The great divide
Reviewed by Sumit Alhawat

India Divided
By Rajendra Prasad.
Penguin Books.
Pages 565.
` 499.

INDIA Divided is a very important historical document, prepared by Dr Rajendra Prasad who later on became India’s first President. In a nutshell, the book covers his approach and his fundamental opposition to the proposal for Partition. The question of the partition of India into Muslim and Hindu zones assumed importance after the All-India Muslim League passed a resolution in its favour in March 1940 at Lahore. After that various national leaders came up with their own theories and theses on the solution of communal problem.

India Divided sums up Rajendra Prasad’s approach to this problem. Most of the book was written in prison, and it was first published in 1946, just a year before India was partitioned. So, what purpose can this book serve now, 60 years after its publication? First of all, this book has a historical value. It introduces the reader to all the debates centring on the issue of Partition. It informs us of the various standpoints taken by various leaders, their perspectives, their line of argument and reasoning, and the faults that the author finds with their reasoning.

The question of Partition was a complex one. While some supported an outright partition into two distinct sovereign states, others favoured creation of two separate autonomous cultural zones—one with Hindu majority, other with Muslim majority. On the other hand, some envisioned a strong unitary centre, others favoured a confederacy with a weak centre. What was at stake was not just the issue of Partition, but how these various leaders were conceptualising the future ‘nation-state’.

Within the Muslim League, there was a serious debate on the nature of future Pakistani state. While leaders like Jinnah favoured a secular Muslim majority state where the social, cultural and political interests of Muslims can be safeguarded, for others Pakistan meant a sovereign Islamic state where the Holy Quran would serve as Constitution. Such orthodox approaches found reflection in Hindu right-wing elements like the RSS who wanted to supplement an Islamic state with a Hindu state, where Muslims would be considered as second-class citizens.

Dr Ambedkar juxtaposed the majority-minority conundrum with the issue of Dalits and drafted a new scheme in which executive would be formed not exclusively of the majority party but would give proportional representation to all communities, including the Dalits, Christians, Sikhs and Anglo-Indians. Also, the minority members of the Cabinet would be elected not by the whole legislature but only by the members of their respective communities, while the Cabinet members belonging to majority community would be elected by the whole House.

His novel approach while addressed the concerns of Dalits, but it completely ignored the issue of scheduled tribes. Also, it established an essentially fractured Cabinet. All these approaches are criticised by the author who himself (along with a wide majority of other Congress leaders) supported creation of a secular state, with cultural autonomy for different groups that make up the nation. Although the essential details of this proposal, as to how the cultural autonomy of various groups would be safeguarded and at what stage or on what basis any group could claim right of cultural autonomy, are not spell out in detail.

Rajendra Prasad points out in great detail the essential ambiguity of the Lahore resolution, however, his own proposal is not without ambiguities. In the second section of the book, he traces the origin of Hindu-Muslim conflict. Here he opens with the divide and rule policy of the East India Company and proceeds with the Wahabi movement, to Aligarh movement, the politics of separate electorates, Khilafat movement and the founding and politics of the Muslim League. What strikes a modern dispassionate reader is that in over 100-page review of Hindu-Muslim communal problem, he fails even to mention the Hindu right-wing politics. So, the whole blame of communal problem is laden onto the Imperial Government and Muslim League. Although a valuable and original research, author hardly comes out of the rhetoric of Congress, in whose vocabulary all Congressmen were nationalists, while all League members or those who opposed Congress were communalists.

The last section makes a critical study of the financial and agricultural resources of Muslim majority states and tries to show how the suggested scheme of Partition was impracticable. On the whole, the book covers a wide range of themes, debates, perspectives and counter-perspectives of important historical personalities. It deals with the origin and development of Hindu-Muslim problem, the issue of nation and nationality, the various schemes of Partition and proposes a new solution to the Hindu-Muslim question. It’s an important historical document and would interest both history students as well as general readers.