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Muslims in subcontinent: 60 years after partition

Though Allama Iqbal, a renowned philosopher, poet and politician in British India, had a limited concept of a Muslim homeland in the subcontinent as enunciated it in 1929 (the North West only), partition was conceived in 1940 for the benefit of the Muslim majority living in the northwest as well as the east of the subcontinent, and the Pakistan Resolution, adopted by the Muslim League in March 1940, spoke in terms of “Muslim-majority areas” in these two regions and the creation of “Muslim states” therein. The resolution conceived that the religious minorities living in two parts of the subcontinent under a reciprocal arrangement shall be able to safeguard the interest of Muslims in the rest of India. However, the Pakistan Movement did receive more enthusiastic support from the Muslims living in the Muslim-minority provinces of British India, particularly Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, than from the Muslim-majority provinces (which were to form Pakistan). It is generally conceded that the near unanimous support of the Muslim electorate in the Muslim-minority provinces in the election of 1945-46 which created the unchallengeable basis for the Muslim League to claim the “sole” leadership of all the Muslims of India. From there on, it negotiated on equal terms with the British government as well as with the Indian National Congress for determining the future setup after the British left.
The irony lies in that it was Lajpat Rai who first envisioned Pakistan as it is today and proposed the partition of Punjab. And it was Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, again a Hindu hard-liner, who first defined Indian citizenship as exclusively Hindu and in 1937, as the president of the Hindu Mahasabha, defined India as a country of two separate “nations” Hindus and non-Hindus. So neither Iqbal nor Muhammad Ali Jinnah, but Lajpat Rai and Savarkar were the real authors of the two-nation theory; Jinnah only reversed the Savarkar proposal to divide India between Muslims and non-Muslims.
In 1947 by proposing to partition Punjab and then Bengal and Assam on the basis of religion and contiguity, the Congress leadership directly contributed to the partition of the country thus foisting Jinnah on his own petard and leaving him with what he called a “moth-eaten” Pakistan.
The question is: Why did the Muslims of the minority provinces in British India signed a blank check in favor of Pakistan, shout slogans and vote massively in its favor? Why did they never question the leadership of the Muslim League and the Pakistan Movement on their status after the country was divided? Why did they behave like dumb, driven cattle? Why did they never ask any question? And never receive any answer? In retrospect, this lack of thinking appears to be not only shortsighted but almost suicidal.
Immediately after partition, there was almost total migration of non-Muslims from West Pakistan to India, substantially even from East Pakistan, although the Hindus continued to form some 15 percent of its population.
The theory of reciprocity, hostage and tit-for-tat, enunciated by the supporters of the Muslim League, even by Jinnah, in negotiations with the Cabinet Mission, thus proved to be hollow and ineffective and useless before it could be put to any test, in protecting the interest of the Muslims of India even if the rulers of Pakistan so wanted.
In any case, India and Pakistan had emerged as independent sovereign states and under international law and as members of the UNO they were both expected to respect human rights of their minorities but they were precluded from interference in the internal affairs of the other state. This explains why the Liaqat Ali Khan-Jawaharlal Nehru Agreement of 1950, which was signed in the wake of communal disturbances in East Pakistan, remained a dead letter and has hardly ever been invoked. Indeed, even the successor state, namely, Bangladesh, has never invoked it in relation to the Muslims of India.
The prevalent view in Pakistan is that the Muslims of the minority provinces were expected to “sacrifice themselves for the benefit of the Muslims in Pakistan and for the glory of Islam.” In fact they did. Was it bravado or stupidity? In any case Muslim Indians received no reward, not even acknowledgment for the “sacrifice.”
Before partition there were some hints on exchange of population but this was an absolutely impracticable proposition considering the lack of balance between the huge number of Muslims in India and the relatively small population of non-Muslims in Pakistan. No doubt after the communal bloodshed, millions of Muslims migrated to Pakistan from East Punjab and some from UP and Bihar. For some time there was relative freedom of movement between the two countries and over the next 10 years a few hundred thousand Muslim Indians crossed the border, largely into East Pakistan.
Ambedkar had proposed an organized exchange of population, on terns agreed to in advance but he underestimated the enormity and impracticability of the undertaking. Neither the Muslim League nor the Congress had ever formally proposed any exchange of population as a concomitant of partition. India was ideologically committed to build a secular state. So how could it object to Muslims living in India? The Indian leadership, including Gandhi, Nehru and Patel, opposed it. Muslim Pakistan never raised the issue because it was never in a position to host and absorb them. It would have simply collapsed, had India physically forced the Muslim Indians out into Pakistan.

(This is the first of a three-part column on partition of India. The second part will be published on Friday.)

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