Coronavirus (Covid-19): Latest updates and information
Skip to main content Skip to navigation

A Divided Past, A Hopeful Future

A Divided Past. A Hopeful Future

In his final article, Rattan Bhorjee, looks to the future

Do the British own sole responsibility for the horrors of Partition? Both Nehru and Jinnah proved obstinate, vain and reckless in their actions and demands. Nehru believed no religious or cultural conflict existed in India; he was adamant that “the tremendous and fundamental fact of India is her essential unity through the ages”[1]. This ignored the shameful treatment of Muslims across India stretching from Lahore to Calcutta. Nehru completely dismissed the idea of a Pakistan and a partitioned India, insisting that a Pakistan would “wither and die in the face of political reality”[2].

It was upon these remarks that Jinnah, on 16th August 1946, took India’s Muslims into the horror of ‘Direct Action Day’. In Calcutta, Police were ordered by Jinnah’s Muslim League to take a holiday, leaving the streets in the hands of a baying mob. Within 3 days over 5,000, mainly Hindus and Muslims had been killed and 100,000 left homeless. The political machine behind the Muslim League possessed an extraordinary ability to foment religious tensions to a colossal degree. Bertrand Glancy, Governor of Panjab until 1946, noted in a report that during the local elections, in rural areas there were:

Increasing reports of a deterioration in the communal situation, consequent on the poisonous propaganda of political parties, especially the Muslim League...One very objectionable type of propaganda indulged in…is to threaten Muslim voters with ex-communication including a refusal to allow their dead to be buried in Muslim graveyards…in the event of their voting against the League[3].

In the end, neither Jinnah nor Nehru ultimately prevailed. By Jinnah’s own admission he received a “moth-eaten Pakistan”[4], far from the utopia for India’s oppressed Muslims he had envisaged. By losing such a large chunk of its Muslim population India also lost. A bright future for all Indians was close to being realised, but that future was dashed not only by the British but by Indians themselves with the deaths of over a million people and the brutalisation of two infant nations.

Saying this, I would never put Jinnah and Nehru, two men whom I respect deeply, on the same level as Mountbatten. Unlike Mountbatten, both men cared deeply about independence and fiercely fought for the Indian people’s right to self-determination. Jinnah was even insistent upon the partition boundary process being as “complete and thorough as possible…so that there might not be left any room for contention or conflict”[5], something that was ultimately denied to him by Mountbatten and Radcliffe.

Legacies of Partition

Perry Anderson perfectly sums up Mountbatten’s deceit, observing that “having lit the fuse, Mountbatten handed over the buildings to their owner’s hours before they blew up, in what has a good claim to be the most contemptible single act in the history of the empire”[1]. Jinnah, Nehru and Radcliffe do bear some responsibility as they all worked towards their own personal or political means rather than the good of the two new nation-states; however, none of these men was actually in control of the country and was either appointed by the Government to carry out work involving Partition or to represent their own communities and parties during the Partition Process. It was Mountbatten who decided which plans were accepted and, as shown with Radcliffe, he was even able to change important decisions to his own or his allies’ favour, to the cost of millions of thousands of Indians and Pakistanis.

When we look now at the situation that confronts us, we see the two nuclear powers of India and Pakistan, once joined together, now divided as the bitterest of enemies. We see the persecution of Muslims in India and Hindus in Pakistan and exported prejudice harboured within the diaspora. However, amongst this chaos lie the seeds of hope. Increasing awareness of the crimes of the past and a renewed fervour towards interfaith as new generations draw a new line in the sand and leave the divisions and the bloodshed of the past behind. This progress of course is welcome, but just imagine what could be achieved without the colonial amnesia that clouds our collective memories and the ingrained colonial structures that still blight our institutions and society-at-large.

 

 [1] Anderson, P., 2012. Why Partition? London Review of Books [Online] vol. 34 no. 14 pp. 11-19. Available from http://www.lrb.co.uk/v34/n14/perry-anderson/why-partition [Accessed 23 Nov 2020]

[1] Anderson, P., 2012. Why Partition? London Review of Books [Online] vol. 34 no. 14 pp. 11-19. Available from http://www.lrb.co.uk/v34/n14/perry-anderson/why-partition [Accessed 23 Nov 2020]

[2] BBC (2013) The Day India Burned. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZS40U5yFpc&t=81s&list=LLOG4SrZK-z0eLm9qruRwk4Q&index=28 (Accessed: 23rd Nov 2020).

[3] Das, M.N (1982). Partition and Independence of India: Inside Story of the Mountbatten Days. London, Delhi: Vision Books. 13-107.

[4] (4th May 1947). Jinnah on partition. Available: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/the-road-to-partition/jinnah-partition/. Last accessed 23rd Nov 2020

[5] (4th May 1947). Jinnah on partition. Available: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/the-road-to-partition/jinnah-partition/. Last accessed 23rd Nov 2020

.