Independence Day, Three Questions and Answers

Balbir Punj

Even on the eve of the 68th Independence Day, three controversies are waiting to be resolved. First of these, who got us freedom ? Second, was partition inevitable and the third, how have we fared since independence? Gandhiji, his fasts and mass movements indeed carried the message of freedom to the common man. However, much before Gandhiji’s entry on the national political scene in 1914-15, revolutionary groups were active in the country and they continued to be a thorn in the side of beleaguered empire till it packed off. The dare devil operations of the revolutionaries and their sacrifices surely inspired common men and women. And Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s raising of INA (out of Indian POWs of the second world war) and successfully leading them against the British shook the confidence of the colonial rulers.

Incidents such as the Navy revolt in Mumbai in 1946 further added to their sense of insecurity and discomfort. The British rightly concluded that they could no longer control India with the help of ‘loyal’ Indians. Moreover, after the second world war, global map was being redrawn, power equations were changing, communism was fast emerging as a new creed promising freedom and equality and colonialism was going out of fashion. The British public opinion too was no longer in favour of continuing with colonies. Along with freedom, came bloody partition of the country in which over two million innocents were killed and about ten million were rendered refugees. Was the tragedy of partition a result of an ego clash between an ambitious and arrogant Nehru and Mohammad Ali Jinnah who was frustrated with Congress? Or was it a product of British conspiracy and machinations?

In the ‘secular’ narrative, answer to both the questions is ‘yes’. There is little doubt that the British did play dirty. After crushing the uprising of 1857, they followed a policy of ‘divide and rule’ and exploited the fault lines within the Indian society. Some of the fault lines they identified and arduously worked on were: The sensitive nature of Hindu-Muslim relations, Hindu-Sikh equations, Caste Hindus versus the rest, Aryans versus Dravidians, north versus south and princes versus their subjects.

The willy British worked, simultaneously, on all the six, achieving varying degrees of success. Probably the only man who saw through their sordid game was the Mahatma and he valiantly fought against their roguish designs. Of all the fault lines, the easiest for the British to work on was the 700-year-odd Hindu-Muslim ties, mostly soaked in blood.

The invaders, who subsequently made India their home, converted the locals to their faith under the threat of sword, destroyed and desecrated their places of worship, and trampled upon their icons. The victims, Hindus, retaliated and, over a period of time, regained control of most parts of India before the British take-over. In fact, Delhi was annexed by the British after the East India Company forces led by General Gerard Lake defeated the Marathas in 1803 in a battle, fought at the outskirts of the city in an area, now known as Noida. Till then, the Moghul emperor was a pensioner of the Marathas. After the Marathas lost, he happily accepted a dole from the British and this arrangement continued till 1857. After successfully putting down 1857 uprising, the British played on the injured pride of the defeated Muslims, their insecurities and invoked Islamic theology. To continue with their stratagem, they formulated a paradigm, best articulated by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (founder of Aligarh Muslim University) in a speech delivered at Meerut on March 16,1888. Excerpts: “Is it possible that under these circumstances two nations – the Mohammedans and the Hindus — could sit on the same throne and remain equal in power? Most certainly not. It is necessary that one of them should conquer the other. To hope that both could remain equal is to desire the impossible and the inconceivable.”

“This thing — rest on God’s will. But until one nation has conquered the other and made it obedient, peace cannot reign in the land.” And the one where he exhorted to the community, “We ought to unite with that nation with whom we can unite. No Mohammedan can say that the English are not ‘people of the Book’. No Mohammedan can deny this: that God has said that no people of other religions can be friends of the Mohammedans, except the Christians. He who has read the Koran and believes it knows that our nation cannot expect friendship and affection from any other people. Now God has made them rulers over us. Therefore, we should cultivate a friendship with them, and should adopt the method by which their rule may remain permanent and firm in India, and may not pass into the hands of the Bengalis.”

Sir Syed’s brain-child, AMU created a record of sorts. Normally, countries establish universities. In case of AMU, the university created a new nation – Pakistan. Sir Syed’s doctrine became the signature tune of Muslim politics in years to come and continues to motivate a large section of Muslims in the sub-continent till date. Most of the Indo-Pak problems and Hindu-Muslim chasm in the sub-continent can be traced to the mindset generated by Sir Sayed’s credo. In order to wean away the Muslim psyche from this poisonous weed, Gandhiji bent backwards, supported khilaft in 1920 but failed miserably.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a non-practising Muslim and a ‘secularist’ and a leader without followers till 1930s, emerged as the sole voice of Indian Muslims; but only after he started speaking for partition and against the Hindus. The seeds of partition were ingrained in the Muslim psyche of those times. The British exploited this mindset for their own ends. The communists, provided all the intellectual arguments which Muslims needed to justify their demand for a separate theocratic state. If Jinnah had dropped his demand for Pakistan for some reason, the Muslims surely would have disowned him and found some other Jinnah to do their bidding. Was it possible to prevent vivisection of India? Yes, it was, provided the then national leadership had opted for a civil war (like Abraham Lincoln did on the issue of slavery) and not for a truncated India. May be in such a scenario, the net loss of lives and property could have been much less than what the sub-continent suffered during the partition riots.

We have done well for ourselves since independence. But we could have done even better. We are the only stable and a secular democracy in the entire region. Ask any Indian: will he like to migrate to any of the countries in the neighbourhood? Likely answer: no. We have a lot to celebrate and improve upon as well.

The Author is a Delhi based commentator on Political and Social issues.


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