justification apart, the truth of the matter was that the Congress accepted the Partition because there was little else it could do". S.K. Chaube in The Last Straw that Broke the Nation’s Back: The Formation of the Constituent Assembly of India, asserts, "Chronologically, a decisive cause is also the ultimate cause — the proverbial ‘last straw’. It will be argued that, had the Constituent Assembly of India not been summoned and allowed to work in the way it did, Partition might not have happened in August 1947 and, even, not at all. In reality objectionable part in the whole episode was the Congress decision to join the Constituent Assembly before sorting out the question of the sections".

Khwaja K. Khalique comes down heavily on "religion" as the cause of partition in Genesis of Partion. "Religion which has an overwhelming influence on peoples’ lives in this country, played a major role in shaping the attitudes of the two communities towards each other. Hinduisms’ great quality of absorbing new groups and peoples within its fold filled Muslims with apprehension, particularly after they had lost political power as they wanted to maintain their identity. Another characteristic of Hinduism was its exclusiveness in daily life, which forbade interdining and intermarriage with the people of other castes and religions. So it was not surprising that Hindus and Muslims, having lived as neighbours for centuries, remained distinct and separate". Salil Mishra in his paper Explaining Partition: Congress — Muslim Coalition in UP has beautifully brought out the scenario prevailing at that time in the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh and its impact on the nation.

The North-West Frontier Province and the Partition: 8 August — 15 September 1947: A view from the Top, is the title of Parshotam Mehra’s paper. In writings on the freedom struggle and Partition, this part (NWFP) of the subcontinent receives the least attention. However, this not only undermines the significance of the contributions of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and his devoted band of Khudai Khidmatgars but also ignores holocaust that took place at the time of Partition because of Jinnah’s stubbornness and the unwise attitude adopted by the British Governors. Mehra has very succinctly, cogently and logically explained his point of view Kanchanmoy Majumdar in his bold attempt Prelude to Partition: Communal Politics in the Central Provinces sums up, "Although no large scale communal killings followed (in the 1940s) in the province, communal feelings ran high due to such killings elsewhere. Thus the people in this backward province ultimately joined the mainstream of the national life then buffeted by the communal maelstrom".

Princes, Prajamandals and Partition: Congress Politics and the Rajas of Orissa, 1937-49 by Jayanta Sengupta brings home the role princes and prajamandals played in the politics of Orissa. The role of some prominent tribal leaders and tribal politics in central India as well as the North-East, the role of the Akalis in Punjab, are some other aspects touched upon by Sengupta. Bir Good Gill’s, Road to Nowhere: The Akalis, Cripps and the Azad Punjab Scheme, ultimately comes out with the fact that the Sikhs wanted to remain in India and wished to continue roti aur beti ka vihar with Hindus. The Akali leaders stressed that the scheme covered both the Hindus and the Sikhs of Punjab. Criticised vehemently by opponents, the scheme died a premature death. The tribal expert K.S. Singh in Tribes, Partition and Independence narrates that "the freedom wave ultimately intruded among tribal communities too. There was a whole range of responses, a diversity of perceptions, a mix of romantic dreams of independence and autonomy and a sobering understanding of the harsher ground realities".

Dwijendra Tripathi’s paper on Partition and Indian Business talks about non-Muslim business elements, "Functioning at the Periphery of the national movement, they had very little power to mould the events to suit their preferences or interests. Thus the suggestion that Birla’s proximity to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel might have been a factor in the Congress High Command veering round to the Partition proposition appears to be rather far fetched. It is also unjust to the Sardar. He was too shrewed to be trapped by any machination and too independent to succumb to either pressure or persuasion".

Shri Prakash an economist, has contributed his Economic Irrationality of the Partition of India. "Economic irrationality of the political diversion would have been contained if both the newly independent countries had decided to cooperate economically with each other". Parthasarthi Gupta’s Paradoxes of Partition, sums, "Though all these schemes are visionary and ill-defined, it would, I think be a mistake to assume that the Pakistan idea is dead in the sense that we shall hear no more about it. I feel that it will continue to figure prominently in the columns of the more irresponsible Muslim newspapers and to be ventilated on the platform, but as a possible solution of our present difficulties. I do not think it merits serious consideration".

One past Two Histories by Lal Bahadur Varma reminds us of the two divergent approaches to Partition and of its impact on the writings of history books in India as well as Pakistan in India there is a hue and cry on this issue but on the other side of the Radcliffe Line there is mostly silence. Finally Biswa Mohan Pandey in his article, The Imperialist Distortion of the Partition of India: A Historiographical Critique of the Writings of Percival Spear and H.V. Hodson inferes that, "the issues related to the Partition of the Indian subcontinent have been distorted and manipulated to suit the interests of the colonial rulers." But shall our politicians, and those among them who completely lack a sense of history and do not even know the correct definition of "history" ever permit historians to set the records straight.

All said and done, the book has been put together very meticulously. The contributors have fallen back upon reference after reference so that none of them could be accused of subjectivity.