Recalling Partition: Could It Have Been Avoided?

India is entering its 71st year of Swaraj. At this moment, I wish to recall specific incidents and unwise decisions that led to the most undesirable outcome of the Indian Independence Movement – the Partition.

1. Congress’ failure to form a coalition with the Muslim League in United Provinces in 1936-37 provincial elections:

The 1936-37 elections for provincial legislatures were held, as mandated by the Government of India Act, 1935. It was the first constitutional measure introduced by the British in India. According to this act, parties winning the elections would form ministries; which would function on the basis of joint and collective responsibility.

Indian National Congress and the Muslim League had a different approach on significant issues. For Jawaharlal Nehru, Swaraj (self-governance) was the main objective. He wanted a sovereign, united and secular India. Whereas, Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s sole aim was to establish the Muslim League, as the sole representative of Muslim affairs in Indian politics.

In the 1936-37 provincial elections, Congress won 707 seats; and the Muslim League 106. The communal card that the Muslim League relied upon didn’t play a major role in this election. The League requested the Congress to form a coalition govt. in the United Provinces, but Nehru declined due to ideological differences. Nehru further launched a Muslim mass contact program in 1937, to connect with the entire Muslim community.

All these incidents made Jinnah furious. Subsequently, he started conspiring against the Congress.

2. Congress’ inability to win support in Muslim majority provinces in 1946 provincial elections:

On 23rd March 1940, the Muslim League proposed the idea of building a separate sovereign nation for Muslims. Initially, the majority of Muslims didn’t favour the creation of Pakistan but agreed later, under the influence of Jinnah’s shrewd political sense, brilliant diplomacy and massive campaigning.

The Indian National Congress failed to assess the impact of such campaign and lost severely to the Muslim League at Bengal, Sind and Punjab in the 1946 provincial elections.

3. Nehru’s refusal to grouping in Cabinet Mission Plan, 1946:

By 1946, the British Raj had realized that it won’t be able to sustain its control over India for a long time. So, before granting Independence, they decided to keep India united, for using it as a military base.

Thenceforth, Clement Attlee, the Prime Minister of United Kingdom, formulated a Cabinet Mission Plan, to be sent to India for the transfer of power. The Cabinet Mission Plan’s role was to, set up a Constituent Assembly — to frame the Constitution; a Viceroy’s Executive Council — for temporary governance; and propose the composition of the new govt. (by a formation of groups, to be made and governed on communal lines). In its proposals, the Cabinet Mission Plan had also rejected the idea of a separate Muslim nation, Pakistan.

Nehru denied the proposal regarding the composition of new government, but agreed to be a part of the Executive Council, until the Constitution was framed. These developments agitated Jinnah. He rejected the proposals of the Cabinet Mission altogether. Furthermore, fearing that his idea of Pakistan will never come to pass; Jinnah called for ‘Direct Action Day.’

The Direct Action Day, became exceedingly violent in Calcutta (Kolkata). The city witnessed extreme communal violence and bloodshed. Jinnah’s violent approach appalled the British. So, Lord Wavell, the Viceroy of India, asked Nehru to request Jinnah to enter the Executive Council; to save the country from massive communal barbarity.

The League entered the Council, but the council didn’t function in harmony. The communal violence also did not end. All the efforts made by Congress to convince Jinnah, to align the League with their plan of action failed. Upon Lord Mountbatten’s arrival in India, Congress expressed their incompetence in making this coalition work and eventually agreed for partition.

4. British and INC’s failure of working together despite having a common goal:

The British didn’t oppose the idea of Pakistan from 1940 to 1946 and rather encouraged it. They thought to use the Pakistan card, as a counterpoise to the Congress’s demand of Swaraj.

Congress also couldn’t convince the Muslim League to drop the idea of Pakistan and identify with their idea of a secular independent India. At crucial moments, the Congress agreed to the Muslim League’s demands to appease them. But they were wrong.

Pakistan could’ve only been avoided when Congress and British had worked together. The idea of Pakistan was very small when introduced. It got enlarged, just due to the support of British Raj.

Even after 71 years, Pakistan sustains its hostile approach towards India, due to the support of a third party. And India is failing to counter Pakistan. Why? Because it still emphasizes bilateral talks. I feel, there is a need for an immediate change in India’s stance.

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