Freedom with Division

The day dawned on 15th August, 1947. On the stroke of midnight, Pundit Nehru talked of ‘Tryst with destiny’ and of redeeming the pledge. He also talked of India waking up, while the world was sleeping. It was a day of which legends should have been a public memory. However while Nehru’s oratory capturing the historic moment, spiced with flowery idioms and laced with linguistic flow was going on, Mahatma Gandhi was in Noakhali, W.Bengal. The worst episodes of communal violence had taken place in this locality, while the subcontinent was having a bloodbath. The day of independence dawned; India was re-born albeit with a division, it was a fiery baptism. Mahatma Gandhi’s magical touch was needed to douse the fires. He resorted to his known and time tested weapon–fast, which his frail body could hardly withstand. He was 78 years old. It paid off, with all communities promising to behave. A worried Nehru had rushed to broker peace, while Husain Shahid Suhrwardy-Bengal’s Muslim League Chief Minister continued to be in attendance. Mahatma Gandhi later went to Delhi to douse the fire of hatred and make Government of India pay to Pakistan, the money, which was agreed to, as the share of the country, that had chosen to live apart. While Pundit Nehru talked of ‘Tryst with destiny’ Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah talked of peaceful interaction between all communities; a speech, branded years later by L. K. Advani, BJP leader, as the one loaded with secular intent.

Sixty six years from the date the subcontinent was divided, the geographical division has failed to heal the psychic divide between communities. In some part or the other of the subcontinent, across the divide, the psychic division makes news more often than not. As it stands parts of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the state that remains as a bone of contention since the time of division, may have nothing to celebrate on the Independence Day, being curfew bound. The restricted movement is for the very reasons that necessitated the division. The psychic divide refuses to fade away with times, even though the subcontinent has teeming millions living in poverty. Instead of addressing it, the defence budgets, across the divide shows a yearly hike. The psychic divide has historical reasons; in fact it is tailored history that has worked out the divide. Different communities have a different take of history across the divide. The different take has ensured that gaping wound doesn’t heal. 

The division coinciding with freedom was thought to be a resolution of the conflict with historical roots, however what bred the conflict was tailored history. The last push to ease Britain out of India took place on a mass level, with the Quit India movement, launched by Mahatma Gandhi in 1942. However the war of independence started as soon as the British intention to stay put in India became clear. As the well known dictum goes ‘history of the vanquished is dictated by the victor’ Indian history was carefully framed to fulfill the designs of the British. The earliest roadblocks were Hyder Ali in Bengal and Tipu Sultan in Mysore. The struggle of Muslim Sultanates got painted as the Muslim drive to regain lost supremacy, rather than a national struggle. The sustained British effort to paint it as such succeeded, in spite of the fact that both these rulers cared for their subjects, irrespective of the religion of they belonged to. Their armed forces too included subjects of all religions. While ascribing communal colours, efforts were on to work out the fifth column. The British succeeded in finding Sadiq in Mysore, Deccan and Mir Jaffar in Bengal to sow dissention in ranks. The irony of successfully fishing out traitors was the fact of both being Muslims. Allama Iqbal, the poet of the East comments on the event in a moving couplet:

Jaffar az Bengal, Sadiq az Deccan,

Nang-e-Adam, Nang-e-Deen, Nang-e-Watan

Jaffar from Bengal, Sadiq from Deccan,

Shame on humanity, on religion, on nation

With the similar brush the 1858 revolt in British Armed Forces was painted as ‘Mutiny’ a derogatory term. It has stuck, even in post independence texts; unfortunately so. Yet again, it got painted in communal colours, irrespective of the fact that Mangal Panday, a hero of those times, was a Hindu. It was constructed as the last ditch attempt to regain the lost ground by Muslim rulers, an argument historically fallacious. Bhadur Shah, the last Mughal Emperor had better claim on being a poet than a ruler. The hapless being, so called Emperor was exiled to Rangoon in Burma. They only positive outfall was the tune of melancholy–a treasure in Urdu poetry:

Umray daraz mang kay laya thay char din’h

Dou arzoo mai’n cut gaya dou intezar mai’n

Longing for long life, obtained a foursome

Two passed in desire, other two in waiting 

Pundit Nehru, a historian of some reputes comments aptly on communal divide. Initially, says Nehru, Hindu sentiment was used to checkmate Muslim resurgence. Later, as Hindus started agitating for rights, Muslims were mobilized to negate it. However there was much more to it than Nehru put forth. Muslim separatist sentiment grew as some extremist elements of majority community started calling Muslims foreigners. History belies such an assumption. The Central Asian Turko-Mongol ruling cliques started pouring into India, in a drive for territorial expansion. They had their eyes on India’s vast resources. Thus Gouris’ Aibucs’ Khilji’s and the Moguls’ came one after other and made India their home. An exception could be made of Mahmud of Ghazni’s repeated incursions. The gold reserves in Indian temples provided the temptation. He came, picked whatever he could lay his hands on and left. All these incursions had nothing to do with religion. Islam did win some converts, however the inner resilience of Hinduism did not leave space for mass conversion, in spite of Manu’s class structure. It needs to be stressed that India’s Muslim sultanates did not resort to any forced conversion on a mass scale. This is the reality that emerges on a deep and dispassionate study of Indian history, but then the fact remains that history is partly tailored by vested interests.

Overwhelming majority of Indian Muslims are converts of original Indian hue. That brings to fore the question…who in fact is the original Indian?! Majority of Indians are of Aryan descent, Central Asian migrants, who settled in India, a few millennium years earlier than the later migrants. South Indians of Dravidian descent are again migrants, who migrated before Aryans. It is historically a fallacious argument that Indian Muslims are of foreign origin. An argument based on earlier migrant calling the later, a foreigner. A clear case of history held hostage by vested interests. Central Asian Turko-Mongols coming into India, in a purely political thrust was outfall of the weakening socio- political fabric. Same was the case, when few thousand Britishers controlled a country of continental dimensions. They worked on Hindu-Muslim divide, and the first recorded communal clash was in Mumbai in 1893. In 1897, congress chose Badr-ud-Din Tyabji as President; however some Muslim groups prevented him from taking over. Aligarh school of thought wanted Muslims to steer clear of matters political and remain engaged in overcoming their educational backwardness compared to majority community. 

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan led the drive to Muslim emancipation. He got the permission to start his educational institution in Aligarh. This is not to suggest, some sort of an understanding or conspiracy of sorts. Sir Syed was too honourable a person, even to contemplate, anything fishy. Other Muslim intellectuals like Maulana Hali and Maulana Shubli Nomani talked of Muslim rights and emancipation. These voices had an addition with a much greater impact. That was the voice of Allama Iqbal. He was in part a poet like Hali, an intellectual like Shubli, nevertheless more incisive, and he assumed a greater role. Apart from the poetic message getting far and wide, appealing and putting new life into frozen hearts, Iqbal assumed an active political garb. In 1930 session of Muslim league organization in Allahabad, he advocated a separate Muslim state in predominantly Muslim provinces of North West India. Iqbal could not sustain his leading role in Muslim league. His literary work hardly left him time to do that, though he continued to guide the league in Punjab. Jinnah filled the void and it had a telling effect…the rest is history…the division, we are living with.

Sixty six years of almost continuous violence, in one form or the other, with three fearsome wars is what the divide resulted in. Added to conventional war stands the atomic threat. One positive outfall of nuclear dimension is the operative MAD theory. Mutual Assured Destruction might provide the needed breathing space; however there is looming energy crisis. Related to energy crisis remains distribution of water between upper and lower riparian state. Water, it is said might be the next flash point. The road to solve the energy crisis lies in cooperation across the divide. The subcontinent has to think beyond communal issues, beyond defence hikes. Nothing short of a complete understanding across the divide could solve the problems, including the ‘K’ issue. The divide cannot be undone; the outfall could certainly be contained. The subcontinent cannot afford to remain mired in tailored history, the road to salvation lies in thinking beyond it…the ones who matter do not seem to be paying any heed to the need of the times. The movement and momentum could be cashed today, tomorrow it might rebound. 

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]

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