By Saeed Naqvi:
A suggestion that a neutral army and police force be maintained for peace in the early days of Partition was overruled by a majority of Congress leaders. Nehru and Patel opposed it, of course, but not as vehemently as Dr Rajendra Prasad who emphatically opposed a unified army ‘even for a day’. Why this extreme aversion to a joint army, ‘even for a day’? Because Congress leaders were eager to seal Partition. They wished to leave no room for the issue to be re-opened. Leaders who otherwise stood on a platform of a united India were now adamant that the army must be instantly partitioned just in case a united army signalled the Congress’s ambivalence on the question of Partition.
The undivided Indian army had remained untouched by the politics of religion. But once it was hurriedly divided on communal lines, a communal poison was injected into the army. When, after 15 August, the blood of innocent men and women flowed on both sides of the frontier, ‘the army remained passive spectators’. Let us have the tragedy described in Maulana Azad’s words:
Lord Mountbatten said to me more in sorrow than in anger
that Indian members of the army wanted to take part in
[the] killing [of] Muslims in East Punjab, but the British
officers restrained them with great difficulty. This, however, I
know from personal knowledge that members of the former
undivided Indian army killed Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan
and Muslims in India.
Not only were Congress leaders eager to wield power in Delhi, they very quickly lost interest in keeping up the pretence that partition had been imposed on them. They made it look like their first choice. Having brazenly embraced partition, the Congress Working Committee then watched the consequences of this decision from the sidelines. For decades thereafter, the blame for Partition was heaped on Indian Muslims.
Did Nehru not know that there was not a single member in the senior echelons of the party (who later served in his Cabinet) who had any sympathy for the 90 million Muslims (at the time of Independence) who were to be left behind in India? Take the home minister, Vallabhbhai Patel, for instance. Lord Archibald Wavell made the following entry about him on 17 March 1947 in his book The Viceroy’s Journal: ‘He is entirely communal and has no sense of compromise or generosity towards Muslims, but he is more of a man than most of the Hindu politicians.’
Michael Brecher in his biography of Nehru is equally blunt: ‘Patel was a staunch Hindu by upbringing and conviction. He never really trusted the Muslims and supported the extremist Hindu Mahasabha view of the ‘natural right of the Hindus to rule India.’ How did Nehru ever imagine that an India partitioned on Hindu–Muslim lines would, somehow, remain secular? Because that is what would make him feel good about himself? Such self delusion.
In the post-Partition mayhem, as Muslims were being massacred, Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru were unhappy with the inadequate police arrangements in Delhi. Patel thought otherwise. He said that the reports were ‘grossly exaggerated’. When Gandhiji supported Nehru, Patel lost his temper. He said the situation in Delhi ‘was being competently handled. He would not tolerate any further criticism’. He packed his bags and left for Bombay in a huff.
‘What is the use of my staying?’ he said when he realized Gandhiji was not prepared to listen. ‘He [Gandhiji] seems determined to blacken the name of the Hindus before the whole world.’ Patel was emphatic: he was concerned about the image of ‘Hindus’ not ‘Indians’.
In fact, to explain police inaction to protect Muslims, Patel put out a story that ‘deadly weapons’ had been discovered in the Muslim quarters of Delhi. Azad describes this in his book. Patel’s insinuation was that ‘if the Hindus and the Sikhs had not taken the first offensive, the Muslims would have destroyed them.’ Muslims were very well armed.
As proof, Sardar Patel ordered arms recovered by the police from Karol Bagh and Sabzi Mandi to be brought to the Government House and kept in the ante chamber of the cabinet room. This evidence was to be examined by Lord Mountbatten and the Union cabinet. Dozens of rusted kitchen knives, pocket knives, spikes and fences from old houses and cast iron water pipes were piled on a table. Mountbatten was amused at the exhibition. The Viceroy smiled and remarked that if they had really expected to take Delhi with pen knives then they had an incredible sense of military strategy.