On the Liaquat pact, citizenship

On the Liaquat  pact, citizenship

Jawaharlal Nehru

Krishna Menon played a very important role in drafting of the Preamble. When everybody now recites the Preamble so passionately, they are reinforcing Nehru’s vision that we are all citizens of this country and not members of any community. There is no other way of defining citizenship except that you are a resident, and that’s called civic citizenship 

Aditi Tandon: Is the current Citizenship (Amendment) Act and National Register of Citizens plank an attempt to redo the Partition in some way? The government is repeatedly referring to the Nehru-Liaquat Pact to justify the CAA.

Read also: Revisiting Nehru and Menon

Madhavan Palat: The only point is that India made a choice or Nehru and all of them made a choice at that time and that was overwhelmingly endorsed that India would consist of citizens who have made their choice to live in this country, pure and simple. And it is not prioritised in favour of any community in any sense of the term.

Krishna Menon

Although communities are recognised and those that are disadvantaged would get their benefits in various ways or otherwise will be protected, but always because they are citizens and it is the historical disadvantages which will be addressed. They will not be protected as communities specifically.

What is now being attempted is to not to undo the Partition but to reconstruct that vision in favour of a majority community citizenship where everybody is expected to fuse into the majority in some way and trying to present the majority as universal. Nehru was genuinely universal on the basis of individuals, whoever they were. The alternative was a majority masquerading as universal and inviting others to be part of the majority. Hence, all minorities will be part of the Hindu majority or Hindu civilisation and so on. So it is not undoing the Partition or redoing it. It is in a sense reinforcing Partition, but pretending to claim universality on the basis of majoritarianism.


Aditi Tandon: And what about the government’s justification that the CAA is necessary because Pakistan did not fulfill their part of the Nehru-Liaquat Pact?

Jairam Ramesh: Shyama Prasad Mookerjee resigns not on Article 370. He resigns over the Nehru-Liaquat Pact in April of 1950. Sardar Patel defends the Pact in sterling language. Initially Patel had some reservations.

It’s interesting that Krishna Menon book draws extensively on The Selected Works of Nehru as he is a very pivotal figure in Nehru’s life from 1935 to 1962 


In my last biography of PN Haksar, he is the man of the Left. He is Menon’s acolyte and Haksar writes a note to Indira Gandhi that I am a Nehruvian, but I don’t agree with the Nehru-Liaquat Pact. The argument being given today is that under the Pact the Pakistanis have to protect the minorities. They are not protecting the minorities. We are protecting our minorities.

What did Haksar say? He tells Indira Gandhi that by signing the Pact, what has happened is that India is taking on the responsibility for the Hindus of Pakistan and willy-nilly the responsibility for the Muslims will go to Pakistan. Haksar says this is wrong. The responsibility for protecting the Hindus of Pakistan is fundamentally with the Government of Pakistan and the responsibility for protecting the Muslims in India is the responsibility of the Government of India. That argument is very, very powerful.


Aditi Tandon: As a historian, would you say, looking back, that Jawaharlal Nehru erred in signing the Nehru-Liaquat Pact?

Madhavan Palat: No. That was the right thing to do at that time because it would fix the responsibilities in the right places.

Jairam Ramesh: By the way, people don’t realise. You can only see it after reading ‘The Selected Works’ that we almost went to war. Nehru was thinking of resigning as PM. He tells Sardar Patel I want to resign. I want to do what Gandhiji did in Noakhali. I want to be a one-man peace force in East Pakistan. We almost went to war. And Krishna Menon is offering to speak to the British PM to send a mediator and Nehru writes a very curt letter saying none of that. Patel was being very aggressive about the matter but Nehru says no; we have to create an area of peace in which we can negotiate.


Aditi Tandon: So the Nehru-Liaquat Pact averted the war?

Jairam Ramesh: Yes. We almost went to war in February-March of 1950 and I think the Nehru-Liaquat Pact prevented that war and Patel realised it and Patel grew in stature by the manner in which he really argued for the Pact in April of 1950.


Aditi Tandon: What would you say of Home Minister Amit Shah’s repeated references to the Pact to justify the CAA?

A Chequered Brilliance reinforced my conviction that Krishna Menon was a person of immense brilliance, great conviction, capacities, commitment but who was his own worst enemy.

—Madhavan Palat

Madhavan Palat: I don’t think he has any justification for making these comments at all. I am not sure he has fully understood what the issues are or he is misrepresenting it in this way.


Aditi Tandon: What about BR Ambedkar arguing at the time for complete shifting of minority populations as a solution?

Jairam Ramesh: Well, he had the Turkey and the Greece examples. Turkey and Greece were two-digit populations. Here we are talking of three-digit populations. It is completely unrealistic.

Madhavan Palat: Unrealistic, but it happened in Europe in a big way. You remember how many millions of Germans were just transferred out of East Europe? But I don’t know what got into Ambedkar to think of such a thing.


Jairam Ramesh: Our population was 300 million. So we are talking of 50 to 60 million.

Madhavan Palat: How could you transfer 50 to 60 million? It was not realistic unless he was only thinking only of the border areas… of the transfers there which actually happened in a way through Partition. You can’t transfer the Muslims of UP and Bihar and Gujarat.

Jairam Ramesh: By the way, the man who proposed, canvassed, advocated, lobbied for the partition of Bengal was Shyama Prasad Mookerjee and the person who opposed Partition was Sarat Chandra Bose. There were clearly two views there. Ultimately, the partition of Bengal took place because people like Mookerjee put their political and intellectual weight behind it.

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