Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Divison: India and Pakistan

Recently Google made a series of videos describing close relations between commoners of India and Pakistan. The second chapter of India After Gandhi opens with very valid question:

Did India have to be partitioned?

The nostalgia of undivided India has been mostly manifest among the people on Indian side of the border. But there has sometimes been a sense of loss displayed in what has become Pakistan too. There are three main explanations behind the above stated question:

  1. Congress Leadership underestimated Jinnah and the Muslim 
Nehru and Gandhi made major errors of judgement in their dealings with the Muslim League. In the 1920s, Gandhi ignored Jinnah and tried to make common cause with the mullahs. In the 1930s, Nehru arrogantly and what later elections showed, falsely, claimed that the Muslim masses would rather follow his socialist stands than a party based on faith.Meanwhile, the Muslims steadily moved over from the Congress to the League. In the 1930s, when Jinnah was willing to make a deal, he was ignored. In 1940s, when Muslims were solidly behind Jinnah, he had absolutely no incentive to cut a deal. The onset of modern electoral politics encouraged the creation of community vote banks. Muslims were increasingly persuaded to think themselves as "Muslims" . This is supported by the fact that Muslim League had a mere 1300 members by 1927 which shot up to more than a half a million in Bengal alone and 200,000 in Punjab. Muslims of all classes joined League and rallied against prospect of 'Brahmin-Bania' Raj in United India. 

2. Jinnah pursued his goal of separate country

It is also true that some of the Jinnah's political turns defy  any explanation other than that of personal ambition. He was once known as "ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity" and a practitioner of constitutional politics. Even after he re branded himself  as defender of Islam and Muslims, he liked his whisky. He started stirring religious passion and he concluded with his calling of "Direct Action Day", the day which started long chain of violence and counter-violence that made partition inevitable.

3Divide and Rule policy of British

In March, 1925; secretary of state for India wrote to the viceroy:

"I have always placed my highest and most permanent hopes upon the eternity of the communal situation."
Most British officials were predisposed to prefer Muslims, for compared with Hindus, their forms of worship and the ways of life were less alien. Overall, colonial policy deepened religious divisons, which consolidated British rule in India.

Now, we have explored the explanations which pertain to the division of India. In early 1940s, it was almost certain that United Independent India would not be a reality. Let's explore a little about the division itself.

The Divison

After second war, Labour Party came into power in England. They regarded themselves morally committed to cause of  Indian Independence. In the beginning of 1946, a three member Cabinet Mision was sent to India to negotiate the terms of Indian Independence. Sir Stafford Cripps was a part of the mission and had close ties with Indian Congress Leaders. A note prepared by a member of Indian Civil Service, Penderel Moon summed up the situation in the country:

"There is more likelihood of obtaining Hindu consent to Divison than Muslim consent to Union."
Early in 1946, elections were held to the various provincial assemblies. These were conducted on the basis of franchise restricted by education and property. About 28% of the adult population was eligible to vote which amounted to about 41 million people. Congress asked for mandate on the agenda comprising land reforms, worker's right and such. Muslim League on the other hand, asked Muslims to vote for them. For if they don't, they would not get a homeland of their own and they will be crushed by the more numerous Hindus in a united India. The election results brought embarrassment to Congress. Across India province after province, Congress did exceedingly well in general category, but the Muslim seats were swept by the Muslim League.

ProvinceCongressMuslim LeagueOther partiesIndependentsTotal
Assam5831Europeans 9
Others 3
Bengal86113Europeans 25
Others 12
Central Provinces92137112
Madras16579Communist Party 2[9]19215
North West Frontier Province30172150
Punjab5173Akalis 22
Unionist Party 20
United Provinces15354714228
The mandate bestowed upon Muslim League was more than enough for Jinnah to call a meeting for 425 legislators of Muslim League on 10 April 1946 and reiterated the call for independent Pakistan. Jinnah met Cabinet Mission in Shimla where attempts were being made by Cabinet Mission to find unitary solution. By the end of June 1946, it was clear that no settlement could be reached. The leaders of League again met on 29th July and called for Direct Action. Two weeks later was Direct Action Day and a train of violence and rioting started ending the dream of United India.

Labour government in Britain announced that British would quit India by July 1948. The viceroy, Lord Wavell was replaced by a new Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten. After talking to congress leaders, Lord Mountbatten found them accepting the reality of Pakistan. Gandhi made one last effort by asking Jinnah to head the first government of free united India. But Gandhi's offer did not have backing of Congress, and Jinnah did not accept it in any case.After several redraft, plan of partition was sent to London. At one point Jinnah even asked for a 800 miles road through India connecting eastern and western Pakistan.  On 3 June 1947, Viceroy announced the partition plan and next morning he announced that British would leave by middle of August. Lord Mountbatten's biographer justified his decision as follow:
"Once the principal of partition had been accepted, it was inevitable that communalism would rage freely. The longer the period before the transfer of power, the worse the tension and the greater the threat that violence would spread." 
 However many journalists as well as British officials accused Mountbatten of being unwilling to crackdown
 effectively on communal violence, and understaffing Punjab Boundary force and not supplying them with air cover. Many were convinced that hasty withdrawal led to more death. Governor of undivided Punjab Sir Evan Jenkins asked for more troops and for a Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron. But there were too few troop available as most of them were busy protecting white people. Protection of British was top policy of state as they were convinced that British civilians will be attacked as soon as decision to leave was made public.

Lord Mountbatten instinct of self preservation was evident by his decision to postpone Punjab Boundary award after 15 August as he said:
"Without question, the earlier Punjab Boundary Awards are published, the more the British would have to bear responsibility for the disturbances which would undoubtedly result."
To conclude the Division, One Punjab official told a social worker from Oxford:

'You British believe in fair play. You have left India in the same condition of chaos as you found it.'

Read first part of the essay series. Click here.

This essay is based on the second chapter of the book "India After Gandhi" titled "The Logic of Division" by Ramchandra Guha.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Birth of India: Tales of 1946-1947

On 31 December 1929, Congress President Jawaharlal Nehru hoisted Indian Flag on the banks of Ravi River during the Lahore session of Congress. Lahore session saw Indian National Congress resolved for Poorna Sawaraj. Congress asked Indian nationalist to celebrate 26th of January as Independence Day.
Freedom came to India after about 17 years of their first "Independence Day" on 15 August 1947. British chose to handover power on 15 August 1947 as it was the anniversary of Japanese surrender to the Allied forces in the Second World War. Even the Independence Day of India was not escaped by the Indian habit of horoscope matching as apparently due to some astrologers declaration of 15tth of August as an inauspicious day, special session of Constituent Assembly was held on 14th August.

Celebrations began at 11 p.m. with singing of Vande Mataram  and was followed by speeches. It concluded with presentation of flag on behalf of the women of India. There were three main speakers: Chaudhary Khaliquzaman (representing Muslims of India), Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (for his work in reconciling East and West) and the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. Jawaharlal Nehru delivered his famous speech called, "Tryst with Destiny" and it has been widely quoted since then. A part of the speech is quoted below.

"Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance."

On 15 August 1947, prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru along with 13 other ministers  swore in. Nehru's ministers were across party line and included represntative from the world of commerce as well as Sikhs. Most notable non-congress ministers were Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Shyama Prasad Mookherjee ( member of Hindu Mahasabha).

Gandhi marked 15 August 1947 with 24 hour fast in Calcutta. The last 12 months had seen almost continuous rioting between Hindus and Muslims. The violence had begun on 16 August 1946 in Calcutta and spread to Bihar and then through United Province to finally Punjab. The violence of August 1946 was instigated by the Muslim League. The league was led by Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He was lawyer trained in England and he had once been member of Indian National Congress. By starting the riot in Calcutta, Jinnah hoped to polarize the two communities further and thus force the British to divide India when they finally quit. On the Afternoon of 13 August 1947, Gandhiji set up residence in the Muslim dominated locality of Beliaghata. On 15 August, he declined to make any statement to BBC and fasted whole day. Though reports of Hindus and Muslims together celebrating independence lifted Gandhiji's mood and he addressed a large crowd of around 10,000-30,000 at Rash Bagan Maidan.

By November 1946, all India total of deaths in rioting was more than 5000. According to a statementr submitted to the House of Lords said that 4,014 people were killed between November, 1946 and May 1947. The epicenter of the violence was Bengal and Punjab. Both provinces were muslim majority  and thus
were claimed for Pakistan. But both of them also had millions of Hindus and therefore both provinces were divided with muslim majority districts going to Pakistan and districts dominated by Hindus or Sikhs alloted to India.  On 1 August 1947 a Punjab Boundary Force was set up to control the violence. Head of Punjab Boundary Force , Pete Rees estimated casualties  in  Punjab were estimated at 4,500 civilians dead and 2,500 wounded during March to July, 1947. However official casualties reported by troop were estimated to be around 15,000 killed and actual figure may be two-three times of the reported number.

Ten million refugees were on the move, on foot, by bullock-cart, and by train. This was the greatest mass migration in the history in so few days.  Unfortunately, no Pakistani politician was willing to take on religious
fanaticism.  Jinnah was headquartered in Karachi which was the capital of the country at that time and he visited Lahore in Purdah. This coward attitude of Jinnah was in striking contrast to the brave defence of their minority by Nehru and Gandhi. There were fresh riots in Calcutta which forced Gandhiji to embark a fast. He began his fast on 2 September. By the next day, Hindu and Muslim miscreants were coming to him and laying down their arms.  Mahatma broke his fast after three days when a deputation of leaders representing Congress, Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha assured Gandhiji that there would be no further routing. Gandhiji left for Delhi on 7 September from Calcutta and visited camps in capital  and outside it. Gandhi's biographer D.G. Tendulkar writes:

"He begged of them all to bring about peace in Delhi so that he might be able to proceed to both East and West Punjab."

Gandhiji also spoke at a camp of Rashtriya Swaymsewak Sangh. Founded by Maharashtrian doctor named Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, the RSS was a cohesive and motivated body of Hindu young men. Gandhiji was impressed by their discipline and absence of caste feeling. Gandhiji urged its member to dispel the notion that RSS was inciting communal hatred and asked them to show by their uniform behaviour that the allegations were baseless. However Nehruji was not inclined to give Sangh the benefit of doubt. He told his home minister Vallabhbhai Patel that the RSS have a great deal to do with the disturbances not only in Delhi but elsewhere. At the initiative of Gandhi and Nehru, the Congress now passed a resolution on the "rights of minority". Its said:

"Whatever be the situation in Pakistan, India would be a Democratic Secular State where all citizens enjoy full rights and are equally entitled to he protection of the State, irrespective to the religion to which they belong." 
However the head of RSS,  M. S. Golwalker was strongly opposed to the idea of secular state that would not discriminate on the basis of religion. Gandhiji's meetings were frequently disrupted by the refugees who shouted slogans asking why he did not speak of the sufferings of those Hindus and Sikhs still living in Pakistan. The biographer of Gandhiji writes, Gandhiji wanted to go to Pakistan. But with what face could he now go there, when he could not guarantee full redress to the Muslims of Delhi. With attacks on Muslims increaing, Gandhiji chose to resort to another fast. One of the precondition of ending his fast was to transfer the money (Rs. 550 Billion), which was Pakistan's share of the money that British owed jointly to both countries on account of Indian contributions during second world war, withheld by India. On 15 January 1948, India decided to release the money. On 17 January, Central Peace Committee was formed under leadership of Rajendra Prasad and had representatives of Congress, RSS, Jamait-ul-Ulema and Sikh bodies. Their joint declaration satesfied Gandhiji to end his fast.

On 20 January, a Punjabi refugee named Madan Lal threw a bomb at Gandhiji in Birla House while he was leading a prayer meeting. No one was hurt. On the evening of  30 January he was shot dead by a brahmin from Poona named Nathuram Godse. He was sentenced to death but before that he made a remarkablespeech justifying his act. There were tributes from Albert Einstein, George Bernard Shaw and George Orwell except Jinnah who said that the death of Gandhi was a loss merely to the Hindu community. Gandhiji's death could not  reconcile Hindu and Muslim but he did reconcile Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel who were involved in bitter row.

This essay is based on the first chapter "Freedom And Parricade" of "India After Gandhi" by Ramchandra Guha.