In August 2012, India and Pakistan celebrated their 65th year of independence from the British Raj. This occasion was overshadowed by the tragic partition of India and Pakistan, which also occurred 65 years ago. The independence achieved in 1947 brought mixed emotions as it freed India from British Imperialism but divided the population into two nations. India remained predominantly Hindu while the Northwestern and Eastern regions with a Muslim majority became Pakistan.
Given the multitude of perspectives involved in the partition, including religious and political considerations, it becomes extremely challenging to establish a singular and definitive narrative for its story1. While politicians approached it with indifference, those directly affected by the partition and the ensuing massacre assert its indescribable nature. A key argument that arises is whether the division of India was truly unavoidable and Hindu-Muslim unity unattainable. Taking into account the operations of the congress, the deep-rooted Hindu nationalism, the coexistence of diverse cultural identities in one region2, and the political motives of higher authorities, it was inevitable that partition would eventually occur.
During the time of British Raj, the Indian subcontinent experienced a clear division between Hindu and Muslim majorities. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, leader of the Muslim League, expressed his concerns about Muslims being marginalized by the predominantly Hindu Congress party. This fear stemmed from their worry about losing their rights in an independent nation where Hindus held dominance. One example highlighting this concern was Tilak’s efforts to merge Hinduism with nationalism, which resulted in the Deccan Riots. Jinnah argued that Hindus and Muslims practiced separate religions, followed different philosophies and social customs, and had distinct literary traditions. Consequently, he believed peaceful coexistence within one country would not be possible for them. As a result, Viceroy Mountbatten and Britain had to accept the partition demand made by the Muslim League and act accordingly.
The main factor frequently cited for the partition of India is religion. However, considering the historical timing and situation, religion may have been intentionally emphasized to facilitate the separation of the nation. Jinnah, who initially advocated for Hindu-Muslim unity, eventually recognized the potential power he could achieve with a separate Pakistan. This realization influenced his endorsement of the idea of a separate nation to fulfill his personal ambition. Additionally, in 1947, the Cold War emerged between Western powers and Soviets. It is plausible that the British purposefully divided the nation, recognizing that a separate Pakistan would be advantageous in countering the Soviets7.
Nonetheless, without the initial differences and conflicts between religious groups, there would not have been enough impetus and opportunity to execute the partition. Hence, multiple factors converged to make it inevitable.
When examining Jinnah’s early and later beliefs, several contradictions can be found. It is probable that Jinnah modified his beliefs to align with his goal of gaining power7. Like other early members of the Congress, Muhammad Ali Jinnah was initially a successful lawyer who received most of his education in India. However, he later relocated to England to further study law, which sparked his interest in Indian politics.
It is widely known that during the early stages of his political career, Jinnah did not identify as a strict Muslim8. “In his personal life, he disregarded religious expectations, enjoying alcoholic beverages and reportedly even consuming ham sandwiches.” Moreover, Jinnah controversially married a non-Muslim woman despite facing opposition from orthodox Muslim leaders.
Based on this evidence, it can be inferred that Jinnah never considered himself a devout Muslim and frequently participated in activities disapproved in Muslim cultures. Initially ,Jinnah also supported Hindu-Muslim unity ,raising doubts about whether he genuinely desired the establishment of a separate Muslim state later on or if it was imposed by Congress leaders9.
While serving in Congress, Jinnah was known as the “Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity,” advocating for nationalist collaboration between Hindus and Muslims to oppose British rule. However, a contradiction arises when comparing his early and later beliefs. Despite not being religiously inclined, Jinnah later advocated for Muslim independence and the creation of Pakistan. He became disenchanted with Gandhi’s use of Hindu tactics in the fight against British rule, leading him to leave Congress and join the Muslim League in 1913. Jinnah feared that Gandhi’s methods would divide religious groups, a concern he himself would campaign for later on. Within the Muslim League, Jinnah continued working towards unity between political communities, exemplified by his involvement in the Lucknow Pact of 1916. By then, he had already risen to power as President of the Muslim League.
Jinnah retired from politics in 1929, but returned in 1934 with a changed perspective on religious unity. He began to exploit religious differences as a justification for advocating a separate Pakistan and dividing the two communities. Recognizing the potential power he could attain by establishing a separate Pakistan, Jinnah, who held a prominent position in the League, fully embraced this idea. While the League continued to campaign for Pakistan, Gandhi, who strongly opposed the concept of partition, held multiple meetings with Jinnah and even offered him the position of Prime Minister of a unified India, which Jinnah declined. This proposal could have not only prevented the escalation of partition in India, but also secured the rights of Muslims within the country. However, Jinnah’s objectives now extended beyond mere security for Muslims; driven by their desire for a distinct national identity, he sought to create a country exclusively for Muslims and gain increased authority. “The Muslim League used the concept of a Muslim state as a symbol and invoked an image of unity within the community, contrasting it with a world characterized by complex social divisions. Pakistan came to represent a territorial demand and consequently led to the partition of the Indian Subcontinent.” As expected, this resulted in violent consequences.
While political differences and intentions may have exacerbated religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims, religion was the primary motivator for the partition of British India. The two major religious communities had significant differences in their practices. The Congress party’s heavy reliance on Hinduism had a negative impact on Hindu-Muslim unity. Initially, both political parties supported secularism, but the introduction of the two-nation theory led many Muslim politicians to believe that remaining under a single nation would be regressive. The disproportionate populations between Hindus and Muslims created further tensions and fear among the minority. Nawab Viqar-ul-Mulk, a founder of the Muslim League, highlighted the concerns of Muslims living in a predominantly Hindu society, expressing worries about their life, property, honor, and faith being in great danger if India were to be ruled by the larger community.
18. The Muslim community was enraged as they believed their ability to use the language most suitable for their religion was being taken away. Additionally, Gandhi’s methods were also criticized by the Muslim population. The powerful Congress, which embraced Gandhi’s concept of non-violence, was heavily influenced by Hinduism, which contradicted the Muslim belief in struggle or “Jihad”.
19. It is evident that only religion could provide reasoning and motivation for a partition. Without these significant differences between the two groups, no amount of influence from politicians and the British could have achieved such a brutal division of the country.
After gaining independence, the partition resulted in individuals being forced to give up their residences, riches, and sense of self. It is approximated that around 14.5 million people were compelled to migrate, leading to a death toll that varies from five hundred thousand to one million. Although sixty-five years have passed since then, historians continue to debate the true reason behind the division. “There are multiple narratives and viewpoints of 1947 that expose different historical accounts and political possibilities.” Nevertheless, one fact remains evident: religious disparities and hostility driven by various political entities during that era made the partition unavoidable.