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Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Colonial Warfare, pt 13

The price of partition

Reasons for Partition

By the end of the 19th century several nationalistic movements had started in India. Indian nationalism had grown largely since British policies of education and the advances made by the British in India in the fields of transportation and communication. However, their complete insensitivity to and distance from the peoples of India and their customs created such disillusionment with them in their subjects that the end of British rule became necessary and inevitable.

However, while the Indian National Congress was calling for Britain to Quit India, the Muslim League, in 1943, passed a resolution for them to Divide and Quit. There were several reasons for the birth of a separate Muslim homeland in the subcontinent, and all three parties-the British, the Congress and the Muslim League-were responsible.

The British had followed a divide-and-rule policy in India. Even in the census they categorised people according to religion and viewed and treated them as separate from each other. They had based their knowledge of the peoples of India on the basic religious texts and the intrinsic differences they found in them instead of on the way they coexisted in the present. The British were also still fearful of the potential threat from the Muslims, who were the former rulers of the subcontinent, ruling India for over 300 years under the Mughal Empire. In order to win them over to their side, the British helped establish the M.A.O. College at Aligarh and supported the All-India Muslim Conference, both of which were institutions from which leaders of the Muslim League and the ideology of Pakistan emerged. As soon as the League was formed, they were placed on a separate electorate. Thus the idea of the separateness of Muslims in India was built into the electoral process of India.

There was also an ideological divide between the Muslims and the Hindus of India. While there were strong feelings of nationalism in India, by the late 19th century there were also communal conflicts and movements in the country that were based on religious communities rather than class or regional ones. Some people felt that the very nature of Islam called for a communal Muslim society. Added to this were the memories of power over the Indian subcontinent that the Muslims held on to, especially those in the old centers of Mughal rule. These memories might have made it exceptionally diffficult for Muslims to accept the imposition of colonial power and culture. They refused to learn English and to associate with the British. This was a severe drawback for them as they found that the Hindus were now in better positions in government than they were and thus felt that the British favored Hindus. The social reformer and educator, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, who founded M.A.O. College, taught the Muslims that education and cooperation with the British was vital for their survival in the society. Tied to all the movements of Muslim revival was the opposition to assimilation and submergence in Hindu society. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was also the first to conceive of a separate Muslim homeland.

Hindu revivalists also deepened the chasm betweent he two nations. They resented the Muslims for their former rule over India. Hindu revivalists rallied for a ban on the slaughter of cows, a cheap source of meat for the Muslims. They also wanted to change the official script form the Persian to the Hindu Devanagri script, effectively making Hindi rather than Urdu the main candidate for the national language.

Congress made several mistakes in their policies which further convinced the League that it was impossible to live in a undivided India after freedom from colonial rule because their interests would be completely suppressed. One such policy was the institution of the "Bande Matram," a national anthem which expressed anti-Muslim sentiments, in the schools of India where Muslim children were forced to sing it.

The Muslim League gained power also due to the Congress. The Congress banned any support for the British during the Second World War. However the Muslim League pledged its full support, which found favour form them from the British, who also needed the help of the largely Muslim army. The Civil Disobedience Movement and the consequent withdrawal of the Congress party from politics also helped the league gain power, as they formed strong ministries in the provinces that had large Muslim populations. At the same time, the League actively campaigned to gain more support from the Muslims in India, especially under the guidance of dynamic leaders like Jinnah.

There had been some hope of an undivided India, with a government consisting of three tiers along basically the same lines as the borders of India and Pakistan at the time of Partition. However, Congress' rejection of the interim government set up under this Cabinet Mission Plan in 1942 convinced the leaders of the Muslim League that compromise was impossible and partition was the only course to take.

Impact and Aftermath of Partition

"Leave India to God. If that is too much, then leave her to anarchy." --Gandhi, May 1942

The partition of India left both India and Pakistan devastated. The process of partition had claimed many lives in the riots. Many others were raped and looted. Women, especially, were used as instruments of power by the Hindus and the Muslims; "ghost trains" full of severed breasts of women would arrive in each of the newly-born countries from across the borders.

15 million refugees poured across the borders to regions completely foreign to them, for though they were Hindu or Muslim, their identity had been embedded in the regions where there ancestors were from. Not only was the country divided, but so were the provinces of Punjab and Bengal, divisions which caused catastrophic riots and claimed the lives of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs alike.

Many years after the partition, the two nations are still trying to heal the wounds left behind by this incision to once-whole body of India. Many are still in search of an identity and a history left behind beyond an impenetrable boundary. The two countries started of with ruined economies and lands and without an established, experienced system of government. They lost many of their most dynamic leaders, such as Gandhi, Jinnah and Allama Iqbal, soon after the partition. Pakistan had to face the separation of Bangladesh in 1971. India and Pakistan have been to war twice since the partition and they are still deadlocked over the issue of possession of Kashmir. The same issues of boundaries and divisions, Hindu and Muslim majorities and differences, still persist

Why did such a bloody seperation take place?

What a cast of characters stood center stage that historic night half a century ago. Admiral of the Fleet Lord Louis Mountbatten, Earl of Burma, sent out to Delhi to relinquish the finest component of an empire consolidated by his great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. Jawaharlal Nehru, a man of impeccable taste, breeding and fastidious intelligence, destined to become the first leader of the tumultuous Third World. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, cool, austere, polite to a fault, determined to force on the departing British the formation of a new Islamic nation (while savoring nightly a whiskey and soda forbidden by that faith).

And, towering above all was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the proponent of nonviolence who hastened the end of empire by the simple expedient of turning the other cheek. In an age when television did not exist, radios were rare and most of his countrymen were illiterate, the "Mahatma," or Great Soul, proved a master of communication. He had a genius for the simple gesture that spoke to his countrymen's souls.

Two new nations, India and Pakistan, were born in an hour of glory and rejoicing, which transformed all too quickly into a cauldron of bloodshed and horror as millions of Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims were uprooted from their homes. That appalling outburst of violence dwarfed anything we have witnessed recently in Bosnia or Rwanda. In three years of research for our book Freedom at Midnight, we interviewed the last viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, for 30 hours. He talked of 250,000 fatalities--an estimate undoubtedly tinged with wishful thinking. Most historians of the period place the figure at 500,000; some put it as high as 2 million.

Could it have been prevented? To find an answer to that question, we read every weekly report submitted to Mountbatten by the governors of India's provinces, officials who represented the best and wisest products of British rule in India, the mandarins of the Indian civil service. None foresaw a disaster even remotely close to the one that overwhelmed the subcontinent.

We talked at length to the Indian politicians who were close advisers to the leaders of the new nations. Without exception, they all urged Mountbatten to transfer power to their hands as swiftly as possible. These men had been agitating and preparing for the exercise of power for years. Nothing was going to delay them in getting that power. If violence were to follow the division of the subcontinent, well, they were confident they could handle it. What their innermost thoughts might have been cannot be said. But all of them, in their recorded conversations with Mountbatten, minimized the dangers that partition posed, and vastly overstated their abilities to deal with them. It was a classic--and tragic--example of political ambition taking precedence over reality. Only one person foresaw the dimension of the tragedy about to overwhelm the subcontinent. That was Gandhi. And in mid-summer 1947, no one was listening to the prophet of nonviolence.

There was one vital piece of information, however, that was denied to Mountbatten. We uncovered it during our research: the x-ray of Mohammed Ali Jinnah's lungs. This secret document revealed that the future leader of Pakistan was dying of tuberculosis. We met the doctors who had told Jinnah he had less than six months to live. Jinnah was the one unyielding obstacle in Mountbatten's desperate efforts to keep India united. Mountbatten acknowledged to us that had he known the Muslim leader was dying, he would have been strongly tempted to delay independence to await his death. Then, perhaps, an independent Pakistan would never have come into being.

This was the ultimate outcome of the British Divide and Rule policy.

ndia was killed by Britain. The first blow was struck when the British (after ignoring and neglecting them for half a century after the events of 1857) instigated and encouraged the Muslims to demand separate electorates and then conceded it. That was the first step towards Pakistan, however copious tears Lord Mountbatten may now shed over the mortal remains of United India.

India was killed by the British and their ‘Divide and Rule’ policy. But not by the British alone. India was killed by fanatical Muslim Leaguers who played upon the community’s apprehensions and fears to produce in them a peculiar psychosis which was a dangerous combination of inferiority complex, aggressive jingoism, religious fanaticism, and fascistic Herrenvolk legends.

India was killed by the fanatical Hindus, the Hindu fascists and Hindu imperialists, the dreamers of a Hindu empire, the crusaders of Hindu Sangathan, who provided the ideological fuel for the fire of Hindu communalism and fanaticism.

India was killed by the Hindu communalists, the believers and supporters of Hindu exclusiveness…who yet masqueraded as Nationalists and Congressmen, who prevented the National congressmen and the National Movement from becoming a fully representative, completely non-communal front of all Indian patriots.

India was killed by the Communist Part of India which (during the days of its ‘People’s War’ and ‘pro-Pakistan’ policies) provided the Muslim separatists with an ideological basis for the irrational and anti-national demand for Pakistan. (Phrases like ‘homeland,’ ‘nationalities,’ ‘self-determination’ etc. were all ammunition supplied by the Communists to the legions of Pakistan.)

India was killed, and stabbed in the heart, by every Hindu who killed a Muslim, by every Muslim who killed a Hindu, by every Hindu or Muslim who committed or abetted, or connived at, arson, rape and murder during the recent (and earlier) communal riots.

That an imperialist power planned the dismemberment of our country in the very hour of our freedom is not surprising. The wonder, and the tragedy is that India should have been killed by the children of India…

posted by Steve @ 10:50:00 AM

10:50:00 AM

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