Legacy of Partition: The birth of a frontline State

A review article by Mr H K Dua of Nisid Hajari’s book on the Partition which appeared in the Financial Express on Nov 1, 2015

                                                                                           By H K Dua

Unfortunately, unpleasant words like ‘distrust’, ‘hatred’ and ‘intolerance’ have forced their way back into newspaper headlines.. And because of incorrigible ways of the politicians these have managed to stay in the headlines longer than they should. Their message is distracting for a nation wanting to emerge as a major power of the 21st century.

Looks like memories, of bitter phenomena in history don’t fade away easily. Less than 70-odd years ago the subcontinent was wrought by hatred, inter-community distrust and intolerance. These are again showing their ugly face, while the politicians are busy with electoral pursuits, unmindful of the dangerous consequences on societal peace.

Nisid Hajari has come out with this volume about the unprecedented communal violence which tore the country apart just at a time when after years of struggle it was about to win freedom from the British Raj. This could have been the ‘best of the times’ for India when it was poised for experiencing its ‘Tryst with Destiny’, but the worst of the passions that can wreck a nation were let loose, causing killings of countless people, rape, arson, loot, and the world’s largest migration of people in history from India to what came to become Pakistan and from Pakistan to what was left of India. The unprecedented violence split the subcontinent into two – not just geographically, but also emotionally, sowing more seeds of conflict between the two nations that would later fight three wars and all that goes with the wars.

Nisid Hajari has chosen to write on the Partition of the country and the deadly legacy it has left behind. India and Pakistan are still caught in acrimony, border tensions and killings, also equipping themselves for more wars. Peace between the two neighbours is still distant.

It is a grisly story Nisid Hajari has woven together after a lot of research from archival sources, interviews and meetings with some of the surviving witnesses. The account, not a happy bedside reading, is well-knit like a Newsweek write-up, showing how the leaders engaged in making historical choices often try to secure their aims at times camouflaging personal egos and prejudices. The problem with Hajari’s narrative essentially is his attempt to portray the run-up to the Partition as a contest between Jawharlal Nehru and Mohammed Ali Jinnah and their inability to work together. The writer ignores that 100 years of freedom struggle lay behind when Independence came, although at the cost of the Partition.

Jinnah in his early days himself was a part of the Congress. How Jinnah got alienated from Nehru and the Congress and left India for London in frustration. How he came back to jump into his struggle for Pakistan is not fully explained. Did the British persuade him to take up the cause of the Muslims to fight Gandhi’s Congress which was gaining momentum.

The writer has tried to avoid looking into the British policy of ruling India by a well-thought out policy of divide-and-rule and attempts to encourage Jinnah and the Muslims League to think of a Muslim homeland. The idea was to delay India’s freedom as much as the British could.

The British were angry with Gandhi and the Congress for not supporting them in the Second World War and happy with Jinnah for supporting the war effort. Jinnah was given to believe that he would get what he wanted as a reward for his support. After the war, Britain was simply broke. American financial help was limited. London’s debts were high. The empire could not be sustained any longer -– certainly not against the rising discontent in India. Time to leave India had come. Clement Atlee’s government which came to power after Churchill’s defeat at the polls, soon after the war, could not run the country on an empty kitty.

The Labour Prime Minister made the big announcement in the House of Commons to wind up the 200 years of British Raj in 1948. Why did Louis Mountbatten, the new Viceroy, was in a greater hurry. The writer has not investigated what were the Viceroy’s calculations for advancing the deadline to August 15, 1947. Why Mountbatten did not anticipate mass communal killings that would take place in the subcontinent, as well as the migration of population both in Punjab and Bengal. Why did he not take preventive steps? Was he looking for a big political role for himself for which he rushed through the proceedings in India and did a shoddy job?.

The writer notes that the British Governor mobilised 45,000 troops only after H S Suhrawrdy’s men had almost completed the killings, the arson and loot, after the Direct Action Day. Later, around August 15, 1947, both sides of Punjab saw the worst of the killings in West Punjab of Hindus and the Sikhs by the Muslims and in East Punjab of the Muslims by the Hindus and the Sikhs. The reflexes of the British Governor of Punjab were rather slower than the grim happenings demanded. The riots were a stigma as much as on the British as also on Jinnah’s refusal to work with the Congress in the interim government.

It is possible the unprecedented riots —called “furies” by the writer — in Bengal and Punjab helped the British to sell the idea of the Partition to both the Congress and Jinnah’s Muslim League.

In the tortuous negotiations that followed, neither party got all it wanted. The Congress wanted undiluted Independence till it gave in to the idea of the partition. Jinnah on the other hand wanted a bigger slice of India and the result was the manipulative moves he made on Kashmir, Hyderabad and Junagarh in the wake of the Partition.

He began in Kashmir, by starting an immediate war by pushing in tribals from Swat, across the border. These were led by Pakistani regular officers. It seems non-state actors and the idea of proxy war were used by Pakistan from the beginning.

Nisid Hazari should have explored more why the British, particularly wanted to leave behind a weaker India and carve out a Pakistan which it would need for its geo-political purposes given post-war British fear of the Soviet Union. From Hajari’s account it is clear that London was sure that Pakistan would readily be on the western Powers side and India will have its independent foreign policy. Jinnah was in touch with Winston Churchill – even when he was on the opposition benches, finding that the Labour might favour the Congress in the partition talks. Churchill hated the very idea of Britain relinquishing power in India, but he did share his geo-politics with Jinnah who was willing to be an ally.

The idea of Pakistan’s emergence as an Anglo-American frontline State apparently germinated along with the birth of Pakistan. Among other things this is another legacy of the partition of the subcontinent.


The writer is Adviser, Observer Research Foundation; Member of Parliament, former Editor-in-Chief of the Indian Express and editor of the Hindustan Times and an Ambassador.

At stake is the Idea of Europe, For it to matter in the 21st century, Europe needs to exhibit leadership

By H K Dua

Apparently, editors of Oxford Dictionary could not come to agreement on how to describe the nature of the current European crisis. They just picked two words from European headlines; Grexit and Brexit as an easy way out.

Grexit is about Greece’s inability to repay its financial debt and its threat to quit the Euro Zone if Europe doesn’t pay its bills.

Brexit is about Britain’s perennial dilemma whether to remain within the European Union or not. Both questions remain unresolved.

Actually, Europe’s crisis is much more serious than a journalistic coinage can describe. The Oxford Dictionary cannot translate what the body of a little Syrian boy in red T-shirt washed ashore the Turkish coast conveys. Aylan Kurdi in his silence has certainly shaken the world’s conscience and of many people in Europe.

Europe, however, seems to be fairly divided on whether to admit more immigrants from West Asia and northern Africa coming in droves every day. The immigration debate in most of Europe is more serious than being realised at the moment and its ramification can threaten the liberal and democratic values the post-war Europe has been trying to evolve.

In many European countries right wing groups are already springing up to oppose continued immigration, particularly the entry of Muslims into predominantly Christian Europe. Many in Europe are worried about that the immigrants will bring down their wages or local people lose jobs to the immigrants. Even if the governments succeed in tackling the flow of immigrants, their settlement will take a long time and the resultant social tensions might upset political stability in vulnerable European countries. Next few weeks will see whether West Europeans countries will be able to stop the flow of immigration or provide shelter, jobs and help those who are fast spreading across the continent. .

While Greece’s chronic debt problem threatens its Euro Zone, Britain’s continuing Hamletian dilemma whether to remain in the EU or not, is threatening European community. On the other hand, the unending influx of people into Europe can threaten the very Idea of a moderate Europe itself.

Over the years as European Union has evolved, Germany has undoubtedly emerged as its leader. This is mainly because of the size of the country and of its economy. If Greece or another Mediterranean country’s economy has to be bailed out, it is Angela Markel who has to lead the rescue operation.

If Syria’s unstable situation is pushing out more of its people, Angela Markel’s Germany has to absorb the largest number. It is on her word that many other countries have agreed to admit some refuges, even with trepidations about tensions developing among their people.

On another plane, emergence of Germany as EU”s leader scares Britain more than a continental embrace. What Britain wants in Europe is a leadership role in EU which France and Germany will never agree to let it have. Britain, on the other hand, doesn’t want to get submerged in Europe simply as a voting member. Tony Blair’s role in the Iraq war when it joined George W Bush Jr’s war on Iraq on the pretext of it was hiding Weapons of Mass Destruction widened its distance from France and Germany which had questioned Washington’s facts about WMD and also the Washington’s wisdom in destabilising West Asia of which Europe would later pay the price. Syrian trouble has followed the Iraq war and now the ISIS is playing havoc in the region throwing out refugees and creating future uncertainties.

If the present trend of immigration to Europe continues, Britain by referendum in a couple of years can decide to remain outside, closing the doors to incoming refugees.

Few people in Europe will shed a tear if Britain leaves EU. Most Europeans feel that Britain’s heart is in the US and can never think European. Historical attitude on both sides of the English Channel have not changed over a period of time. Another question that arises among the European is how Britain can be a part of EU when its own union with Scotland is fraught with uncertainty.

Will Jean Monet’s dream for creating one Europe without borders survive? Greece’s exit from Euro Zone is not of great consequence, but Britain’s opting out will have wide repercussions on EU.

One reason will be the re-emergence of Germany as a sole leader of EU or Europe – a prospect which over long stretches of history Britain has never relished.

Cross border immigration and Shengan visa have made travel free in Europe. After spurt in immigration and despite the Shengan visa barriers have begun coming up, making the concept of free travel across Europe difficult.

Theoretically, free travel curbs can lead to trade barriers– a concept which could lead to the weakening the concept of a common market. This most Europeans would like to avoid. British attitude will, however,

differ from how smaller countries look at the future of the European Union.

A silent watcher of the European scene is Russia which under Putin’s leadership is making efforts to revive its image as a major Europe. The message of Putin’s recent foray into the Ukraine cannot be lost on European nations, big or small. Russia’s rise and inclination to flex muscles can keep the Europeans together, whatever shape the Union might take.

A closer Union which Brussels has been trying to evolve may not be sustainable under stresses of unchecked immigration. But it is possible EU’s relationship with Britain may undergo a change in favour of a loose relationship. Instead of or Europe’s present troubles may lead to a less cosy union in Europe.

However, Europe as a continent has to worry why its place in the world affairs is not as prominent as it had thought earlier. Is Europe a declining power is the question, many have been asking in world capitals, lately.

The United States overtook Europe in power terms, after Europe went through two wars and it is maintaining its lead; and now a rising China is ignoring it in its march towards a super-Power state in about 20-30 years. India too is seen as a 21st century economic power, Europe is counting less among nations.

Its civilisational impulses are still intact, but for Europe to matter more it requires more than an idea and a vision and an effort to pursue that vision. It is lacking an idea for the 21st century., possibly leadership and political will.

The writer, a former editor in chief of the Indian Express, is an MP in   the Rajya Sabha and advisor, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi.