Friday, 20 June 2014

Splitting India II

Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed continues his exclusive series for The Friday Times on the partition and its aftermath 

In my article dated 20 September 2012, I had inadvertently given February 1940 as the date for the fall of Singapore. It was February 1942. That mistake, however, does not detract from the fact that the British were determined from the very start of WW II, and especially after the Congress ministries resigned in September 1939, to crush any challenge to their hold over the Indian empire which was a matter of great pride for them and a major supplier of troops for the war. These resignations were a major Congress miscalculation whose damage to their political influence was second only to the even more disastrous Quit India movement they launched in August 1942. These two decisions greatly undermined their ability to influence the course of the freedom struggle as all their cadres were incarcerated from August 1942 to June 1945.

During that absence from the political arena the Muslim League swept the key north-western provinces of Punjab and Sindh and made inroads into NWFP with their message that the creation of Pakistan would bring to an end the tyranny of the caste system and the economic exploitation of the moneylender. Thus the creation of Pakistan appeared to be a rational choice to the Muslims and they expressed it in the 1946 provincial elections when they voted overwhelmingly in favour of Pakistan. The Congress got the general votes including those of Hindus, Christians, Jains and others for a united India and the Sikhs of Punjab voted for the Panthic parties that wanted the Punjab partitioned, if India was partitioned. Such polarization meant that negotiations on the future of India were headed for a deadlock and the failure of the Cabinet Mission Plan of May 1946 confirmed that. Nehru's ill-considered July press conference in Bombay saying that the Congress would 'enter the Constituent Assembly unfettered by agreements and free to meet all situations as they arise' provoked an angry reaction from Jinnah who gave the call for direct action. The violence that broke out in Calcutta in August 1946 followed by more violence in Bihar, Garhmukhteshwar in UP and then Hazara district of KP finally engulfed the Punjab in March 1947.

Under the circumstances, Viceroy Lord Louis Mountbatten's 3 June 1947 Partition Plan to which Nehru, Jinnah, Baldev Singh and others tamely acquiesced was premised on an entirely false assumption: that the transfer of power would be peaceful. The warnings of Punjab's Governor Sir Evan Jenkins did not warrant such complacency at all.

The whole thing was based on a woefully flawed concept: while civil and military officialdom would have the choice to opt either for India or Pakistan the ordinary people would stay put! Mahatma Gandhi alone among all the leaders could sense that rivers of blood would flow and warned about it. On the other hand, Sardar Patel was prepared to let the Sikh leaders have a free hand in driving the Muslims of East Punjab out, though he probably did not realize that they were planning to use it to create, for the first time in history, a compact Sikh majority in some parts of East Punjab. Later, the Khalistan movement, which emerged in the 1980s, came to haunt the Indian state. Equally, since March 1947, local and Punjab-level Muslim League leaders were complicit in the attacks on the Hindus and Sikhs in the western districts. Neither Jinnah nor Liaquat Ali Khan took any steps to warn the Muslims of East Punjab that on 23 June 1947 the Punjab Assembly had voted to partition the province and a grave possibility existed of rioting. It is impossible to believe that they were not in the know of what was happening in the Punjab. On the other hand, the Congress leaders kept telling Lahore's Hindus and Sikhs to stay put as that city would be given to India, even when the Muslims were in a majority of 60 per cent there. All these details, along with extensive interviews with survivors are fully covered in my book, The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2012).

In this regard, let me address a major criticism some readers have made of my argument that the partition of India was not necessarily the best option for Muslims. They have pointed out that the Indian Muslims have remained one of the poorest groups in secular India. Therefore the creation of Pakistan was necessary to save the Muslims from permanent Hindu domination. In principle this is a compelling argument in favour of creating Pakistan, but it needs to be put into perspective.

Mr Jinnah had prepared his brief on a separate Pakistan on the basis of categorical rejection that a Hindu-majority government could ever be fair to the Muslims. When he was asked what would happen to the most vulnerable, deprived and poor sections of Muslims from Muslim-minority provinces if they were left behind in India, he had asserted that one-third of Muslims should not prevent two-thirds of them escaping Hindu domination. It was a typical utilitarian argument deriving from the notion of the greatest good of the greatest number rather than the greatest good of all. However, in August 1947 when some reporters asked him before he left Delhi for Karachi as to what message he wanted to give to the Muslims who would remain behind he said that they should become loyal Indian citizens and he expected the Indian government to treat them fairly. His line of argument had thus changed fundamentally - it acknowledged that a Congress government (upper-caste Hindu dominated) could treat them fairly.

As I said in my previous article, only three per cent of the Muslims from the Muslim-minority provinces of northern India, mainly the intelligentsia migrated to Pakistan. The RSS, Hindu Mahasabha and many Hindu and Sikh refugees who had lost family and property in what became Pakistan wanted each and every Muslim driven out of India. Mahatma Gandhi's last fast-unto-death was not only to press the Indian government to pay Pakistan Rs 550 million as its rightful share of the colonial treasury, but also to insist that the campaign to expel Muslims should cease. It culminated with his assassination at the hands of Nathu Ram Godse, but it compelled the Indian government to adopt strict measures to prevent attacks on Muslims. I must give full credit to Jawaharlal Nehru that while he was prime minister he tried his best to protect the Muslims.

It is not possible to explain in detail in a media column why Congress governments after Nehru deviated from their protective policy towards Muslims. Suffice it to say that after Mrs Indira Gandhi came to power Nehruvian secularism became less of a matter of principle and more of expediency and electoral calculation. Later Congress governments were led by men of straw and the Babri Mosque attack by BJP goons in December 1992 could take place because the Congress government of Mr Narasimha Rao remained passive. It is only after Mr Manmohan Singh came to power that the sad plight of the Muslim minority was given some attention. The Sachar Committee appointed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2006 submitted a 403-page report which stated that the status of Indian Muslims was somewhere between Hindu OBCs (other backward castes) and the scheduled castes and tribes. No doubt this has happened because discrimination takes place against the Muslims in a systematic manner even though formal (constitutional) secularism does not discriminate between citizens on the basis of their creed or ethnicity.

However, here too we need to consider some complications. The Muslims of northern India have always consisted of two distinct groups: the high-born ashraaf who claim descent from forbears of foreign origin and the vast majority who are converts from the lower rungs of Hindu society. I have seen reports which name Muslim zamindars and taalukdars of northern India who were active in the struggle for Pakistan, but when partition took place they stayed on to retain ownership of their properties. Some of them later sold off their land and other assets and then migrated to Pakistan or to the West. Some devised novel ways of having the best of both words. Nothing compares to the genius of Raja Sahib Mahmudabad, famous as the financier of the Muslim League and one of the closest associates of Mr Jinnah. He left his son and wife in Mahmudabad while he shifted to Pakistan with his daughters. The Indian government had impounded his vast property worth currently Rs 30,0000 million on grounds that it was 'enemy property' since he had migrated to Pakistan. His son contested the case saying that he was the rightful heir as his father had transferred his property to him before he shifted to Pakistan. In 2005 the Indian Supreme Court restored the properties to him. So, the rich and powerful were not hit by the calamity of the partition. Nawabzada Liaqat Ali Khan did lose his estate in eastern Punjab as did Nawab Mamdot but that happened because the Sikhs and Congress joined hands to force the partition of Punjab on the same lines on which the Muslim League had demanded that India should be partitioned - on the basis of contiguous religious majorities in some parts of the subcontinent and its provinces. The same happened to Muslim-majority Bengal.

It is therefore the Muslims from artisanal and landless working backgrounds - Muslim Dalits - who potentially would suffer most from a partitioned India. Historically they were always despised by the ashraaf. I have read both Barelvi and Deobandi texts where the superiority of the ashraaf has been justified on grounds that they alone represent true Islam. Of course there are exceptions especially in Deobandi writings. In this regard I might as well add that traditional Shia social and political theory is even more hierarchical than that of the Sunnis. In Pakistan we practice caste prejudices but pretend that since Islam has no caste there is no caste oppression among us. Moreover, caste-like discrimination and persecution in Pakistan has also taken a sectarian form and our wrath is directed against all those we classify as non-Muslims.

At any rate, when the Muslim intelligentsia left for Pakistan the ulema, whose standard refrain has always been that Muslims should not integrate into mainstream society because that would dilute their Islamic identity, took over the leadership of the poorer sections of Muslim society. Instead of encouraging them to get a modern education they fostered a siege mentality and tried to insulate the Muslims from modernizing social trends. Consequently the level of education among these poor Muslims is very low, even lower than the Dalits, who because of the reservation system, have been helped to get education and jobs. A movement has now started gaining pace among Muslims of artisanal and Dalit backgrounds demanding that they too should be included in the reservation system. It remains to be seen if the Indian government would extend them that 'privilege'. The Sachar Report stopped just short of recommending it; it instead recommended special educational inputs from the government to help the Muslims. I need not overemphasize that the RSS and other Sang Parivar groups are always opposed to Muslims being included in the reservation policy. The attacks on Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 were also masterminded by these groups.

Here, I pose a moral question: are we in Pakistan prepared to help such vulnerable Muslims? All I know is that we have not even accepted the Biharis who sided with Pakistan during the 1971 civil war in the former East Pakistan. Unlike Israel which welcomes all Jews from anywhere in the world to settle in Israel, because it is a state created for the Jewish people, we have no open-door policy for oppressed Indian Muslims. So our moral concern for them is hypocritical. There is a way to bring to an end their agony: let us open our arms and welcome them. Let us declare that the 180 million Indian Muslims are entitled to enter Pakistan and become its citizens because Pakistan was created to protect them from Hindu domination and discrimination. The fact is many won't because I know the secular-minded Muslims find Pakistan a difficult proposition as they are used to a less conformist lifestyle than what exists in contemporary Pakistan. Still millions might want to migrate to Pakistan because they may believe that as an Islamic state it would be fair to them.
The Sindhis would assail my solution, saying that they have had bitter experience with an open embrace to the Mohajirs - it resulted in them (Sindhis) effectively being sidelined and marginalized in the towns and cities of Sindh, including Karachi and Hyderabad. On the other hand, the Mohajirs now realize that given their smaller numbers they would in the long run be swept away by the much bigger nationalities of Pakistan. They feel beleaguered and threatened. Consequently, if there is no scope for Indian Muslims to find refuge in Pakistan then we can only hope that enlightened Indian rulers would protect the Indian Muslims just as Mahatma Gandhi wanted and Nehru tried. I see no other option to this sad legacy of a partitioned India.  

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