Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh is the latest politician to absolve the Muslims from the responsibility of having forced a bloody partition of the country in 1947. Of course Mulayam’s assertion is a part of party propaganda in an election season. And propaganda cannot be a substitute for history.
A recall is in order to understand the context in which partition of India became inevitable. After the demise of Aurangzeb in 1707, the Mughal empire started disintegrating. The power vacuum in Delhi was filled by valiant Marathas and the Mughal emperor became their pensioner. Sikhs in Punjab, Marathas in Central India, Jats and Rajputs in the west emerged as new power centres. In 1803, the Marathas lost Delhi’s control to the East India Company after a fierce battle at Noida (then Patparganj) near Delhi and the Mughal emperor then onwards became a pensioner of the British. Muslims naturally resented their newly defined subservient status and a section of them decided to join hands with the Hindus, who too hated the British rule. The result was the first war of independence of 1857.
Though the British crushed the revolt against their rule successfully, they had learnt their lessons and identified six fault lines in the Indian society. Hindus/Sikhs, North/South, Aryans/Dravidians, princes/subjects, upper castes/Dalits and Hindus/Muslims. They worked on all them simultaneously as a part of their “divide and rule” policy with varying degrees of success. It was comparatively easy for them to set Hindus and Muslims against each other because of over 600 years of bloody history between the two communities.
The Muslims, obviously under a new dispensation, were insecure. They had a misplaced pride in their imperial past. The prospects of living as equals with their erstwhile subjects whom they had oppressed made them feel uneasy and they saw an uncertain future for themselves in an emerging competitive society. The British cleverly picked up agents from within the community and successful played on the injured pride and fears of the Muslims.
This is best illustrated by the speeches and writings of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan who had entered the services of the East India Company well before the uprising of 1857 during which he assisted the British. He admired the British and exhorted the Muslims to be faithful to them as they were the “people of the Book”. He represented the Muslim psyche of his times and perpetuated it. He urged Muslims to oppose Congress and they listened to him. As a result not even five per cent of Muslims joined the Congress and the freedom movement, in spite of Gandhiji, bent over backwards to enlist their support.
Here are excerpts of his speech delivered at Meerut on March 16, 1888.
“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.
“At the same time you must remember that although the number of Mohammedans is less than that of the Hindus, and although they contain far fewer people who have received a higher English education, yet they must not be considered insignificant or weak. Probably they would by themselves be enough to maintain their own position.
“But suppose they were not. Then our Musalman brothers, the Pathans, would come out as a swarm of locusts from their mountain valleys, and make rivers of blood to flow from their frontier on the north to the extreme end of Bengal.
“Therefore, reflect on the doings of your ancestors, and do not be unjust to the British government to whom God has given the rule of India. Look honestly and see what is necessary for it to do to maintain its Empire and its hold on the country. You can appreciate these matters, but they cannot who have never held a country in their hands nor won a victory.
“Oh, my brother Musalmans, I again remind you that you have ruled nations, and have for centuries held different countries in your grasp. For seven hundred years in India you have had imperial sway. You know what it is to rule.
“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.”
These are not rantings of a social dropout. Sir Syed was surely trusted and respected by the Muslims of his times and even today. With the support of his community, he established Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) that played a catalytic role in the spread of this divisive ideology, resulting in the partition of India. Generally, nations create universities, but here a varsity (AMU) was responsible for creating a new country!
Indeed the wily British played their devious game and nursed the divisive Muslim mindset. Lord Mountbatten, the last British viceroy to India, and his wife Edwina used all their charm to sell the partition idea. The first to get on the bandwagon was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel agreed much later. For the Congress leaders the decisive factor was the August 1946 rioting in Calcutta and elsewhere after the Mohammad Ali Jinnah-led Muslim League called for a direct action plan to get its partition plan accepted. These riots engineered by the league were particularly bloody in Calcutta, leaving thousands dead in less than a week.
Mahatma Gandhi, who had announced earlier that partition would be only possible over his dead body, opposing the vivisection almost till the end, was isolated and left Delhi for Noakhali. Simply put, the Congress leadership allowed itself to be blackmailed by the league’s threat of a bloodbath in case its demand for partition was not accepted. In contrast Lincoln saved the US by choosing to keep the nation united even at the cost of an extensive civil war that he ultimately won against the southern separatists.
The communists, inspired by an alien ideology, too supported the Muslim demand for the creation of a theocratic state. Is it not ironical that these very people are claiming to be the flag-bearers of “secularism” in independent India?
Balbir Punj is National Vice President, BJP.