The Legacy that Lives On!

Even af­ter 64 years, the ques­tion re­mains per­ti­nent – was the par­ti­tion of In­dia in­dis­pens­able?

Southasia - - Cover story - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

Our cover story this month at­tempts to high­light the golden era of the Bri­tish Raj in South Asia and how it left be­hind var­i­ous so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic mod­els to help the

re­gion de­velop and pros­per.

The Bri­tish rule in In­dia, by all ac­counts, was a mixed bless­ing. True, there were in­stances of the typ­i­cal per­fidy for which the Bri­tish are no­to­ri­ous, such as tak­ing sides in the hos­til­i­ties among lo­cal rulers, other ex­cesses like War­ren Hast­ings’ ex­tor­tions from the Raja of Ba­naras and the Begums of Oudh, the Mysore War, the Battle of Plassey and, ul­ti­mately, an­nex­ing In­dia to the Bri­tish Em­pire.

In­dia’s re­sources were plun­dered. Its trade was sti­fled. In­dia sup­plied cot­ton and jute, and Liver­pool and Manch­ester sold the man­u­fac­tured prod­uct back to In­dia. In­deed there is prac­ti­cally an un­end­ing list of their ex­cesses and tor­ment.

But there was also a plus side to it. Bri­tish rulers also in­tro­duced ma­jor so­cial re­forms, such as ban­ning the cus­tom of sut­tee un­der which a Hindu widow was burnt to death on the fu­neral pyre of her dead hus­band. They up­rooted the men­ace of thuggee. The thugs were high­way rob­bers. Dis­guised as com­mon trav­el­ers they joined the car­a­vans of trades­men, killed them on the way by stran­gu­la­tion and looted their prop­erty. Their elim­i­na­tion en­sured travel safety. And fi­nally the crim­i­nal code that has stood the test of time and still re­mains the core of In­dia’s law of crimes.

A net­work of rail­ways and roads was an­other con­tri­bu­tion. But per­haps the most valu­able of all was the canal ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem they built in the Pun­jab that made it the gra­nary of In­dia. And it was also a Bri­tish civil ser­vant, Al­lan Oc­ta­vian Hume, who co-founded the In­dian Na­tional Congress that ig­nited po­lit­i­cal awak­en­ing among the masses and the strug­gle for in­de­pen­dence from the Bri­tish rule.

How­ever, not only an­glophiles but many more peo­ple dis­il­lu­sioned by the post-in­de­pen­dence state of bad gov­er­nance, agree that the colo­nial rule had to end. For a coun­try of In­dia’s size it was quite un­nat­u­ral for it to re­main a colony like the Malv­inas (Falk­land Is­lands). Nor could it be a do­min­ion, like Canada, Aus­tralia or New Zealand, be­cause, un­like those coun­tries, In­dia was not set­tled by the Bri­tish. The idea of In­de­pen­dence acts on the hu­man mind like a pow­er­ful am­phet­a­mine, a soma that ren­ders them obliv­i­ous to ev­ery­thing other than their one goal. It was not sur­pris­ing there­fore that the In­dian peo­ple de­manded the right to man­age their own af­fairs.

But power is also a strong in­tox­i­cant. To give it up will­ingly is the most chal­leng­ing task. That is why most peo­ple pre­fer court­ing death to re­leas­ing their hold on power. The case of the Ivory Coast dic­ta­tor Lau­rent Gbagbo is a most re­cent ex­am­ple. He lost the elec­tions but hung on to power and plunged the coun­try into a blood­bath till he was ul­ti­mately cap­tured and re­moved.

The Bri­tish also re­sisted part­ing with power. Re­spond­ing each time to a new spurt in the pub­lic de­mand for self rule, they would re­lax their hold on power ever so re­luc­tantly and in bits, such as the Minto-Mor­ley and Mon­tague-Chelms­ford Re­forms. They sent the Si­mon Com­mis­sion and held Round Ta­ble Con­fer­ences. In the later stages they sent Lord Pethick Lawrence and Sir Stafford Cripps to ne­go­ti­ate the terms of trans­fer of power with the In­dian lead­er­ship, when they saw that the die had been cast.

But by their foot-drag­ging they un­wit­tingly ig­nited a very un­for­tu­nate com­mu­nal di­vide that led to the vivi­sec­tion of a large sub­con­ti­nent into two and, ul­ti­mately, three pieces.

In­dia’s par­ti­tion was nei­ther in­evitable nor, in­deed, de­sir­able. Con­trary to all the tra­duce­ment against Mo­ham­mad Ali Jin­nah by the Hindu right­ists, more and more In­di­ans now agree that he was not in fa­vor of par­ti­tion. The de­mand for Pak­istan as a sep­a­rate state was a ploy to force

the Congress to con­cede its de­mands which amounted only to safe­guard­ing po­lit­i­cal rights for Mus­lims in an over­whelm­ingly Hindu In­dia af­ter in­de­pen­dence.

It was Nehru’s ar­ro­gance and con­ceit that forced Jin­nah’s hands. A lit­tle prag­ma­tism from the for­mer could have saved the day. The Congress could have ac­cepted a few min­is­ters from the Mus­lim League in the pro­vin­cial assem­bly, par­tic­u­larly of U.P., af­ter the 1937 elec­tions. That would have soft­ened Jin­nah.

In­stead, Nehru thought he could win the hearts and minds of the Mus­lims and wean them away from Jin­nah’s ap­peal. He there­fore, started the Mass Con­tact Move­ment. Though the Move­ment failed be­cause it was launched side by side with the Wardha Scheme of ed­u­ca­tion and the com­pul­sory singing of vande mataram song in schools, but it only added to Jin­nah’s bit­ter­ness which man­i­fested it­self in the Mus­lim League ob­serv­ing “De­liv­er­ance Day” when the Congress gov­ern­ments re­signed and fi­nally the Pak­istan Res­o­lu­tion of 1941was passed.

But, as his­to­ri­ans now agree, the Pak­istan de­mand was a bar­gain­ing chip. It was not Jin­nah’s ultimate goal, which was why he ac­cepted the Cripps Mis­sion for­mula for trans­fer of power. It was Nehru who sab­o­taged it af­ter Jin­nah’s ac­cep­tance. That was a golden op­por­tu­nity lost due en­tirely to the Congress’ in­tran­si­gence.

Lastly there was Ma­hatma Gandhi’s ad­vice to make Jin­nah the Gov­er­nor-Gen­eral of a united In­dia af­ter in­de­pen­dence. That was a stroke of states­man­ship par ex­cel­lence. It was the last at­tempt to en­sure In­dia re­main­ing in one piece. But, again, that was not to be, be­cause Nehru & Co were tired of the strug­gle and wanted to bring in the har­vest at any cost.

Thus that which need not hap­pen, hap­pened and In­dia was bi­fur­cated. The writer is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and for­mer edi­tor of SouthAsia Mag­a­zine.

Jin­nah and Gandhi – Friends or foes?

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