In August of 2012, the nations of India and Pakistan celebrated their 65th year of independence from the British Raj. Although its significance was overshadowed by the Independence Day celebrations, August 2012 also marked 65 years since the tragic and violent partition of India and Pakistan. The newfound independence in 1947 was met with mixed feelings. Although the people of India, through nationalism and self-determination, had finally rid themselves from British Imperialism, they now found themselves divided into two nations. While the predominantly Hindu area remained as India, the Northwestern and Eastern, predominantly Muslim area was separated and turned into an independent nation of Pakistan.
Considering the various sides involved with the partition, the various identities, religious and other, as well as political games involved, it is very difficult to find a single, true narrative to the story of partition1. The politicians involved regarded it coolly while the people involved in the partition and the massacre say it cannot be described. The one argument that arises when faced with this issue is the question of whether the partition of India truly was inevitable and the Hindu-Muslim unity impossible. Considering the workings of the congress, the deep seeded Hindu nationalism, the amount of different cultural identities in one place2, as well as the political intentions of the higher powers, the partition was bound to happen at some point.
India under the British Raj was seemingly divided into different areas of Hindu and Muslim majorities. It was the claim of the Muslim League and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, that the more powerful and dominantly Hindu Congress would regard the Muslim population as a minority. The Muslims, under one independent nation run by primarily Hindu government, would lose their rights. An example of this is Tilak’s resolve to blend Hinduism with nationalism, and the outcome of his campaign- the Deccan Riots 3. According to Jinnah, the Hindus and Muslims belonged to “two different religions, philosophies, social customs and literature”, and therefore could not coexist in a single nation4. Viceroy Mountbatten and Britain had to oblige to the League’s request and go forth with the partition.
Often, the main factor and one root cause cited for the partition of India is religion, however, looking back at the timing and situation historically, religion might’ve been a reason, but perhaps one that was intentionally stressed so that nation could be separated more easily. It can be considered that Jinnah, who initially supported Hindu and Muslim unity, eventually realized the extent of power he could gain with a separate Pakistan5. This drove him to support the idea of a separate nation to succeed in his personal ambition. Furthermore, in 1947, the Cold War had also just started between the Western powers against the Soviets. It is possible that the British intentionally separated the nation, realizing that a separate Pakistan would be beneficial in fighting the Soviets6. However, without those initial differences and conflicts between the religious groups, there would be no way to push forth and execute the partition afterwards, so there were plenty of reasons why it was inevitable.
When Jinnah’s early beliefs are contrasted with his later beliefs, many contradictions are found. It is likely that Jinnah’s beliefs changed to adapt to his idea of gaining power7. Like other early members of the Congress, Muhammad Ali Jinnah was also a well to do lawyer, receiving most of his education in India, but later moving to England to study law further, which is where Jinnah gained an interest in Indian politics. It is a known fact that Jinnah in his early political career did not consider himself to a be a strict Muslim8. “In his personal life he ignored the claims of faith. He liked his whisky and, according to some accounts, his ham sandwiches too.” Furthermore, Jinnah later also married a non-Muslim girl, with much opposition from orthodox Muslim leaders. From this, it can be concluded that Jinnah never considered himself to be a strict Muslim believer, and in often cases committed things that would be considered a taboo in Muslim cultures. At the beginning, Jinnah was also a believer in Hindu-Muslim unity. It is questionable whether he even wanted a creation of a separate Muslim state later on, or whether it was forced by the leaders of the Congress9.
When he was a member of the Congress, he was often referred to as the “Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity”10. Like Gandhi, Jinnah too, believed that Hindus and the Muslims should unite through nationalism and fight the British. It is obvious that when his initial views are compared to his later views, a heavy contradiction can be found. The fact that Jinnah who was not a firm believer in faith, later fought to find Muslim independency through Pakistan is highly contradictory. After claiming to be disgusted from Gandhi’s use of Hindu methods in fighting the British, Jinnah left the Congress to join the Muslim League in 1913. Jinnah had feared that Gandhi’s methods would eventually cause a separation between the religious groups, something Jinnah would eventually campaign for in a few years11. In the Muslim Leagure, Jinnah continued working for unity between the two political communities, through the Lucknow Pact in 191612. By this time, Jinnah had already gained power as the President of the Muslim League.
Jinnah quit politics in 1929, then returned in 1934 with a different attitude on religious unity. Jinnah suddenly started using religious differences as a rationality to campaign for a separate Pakistan trying to separate the two groups. Jinnah, finding himself in a high position of power in the League, realized the full potential of the power he could gain by creating a separate Pakistan13. As the League continued campaigning for Pakistan, Gandhi, disgusted with the idea of partition, held meetings with Jinnah and in many occasions offered him Prime Ministership of a combined India, which he rejected14. This could’ve not only saved India from partition before things escalated, but also give Jinnah the ability to make sure that the Muslims could keep their rights in the nation. Since Jinnah’s intentions now went beyond simply creating security for all Muslims, spurred by the Muslim’s demand for a national identity of their own, he wanted to create a country just for them and gain more power. “The Muslim League appealed to the symbolism of a Muslim state and invoked an image of community unity, juxtaposed against a world marked by complex patterns of social divisions. Pakistan came to represent a demand for territory, and thus the territorial partition of the Indian Subcontinent.”15 This, of course, resulted in bloody consequences.
Although different political sides with various intensions possibly exacerbated the religious differences between the Hindu and Muslim people, religion is still the most important factor that motivated the partition. There were vast differences between the two major religious communities of British India and the strict practices of each. Furthermore, the extreme usage of the Hindu religion by the Congress had a negative toll and consequence on the ideas of Hindu-Muslim unity16. Although secularism was a popular idea that both political parties initially promoted and campaigned, once the two-nation theory was presented, many Muslim politicians felt that continuing to live under a single nation would be a step backward17. The immense difference in the population of the groups further created tensions and considerable paranoia for the minority. Living in a predominantly Hindu society captured the imagination of many Muslims like Nawab Viqar-ul-Mulk, a founder of the Muslim League, “The Musalmans are only a fifth in number as compared with the total population of the country, and it is manifest that if at any remote period the British government ceases to exist in India, then the rule of India would pass into the hands of that community which is nearly four times as large as ourselves…our life, our property, our honor, and our faith will all be in great danger…”
18. This angered the Muslim community as they felt that they were being stripped of being able to use the language best fit for their religion. Furthermore, the Muslim population also criticized Gandhi’s methods. Gandhi’s concept of non-violence, adapted by the powerful Congress, was also greatly influenced by Hinduism and contrasting to the Muslim beliefs of struggle or “Jihad” 19. It is clear that only religion could create a rationality and motivation for a partition. Without these important differences between the two groups, no amount of influence from politicians and the British would succeed in partition the country in such a brutal way.
With the partition taking place immediately after the independence, people found themselves having to leave their homes, wealth and identity behind. It is estimated that, during this process, 14.5 million people had to migrate, from which five hundred thousand to a million were estimated to be killed20. Sixty-five years after the horrific partition, historians still find themselves arguing over the real cause of the separation. “There are many different stories to be told about 1947, many different perspectives to be recovered. Stories and perspectives that tell of other histories and other political possibilities.”21 However, one thing is certain, the partition was inevitable, made possible by the religious differences and hatred spurred on by various political powers at the time.