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British role in the partition of India

Letter to Francois by Vinod Kumar

Dear Francois,

This is further to my letter of a few days ago regarding your article "The lessons of Agra" in Rediff.

Let me state again, I am a great fan of your writing and was deeply disappointed when Indian Express did not publish your column.

In your above article in Rediff, towards the end you wrote "" What neither Pakistan nor India realize is that Kashmir, like Ayodhya, Kargil, or the three Indo- Pak wars, is only the consequence of the madness of Partition, which was willed and forced upon the sub-continent by the British."

I think the characterization that the partition "was willed and forced upon the sub-continent by the British" is not historically correct.

The cause of partition was very clearly spelled out Mr. M. A. Jinnah in his Presidential address to Muslim League convention at Lahore in March 1940 -- seven years before it actually happened. In his address he said:

""It is extremely difficult to appreciate why our Hindu friends fail
to understand the real nature of Islam and Hinduism. They are not
religions in the strict sense of the word, but are, in fact, different and
distinct social orders. It is a dream that the Hindus and Muslims can
ever evolve a common nationality, and this misconception of one
Indian nation has gone far beyond the limits, and is the cause of most
of our troubles, and will lead India to destruction, if we fail to revise
our notions in time. The Hindus and the Muslims belong to two
different religious philosophies, social customs, and literature. They
neither intermarry, nor interdine together, and indeed they belong to
two different civilizations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas
and conceptions. Their aspects on life and of life are different. It is
quite clear that Hindus and Musalmans derive their inspiration from
different sources of history. They have different epics, their heroes
are different, and they have different episodes. Very often the hero of
one is a foe of the other, and likewise, their victories and defeats
overlap. To yoke together two such nations under a single State, one
as a numerical minority and the other as a majority, must lead to
growing discontent and the final destruction of any fabric that may be
so built up for the government of such a State."(pp. 56)

And let us remember that Jinnah was not a fanatic or a fundamentalist Muslim. He was once called the "best hope for Hindu Muslim unity".

The cause for partition was even more accurately diagnosed by Lala Lajpat Rai in a letter to Congress Leader C. R. Das from Bengal. He wrote:

"There is one point more which has been troubling me very much of late and one which I want you to think about carefully, and that is the question of Hindu-Muslim unity. I have devoted most of my time during the last six months to the study of Muslim history and Muslim law, and I am inclined to think it is neither possible nor practicable. Assuming and admitting the sincerity of Mohameddan leaders in the non-cooperation movement, I think their religion provides an effective bar to anything of the kind."

He went on to write:

"You remember the conversation I reported to you in Calcutta which I had with Hakim Ajmal Khan and Dr. Kitchlew. There is no finer Mohameddan in Hindustan than Hakim Ajmal Khan, but can any Muslim leader override the Quran?" (pp. 53)

Lala Lajpat Rai had also come the same conclusion as Mr. Jinnah. The reasons lay not only in the Hindu Muslim encounters and history but also in the basics of the two faiths.

As far as the role of the British is concerned, Jinnah was quite clear about this also. In the same address he went on to say:

"History has presented to us many examples, such as the Union of
Great Britain and Ireland, of Czechoslovakia and Poland. History has
also shown to us many geographical tracts, much smaller than the
Subcontinent of India, which otherwise might have been called one
country, but which have been divided into as many states as there are
nations inhabiting them. The Balkan Peninsula comprises as many as
seven or eight sovereign States. Likewise, the Portuguese and the
Spanish stand divided in the Iberian Peninsula. Whereas under the
plea of the unity of India and one nation, which does not exist, it is
sought to pursue here the line of one Central Government, when we
know that the history of the last 12 hundred years has failed to achieve
unity and has witnessed, during the ages, India always divided into
Hindu India and Muslim India. The present artificial unity of India
dates back only to the British conquest and is maintained by the British
bayonet; but the termination of the British regime, which is implicit
in the recent declaration of His Majesty's Government, will be the
herald of an entire break up, with worse disaster than has ever taken
place during the last one thousand years under the Muslims. Surely
that is not the legacy which Britain would bequeath to India after 150
years of her rule, nor would the Hindu and Muslim India risk such a
sure catastrophe." (56-57)

There has never been any Hindu Muslim unity on the sub-continent -- only Muslim domination before the British took over -- and such a thing, if that existed, was only artificial and imposed by the British bayonet. The British rule if anything was instrumental in maintaining some semblance of Hindu Muslim unity. And Jinnah had no doubt were the British to leave, India will fall apart. The decision for partition was not taken by the British but rather by the Hindus after witnessing the great Calcutta massacre on the Direct Action Day in response to a call given by Mr. Jinnah. The wholesale massacre of the Hindus and Sikhs in Kahuta on the eve of Mountbatten visit there soon after his arrival in India probably also played some role in the final decision. If there were no further break-up of the country subsequently it was probably only because partition had been granted. Actually in Bengal, the Hindus from non-Muslim majority areas voted for partition 58 - 21. On this vote Jyoti Basu and Ratanlal Brahmin joined other Hindus and voted for partition. While in the meeting of members from Muslim majority areas, presided over by Nurul Amin, the delegated voted against partition by 106 - 35. (pp. 317)

No, doubt the partition of India was a complicated and emotional issue and cannot be discussed with justice in a few pages but somethings stand out quite clearly. The blame for partition cannot be laid at the door of the British even though it may be the prevalent mantra. Mountbatten's frame of mind might be judged from what he said in a press conference on the question of united independent Bengal: "I did not want the Balkanization of India. If I let them vote for independent Bengal, then others would also want independence." (pp 316)

Had the British wanted Balkanization of India -- it was really not a difficult option for them.

Islamic Pakistan and secular India was a much better option than an India Balkanized along ethnic and religious lines into multitudes of independent nations and principalities.

These are some of my thoughts. I would very much like to hear from you.

Best regards,


Vinod Kumar

P.S. The above quotes have been taken from "India's Partition -- Process, Strategy and Mobilization" Edited by Mushirul Hasan, Oxford India Paperbacks, New Delhi, 1998


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