India partition better or worse for Muslims?

M Serajul Islam | Published: 00:00, Jan 12,2020 | Updated: 00:06, Jan 12,2020


The police gather outside a gate of the Jawaharlal Nehru University following clashes between student groups in New Delhi on January 5. The incident at JNU is the latest in a series of clashes and protests at different Indian universities in the past few weeks, with many student activists demonstrating against the Modi government’s controversial new citizenship law. — Agence France-Presse/STR

INDIA was on course to becoming a net secular state led by Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and the Congress in 1947. Today, it has become a net Hindu fundamentalist state instead, led by Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the major Hindu fundamentalist forces of India, all united against the Muslims. The Hindu fundamentalists unofficially call India the Hindu Rashtra to send the message to the country’s 200 Muslims that henceforth, it would be open season upon them. The Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 and the National Registration of Citizens have underlined unambiguously that India is not just on course to becoming a net Hindu fundamentalist state but one where Muslims were not welcome.

These developments in India will go a long way in putting to rest the view that was prevalent in some circles in Bangladesh that the Muslims had erred in a major way in opting for a separate homeland in 1947. The supporters of the view felt that the Muslims would have been substantial as a minority in an undivided India and, therefore, they would have been able to build for themselves a better future than they have in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Pakistan’s creator Mohammad Ali Jinnah was blamed in this debate for leading the Muslims to support the partition of India.

There were major weaknesses in the argument that were never addressed in the first place. For instance, only 13.32 per cent of India’s population of 361 million in 1947 were Muslims at the time of partition. Muslims were thus not a large minority in 1947 to fend for themselves against the Hindus who were 87 per pent of the population. There were many other negative aspects for the Muslims in 1947 to further complicate their minority status. One was the fact that in 1947, the Muslims were far behind the Hindus in education, jobs, business and commerce and the other social indices because of the British policy of divide and rule to be competitive in any way and thrive in a united, Hindu-dominated India that had very little empathy for them.

The blame on Mohammad Ai Jinnah for dividing India was also not entirely valid. He was a member of both the Muslim League and the Congress early in his political career when he was called the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. He left the Congress in 1920 over the party’s policy of Satyagraha that he had considered political anarchy and soon thereafter, he also left India and settled in England. His way of life those days was hardly that of a leader committed to Islam. He was as secular in his actions and thoughts as others in Indian politics of the time and, perhaps, a step ahead of even the likes of Jawaharlal Nehru till he returned to India in 1934 to take charge of the Muslim League and donned his trademark the ‘Jinnah cap.’

The two-nation theory upon which India was divided and for which Mohammad Ali Jinnah was blamed by the Hindus was in fact propagated by Dhomodor Savarkar, the founder of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1923. His followers were powerful within the Bengal Congress who subverted every attempt of Sarat Bose, Netaji Subash Chandra Basu and AK Fazlul Huq for a Hindu-Muslim unity. Eventually, the Hindu members of the Bengal Legislative Assembly at the behest of Syama Prasad Mukherjee of the Hindu Mahasabha voted on June 20, 1947 to partition Bengal on a communal basis to take the Hindu-majority West Bengal to join the constituent assembly of India.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah tried till the very last to keep India united even after the Congress had subverted the last British attempt to keep India united through the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 that had rejected the League’s demand for Pakistan. The Congress rejected the Cabinet Mission Plan because the plan had recommended grouping the Muslim majority areas in the west and the east separately, setting them apart from the majority Hindu-dominated areas. The Congress rejected the grouping system led by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru because they did not want to give the Muslims even autonomy in separate groups.

Therefore, those who blamed Mohammad Ali Jinnah for the partition have done so in denial over the role of the Congress and Indian leaders like Pandit Nehru and those in Bengal who hated to give even an iota of political influence in a post-British India to the Muslims. Jinnah became the founder of Pakistan and the Muslims got a separate land in 1947 to borrow a very popular term from basketball, on the rebound ie, on the mistakes of the Congress. The related issue whether without the 1947 partition of India, the Muslims would have been better is no longer even relevant. The current predicament of India’s 200 million Muslims as virtually secondclass citizens is more than proof of that.

Bangladesh is another shining example for proving that the 1947 partition was better for the Muslims. Bangladesh would have been a part of Bengal, one of India’s lesser developed provinces, without the partition. New Delhi would have undoubtedly divided Bengal for administrative reasons. It does not need much common sense to predict that a Muslim majority-East Bengal would have been at best at par with West Bengal but most likely worse basing upon the way New Delhi annulled Kashmir’s special status recently simply because the majority of its people were Muslims. Bangladesh is today an independent and sovereign nation and showing the potentials of leaving even India behind on the development scale as a lower middle-income country. Pakistan has not done badly either. It is today a nuclear-weapons state. One does not have to look far to imagine what that means in the contemporary world from the attention impoverished North Korea is receiving in current world affairs.

The raging Hindu fundamentalism in India today has made it unambiguously clear that the Hindu fundamentalists in power in India have a deep-rooted contempt for the Muslims. They regret the creation of Pakistan. They believe that it allowed the majority of the Muslims to escape from paying for the 1,000 years of Muslim rule over India during which they further believe that their ancestors were persecuted which is historically untrue. That is also one reason why Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and their comrades are no longer the heroes of the majority of the Hindus of India that support the BJP–RSS and the Hindu fundamentalists. The final nail in the coffin of the secular India would be the day when Nathuram Godse would be resurrected and that day may not be far away.

Postscript: The BJP’s unadulterated Hindu fundamentalist politics has shown one positive sign involving the Muslims. Secular forces from the Hindu community now find a common ground with them to fight a common enemy, namely Hindu fundamentalism.


M Serajul Islam is a former career ambassador.

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