The radicals may claim that they maintained peace because they were the rulers. Yet, the fact is that Hindus and Muslims had developed a composite culture which recognised the mingling of two civilisations and which had overcome the pulls of polarisation. Social contacts were regular and festivals of the two communities were celebrated jointly. Still, it did not take the articulators of religious identity much to tear the fabric apart from the thirties. Was pluralism only a cover to hide differences? And in reality, the two communities had never occupied the common ground and had remained distant from each other?
Had this been the case, why was the exchange of population ruled out when the separation was contemplated? Even Muslims on their own did not raise any objection that those left behind in India would number more than the ones in the Muslim homeland, Pakistan. Hindus left Pakistan and Muslims from Punjab and a few other cities in the north. It was a forced eviction.
The shadowy demand for vivisection was in the background for a long time. But it never swept Muslims off their feet until the thirties, when the idea of a two-nation theory was propounded. The Muslim League, in which Qaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah infused life, won hands down.
In the 1937 elections, the League won 101 out of the 482 Muslim seats in 11 provinces. A decade later in 1946, it won all over India: 116 seats out of 119 in Bengal, 43 out of 50 in Bihar, 54 out of 61 in UP, 34 out of 34 in Sind and so on. The League failed to get a majority only in the mountainous North West Frontier Province, where the Congress Party (Red Shirts) won.
It is useless to debate the birth of Pakistan, which is getting more and more radical and Talibanised. But there are liberal Hindu and Muslim leaders in the two countries and other parts of the world to question the people of the two communities parting company from one another after having shared a common way of living and following the same tradition for centuries.
Top Congress leader Maulana Abul Kalam Azad warned that Muslims in UP, Bihar and Madras would “awake and discover overnight that they have become aliens and foreigners. Backward industrially, educationally and economically, they will be left to the mercies of what would then become an unadulterated Hindu Raj”.
Jawaharlal Nehru said the splitting up of India did not solve the problem of “two nation”, for there were Hindus and Muslims all over the place. Humayun Kabir, Azad’s private secretary, told me that Azad thought the Congress leaders (Nehru was then 58 years old and Sardar Patel 72) accepted partition because they had grown too tired; too old to continue the agitation against the British and wanted to devote the rest of their lives to build an India of their dreams. The Muslim community dubbed Azad as “Hindus’ show boy”.
It was an avalanche of migration. Humanity was on the move on both sides. None expected it, none wanted it but none could help it. The two countries blamed each other as they tried to grapple with these and other chaotic problems of partition after the first few heady days. The refugees carried with them to the country they went not only bitterness and vengeful thoughts, but also stories of atrocities in the villages where they had lived peacefully with other communities for centuries. If partition was on the basis of religion, these instances only furrowed it deep.
I personally felt the privations of partition only when I crossed the border penniless. I was not alone. This happened to most Hindus and Muslims who were confident to return to their own homes once things settled down. But it did not happen that way.
How come that the same people from UP and Bihar, a bastion of the Muslim League, looked with disdain at the ideology of secularism till the formation of Pakistan? Today, they swear by secularism. How do they justify the two contrary stands before their children or grandchildren? Secularism is the anti-thesis of separation. If it is not the conviction of the community, it is for it to introspect. Many Hindus are becoming prey to the same anti-national approach.
I thought that the religious phobia was over after the British left and Pakistan was constituted. But I did not reckon with the separatists working within the Hindu community. The BJP is the Muslim League of pre-partition days. Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has become the biggest exponent of Hindutva.
Religious approach divided the subcontinent. The same thesis, articulated by the BJP, is destroying national unity. Imagine Modi, who blessed the killing of Muslims as Gujarat chief minister, becoming India’s Prime Minister. It means the battle for a secular polity has to be fought all over again. There is no alternative to it because the aggressiveness of the majority can turn into fascism. People thinking in terms of democracy and pluralism cannot sit idle at this juncture.
The writer is a veteran journalist and commentator