Thursday, October 1, 2009

British Role was Central to Partition

British Role was Central to Partition
By Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 19.08.2009


The Sangh Parivar may well be in cahoots with the publishers of Jaswant Singh’s book on Jinnah because by expelling him they have guaranteed a boost in sales.

Indeed, I am looking forward to Jaswant Singh’s book to see if he too casts Jinnah as the “sole spokesman”. In that case what happens to all those theories about the inevitability of Partition, that it would have happened regardless? If partition was not inevitable, then who were the guilty men? Maulana Azad and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan were certainly opposed to partition. Jaswant has presumably named the guilty Congress leaders. But why is the Sangh Parviar so upset? Because Jaswant knocks the bottom of the false belief that partition was the handiwork of Muslims to the exclusion of all else?

Seated behind me in the packed Nehru Museum Library hall was a rather disappointed Narendra Singh Sarila, author of the Untold Story of India’s Partition. He is not disappointed with the book but with all the discussants on the stage who did not even touch on the British role in India’s partition. To my view, this facet is central to the entire narrative about Partition.

The partition plan was announced in New Delhi on June 3, 1947. At the Labour Party Conference at Margate the following week, the British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevan, told the delegates that the division of India “would help to consolidate Britain in the Middle East”. Fast forward to 1990, the collapse of the Soviet Union. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, on a visit to Finland, is asked why Britain needed her nuclear arsenal now that the cold war was over? “Because we still have a problem in the Middle East”, she retorted.

One will have to wade through Jaswant Singh’s voluminous book to arrive at a judgement on Jinnah and the guilty men of the Congress. But on British machinations, no recent book is more definitive than Sarila’s. For this there is a straightforward reason.

Sarila (from an ample princely state of that name) was ADC to Lord Mountbatten. Subsequently, Nehru had him inducted into the Foreign Office where, after a varied career, he retired as Ambassador to Berne. From this and other vantage points he kept up his equation with Mountbatten who guided him to documents and sources no scholar has had easy access to.

We have Sarila’s testimony that on the day Bevan made his speech, Krishna Menon, Nehru’s interlocutor with British Socialist Leaders in London, was in fact in New Delhi, staying with Nehru. His handwritten note delivered to Mountbatten at Viceroy’s House on June 14 is revealing.

“Is this frontier (northwest of India abutting Afghanistan and Iran) still the hinterland of the Imperial strategy? Does Britain still think in terms of being able to use this territory and all that follows from it? There is considerable amount of talking in this way; and if Kashmir, for one reason or another, chooses to be in Pakistan, that is a further development in this direction. I do not know of British Policy in this matter”. Menon then cheekily adds: “I do not know whether you would know it either. But if this be the British intent, this is tragic…………. As it becomes more evident, the attitude of India would be resentful and Britain’s hold on Pakistan would not improve it. I think I have said enough. Perhaps a bit too much.” Fears expressed in Menon’s note were borne out.

After 1857, the British had worked assiduously towards dividing Hindus and Muslims. If you have time to read just one book to gauge British intentions on this score, do please read the Gandhian scholar, Dharampal’s well researched document on cow slaughter. The irony is that the study was sponsored by the BJP!

Lord Landsdowne is congratulated by Queen Victoria for having successfully directed Hindu ire towards the “Mohammedans” because, “their anger otherwise would have been with us who require beef for our troops!”

The storm that Jaswant Singh’s book has raised was expected. To this extent he has already succeeded.

A civilization which prides itself on placing a heavy premium on a life of the mind should be comfortable with opening up settled conventional wisdom for discussion. We demean ourselves if we show a loss of nerve when offered a chance to debate inconvenient reality.
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