Monday, August 6, 2012

Partition of Punjab I

To my mind, it is an extraordinary waste of important public space to engage in tit for tat kind of back and forth comments through columns in national newspapers. I did not want to respond to Ishtiaq Ahmed’s rebuttal article last week (Daily Times, July 22, 2012) through this space and therefore, responded to it through a blog in some detail. Unfortunately, my blog elicited a response in the comments section by one Mr Shakil Chaudhry, who wrote an article in this newspaper. Be that as it may, I am forced to write a three-part response and the readers will just have to bear with me.

Everyone has the right to his own opinion and I would like the counterparties to realise that I too have the right to my opinion about Ishtiaq Ahmed’s work. Nevertheless, I still think that his recent book is a drastic improvement upon his earlier work. It is precisely for this reason the book needs to be highlighted. Coming as it is from a certain one-sided point of view, the content of the book shows that the violence in Punjab was caused by the insistence of Congress to partition Punjab at the insistence of the Sikhs.

It is not that Ayesha Jalal, H M Seervai or Hamza Alavi have a monopoly on Pakistan’s historical wisdom. H M Seervai was not even a Pakistani as Mr Chaudhry assumes. However, their points of view have long been accepted as a necessary corrective to the myths about partition perpetuated by the two nation states and sadly, which Mr Chaudhry and Mr Ahmed adhere to. To dismiss them outright as sophists or people not having training in ‘democratic theory’ as Mr Ahmed wrote to me is therefore something that raises questions about his impartiality as an author and a scholar. Similarly, I have read both H S Suhrawardy’s biography and the treatise by Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman on the emergence of Pakistan and the statements attributed to them by Mr Chaudhry is at best drawing room chatter, which is not based on any real historical account. Nevertheless, it is a moot point that partition as it happened did not serve anyone, least of all Jinnah, and the Muslim League who were arguing for a consociationalist counterpoise.

As for Jinnah’s politics from 1940 to 1946, one may refer to H V Hodson, the Reforms Commissioner in India in 1941, who wrote very soon after the Lahore Resolution that every Muslim Leaguer from Jinnah down to the last one interpreted the Pakistan idea as consistent with the idea of a confederation of India. Hodson believed that “Pakistan” was a “revolt against minority status” and a call for power sharing and not just defining rules of conduct how a majority (in this case Hindu) would govern India. He spoke of an acute realisation that the minority status with all the safeguards could only amount to a “Cinderella with trade union rights and radio in the kitchen but still below the stairs.” Jinnah’s comment was that Hodson had finally understood what the League was after, but that he could not publicly come out with these fundamental truths, as these were likely to be misunderstood at the time. In respect of what Congress and League could have done to keep India united, his entire point was that a consociational government was not possible because of a trust deficit. Again, his research lacks in this regard. The Cabinet Mission Plan for implementation did not require Congress and the Muslim League to give up their differences and trust each other but only for a brief period until the constitution was in place. Gandhi and Nehru insisted on the partition of Punjab and Bengal even when Bengal was ready to go its own independent secular way. The ‘coalition’ government formed in September 1946 came after the burial of the Cabinet Mission Plan and was not a coalition government, it was an ‘interim’ government. In fact, it was called an interim government. An interim government encompasses varying interests — often working at cross-purposes — to preside over the formation of a permanent political system through either constitution making or elections. This is why interim governments are not called coalition governments. They are not meant to function as coalitions. 

Mr Ahmed makes some errors in his latest article. The 10-year out clause does not figure in the Cabinet Mission Plan. That was a demand that was not finally placed in those terms. There was absolutely no mention of the 10-year secession in the Cabinet Mission Plan. Ayesha Jalal confirms this view on page 196 of The Sole Spokesman: “But there was no mention of the right of secession from the union. All in all the 16th of May statement contained evidence of greater deference to Congress standpoint, hinting to Jinnah that perhaps he had missed the bus.”

The point about the Princely states is similarly inaccurate. Princely India was to be part of the federation and would be giving three subjects including foreign affairs and defence to the Union. Therefore, no question of what Mr Ahmed says arises in the least. To think that the fourth group could carry out a policy in contradiction to the rest of India is a stretch. It is also a fact that Congress did not raise any of the points raised by Mr Ahmed. Congress wanted to interpret the groupings clause in its own way and this was seen as a betrayal of faith by all impartial observers at the time. 

Next week I shall address the issue of the so-called ‘Islamic pronouncements’ of Mr Jinnah and whether these have any nexus to the debate we are having.

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