Updated: Nov 25, 2021
EVENT DATE : 7 SEPTEMBER
The Partition of India is a moment of history in which two countries birthed out of violence, angst and fundamentally different ideological foundations, changed the future of the Indian sub-continent as is elaborated by the Moderator of this current debate, Yajur Arora.
It is here that the question for the debate is posited:
Was Partition inevitable?
The first speaker Mr. Ishtiaq Ahmad, firmly says No. He elucidates his thoughts about how Partition was in fact a last minute decision. He further goes into detail on how Indian National Congress became a secular option but could not hold on to that identity for far too long giving Jinnah a fair space to make a mark with the Muslim League. He states that on 22nd March 1940, Jinnah in a marathon speech laid the Two Nation theory, which was followed by the Lahore Resolution. This birthed the demand for creation of independent and sovereign Muslim states. He goes on to talk about Sundar Singh Majetia who belonged to the Sikh National Party. He demanded that in the event of a communal Pakistan rising, the non - Muslim districts given to Sikh state or India. The British had no plans of leaving India, Lord Mountbatten was told that they would be around till 1973. However lack of sustenance and economic planning rendered it impossible for the British to stay any longer.
With the Princely states given an option to stay or leave, Jinnah and INC both rejected this idea. He also acknowledges that partition however was later challenged by Mukherjee [Syama Prasad Mookherji was the founder of the BJP and gave the motto ‘Ek desh mein do nishan, do pradhan, do vidhan nahi chalega’ (A country can’t have two emblems, two PMs and two Constitutions) ]and acknowledged by the INC.
The British army played a crucial role, Field Marshall Claude Auchinleck stated that Pakistan would be a tragedy because it would be an open invitation to Russia. However, as circumstances changed, they took a U-Turn. The British government was advised by its defense forces to ask for Karachi port facilities and Muslim labor for the British in return for their favor. According to Ahmad the British did not trust Nehru and the Left. Quote: Ishtiaq Ahmed- “Pakistan is a very late arrival to the table.”
Dr. Masood Raja agrees with Dr. Ahmad. “Nothing is natural in history. History changes because of agential acts of collectives and individuals.” He highlights the lack of substantive knowledge of history and political theory. He says crediting the British with everything Partition leads to the acknowledgement of two passive entities namely the INC and Muslim League. Mr. Raja believes that credit must be given to the actual agents of change namely, the people. Acts of people shaped the history of both countries.
It is here that Dr Sucheta Mahajan takes the debate further with her understanding of the idea of inevitability in history. She talks about the idea posited by contemporary history that there were irreconcilable differences. India, she continues, became a zone for warring groups. Britain took the credit of unifying India, which is a colonial construct. According to Mahajan, there is a sense of regret and loss. She identifies herself as a refugee as she reminisces about her personal past. Dr. Mahajan goes on to explicate about the ‘ifs’ of history which culminates into the thought of abandoning the idea of identifying the point of no return.
She further states that we need to go back to the divide and rule policy to understand the process of Partition. It was in 1946 that they acknowledged wrapping up their rule. Dr. Mahajan says that history must be acknowledged for what it is and it is a great disservice to Jinnah if we say that Pakistan was thrust on him or his people. As a matter of fact, Pakistan was not an idea taken seriously by either the INC or the British until it became difficult to ignore it. Pakistan did not feature in Gandhi-Jinnah talks. The primary weakness of the Congress as per Dr. Mahajan is that it did not give a strong ideological fight to the Muslim League. It is beyond doubt that Jinnah did not enjoy the kind of appreciation and following the way Gandhi did. She says that Gandhi lamented, “I am a potter. I take the clay that is there and I give it a shape. Now when I look around I don’t see any of that. I find it communalised.” It seems that Gandhi is said to have confessed, don’t blame the Muslims. The Hindus and the Khalsas wanted it.
It is here that Yajur Arora interjects and talks about the issue of Gandhi’s thought and action being out of sync. And this is further responded to by Abhijit Chavda.
Abhijit Chavda, who is a popular Youtube host states without much difficulty that he is on the other side of the debate which is witnessed in his opening statement, “I see history as something happening in real time.” Starting as early as the Anglo-Maratha wars he highlights how the British eased themselves in India and ensured that their militia was built from scratch. He calls the Congress a creation of the British since it was made of anglophiles. Politics is about power networks. Political power comes from street power. Chavda goes on to differentiate between popularity and power. He says that Jinnah opposed the formation of Muslim League since he was a secularist. He believed in Hindu-Muslim Unity. India being a pluralist state would anyways have a plethora of diverse ideas. He says that S.C Bose was the last hope. When he was ousted and sidelined, Mujibur ur Rehman found it better to stay with Pakistan and Partition became inevitable. Abhijit emphasises throughout the debate that Leadership is critical.
The Moderator further posits two important questions, Was Gandhi really a major leader and could he have stopped the partition? Since Nehru and Jinnah were anglicised Indians it was easier for them to stay with the British?
Abhijit firmly says, No. Gandhi was an agent of the British. This causes him to face the flak unequivocally by all other speakers in the House.
The debate now moves to the final speaker, Mr. Sudheendra Kulkarni who highlights that the present is of far more consequence than the past. “I am less interested in looking at the past. I am more interested in looking at the present and future.” Dr. Ishtiaq politely discards this point later in the debate by stating that this is off-topic. Kulakarni begins by saying it is important to understand the Partition process. He talks about the weaknesses of the people that were manifested in the last part of the century. He goes a step forward and tells us that a primary fear of the West was that a United India would as a free country own the larger geopolitical scene overshadowing the Western world to a great extent. Partition in that sense became an answered prayer.
He further talks of three important points:
Weakness of People
Obduracy of Jinnah and Muslim League
According to Sudheendra Kulkarni, the commitment to unity became weaker. Partition of Punjab led to the change of history. Had the spirit of the Lucknow pact been respected India would have been united. He says that Abhijit suffers from utter ignorance of India’s history. He counters Abhijit’s claim that Gandhi was a British agent by quoting the latter who is said to have commented, “If a division is to be, let us part as brothers.”
He further states that there were Negative effects that continue to be a thorn in our flesh:
Democracy has become subservient to military rule
Polarisation of Hindu Muslims.
According to Dr. Kulkarni, Muslims felt their existential identity was under threat. They found the need to build loyalty which they ultimately did through Jinnah.
It is here that Dr. Ahmed comes in and says, The Separatist movement was against democracy. Jinnah demonised and dehumanised Hindus, while Sir Sayyad Ahmad was contemptuous about the converts. Jinnah was also a “power communitarian”. Ahmad goes on to appreciate the Motilal Nehru Report and says had it been done right, Partition would have never become a reality. The mosaic of Caste, Religion, cults and sects coupled with the Congressmen languishing in jail for three years post the Quit India movement enabled the Muslim League to make a brekathrough. He also says that determined Jinnah was hand-in-glove with the British.
The interlocutor here asks, “Had the Congress really wanted to avoid it, why didn’t they ask for a Universal Referendum?”
Wavell wrote to Pethick Lawrence that Jinnah would not have the kind of popularity partition demanded. Universal Referendum would never allow Partition of India. The British had to leave. There was no other alternative according to the Speaker.
Mahajan now chimes in that the tendency of Indian-bred Cambridge scholars is generally to put the whole blame on INC and Jinnah- Jinnah is not the villain, because he was working out of historical compulsions. In fact it was British ambiguity and duplicity that facilitated Partition. Dr. Mahajan says Gandhi's support to the Khilafat movement was a political issue more than just a plain religious issue. “Every leader,” she says, “speaks in the idiom of the people.”
Ishtiaq Ahmed says that the Ulema was supportive of the INC post Khilafat. Separate electorates made sure that Hindus and Muslims stayed apart. It is later that the Ulema suddenly relegated to the background until Jinnah came to the fore.
Abhijit counters his fellow debaters by placing an important tid bit on the table. It is a part of recorded history that in 1946 Partition was very much on the table. It was around this time that the Royal Indian Navy mutiny shook the foundations of the British. 78 ships put up 3 flags belonging to the, CPI, INC and Muslim League. Jinnah and Gandhi however withdrew from giving any support or leveraging the mutiny but the CPI believed otherwise. Patel was the interlocutor. Once a deal was struck the British betrayed Patel and jailed the mutineers and riots ensued.
Dr. Raja appreciates Abhijit, and talks of the different perspectives on history. He notes that while there is nothing wrong in appreciating history differently, apotheosizing leaders cannot work. He is against the creation of microfascist leaders who are more detrimental to the country and world at large.
Ishtiaq Ahmed seems wary of the fact that S.C Bose escaped. He went off to Russia, Germany and finally Japan. The PoWs in the Japanese camp wanted to escape the atrocities of the Japanese and found the INA a worthwhile option. S C Bose was not a great leader but Ahmad has respect for Bhagat Singh who wrote against S C Bose and in favor of Nehru.
Sudheendra Kulkarni first rubbishes the Akhand Bharat idea that has been floating in India for a while. He contextualises his thoughts by stating that India must acknowledge Pakistan and vice versa. We are neighbours and we must live with it. He further suggests that India, Pakistan and Bangladesh must come together and celebrate the 75th Anniversary of independence from the British. Creation of a confederation of states like the EU would work as a catalyst for peace and harmony in the region.
Abhijit however has a contrary view. He does not consider 1947 as independence but a transfer of power given to us on British terms. He says, we must Stop fighting, Start Talking.
As a part of the closing comments, Raja says, we could do with a loose confederacy; instead, we have built narratives of irreconcilability and angst. This is where the poets, the artists and the creatives have the power to change the reality to some extent at least in the present.
Ishtiaq Ahmed says, We are one people, though we have different cultures, religions etc. The evidence is overwhelming that we are so much the same. Keeping us apart is a political project.
Dr. Mahajan appreciates the tenor of the debate that finally ends in agreement that whatever happened should not have happened. Somewhere we can be together. She quotes Gandhi in closing, “Let’s not legislate on it. We need to keep the situation fluid, not have passports. It’s not about boundaries. If we do not accept Partition in our hearts we will be able to reverse it.” She says that this is a distinct possibility.
All in all, while the debaters may have stood on different parts of the political and ideological spectrum they are united in their call for peace, goodwill and amity between the two countries, India and Pakistan. The debate ends with the moderator’s vote of thanks for a genuine conversation and a fruitful debate.
FURTHER READINGS :
DR. ISHTIAQ AHMED
~ Punjab : Bloodied, Partitioned & Cleansed https://www.amazon.in/Punjab-Bloodied-Partioned-Cleansed-Ishtiaq/dp/8129129612/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&qid=1631542306&refinements=p_27%3AIshtiaq+Ahmed&s=books&sr=1-2
~ Jinnah : His Success, Failures & Role in History https://www.amazon.in/Jinnah-Successes-Failures-Role-History/dp/0670090522/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&qid=1631542306&refinements=p_27%3AIshtiaq+Ahmed&s=books&sr=1-1
2. Sudheendra Kulkarni