Uncanny similarities between 1947 and 2019, but we haven’t learnt any lesson
Looking back at the set of 14 demands raised by the Muslim League for averting partition, in hindsight one finds oneself in agreement with most of them in the year 2019
These days in India have brought us an accurate reproduction of the days leading up to Partition.
Indians are being forced to choose their politics based on religion because the state is insisting on it. The prime minister is capable of identifying protestors by the clothes that they wear. His party has passed a law which excludes one religion and a nationwide process has begun which will result in mass incarceration of one community.
There is high passion and fear on the streets and the response of the state has been to blame the protestors.
This is what 1947 and the years immediately before it would have looked like. It also reminds us that often what seems reasonable by one side is seen as unacceptable by the other. When one has a lot of power, one can shut one’s ears to the other side.
This is also what is common between the BJP of 2019 and the Congress of 1947. Both in India and Pakistan there is a lack of awareness generally speaking about the nature of the divisions that produced Pakistan. In India we have taught our generations that one evil man divided this country. If you belong to the Hindutva school of thinking then the belief is that Muslims were evil and dismembered Bharat Mata. In Pakistan, and particularly after the military capture of the state by successive generals, the narrative became quite anti-Hindu.
All this is over simplified and does not capture the long years of negotiations that the Muslim League had with the Congress on power-sharing. Beginning two decades before Partition, Jinnah tried to reach an agreement with the Congress Party and failed. What were his demands? We should have a look at them because most Indians are not taught this in school.
The Muslim League had then raised 14 demands. These were:
1) India’s Constitution should be federal, with some powers being given to the states.
2) That all states must be given uniform autonomy.
3) All legislatures must have adequate and effective representation of minorities in each state, without reducing the majority in any state to a minority.
4) Muslims should have one third representation in the Central legislature.
5) There should be separate electorate for communities and it should be left to a community whether it wants to abandon this in favour of a joint electorate.
6) Any division of states made should not affect the existing majority of Muslims in that state.
7) Full religious liberty, i.e. liberty of belief, worship and observance, propaganda, association and education, shall be guaranteed to all communities.
8) No bill or resolution or any part thereof shall be passed in any legislature or any other elected body if three fourths of the members of any community in that particular body oppose it.
9) Sindh should be separated from the Bombay Presidency.
10) Reforms should be introduced in the North West Frontier Province and Balochistan in the same way as in the other provinces.
11) Provision should be made in the constitution giving Muslims an adequate share, along with the other Indians, in all the services of the state and in local self-governing bodies having due regard to the requirements of efficiency.
12) The constitution should give adequate safeguards for the protection of Muslim culture and for the protection and promotion of Muslim education, language, religion, personal laws and Muslim charitable institutions and for their due share in the grants-in-aid given by the state and by local self-governing bodies.
13) No cabinet, either central or provincial, should be formed without there being a proportion of at least one-third Muslim ministers.
14) No change shall be made in the constitution by the Central Legislature except with the concurrence of the States constituting the Indian Federation.
If the Congress had agreed to these points, Partition would not have happened. Looking at these points after all these years I do not find anything wrong in them and in fact I agree with all of them.
Some of these, like numbers 7, 9 and 12 became a part of the Indian Constitution in any case. Others, like 1, 2, 10 and 14 are similarly not disputable. The sticking points were the ones guaranteeing Muslims political representation. This the Congress did not want to concede. Leaders like Nehru and Gandhi probably did not imagine that in the India of 2019, the ruling party would win more than 300 seats and not one would be Muslim. But that is what has happened. Jinnah knew it would not be surprised like Gandhi would today, because Jinnah understood that the Indian was politically and culturally majoritarian and it is difficult to say he was wrong.
Today Indians are again being forced into a situation where the political force which is dominant is exercising its majoritarian impulse and denying the others any space. We have learned no lessons from our history even when its teaching has been so clear and precise.
(Views expressed are author’s personal views)