Yasser Latif Hamdani reviews Dr Ishtiaqs book on partition of Punjab-1947
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
COMMENT : How Punjab was partitioned, bloodied and cleansed — Yasser Latif Hamdani
As late as 1946, Jinnah accepted the terms of the Cabinet Mission Plan, which took away most of what he had asked for, at the risk of alienating his own followers, to keep India united
Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed, the author of The Punjab: Blooded, Partitioned and Cleansed, is a passionate author whose passions get the better of him at times. It is important to place where the author is coming from. In approaching partition, it is easily discernible that Dr Ahmed's sympathies lie with Gandhi and Nehru. Anyone familiar with his work knows that to Dr Ahmed, Jinnah is the ultimate villain of partition, even if Nehru and Gandhi were partially to blame. In his view, it was Jinnah who had asked for Pakistan and therefore, should take most of the blame, dismissing established works of Ayesha Jalal, H M Seervai and Hamza Alavi as inferior to his own superior and sophisticated understanding of history.
It is precisely for this reason that his book, mentioned above, is an important read. Any book, especially a work seeking to arrive at the 'truth' needs to be critically analysed, examined, and the narrative given has to be judged on the merits of the factual evidence. Regardless, therefore of Dr Ahmed's personal likes and dislikes, it is the responsibility of the reader to take the facts and make up his or her own mind. 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 — and Sikh leaders supported the Congress on that — on partitioning Punjab. He writes, "The partition of Punjab could have been averted if the three major communities of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs had shared a Punjabi cultural identity that was strong and resilient enough to transcend their religious identities. Another possibility was of the Muslim majority and the Sikh minority agreeing to keep the Punjab united. That would have created the substantial majority needed to oppose the partition of Punjab." Carte blanche
Ironically, Jinnah, the ultimate villain in Doctor Ahmed's reckoning, had pleaded for exactly that. He told Mountbatten that a Hindu or a Muslim was a Punjabi or a Bengali before he was Hindu or a Muslim. This indicates a complex understanding of nationalisms and sub-nationalisms on the part of the Quaid-e-Azam. The 'Two Nation Theory' to the Quaid was a consociation-list counterpoise to ensure, using Faiz's words, to create a horizontal division to end the vertical division between two major peoples of the subcontinent. Much more than Gandhi and Nehru, it was Jinnah who was subconsciously aware of the multiple identities an Indian carried with him. He therefore agreed to give Sikhs a carte blanche if they were to join Pakistan. Unfortunately, for both Sikhs and Pakistan, the Sikh leadership did not believe him. It is not hard to imagine how things would have panned out differently had they taken Jinnah's offer. Punjab would have avoided communal bloodletting and Sikhs might well have gotten an autonomous unit within Pakistan. Such autonomy would most likely have come up with an out-clause, which would have forced the Muslim majority in Pakistan to behave itself. The carnage of 1984 would have never happened, Indira Gandhi would have been spared and Pakistan would have remained a secular state, since, as many as 40 percent of Pakistanis would be non-Muslims i.e. Sikhs, Hindus and Christians. India and Pakistan would have worked out treaty arrangements and we might well have seen a European Union type arrangement in the subcontinent today. Ishtiaq Ahmed is therefore right when he says, "In Punjab itself, the Sikh leaders were adamant that if India is divided on a religious basis, so must Punjab. Any division of Punjab — that was negotiated and not simply imposed by Sikhs — would have divided them. On the other hand, Muslims constituted a slight majority (53 percent of the total) of the Punjab population."
Jinnah had throughout this period exhibited statesmanship of the highest order. Both in Punjab and Bengal, Jinnah had attempted to find alternative solutions to avoid partition. Even when the agreement to partition of India was about to be put down in writing, Jinnah had agreed to keep Bengal united and independent — outside Pakistan — by agreeing to the Bose-Suhrawardy formula. Both the idea of a United Bengal and the inclusion of Sikhs and Hindus in Pakistan ran counter to the traditional understanding of the Two Nation Theory as espoused by both India and Pakistan. Ground realities were to take precedence to bargaining positions.
It is never emphasised, by India and Pakistan's official historians, that the Two Nation Theory was thus a counterpoise to Congress' one nation theory but it did not suggest, as Jinnah's speech on August 11, 1947 speech also put down, that it was a position etched in stone for all times to come. Jinnah believed that by adequate safeguards and time for minorities to organise themselves, a unified national identity for India could be achieved but it required statesmanship on part of the majority. Most of his life was dedicated to Hindu-Muslim unity and an independent United India. As late as 1946, Jinnah accepted the terms of the Cabinet Mission Plan, which took away most of what he had asked for, at the risk of alienating his own followers, to keep India united. Of course, this finds little or no mention in Ishtiaq Ahmed's narrative.
Nevertheless, his work, albeit stripped of his emotionalism and bias, is an important corrective coming as it is from a staunch critic of Jinnah and the League. He proves conclusively that it was the demand for the partition of Punjab not the partition of India that led to the terrible genocide and admits that there was no plan on part of the Muslim League to cleanse Punjab. The principle of contributory negligence suggests that it is the last person responsible that is to be held accountable. The violence at partition thus logically lies at the door of the party that did not allow the Cabinet Mission Plan to work and that insisted on dividing Punjab.