Days before 68th Independence Day, three controversies are waiting to be resolved. First, who got us freedom? Second, was the Partition inevitable? Lastly, how have we fared since Independence? Mahatma Gandhi, his fasts and mass movements indeed carried the message of freedom to the common man. However, much before Gandhi’s arrival 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 the beleaguered empire till it packed off.
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army 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.
World War II
Moreover, after the World War II, the 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 the 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 the result of an ego clash between an ambitious and arrogant Nehru and Mohammad Ali Jinnah who was frustrated with the Congress? Or was it a product of British conspiracy? In the "secular" narrative, the answer to both the questions is "yes".
After crushing the uprising of 1857, the British 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: Hindu-Muslim, Hindu-Sikh, Caste Hindus versus the rest, Aryans versus Dravidians, north versus south and princes versus their subjects. Probably, the only man who saw through their sordid game was Gandhi 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-old Hindu-Muslim ties, mostly soaked in blood. 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 on the outskirts of the city in an area, now known as Noida. Till then the Mughal 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 the 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 founder of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in a speech delivered in Meerut on March 16, 1888.
The following are excerpts from his speech: “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 — rests on God’s will. But until one nation has conquered the other and made it obedient, peace cannot reign in the land.”
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 large sections of Muslims in the sub-continent till date. Most of India-Pakistan problems and Hindu-Muslim chasm in the sub-continent can be traced to the mindset generated by Sir Syed’s credo.
In order to wean away the Muslim psyche from this poisonous weed, Gandhi bent backwards, supported the Khilafat movement in 1920 but failed miserably. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a non-practising Muslim, a "secularist", and a leader without followers till the 1930s, emerged as the sole voice of Indian Muslims; but only after he started speaking for the Partition and against the Hindus.
The Jinnah mindset
The British exploited this mindset. 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 the 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. Maybe in such a scenario, the net loss of lives and property would have been less than what the sub-continent suffered in the Partition riots.
Since Independence, India has done well for itself. It is the only stable and a secular democracy in the region. We have a lot to celebrate and improve upon.