The Sub-continent 70 years after Partition

Dhaka,  Sun,  24 September 2017
Published : 19 Aug 2017, 19:50:17
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The Sub-continent 70 years after Partition

M. Serajul Islam
Gopal Kirshna Gokhale had stated that "Jinnah had true stuff in him and that freedom from all sectarian prejudice which will make him the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim prejudice." Sarojini Naidu thought the same about him and even Jawaharlal Nehru said in 1936 that Jinnah had been "largely responsible in the past for bringing the Moslem League nearer to the Congress." Yet thanks to Indian and British historians and Indian politicians in tandem, Mohammad Ali Jinnah was blamed for India's partition for spearheading the Muslim League's two-nation theory. Seventy years hence, history as it is emerging in India tells a different story. 

Mohammad Ali Jinnah had started his career in the Congress and was at one time a leading member of the Muslim League as well simultaneously seeking Hindu-Muslim unity until frustrated by the Congress, he left the country and went to London to practice law in the early 1920. He returned to India urged by the Muslim League in the early 1930s to seek rights for the Muslims through negotiations with the British that was perfectly legitimate because it was more than palpably evident then that the Muslims had become the victims of the infamous British policy of divide and rule. The British rulers through this policy had pulled the Hindus to position of strength while discarding the Muslims to fend for themselves in economic depravation.

It is true that when Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League realised that the British and the Congress were colluding against them and there was little possibility for them to negotiate and get a fair deal for the Muslims, both played the religion card arguing that the Muslims of India were a separate nation and therefore deserved a separate homeland. In fact, the Muslims adopted the Pakistan Resolution in the 1940 session of the Muslim League more as a negotiating ploy than as a demand for a separate homeland on which they were not willing to negotiate with either the Congress or the British.

In fact, when the British offered the Cabinet Mission Plan as late as in March 1946 to the Congress and the Muslim League separately where within the framework of a united India, the Muslim and the Hindu majority areas were to be separated into Groups A and C for the Muslims and B for the Hindus, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League jumped at it because they had no serious hope that the British would give them a separate homeland independent of Hindu India. The British allowed the Cabinet Mission to fail when the Congress turned it down being convinced that it could force the British to leave India in its hands because the British were in a great hurry to leave India because of the consequences of the Second World War that had just ended.

That, of course, did not happen. The Muslim League that felt betrayed by the British called the Direct Action Day and in its wake, there were widespread riots between the Hindus and the Muslims that left the British with no other alternative but to partition India into an independent India and a new state of Pakistan. The British's even greater betrayal was the way they drew the boundaries of the two new nations and gave to Pakistan what has been rightly described as a truncated one. Pakistan in its 25 years of existence was unable to agree on the boundary between East Pakistan and India. It took Bangladesh another four decades to undo the evil intents of the British and finally fix its boundaries with India with an international agreement.

Yet the British and the Indian historians have blamed Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League for breaking up India. In one of the strangest zero-sum interpretations of history, these historians and other western ones with interest in South Asia blamed the Muslim League's two-nation theory for India's partition. There have been some books and research publications in recent years that have put the Congress and its role under the scanner and apportioned a great amount of blame upon it. Even revered leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were blamed in these books and research publications for their roles in the period leading to India's partition. In a book published in 2009 "Jinnah, India, Partition, Independence" former Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh portrayed  Jinnah in a light that did him a great deal of credit for his political leadership in the tumultuous decades of the 1930s and the 1940s. 

Jaswant Singh, who is in a coma since 2014, felt the wrath of what is now raging India like wildfire for publication of his book, titled, Hindu Fundamentalism. LK Advani also earned the wrath of his party for attesting to Jaswant Singh's conclusion that Mohammad Ali Jinnah was secular unlike what Indian and British historians had portrayed him and it was the Congress and the British that owed a greater degree of responsibility for breaking India. In fact, Hindu fundamentalism in India today under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government is underlining the role of the Hindus in breaking India and the mistake of Indian and British historians in blaming the Muslim League; Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the two-nation theory for India's partition.

Hindutva, the BJP's political philosophy, unashamedly demands from Indian citizens mandatorily things that only Hindus can deliver. Hindutva unequivocally underlines that India's destiny must be guided by Hinduism and Hinduism alone. For instance, the Muslims, the Dalits and the tribal peoples must revere the cow as the Hindus do and even the thought of slaughtering cows for the purpose of consuming its meat would not be tolerated. Stricter punishments for cow slaughtering that was banned in most Indian states except West Bengal and Kerala before the present BJP came to power have now been introduced. In various parts of once secular India, Muslims have been lynched and killed on suspicion that they were consuming beef. 

The BJP-led government has outsourced Hindutva to its discriminational grassroots front organisations like the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha who are pursuing the responsibility thrust upon them with so much zeal. The front line Hindu communalism organisations want India to be a country where the Hindus alone would have the right to live.

Thus the BJP had no qualms to humiliate and insult the outgoing Vice President Hamid Ansari because before leaving office, he spoke on the growing intolerance in India where the Muslims, the Dalits and the tribal peoples have become the direct targets and the victims of the Hindu fundamentalists. His successor throwing decency to the winds and with it, India's secularism and its history and traditions, called Hamid Ansari's cautious words against rising Hindu fundamentalism, "political propaganda". Narendra Modi ridiculed the outgoing Vice President on national TV as a "fake" person that he had become from his years in service as a career diplomat. The BJP senior leaders joined their top leaders in a chorus to insult Hamid Ansari because they could not accept that a Muslim could have the audacity to criticise Hindutva, the dominant ideology and the current government of India.

The episode of the BJP and Hamid Ansari flagged for all those Indian historians, politicians and the British as well who have had put the blame upon Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League for India's partition to realise where the problem for India's partition lay. The Muslims before Partition wanted economic guarantees for the predicament to which they had been pushed by the British policy of divide and rule; the Hindus wanted political dominance over a united India not just to deny the Muslims their economic future but also with it the chance to pay back to them for ruling over them for a thousand years. 

One powerful section of the BJP is now found to be asserting that only those who accept Hindutva could stay in India. In other words, some of its prominent figures are trying to give the message that non-Hindus have no right to live in India, not caring the logical consequences of such a communalist utterance not to speak of its political fall-out. Powerful quarters within BJP are saying what even Mohammad Ali Jinnah or the Muslim League never thought -- that India should be divided on basis of religion where a part would live only by submitting its politics, society, religion, government and governance 100 per cent to religion because that is what Hindutva is. 

The writer is a retired Ambassador. 

serajul7@gmail.com

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