Painful division
Reviewed by Ashok Kumar Yadav

The Partition of India
By Ian Talbot and Gurharpal Singh. Cambridge University Press. Pages 206. Rs 695.

The Partition of IndiaTHIS book tends to peep into the annals of history and politics of the Asian sub-continent. As the title of the book suggests, it deals with the pulsating events leading to the segregation of two great communities and the resultant bifurcation of Bharat known the world over for its cultural affluence and rich heritage. It tends to drive that Partition was the most traumatic event of the century, while Independence was the most significant turning point in Indian history.

India remained under foreign subjugation for centuries. It was a British colony when it was split into two parts. The British plundered India at will and fractured it geographically and emotionally before the imperial retreat. Authored by two eminent scholars, the book gives a graphic description of historical backdrop, studded with major events from the beginning of the 20th century, leading to Independence and Partition.

The book is divided into six chapters, supported by maps and photographs. The first chapter Understanding the Partition Historiography sheds light on the conditions and circumstances prevailing immediately preceding Partition. It exposes the imperial mindset of the British, whose only priority was to safeguard its economic and strategic interests in the transition to Independence, while negotiating a settlement with Congress and Muslim League leaders.

It also refers to the concept of "high politics" of Partition, which pertains to the constitutional negotiations between British and Indian leaders during the 1940s. It holds that the road to 1947 was laid in 1909 itself, when the colonial state succumbed to the Muslim League’s lobbying for separate electorates based on religious lines to the newly introduced representative institutions.

The Road to 1947, the second chapter, describes how the subcontinent was partitioned and both the provinces of Punjab and Bengal were sliced, with lion’s share going to Pakistan. The rightsizing of these provinces could well be in tandem with the tacit understanding of the community leaders on both sides to suit their political interest. The chapter concludes that the division of the territory in 1947 was accompanied by colossal dislocation. While some of the dislocation in the shape of migration was voluntary, for most people it was a response to the widespread violence and massacre.

In Violence and the Partition the authors argue that Partition-related violence was different from traditional communal riots. It was certainly more extensive and brutal in nature. The creation of Pakistan and its consequential violence came to rule the streets. It vitiated political environs in the country. It triggered massacre, followed by more distrust. The exact number of those killed in the Partition-related violence will ever remain a mystery. The transition from "traditional" to "communal" violence ignited with the Great Calcutta Killing and continued with Noakhali, from where it fanned to Tippera district. Subsequently, it engulfed Bihar, Garhmukhteshwar, Punjab and East and West Bengal and so on.

Migration and Resettlement shows that the Partition-triggered migration was not at all anticipated by political leaders of both the communities. The rehabilitation of lakhs of refugees was indeed a challenge for the administration. It has been christened as "millions on the move"by the authors. Never was such a mass exodus witnessed earlier. The chapter also explains the incidence of mass migration within the borders of West Bengal itself, to a safer pocket, never witnessed before.

Partition Legacies: Ethnic and Religious Nationalism throws light as to how Partition bequeathed troublesome legacies for both the nascent nations. The traumatic Partition created unforeseen ethnic landscape in the hinterlands of India and Pakistan. It continues to haunt us even today in the form of international rivalry between both the countries.

The last chapter gives details of areas of outstanding disputes between both the nations. Jammu and Kashmir tops the list and is the most sensitive and emotional issue. Though Jinnah and Nehru had hoped that both the dominions would overcome the initial hostility of separation and massive migration, lasting peace still eludes the subcontinent.

The book succeeds in highlighting the real trauma Partition was all about. Partition, whether of individuals or communities, is always fearsome and scary. The authors have worked really hard to depict not only the events leading to Partition, but also the eventful nightmares of gruesome Partition.