Change in Congress’ Stand- By the time Attlee made the declaration on February 20, 1946, which clearly hinted at the partition, the Congress barely uttered any protest. Infact, the Working Committee of the Congress at its meeting on March 8, 1946, it announced that the Constitution thus framed by the Constituent Assembly ‘would apply only to those areas which accept it’. This signified acceptance of the partition plan. SO WHAT BROUGHT ABOUT THIS CHANGE?
Congress had been fighting for a longtime. Most of the movements that were launched had failed and produced very little changes. The tussles with the British did lead to concessions which time and again proved to be of no real value. After the failure of the Quit India Movement, the Congress had ceased to be a revolutionary organisation. After the release of Congress leaders from prison in 1945 prospects of peaceful transfer of power looked attractive. As Pyarelal who was Gandhis’ Secretary and biographer opines by 1947 the Congress front- men were old and ‘past the prime of their lives’ and when the broad ideal they had fought for so long was within the reach they capitulated lest it was taken away again. None had the energy left to drag the struggle for another couple of years and court another round of imprisonment. In addition, during the course of the Interim Government the Congress first hand experienced the tactics of sabotage used the Muslim League members of the Interim Government. The Muslim League at every turn blocked the functioning of the Government in spite of the Congress’ attempts at reconciliation. Against this background the June 3rd Plan proved to be a blessing in disguise as it provided a way whereby the Congress need not any longer to construct ways for co- operating with the Muslim League. In addition, a strong Central Government was possible after the separation of the Muslim-majority areas and such a strong Government could then set out to forge development of the Country. Vallabhbhai Patel consented to the separation on such ground. Nehru too consented gradually but only after having rounds of serious talks with Lord Mountbatten.
Gandhi’s position on partition was far from uniform. It changed several times. From the beginning Gandhi was against the ‘two-nation theory’ and hence anti-partition. Over the years however, Gandhi often wavered in his opinion on the partition. In 1942 an article by Gandhi in Harijan stated if the majority of the Muslims want partition then it must be done. In point of fact Gandhi during Gandhi-Jinnah talks of 1944 conducted negotiations with Jinnah on such an acceptance. However, once Attlee declared the possibility of partition and before meeting with Lord Mountbatten, Gandhi on March 3, 1947 told Azad “if the Congress wishes to accept partition, it will be over my dead body. So long as I am alive, I will never agree to the partition of India. Nor will I, if I can help it, allow Congress to accept it”. Azad is of the opinion that Gandhi reversed his position after meeting with Lord Mountbatten. Vallabhbhai Patel too probably influenced Gandhi. Thus, when on June 14, 1947 very few members in All India Congress Committee were in the favour of the partition Gandhi actually spoke about the necessity of accepting the partition in spite of its implications.
Jinnah, on the other hand, was not in the favour of partition of Bengal and Punjab and adding the seceding territories to Pakistan. Such a division would have ruptured the political, social and economic set-up that had been built up over the century. He was in the favour of wholesale transfer of the two provinces to Pakistan. The problem of minorities living in the thus created Pakistan and India, Jinnah suggested, could be done over time through exchange of population. The Congress was against this wholesale transfer though it agreed on the creation of Pakistan. Congress wanted the option to decide which Dominion to join be given to the non-Muslims in the Punjab and Bengal, living in contiguous to Hindustan and forming a majority of population in these areas. However, Mountabtten did not give Jinnah any chance for further negotiations and left Jinnah with no option but to accept Pakistan on such a division. In 1913- 1937 Jinnah in point of fact wanted a common Congress-League programme.
What was this idea of Pakistan? It is important to trace the beginning of the notion of Pakistan as it would help in understanding the realization of the partition of India. It is equally important to trace the beginnings of the rupture of Hindu-Muslim community that made possible such a division. Did Hindu-Muslim form two separate nations whose interests and differences could not be reconciled? The answers to such questions can shed light to the partition. Hindus and Muslims had lived side-by-side for many centuries. Though some contestation between the two erupted time-to-time but solidification of religious identities was peculiar to the colonial rule. The colonial rule always distinguished between the two communities and this distinction was observed in Government statistics- census, cataloging and so on, and also in terms of job and patronage. The two communities gradually felt and realized these distinctions. The census taxonomy fostered the concept of “religion as a community”.
However, the two communities were in themselves not yet cohesive and had divergent interests. In the United Provinces, the Muslims constituted a minority while in the Punjab they were in a majority of 51%. The census of 1872 gave a big surprise when it was assessed that Muslims formed 49. 2% of the population in Bengal. There was also an absence of common interests between Muslims of different provinces and other barriers such as sectarian, linguistic and economic. Even within a region Muslims were divided along several matters. Within Bengal few Muslims were large landed magnets while majority of them were poor peasants. But the colonial Government overlooked such differentiations, clubbing all Muslims together, seeing them as unified, cohesive and segregated from the Hindus. Gradually, this homogenization came to be accepted by the population. And this had the potential of organizing the Muslim community later. The colonial Government utilized religious category in all spheres- education, jobs, and representation in local self-governing bodies and so on.
It was however undeniable that Muslims across the country lacked a sizeable educated class. They had resisted western education. And this meant that fewer Muslims were employed in Government services. In Bengal in 1871 Muslim employed in Government jobs were 5. 9% while Hindus 41%.
Throughout the nineteenth century due to the series of social reforms both the Hindus and the Muslims community identities were being built up. There was growth of national consciousness and increasing political activism. In 1885 Indian National Congress was founded. The main stream nationalism led by Congress had some inherent contradictions which could not effectively fight communalization of religious communities. The presence of Hindu Mahasabha political leaders has already been mentioned. Gradually as Indian National Congress grew in its function in the course of the national movement, its claims as representing common interests were challenged by various section of the Indian society. Muslims were the first section to challenge such claims of the Congress. Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan (Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan was not a separatist but he had a different vision of nation. The nation of his view was a federation of communities having entitlement to different kinds of political rights subject to their ancestry and political importance. To this end given the nature of previous political power enjoyed by the Muslims, they had a special place in the new cosmopolitan British Empire)challenged the claims of Congress as representing common interests and claimed that it representative of Hindu majority.
In 1906 All India Muslim League was formed with the blessings of the colonial Government to counter the voice of the Congress during the partition of Bengal. This marked the beginning of a search for a political identity of the Muslims. This was still very far from the separatist predilections. There was a demand for protection of Muslim interests who formed a minority at an all-India level. This was fulfilled when separate electorates were granted to Muslims by the Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909. This concession changed the status of the Muslims as it recognized them as an all-India political category which was in “perpetual minority” in India. This change in status was to affect the Congress- League balance and claims. The Congress was not in the favour of grant of any such concessions. A brief truce was made at the Lucknow Pact of 1916. Community identity reached new levels during the Fist World War period. The call of the Khilafat Movement did much to forge a Muslim identity wherein the various differences could be papered over. This period saw merging of Khilafat- Non-Cooperation Movements but also a gradual disenchantment with each other. The Moplah Rebellion unfortunately targeted the Hindus in the Malabar in 1921.
The leaders of the fringe-group Hindu Mahasabha were given a boost during the period of the First World War. The pan-lslamic call created a sense of unease and insecurity amongst the Hindus who now reorganized themselves. The Hindu Mahasabha started Hindu sangathan in 1942 and the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh was founded in the same year. The Arya Samaj started a shuddi campaign in the Punjab and United Province. The post-Khilafat period witnessed several bouts of community violence.
Gyanrendra Pandey views the breakdown of Hindu-Muslim relations in the 1920s in the light of gradual de- recognition of religious nationalism in politics by the Congress. Leaders like Nehru emphasized a secularist approach to politics. But this was a slightly contradictory claim as Congress could, at no point in time, quite shake off the shackles of the members of the Hindu Mahasabha which functioned within the Congress and worked as a separate pressure group. In 1926 in Calcutta and Punjab there was not a single Muslim candidate. At the Guwahati Congress session a resolution condemning Muslim electorate was almost passed. By 1929 as Shaukat Ali observed ‘Congress had become an adjunct of Hindu Mahasabha’. From here onwards the support for the Congress radically reduced. Also, this secularist claim meant that any group that spoke along the lines of a community was seen as anti-nationalists. This meant that there was little scope for Congress-League merger or accommodation of community identity within the boundaries of a composite nation, at a time when Muslim community identity was just building up. Jinnah on his part was yet not so prominent and till late 1930s Muslims were yet not a political and homogenized community.
In the 1937 elections, the Muslim League performance was rather dismissal. In Sind, Bengal and the Punjab, the non-Congress Muslims members of different parties and groups came to power. The Muslim League headed by Jinnah was unable to secure a majority in any of the four Muslim-majority provinces (Bengal, the Punjab, Sind and the NWFP). The Congress won absolute majority in the Legislative Assemblies in five provinces: Madras, Central Provinces, United Provinces, Bihar and Orissa. This success of Congress led Nehru to announce that there were only two political parties in Indian scene, the Raj and the Congress. Furthermore, he refused to form a Coalition Government with the League in any of the Muslim-minority provinces. Nehru then launched a Muslim Mass Contact Programme inorder to encourage Muslims of join Congress. However, the Hindu Mahasabha leaders sabotaged it. Muslims were also discriminated in Congress Ministries. Jinnah came back to India in 1934 and took over the leadership of the League.
Jinnah however, was still not antagonistic and his aim was to make League a third party in any future Constitutional discussions. He was open to cooperating with the Congress at the Centre with a provision for revision of the federal structure provided for in the Act of 1935. But the Congress, made confident by its 1937 victories, chose to ignore Jinnah. Hereupon, Jinnah deployed the services of the Ulama in the Mass Contact Campaign of his own. Upon the resignation of the Congress Ministries in November 1939, Jinnah celebrated it as the Deliverance Day’. By December 1939 the mass contact campaign was so successful that League’s membership crossed 3 millions and Jinnah emerged as a leader of the Muslims.
There was a simultaneous development of the notion Muslim nationahood. In 1930 Sir Muhammad Iqbal presiding over the League’s session voiced the constitution of a centralized territory for Islam within India, formed by uniting the four provinces of Punjab, NWFP, Sind and Baluchistan This notion was further developed in 1933 by a Cambridge student, Rahmat Ali who spoke about an undefined Pakistan comprising of the above mentioned four Muslim provinces and Kashmir. The two-nation’ theory was formalized by Jinnah himself at the Karachi session of the League when he referred to the need of politcal self- determination of two nations, known as the Hindus and Muslims’. There was still no talk of partition but two federations with a common centre. This was not favourable to the Congress as it wanted a strong centre even within a federal setup. The Lahore session of the League in 1940 proclaimed Muslims as a nation and talked about “Independent States” to be constituted of the Muslim-majority provinces in an ‘unspecified future’. The demand for Pakistan was yet not articulated.
Till the passing of the June 3rd Plan and the actual partition of India into two dominions, Jinnah was ready for a compromise. What he wanted was a federation with a weak centre and Provincial Autonomy as it would imply Muslim domination in four provinces- the Punjab, NWFP, Sind and Bengal. His rather cruel call for the Direct Action Day was another twisted attempt at a bargaining tool. Partition was made possible by a mix of complicated factors. Not only did the League play a role but so did the Hindu Mahasabha, Muslim masses, Congress with its inability to come to a compromise with the League and the British policies, in the partition of the country. Lord Mountbatten infact firmly believed that partition was the only solution left to resolve Congress-League, and Hindu-Muslim standoff. Even Gandhi who staunchly denied the ‘two-nation’ theory by 1947 accepted the inevitability of the partition. By 1946, the British Government was rather quite eager to exit out of India and was unwilling to have the negotiations delayed for even a couple of years. Jinnah who was against the partition of Bengal and Punjab was pressed upon by Lord Mountbatten to accept it or else lose Pakistan altogether. In the end the Pakistan that Jinnah got was far from the vision of his dreams but a “moth-eaten” Pakistan. The non-Muslim- majority areas in the Punjab and in Bengal along with Assam (except Sylhet) decided to join India.
While both India and Pakistan gained their independence they paid an unimaginable price for it. The extent of loss of life and violence surpassed the fears of the people. About 1 million people were killed and more than 75, 000 women were raped and more than 10 million people were displaced.