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Independence, not partition

Arrivals of migrants in 1947 — Photo by White Star
Arrivals of migrants in 1947 — Photo by White Star

To virtually equate the holocaust that occurred during the events of partition with the dignity and beauty of the achievement of independence from colonial rule is unjust and untenable. The term ‘partition’ as a synonym for independence belittles the vision and devalues the validity of the concept of Pakistan. It implies that the rationale for a new, predominantly Muslim nation-state is rooted in forced separation, displacement and violence. The painful circumstances of Pakistan’s birth should not become the lens through which we view a decisive landmark in the continuing evolution of Muslim nationalism in South Asia.

By design as well as by perhaps inadvertent repetition, the concept and word of partition have been made synonymous with the independence of Pakistan and India. With conscious intent or by unconscious adoption of a widely used term, this process of subtle, semantic misrepresentation was initially conducted in India and the West by scholars and the media. Regrettably, many of their counterparts in Pakistan also incorrectly use the word partition to refer to the momentous phenomenon of the birth of two entirely new nation-states.

The achievement of independence by Pakistan and India required the division of a region, not of an already existing single state or a single, historic nation.

What the British designated as the ‘Indian’ region in South Asia (instead of ‘Hindustan’) always comprised — as it still does — a wide diversity of races, faiths, languages, cultures and nations. These were partially or wholly organised into kingdoms, principalities and fiefdoms. Yet each such entity also contained diversities.

At the height of their power and reach hundreds of years earlier, neither Ashoka nor Chandragupta Maurya nor the Mughals ruled all parts of this region. They were certainly the dominant forces of their respective ages. But before 1947, there was no singular political entity covering the territories Pakistan, Bangladesh and India presently comprise that exercised the comprehensive control in all respects that the definition of a singular state entity mandates. Even during the British Raj of 1857-1947, many princely states retained sovereignty over several internal subjects while conceding only foreign affairs, defence and communications/currency to the British.

In mid-August 1947, only two provinces were partitioned: Punjab and Bengal. The other three provinces of West Pakistan were not divided. In what became the Indian state, there were 12 other provinces which were not subjected to division. These included the highly populated Uttar Pradesh, apart from southern provinces such as Madras (now Tamil Nadu) and Kerala. The de facto division of Kashmir was accidental, not planned.

While being a devastating event, then, partition was only a component of the achievement of independence by Pakistan and India, and not the whole of independence itself.

There were as many as 562 princely states in the region with their respective relationships documented by treaties and agreements with the British government. Whether it was micro-states such as Belha or states such as Hyderabad Deccan which was as large as France, each claimed a distinct, separate identity. Due to inescapable geographic reasons, most of these acceded to India. Yet several, despite being Hindu (e.g. Jaisalmer and Jodhpur, which preferred Pakistan), were crudely coerced to surrender. A few chose Pakistan outright. The refusal of small Junagadh and of large Hyderabad Deccan to join the new Indian state required ruthless intervention by India’s armed forces to compel integration.

Partition was the consequence of Mountbatten’s policy of excessive haste. He arbitrarily advanced to August 1947 the date for independence from the limit of June 1948 given to him by British prime minister Attlee’s government. This ill-considered decision was unfortunately accepted as a fait accompli by both the Muslim League and the Congress. There was a gross failure to anticipate and prevent the panic and migration on a mass scale which led to the horrific killings of about one million human beings and the displacement and transfer of about eight to 10 million people moving across the new frontiers.

The misrepresentation of partition as being synonymous with independence is best reflected in the title of a book by an Indian scholar who portrays the quintessentially secular Mr Jinnah as a rabid, Hindu-hating communalist. The Man Who Divided India: An Insight into Jinnah’s Leadership and Its Aftermath was first published in 2001. The fact that the author is an Indian Muslim named Rafiq Zakaria reinforces the attempted credibility. It is another matter that Mr Jinnah strongly opposed the partition of Punjab and Bengal. As late as May 1947, he addressed an urgent letter to the British cabinet asking it to prevent such a division because he wanted large numbers of non-Muslims to also be part of the original Pakistan. Partition was callously imposed by the Congress and Mountbatten, not a condition created by the Quaid-i-Azam.

This fact alone should persuade us to abandon the continued use of this term in a synonymous context. While it obviously needs to be used whenever reference is made to the division of the two provinces, the glory of a new nation-state’s independence should not be marred by a negative and misleading term.

The writer is a former senator and federal minister and author of Pakistan: Unique Origins; Unique Destiny?

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Comments (9) Closed

Mukesh L
Aug 14, 2012 11:14am
There is a famous quote of Quad-e-Azam "I don't take right decisions but I take the decisions and make them right". Unfortunately he didn't get much time (unlike Nehru) after the partition to make his wrong decision right and tell the poor souls of Pakistan, what he really was his vision; creating a country in the name of religion and calling for secularism? Alas, he created a country in which his own sister was not given the due: thugs/opportunists immediately took over (realising that now they can be ministers etc in Pakistan while they could have never dreamed that of in undivided India).
Aug 14, 2012 07:03am
Is that a joke. Ha ha
Aug 14, 2012 08:16am
"Yet several, despite being Hindu (e.g. Jaisalmer and Jodhpur, which preferred Pakistan), were crudely coerced to surrender." On this day, they will happily look back at the surrender and thank their stars for being a part of a better nation or else, these beautiful places of palaces, would have become a hotbed of terrorist training forts.
Shakil Chaudhary
Aug 14, 2012 09:21am
Javed Jabbar laments the fact that the independence and the partition have become synonymous (Independence, Not Partition’, August 14). The reason is simple: both happened at the same time. In fact, it is hard to separate one from the other. It is not easy for the ordinary mortals to ignore ‘the horrific killings of about one million human beings and the displacement and transfer of about eight to 10 million people moving across the new frontiers.’ Saying that the term ‘partition’ as a synonym for independence belittles the vision of Pakistan, sounds a little facile. What really was the vision of Pakistan? Despite the lapse of 65 years, the Pakistani intellectuals are still fighting over as to what was the vision of Pakistan. This is not fair on the part of Mr. Jabbar to dismiss Rafiq Zakaria’s book ‘The Man Who Divided India: An Insight into Jinnah’s Leadership and Its Aftermath’ in a couple of sentences. He should write at least one full-fledged article, if not a book, to prove it wrong. Mr Jabbar says that Jinnah was a “quintessentially secular” person. Then how come secularism has become dirty word in Pakistan? Was the two-nation theory a product of Jinnah’s secular thinking? In order to prove Jinnah’s secular credentials, Mr Jabbar says that he strongly opposed the partition of Punjab and Bengal because he wanted a large number of non-Muslims to be part of Pakistan. What does having a large number of Hindus in Pakistan mean? Didn’t the two-nation theory say that Hindus and Muslims could not live together? If they could not live together in India, how could they live together in Punjab and Bengal? How can you have it both ways?
Aug 14, 2012 02:06pm
indian should get over and mind your businees we both acheive independence as two separate states and pakistan will never be a part of india it will remain as a soverign nation
Anant Jain
Aug 15, 2012 07:05am
Totally agree with Shakil here. Was Jinnah secular in his beliefs, probably yes but to most people what mattered was his public posturing which was strongly communal. Jinnah's secular credentials are for apologetics who see the current state of Pakistan as a consequence of communal policies. How can the writer above explain the dichotomy of wanting a secular state rallying around a religion? For that matter none of Jinnah's speeches ever used 'secular' word. Regarding Punjab and Bengal another and more likely reason/viewpoint is that Jinnah wanted whole of Bengal and Punjab to be a part of Pakistan. Jinnah whole heartedly agreed to moving of date from 1948 to 1947 due to his dwindling health.
Anant Jain
Aug 15, 2012 07:09am
No Indian in his sane mind would want Pakistan to be a part of India. I would like to thank Jinnah that he created a buffer between India and the unruly tribal areas of Afghanistan, Balochistan etc. We are better off without you folks. Regarding soverignity well the American and terrorists are taking good care.
Syed Shah
Aug 15, 2012 08:46am
Totally agree Sir. Mr. Javed Jabbar is a bit confused I guess. First of all such a discussion is not warranted. Independence came with partition. What is the problem. Muslims in India in places like Hyderabad call it "aazari" in Urdu meaning pain. They lost the freedom. So there, independence is seen very curiously. Instead of freedom it brought oppression and discrimination against Muslims. They were branded as Pakistanis. Where Osmania University imparted education in an Indian language Urdu, it was replaced with a foreign language - English. Creation of Pakistan was most important and very good as a sovereign Muslim Country in the region. When Hyderabad was sending 20 crores to Pakistan The Nizam when objected said, "I am surrounded and without arms (Hyderabad army had gone to fight in WWII with full arms but the army returned without them, while Brits kept promising that they will be replineshed, from local garrisons, they never did till 1948) I do not know what will happen of me. I am the subedar of The Sultanate Mughlia and if there is one Muslim State in the Sultanate Mughlia I am happy, lets send whatever we can". That was the spirit in which Pakistan was created. Muslim glory. But responsibilities go with a sovereign Muslim country which we fail to fulfill. India conducted thousands of pogroms on Muslims who were our comrades in the common struggle. Have we done any thing? Nothing. Compare it to how India helped Hindus in Fiji when a local had taken over from an elected government. India quietly moved Commonwealth, UN etc. and ensured his arrest. He is languishing in jail till now. We do nothing. Instead considering them as our Muslim brethren we have abandoned them to the wolves.
Syed Shah
Aug 15, 2012 08:47am
But do it soon before it gets stale. Thanks.