Undivided India: Truth or Farce

by Arshad Khan

would be a silly question indeed to ask why December 25th is celebrated.  On the other hand, one could ask why it is a
national holiday in Pakistan, for it is not because it’s Christmas.  By an unusual coincidence it happens to be
the birthday of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of the country.  Exactly how Pakistan came into being is an
interesting story as it also leads to the question whether the dismemberment of
the Indian subcontinent — now three countries — could have been averted.

started out as a voice for Hindu-Muslim unity, although wary of majoritarianism
and Hindu domination.  A highly
successful lawyer with patrician tastes, he was averse to mob violence and
wanted constitutional independence — the British handing over to an elected
Indian government and a constitution safeguarding the rights of minorities.

first step was to seek Dominion status in which Indians would run their own
affairs although subject to control by the British government.  Accordingly a London conference was convened.  The Round Table Conference began in grand
style on November 30, 1930 with a plenary session at the House of Lords;  after which the participants retired to St.
James Palace for the talks.

and Muslim members sought first to agree on a united front.  His Highness The Aga Khan was leading the
delegation and also spoke for the Muslims. 
Sir Chimanlal Setalvad, a prominent Hindu member, has written that the
Aga Khan agreed to the Hindu demand for joint electorates, instead of separate
Hindu and Muslim ones, but with the reservation of seats for Muslims, and he
added magnanimously, “In that event you lead and we follow.”  Jaswant Singh describes (p. 178) what
transpired in his excellent book, “Jinnah: India — Partition,
Independence.”   Unfortunately the Hindu
members receptive to the proposal were intimidated by the others and the Hindu
Mahasaba (p. 179, ibid.), the precursor of the nationalist Hindutva
movement.  Prime Minister Modi’s Bharataya
Janata Party (BJP) has a Hindu nationalist fervor which has unmasked the BJP
that was in power with Jaswant Singh as Foreign Minister.

a united front, the Round Table Conference was doomed.  The seeds of Pakistan had been sown, and as
Jinnah repeatedly confronted majoritarianism devoid of any assurances for
Muslims, his demands for Pakistan became more implacable.

last chance for one India arrived in 1946 with the Cabinet Mission.  Field Marshal Viscount Archibald Percival
Wavell served as Viceroy of India from 1943 to early 1947.  Lord Wavell hosted the Mission and served as
a link to the parties i.e. Jinnah of the Muslim League and Nehru of the
Congress Party.  The somewhat ingenious
plan devised coalesced the provinces into four groups, the western provinces
(now Pakistan), the east, the center and the south.  The first two were Muslim majority, the
latter two Hindu.  The individual
provinces would elect members to a group constituent assembly which would then
select representatives for the central government in Delhi.  Equal Hindu and Muslim groups ensured
reasonable parity in Delhi.

interim government in Delhi that Wavell had in mind would consist of a council
of twelve (p. 207, ibid.):  five from the
Muslim League, five from Congress, one Sikh and one Dalit.  In accepting the plan and therefore less,
Jinnah was putting his demand for Pakistan at risk.  The gesture was unappreciated for with each
letter and each communication with Congress, Wavell’s original parity suffered
dilution.  Moreover, Nehru even rejected
the Cabinet Mission’s grouping plan claiming clearly falsely that, the “entire
country is opposed” to it (p. 379, ibid.).

the end there were fourteen members of the council without parity for
Muslims.  The plan was formally rejected
by the Muslim League on July 27, 1946 (p. 382, ibid.).  The era of a constitutional path to
independence was over.   Jinnah and the
Muslim League had tired of Nehru’s repeated shifts on positions critical to
Muslim interests.

the call for Direct Action.  The
demonstrations began on August 16, 1946, and the confrontations led to riots
leading to killings.  The British
government recalled Wavell in February 1947. 
Lord Mountbatten of Burma took over, and a precipitate rush to independence
followed.  Group enmities resulted in a
mania of  killing as Muslims fleeing
violence in the new India and Hindus and Sikhs the same in Pakistan fled
towards the borders without protection. 
Over two million lost their lives before the cataclysm ended.  And occasional spasms still erupt such as the
2002 killings of Muslims in Gujarat during Modi’s rule plus numerous other

leftovers include the continuing troubles in Indian Kashmir and the frequent
blinding of the young during demonstrations. 
The security forces eschew rubber bullets for pellet loaded
shotguns.  The decades-long insurgency
has cost the lives of up to 100,000 Kashmiris.

two countries have fought four wars.  In
the first, Pakistan wrested control of a third of Kashmir from India after the
Maharaja seceded the state to India against the wishes of an overwhelming
majority of his people.  In the third
war, India repaid Pakistan in kind paving the way for East Pakistan to become
the new country of Bangladesh.  The other
two wars ended in the status quo ante. 
If there is another war, the world could face a nuclear winter — about
300 nuclear weapons in the two countries are trained on each other.

a price to pay for majoritarianism!  In
the meantime, the new Modi government with its Hindu nationalist agenda and
continuing contempt for secularism  —
even centuries-old place names are being changed — confirms the fears of the
Muslim minority, justifying their course of action during that fateful summer
of 1946.

M. Khan is a former professor who has, over many years, written occasionally
for the print and often for online media outlets. This piece first appeared in
Counter Punch 


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