I only just finished listening to the excellent podcast with the historian Venkat Dhulipala. My initial thoughts are that I am not surprised at how it went as I’ve read the book and heard Dhulipala speak a few times before and I am aware of Omar’s views on the topic.
The lack of surprise aside, I think it was a great 100th podcast. I think in general any discussion of the bloody Partition of India invariably has two interwoven threads – how reasonable was the Partition of India, i.e. did it actually solve a problem bigger than it created? And could a settlement of any sort have been achieved any other way, i.e. could the Partition have been averted?
My own view on the topic perhaps approaches Prof Dhulipala’s side more than it does Omar’s. Mainly because I am not Punjabi and frankly beyond some cultural and familial ties to Punjabis, I do not identify at all with the region. Like S Indians this contributes to my personal laissez faire-ism on the division of Punjab. Besides despite how much Punjabis go on about Punjabi bonhomie, it is evident that the Punjabi wavefunction collapses spectacularly when the religions are measured. So I remain sceptical of the claim of being one-people and positing counterfactuals to that effect.
That said, I am not at all gloating on my brethren from the piṇḍ (< Skt piṇḍala, lit. path through furrowed fields) and being a Kashmiri have sympathy for their position – as long as the emoting and ki banoo duniyā dā is kept under control. Let’s say, just enough for Gurdas Mann music videos 🙂
Anyway, back to the topic of Partition and the reason I am writing this post. I think there has been enough literature in the academia (as was discussed in the podcast too) on Pakistan being an unintended consequence of political brinksmanship. Jinnahbhai’s dalliance resulting in more than he had bargained for with the best of intentions. Even though, as the theory goes, it was an unintended issue Daddy wanted the best for it. Secularism, Democracy, welfare-state based on the loftiest moral abstractions that Islamicate civilization could offer and a humble refuge for Muslim minorities at the mercy of predatory Hinduism. Besides there’s the Medina theory of the religious conservatives, which Dhulipala’s book actually adds some hard evidence to.
Now I don’t know which one of those it really is, or maybe it is a bit of both. Yet there’s a third angle to this which almost never gets explicitly mentioned/debated. I am referring to the agency of Hindus in precipitating the Partition. I think this is a non-trivial question on which there doesn’t seem to be much historical literature (happy to be corrected; suggestions welcome!)
While it is often assumed that Hindus always wanted a United Pre-Partition India I don’t think there’s enough evidence to suggest that Hindu leaders had much appetite for an Akhand Pre-Partition Bharat. There was no serious mass-mobilisation of Hindus ever in India for keeping the old British India intact and Gandhi (with his constant need for moral one-upmanship) was driven to irrelevance on this question. A price worth paying in the eyes of Indian leadership at the time for territorial integrity and a strong central government – the ever closer union that EU still hankers after but never seems to reach. The transactional attitude was certainly the dominant Congress response to nebulous schemes like the Cabinet Mission Plan. In short, the Congressis were more serious in creating a state and were willing to pay the price in land they had little emotional investment in.
In the end Partition happened because a critical mass of people seriously wanted it. The manner in which this was achieved, however, couldn’t have been worse – and is a serious topic in itself. That said, second thoughts, buyer’s remorse, wisdom in hindsight etc are pointless in political decisions that are fairly high risk by their very nature. So while historians trawl through literature to fashion their favourite teleologies, the rest of us should just move on and make the best of what we have.
[NB: I strongly moderate comments. Any trolling, baiting etc goes straight to compost. So trolls, you know who you are, don’t even bother]