Gandhi and the Partition
of India: A Perspective
A nation has evolved or developed in absolute terms, if its history has moved forward, essentially when hagiography is shunned and objectivity surfaces in historical analysis of prominent leaders. In India, this gradual process of getting more mature over the years evinces in the attitudinal changes among contemporary historians as well as the media. So readers are far more receptive to revelations of various hues, as historians continue accessing more records even abroad and are unsparing in academic interpretations as a result of their research.
In this ongoing process, here is a book by Kamran Shahid, a young, erudite scholar from across the border, in his quest for the truth behind the independence-struggle saga culminating in a partition juxtaposed by mammoth sectarian violence. His focus is on the pivotal failure of Gandhi, when as the charismatic leader of millions, he failed in furnishing the Muslim minority with guarantees and reassurances it was looking for.
As our borders finally open up a little, accompanied by a global shrinkage, varied perspectives on our icons will trickle in as the outcome of researches in their universities. Such studies could promote a reappraisal on newer facets of the icons of both countries. Dispassionate analysis should not be viewed as the deconstruction of a legacy, but a retrospective reassessment.
A thorough analysis of a leader (with his warts et al) makes him far more acceptable to the subaltern level than a demi-God. So far, owing to the mutual belligerence of India and Pakistan, western scholars (like Patrick French, Larry Collins and Stanley Wolpert) have stolen a march upon us on this score by candidly scrutinising our national leaders, while we on both sides were gripped with jingoism and hagiographic eulogies reflected in our publications.
Kamran’s contention is that: "Had Gandhi sincerely exercised his absolute moral and political authority, which he held on millions of Indians, the Congress and the Hindus, India might not have tasted the realities of Partition." This is contrary, to our perception of history that Gandhi was absolutely averse to the partitioning of the country at Independence, so we should lift our historiographic blinkers and read through a candid, at times contentious and provocative, account of India’s supreme leader and a truly global personality.
Kamran has conducted research on a topic on which he would have scarce sources in his own country, thanks to the intellectual iron curtain that prevails, so he has done some work at London to present his analysis and substantiate it with proof, often from the repertoire of our own leaders like Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar.
He feels that Hindu-Muslim relations nosedived right from the Lucknow Pact of 1916. It was idyllic as "the non-caste section of the Congress tried to solve the conflict of interests between the two warring communities of India`85 it brought them on a united platform strong enough to force the government to transfer power to Indians`85 the Congress accepted the separate identity of the Muslims."
The Khilafat Movement was another forum when Hindu-Muslim unity peaked, though the author gears it around his theory of a Gandhian manoeuvre to lure the Muslims into the Hindu dominated Congress. "His formula was to blend or join the various strong opposing classes or groups—the caste Hindus, the Muslims and the untouchables—over a dignified twin programme."
What brought an end to this honeymoon? As per Kamran, it was the emergence of Gandhi as a key factor on the Indian political scene—particularly, his Hindu obsessions. He quotes even R. C. Majumdar, a renowned Indian historian, as saying that he imbued "Utopian ideals which had no basis in reality".
Kamran elucidates Pakistan’s point of view, which is essential for our comprehending why a harmonious relationship went into disarray. Even some words have subtle connotations and far reaching implications in the emotional drift that culminated in the pernicious vivisection of 1947. By merely referring to the freedom goal as "Ram Rajya", it became a struggle confined to the Hindus, a Utopia where the cow was to be worshipped. Gandhi’s liberal zeal was overshadowed by his religiously oriented political manoeuvres and the frequent use of Hindu phrases in political discourse.
A Western educated person like Gandhi, who called himself "reformer through and through" contradicted his modernism with his permanent insistence upon the values of orthodox Hinduism. "Gandhi, who was to be the leader of both the Hindus and the Muslims, became communal, when in an unambiguous language he exposed himself as a "sanatanist" (orthodox) Hindu, and hence created misunderstandings and suspicions among the Muslims ranks.
"His repeated insistence on the greatness of class or caste-divided society, his high regard for ‘idol worship’ and ‘cow protection’ and blind faith in the Hindu laws of Vedas, Upanishads, reincarnation, Hindu scriptures painted him as an orthodox Hindu. Even the political weapons he employed and the political language he adopted in his battle against the British and other opponents were characteristically Hindu.
"The Hindus found sheer satisfaction in Gandhi’s regenerated Hindu symbols and his open loyalty to the Vedic laws. The majority of the Hindu Congressmen, too, came under Gandhi’s spell because they rightly or wrongly believed that ‘he’ could alone revive the Hindu civilization, its values and traditions."
In the light of this, it is ironical that Gandhi was assassinated by an orthodox Hindu. This seems paradoxical to his protagonists, such as Mr. B. R. Nanda and Professor Bhikhu Parekh, who contend that Ram Rajya was "an ideal polity", free from inequality, injustice and exploitation.
Gandhi was a staunch protagonist of the caste system. Kamran quotes Gandhi as saying: "I believe that caste has saved Hinduism from disintegration. I consider the four divisions alone to be fundamental, natural and essential." Many historians in India as well uphold his argument about the elections of 1937 being a point of no return between the Congress and the Muslim League.
However, they agree with Kamran not as drastically. "That was the fear of a towering Hindu tide which threatened their political existence and which would in the long run ‘submerge’ their faith and culture into the main stream set of inherently Indian traditions, that compelled the Muslims to finally part their ways".