Sunday, February 8, 2004

The triumph and tragedy of Partition
Jaswant Singh

Understanding Partition
by Yuvraj Krishan. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai.
Pages 520. Rs 300.

Understanding PartitionINDIA'S Partition was one of the important events of the 20th century. The bloodshed that followed has moved several fiction writers to depict the horrors of those traumatic days. Historians and researchers have tried to unveil unknown facts and motives behind the moves and counter-moves. Much has been written on both sides of the divide about the event, in the perspective of the two sides. Here is another attempt by an Indian scholar, who has lived through those terrible days, to bring out factors that led to the creation of two states that have since lived in a state of constant hostility. He narrates what he calls the triumph and tragedy of Partition—triumph of Jinnah and his two-nation theory and tragedy of a large number of Muslims who stayed back in India.

The book begins with a conversation the author, as an IAS probationer, had with Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru at a reception hosted by the probationers. He raised the question of a large number of Muslim League leaders not migrating to Pakistan after working actively for its creation. The question made the Prime Minister angry but the author adds in a postscript that had these League leaders publicly denounced the two-nation theory, it would have softened the hostile Hindu-Muslim relations. Then he goes on to analyse factors that provoked migration of millions from either side and the bloodbath that accompanied this migration.

He skips the freedom movement and the withdrawal of the British and puts the focus on the dismemberment of the country. Without going deep into factors that alienated the Muslims from the Hindus, he seeks to explore the immediate causes of Partition and the roots of the two-nation theory. He assesses the role of the principal actors in the drama of Partition—the British rulers, the Congress and the Muslim League, and describes how the British helped Jinnah to demolish the non-communal nationalist Muslim leadership of the Muslim majority provinces of the Punjab, the North-West Frontier Province, Sind and Bengal by accepting the Muslim League as the sole representative of the Muslims of India.

A chapter is devoted to the tragedy of the Punjab which paid the price of Partition in blood. Sikandar Hayat Khan, a leader of the composite Unionist Party who was then the Prime Minister of Punjab province, had realised that Pakistan would mean bloodsheds, and Jinnah knew that it was important for the success of his movement to have a strong base in the Punjab. Punjabi Muslims’ support was gained by propagating that Islam and the Muslims were in danger from the Hindus and that this danger could be averted only by establishing an Islamic state. The Unionist Party, already weakened by the untimely death of Sikhandar Hayat, disintegrated in the face of this assault.

The book recalls the bloody happenings of Calcutta, Noakhali, Bihar, NWFP, Rawalpindi, and Multan, and how these happening brought home to the Congress leadership the futility of resisting the demand for Pakistan. It then started demanding division of the Punjab which led to the cry for a division of Bengal. The book narrates in detail events in the Punjab that left the Hindus and Sikhs in West Punjab and Muslims in East Punjab with no choice except to migrate. It also throws a glance at the role of Nehru, Patel and Jinnah in Partition and dispels several notions popularly woven around these leaders. It also clears the myth of atrocities committed against the Muslims in Congress-ruled states during 1937-39, and also recalls Jinnah’s parting message to the Muslims of India to be loyal citizens of this country.

As for Kashmir, which has been described by various Pakistani leaders as the unfinished agenda of Partition, the book discusses the legality of the state’s accession to India in the context of the transfer of power, and the propriety of the accession in the context of the two-nation theory. It maintains that accession of the princely states to one of the dominions did not form part of the agenda of Partition, and quotes Jinnah’s statement towards the end of 1946 that the demand for a division of India was confined to British India and the states could later join either India or Pakistan.

The book tries to analyse different aspects of Partition such as the role of the British in the creation of Pakistan, whether Partition was inevitable or unavoidable, whether Jinnah had renounced the two-nation theory towards the end, and why Partition has failed to solve Hindu-Muslim problems.