- Feb 23, 2009
Looking back at India’s Partition
Hard landing for Pakistan
From its very inception, Pakistan fancied itself as an equal to India. An illusion that India did little to change. And many in India implicitly believed in, till about two decades ago. While the Indian ship has changed course, the Pakistani behaviour remains rooted in the past – back to its very formation. Back to events, immediately after the formation of India and Pakistan.
When India was divided, it might have been logical for the new Muslim state in the Indus valley to take the name ‘India’ (or even ‘Industan’, as the valley was called by an eighteenth-century English sailor). But Muhammad Ali Jinnah rejected the colonial appellation and chose the pious neologism Pakistan, ‘Land of the Pure’, instead. He assumed that his coevals in Delhi would do the same, calling their country by the ancient Sanskrit title, ‘Bharat’. When they did not, Jinnah was reported to be furious. He felt that by continuing to use the British name, India had appropriated the past; Pakistan, by contrast, looked as if it had been sliced off and ‘thrown out’.
Sixty years after Jinnah, the Pakistani response remains the same. Obama administration’s recent Af-Pak Strategy has left Pakistan shell shocked. The de-hyphenation of India and Pakistan in the Af-Pak strategy has dealt a body blow to their illusions. Pervez Musharraf in this interview reveals,
I don’t agree with this Af-Pak solution at all because we are being bracketed with Afghanistan. Afghanistan hardly has any governance, it is out of control. And also, there is extremism within India among the Muslim youth and it is developing linkages with others — the Kashmir issue too. Therefore, if we want to finally deal with terrorism and extremism and solve it in its short-term and long-term perspective, we have to look at events in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. I am totally against this Af-Pak strategy. (via ‘Kashmir solution can reduce extremism in Pak society’).
Obviously, this change is something that has dawned on Pakistan as a ‘hard print’ rather than a ‘soft copy’. Fancying themselves as an equal till a few decades ago, Pakistan had to endure a hard landing. And this hard landing is Musharraf’s real problem.
India’s growing up
In India, the India-Pakistan calculus changed. A few decades earlier, India-Pakistan sporting encounters were most awaited by sports enthusiasts in India and Pakistan. India-Pakistan cricket now comes lower down in India at least – and the position has been taken up India-Australia cricket series. Now Pakistan is asking David Morgan, from the ICC to ‘intervene’ and“to convince the BCCI to play a series in England” against Pakistan.
In the 60s-80s, Indian business publications, Indian bureaucracy indexed themselves with Pakistan. Sensex, the Indian stock index was then compared with the Karachi index. But the comparison is now with global markets and the US.
Then and now
The Indian economy is now compared with the Chinese economy, ASEAN, EU and the US economies. The Indian film industry, compares itself with Hollywood – unfortunately, in terms of becoming a Hollywood clone.
In this new global matrix, India must now work to jettison some colonial detritus, its diplomacy must get over its Pakistan Fixation – and manage the Chinese relationship.
Understanding India of today
There are three aspects of this ‘development’ that has not fully dawned on Indians, which needs greater introspection in India. One is the ‘Western clone’ status – which, for instance, is what some ‘leading lights’ of the Indian film industry want to be. The second is danger of becoming an ‘arrivista’ – the danger of hubris.
The third aspect is the continuing debate, pain and anger about India-Pakistan Partition. The Congress response has been the demonization of Pakistan. The BJP offers a dream of ‘akhand Bharat’. The (increasingly irrelevant) Marxist response is, of course, dictated by their admiration for the Chinese model.
A British born journalist, Sarfraz Manzoor, writing for The Guardian, from a significantly Western prespective feels
Sixty years on and today’s India is sexy, forward-looking and economically powerful; Pakistan, on the other hand, remains trapped by the contradictions which led to its creation and in the grip of the mullahs and the military. India has thousands of years of history its citizens can cite; Pakistan sits on an ancient land but as a nation it is younger than my mother.
In his novel Shame, Salman Rushdie described Pakistan as a “place insufficiently imagined”; when one considers its troubled history, perhaps it is not heretical to confess some sadness that it was ever imagined at all.
Whether Pervez Musharaff’s escapist unwillingness to acknowledge reality or Sarfraz Manzoor’s emotional view from a Western perspective, they both miss (like many Indians and Pakistanis) the realities of the post WW2 world and the India.
Within the realms of possibility
To understand the choices, outcomes, responses and alternatives, this post examines the three scenarios that could have resulted from the British retreat from India.
As Britain progressively impoverished India during 200 years of colonial rule, India became a drag on Britain. Between 1857-1947, more and more Indians rejected British rule, violently and peacefully. Soon after WW2, the colonial Indian Army, some 2 million strong, revolted against British rule. Colonial history calls it the Naval Ratings Mutiny – on February 18th 1946. Within 1 week, Britain decided to evacuate from India.
Post war Britain was tired of rationing, shortages – and subsidising a starving, bankrupted India.
The Colonial Office was reporting deficits. Gold transfers from India had reduced to a trickle. After WW2, Churchill promised that he will not “preside over the liquidation of Her Majesty’s empire …” Clement Atlee promised the British voter a quick exit from India. Clement Atlee won. Mountbatten was sent to India.
Broadly, India(ns) was given three choices.
1. A Federal India with regional autonomy
India could have accepted the British Cabinet Mission Plan(1946) of a ‘federal’ India – which was designed by the British, for rejection by the Congress. Nehru and Patel saw this as a British attempt at ‘Balkanizing’ India.
The Cabinet Mission Plan is now of academic interest since it was overtaken by Partition, but it is true that on June 25, 1946 Congress accepted it in the hope of establishing a “united democratic Indian Federation with a Central authority, which would command respect from the nations of the world, maximum provincial autonomy and equal rights for all men and women in the country”. And on July 10, Nehru, newly elected Congress President, rejected “Grouping”, one of the key (if still opaque) aspects of the Plan. Azad described this, politely, as one of those “unfortunate events which changed the course of history”. (from Jaswant’s Jinnah: Dividing India to save it By M J Akbar).
What was this ‘grouping’ which according to MJ Akbar was ‘a key aspect but opaque’ ?
the British and Jinnah’s insistence that Congress accept those provisions of the Cabinet Mission Plan which specified the compulsory grouping of provinces into separate sections and those which specified that the proposed Indian Union have not one but two or more separate Constitution making bodies for all subjects except only three Union subjects defence, foreign affairs and communications. (from India’s Constitutional Question – The Cabinet Mission Plan 1946).
A successful execution of this option (though difficult), meant that Sikkim, Tibet would have surely joined India – with options of Afghanistan, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka joining India in a loose federation and a common market.
This would have meant modern Federal India would have had a population of nearly 200 crores, nearly 35,000 tonnes of private gold, the 2nd largest economy of the world (PPP basis), a raw material and agricultural powerhouse. By 2050 the GDP (PPP basis) would be equal to the EU and the US put together. With such a large market, India would have also become an intellectual powerhouse, becoming the world’s largest education market and producer, with unmatched R&D spend.
With close cultural and eco0nomic ties with China, the combination of Ch-India would become the economic, intellectual capital of of the world.
The major issue could possibly be the management of a large Islamic population. 25% of this India would have been Muslims – numbering about 50 crores. This would have given India the world’s largest Muslim population.
The British calculus
How could Britain and the dominant Anglo Saxon Bloc allow this? If an India of this shape emerged, what would happen to the Bretton Woods architecture? Britain obviously did not wish to midwife a country of these dimensions – especially, since there were apparent desires from Tibet, Sikkim to join the Indian Union. With such countries joining in, India would have become a country with 200 crore people (2000 million).
This Greater Federal India could have been a possibility between 1940 and 1950, while the cement was not yet set. While Britain was at war. While the ferment was on. And the two people who could have made this happen, were alive.
SC Bose and the IIL had significant presence across most of SE Asia. After all, how could arrangements for Netaji’s escape from India and travel via Afghanistan, Russia to Germany happen! With the passing away of SC Bose, and the IIL, India’s international agenda had little chance of success.
That left us with only one man who could have made this happen – Gandhiji. The only way to stop this from happening, was the death of Gandhiji.
2. Partition of India – or the Two Nation Theory
The other option that the Colonial Raj ‘offered’ was TNT – Two Nation Theory. This was something that Britain had worked upon for long. In fact from 1822. Starting with the knighthood in 1888 and encouragement to ‘Sir’ Syed Ahmad Khan. More seriously from 1906. After subduing the native population with unprecedented levels of brutality during the 1857 War and subsequent revolts and rebellions.
Commandent of Moradabad, Lt. Col. Coke, wrote in 1822:
“Our endeavour should be to uphold in full force the (for us fortunate) separation which exists between the different religions and races, not to endeavor to amalgamate them. Divide et Impera should be the principle of Indian government.”
The Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909 paved the way for communalization of India. From 1910-1940, the British vigorously implemented the ‘divide and rule’ policy. Initially, in fact Jinnah,
“scoffed at Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan’s two-nation theory, and wrote an angry letter to The Times of India challenging the legitimacy of the famous Muslim delegation to Lord Minto on October 1, 1906, which built the separatist Muslim platform. He ignored the convention in Dhaka on December 30, 1906 where the Muslim League was born.”
Under this proposal, India and Pakistan would become two countries. The immediate chances of a large federation and a common market became that much more difficult. Which suited British interests fine.
India with a population of 35 crores and a ‘ship-to-mouth’ economy, (in KM Munshi’s words, then Union Minister for Agriculture and Food, on a trip to the US to obtain food-aid), seemed unlikely to succeed.
In this scenario, instead of 2050, India would possibly (if at all) attain a significant leadership position only by 2070. In Western minds, the continued existence of India itself was a question mark. The sneering and the patronizing view of the British establishment is best illustrated by the cartoons linked to this post.
What could have stopped India from becoming stable and successful nation? Communal bloodletting, war, famine, and death of its leaders. All this and much more, happened.
Communal bloodletting – At the time of 1947 partition, organized gangs started communal riots. Kolkatta (then Calcutta) was in flames. An unprepared India and a leaderless Pakistan were handed over governance.
Many theories apart, it showed another extension of the “scorched earth policy” and a callous disregard for 10 lakh brown lives that were lost to Hindu-Muslim-Sikh riots. The British Raj was a mute bystander. In contrast, areas ruled by the ‘decadent’ and ‘feudal’ Indian maharajahs, did not see such a magnitude of communal riots in their territories..
War – India and Pakistan have fought four wars neither could afford. Over boundaries and legacy issues.
The Mechanics of Partition
The very division of India was based on broadly three rules -
1. Hindu majority – India; Muslim majority – Pakistan
2. The wish of the local ruler – as quite a few local rulers were independent of the British Raj.
3. Wish of the people
In most of the Indian subcontinent these principles worked well – except in three places. Hyderabad and Junagadh, where a Muslim ruler, ruling over a Hindu majority wished to become part of Pakistan. And Kashmir, where a Hindu king with a Muslim majority, wished to remain independent.
In Hyderabad and Junagadh, the Indian Government resorted to ‘police action’ – where the respective kings were deposed and their kingdoms became a part of India.
In Kashmir, the king wanted to remain independent. Since, it had a Muslim majority, Pakistan wanted Kashmir to be a part of Pakistan. There was only one glitch. The popular leader of Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah refused to even meet up with Pakistani leaders. He wished for an autonomous Kashmir as a part of India. Pakistan, of course, disputes, if the Sheikh Abdullah represented the popular leadership of Kashmir.
So, while all these discussions were going on, the Pakistani Government and Army, which still had a significant British component, decided to invade Kashmir. The Indian Government and Army, headed by Earl Mountbatten, at the invitation of Nehru, messed up this situation.
Pakistan occupied half of Kashmir. India rushed to the UN – a mistake. UN asked both armies to freeze – which they did. And there they remain – frozen from 1948. All in all, the Kashmir issue is colonial detritus – which both India and Pakistan have not been able to jettison.
Famine – Indian agriculture system was in a comatose state. India had not yet recovered from the Great Bengal Famine when another crisis developed. Within a year of the Indian Republic, the food situation in India became alarming. KM Munshi was despatched to the US for obtaining food aid. In his famous interview with The New York Times, he described the Indian situation as ‘ship-to-mouth.’
Leadership – Gandhiji was assassinated in 1948. Sardar Patel was no more by the end of 1950. Ambedkar in 1956 and in 1958, Maulana Azad passed away. Thus apart from Nehru, the entire leadership of India was no more, 10 years after Mountbatten’s departure.
3. India becomes 8-12 countries
This was the worst of all options. Nizam State becomes a country. Kashmir becomes another country. India and Pakistan of course were already on the table. No other significant land bloc, of course, raised such a possibility at that time. But if Nizam of Hyderabad and the Maharaja of Kashmir, were to become successful, a Baroda-Gaikwad, or a Scindhia-Holkar or a Raja of Travancore raising such a demand could have materialized.
Permutations and combinations
Of the three outcomes, that were possible, outcome One and Three would have made India too small or too large. The important points are that: –
1. The West could NOT let the larger ‘Federal’ India come into being. What could have stopped either the British or the IML to up the ante, the moment the Congress agreed to anything. The larger India would have left us an India that would be unwieldy, i.e. open to ‘unrest’, ‘independence movements’, etc .
2. The Indian polity (principally the Congress + the other political parties) would NOT accept a lesser India – i.e. with an Nizam of Hyderabad or a Nawab of Junagadh wanting to be a part of Pakistan.
Looking at the contours of the situation, ground realities and realpolitik of the era, the Partition scenario seemed manageable. Having gone down that road, where are we today? What direction do we take?
The most unproductive exercize is to blame any of the individual players – including the IML and Jinnah. If for a minute, if we are to assume, that Jinnah was intractable to British overtures, was it too difficult for the British to prop up some one else. After all, Congress derived some of the legitimacy, from the fact that the British preferred to talk only to the Congress.
After 60 years
India, China and Pakistan are nuclear powers, all. History shows that when our people live in peace, there is peace in the world. When there is war, in our countries, the whole world is at war. Peace in our countries will usher peace in the world.
Our three countries are blessed with adequate, natural resources – and between us three, we hardly need anyone else in the world. The rest of the world cannot say that about itself – or for us. Remember, the world still ‘orients’ itself.
Between our three countries, we have foreign exchange currency reserves of more than US$2.5 trillion – equal to the one third the global forex reserves. Each year, we subsidize the West to the tune of US$250 billion in currency depreciation.
It is this subsidy that enables the West to continue exploiting us. Between our three countries, we have one third of the world’s gold reserves.
The subsidy by the three of us to the West increases, when we use the PPP matrix. Based on PPP, Western currencies are overvalued by 30%-50%. Combine the fact, that the current system allows the West to maintain no foreign exchange reserves and to use their own over valued currencies for trade, means that they pay us a lot less – and we pay them a lot more.
As various colonial powers were forced out of various colonies, left behind was the garbage of colonialism. This post-colonial debris has become the ballast, that is dragging down many newly de-colonized countries.
60 years on, there is nothing to show for these border disputes. Dutifully, the Indians, Pakistanis and the Chinese glare at each other – over colonial border issues. These border issues are less than peripheral to our nations. We have allowed the past to hold our future as a hostage.
The past is extracting a ransom that we cannot afford to pay. Let us recognize our past for what it is – empty ballast that is dragging us down. Having achieved nothing on this front for the last 60 years, why do we wish to continue down that path?
Sixty years earlier, 80% of the world’s poorest lived in our countries . For many decades now, peoples in our country have been patient in their suffering. There has been progress. These poorest of the world, living in our countries, deserve a better deal. A much better deal.
Between our three countries, lives half of humanity. The poorest half of humanity. At one time the richest half of humanity. They deserve peace, security, progress. We have 5000 years of history to show that we can do it. We have done it many times before. We can do it again. That is all our poorest ask and need.