The writer has a PhD from Stockholm University. He is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University. He is also Honorary Senior Fellow of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. His latest publication is: The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed: Unravelling the 1947 Tragedy through Secret British Reports and First-Person Accounts (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2012; New Delhi: Rupa Books, 2011). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Daily Times, Sunday, July 22, 2012
VIEW : The bloody Punjab partition — I — Ishtiaq Ahmed
I am not a hagiographer of any idol, icon or saint. Hagiography is reverential homage to a cult figure, irrespective of what he has said and done
Mr Yasser Latif Hamdani's comments on my book, The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed (Oxford University Press, 2012) published in Daily Times on June 16, 2012 belittle and scandalise my work. He writes: "For all his barely concealed contempt for Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Pakistan demand, the central thrust of Ishtiaq Ahmed's argument is that the tragedy of hundreds of thousands being butchered happened after Congress insisted (my emphasis) — and the Sikhs leaders supported (my emphasis) the Congress on that — on partitioning Punjab."
A more misleading description of what I have done and demonstrated in my book cannot be imagined. I have argued just the opposite: the Sikhs demanded and the Congress belatedly supported them on the partitioning of Punjab. He has tried to occupy the high pedestal of a devotee of Jinnah, a defender of the Two-Nation Theory, a guardian of Pakistan, as if there is a dearth of Pakistani equivalents of Knight Templars.
Mind you, Hamdani's charge sheet is not based on what I have written in the Punjab book, because nowhere has he shown this in his article. It derives from his general opinion about me.
In India, scores of scathingly critical works on Gandhi and Nehru have been published. Much to the chagrin of the Congress Party, some prominent Indians have recently in their books praised Jinnah to the skies and condemned Nehru and Gandhi. It is testimony to the strength of their political culture and the resilience of their political system. People who have played a prominent role in history will always be an object of scrutiny. Only fascist, fundamentalist and totalitarian systems are based on the cult of infallible leaders. These systems suppress free discussion and debate but they cannot do it forever. This we all know.
A review of my book by Mr Imran Kureshi was published in Daily Times on March 21, 2012. In that he had concluded just the opposite of what Hamdani alleges. Reviews of my book have been published in the many leading dailies and other publications too. In one daily, a discussion on it has taken place over several weeks. In an Urdu-language weekly, and some dailies, reviews have appeared too. They are unanimous in appreciation of my objectivity, strict impartiality and scholarly responsibility.
Through painstaking, unprecedented research, heavily documented by official documents, newspapers and hundreds of eyewitness accounts, I have shown that after the Muslim League demanded the creation of separate Muslim states in its Lahore Resolution of March 23, 1940, the Punjab Sikhs began to demand a partition of Punjab.
On the other hand, the Congress wanted a united India, and struggled for it from December 1929 onwards when it gave such a call in its famous Lahore session. Its leaders and cadres filled British jails for years. The May 1946 Cabinet Mission Plan was fraught with risks the Congress was not willing to take, notably one that every 10 years, the three groups of A, B and C could choose to opt out of the federation or even individual provinces could do so. Two, the fourth group outside them, the princely states could establish direct relations with external powers. It could mean the British being invited to remain with troops in those princely states; thus going out by one door and returning by another.
Regarding a consociational arrangement between the Congress and the Muslim League, it was a non-starter from the outset. Whatever 'trust' hitherto existed between the Congress and Muslim League rapidly depleted after the 1937 election. For the consociational model to succeed, a number of preconditions have to be fulfilled. Of these, the most pivotal is a high degree of cooperation between different communal leaders to counteract separatist tendencies. That precondition was conspicuous by its absence from Indian politics since March 1940. At most a coalition government could have been formed. It was tried when an interim government was formed on September 2, 1946. The antagonism that marked relations between the Congress and the Muslim League ministers is too well known to deserve elaboration. Therefore, a consociational government was out of the question.
With regard to Punjab, an even more crucial fact to be noted is that the Akali Sikhs and the Indian National Congress were estranged parties in Punjab until as late as 1945. During the Quit India Movement of 1942, their differences became even wider, because while the Congress wanted the British to leave India, the Sikhs who were employed in disproportionally large numbers in the Indian army were against it. The Congress' support came for the partition of Punjab only on March 8, 1947.
Consequently, the research puzzle the book seeks to solve is the following: why did the Sikhs, who were essentially a Punjabi group with their religion and history rooted in Punjab, opt for the partition of the province? What strategic mistakes did the Muslim League and Jinnah commit that the Sikhs did not join forces with them and kept Punjab united? A united Punjab — even if India were partitioned — would have served Sikh interests optimally. These questions I will address in my column next Sunday.
In my book, I criticise Gandhi and Nehru where I believe they were in error. I duly acknowledge that Jinnah made a number of attempts to win over the Sikhs but such efforts came too late. I have shown that Sardar Patel was involved in financing bomb factories. He told the Sikhs, "Qatal kar do" (Kill them [Muslims]). He told the Hindus of Jullundur to kill and drive out Muslims, thus reversing Jawaharlal Nehru's instruction given to them a few days earlier to protect the Muslims. I have quoted Begum Shahnawaz who has asserted that Nehru's personal intervention in Batala in August-September 1947 prevented a slaughter of Muslims by armed Sikh jathas (groups). Mahatma Gandhi saved thousands of Muslims in Delhi in September 1947.
As a scholar, my only responsibility is to conduct open research, devise a replicable method and make theoretical inputs that any other researcher can apply to the source material and decide if what I say is plausible or not. I am not a hagiographer of any idol, icon or saint. Hagiography is reverential homage to a cult figure, irrespective of what he has said and done. Most works of Pakistani authors on Jinnah are hagiographical. Scholarly analysis that looks at his role in history in an analytical manner is necessary to restore him to the world of human beings with all the strengths and weaknesses of human beings.
(To be continued
The writer has a PhD from Stockholm University. He is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University. He is also Honorary Senior Fellow of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. His latest publication is The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed: Unravelling the 1947 Tragedy through Secret British Reports and First-Person Accounts (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2012; New Delhi: Rupa Books, 2011). He can be reached at email@example.com