CONTINUING the tradition of publishing every shade of opinion, Seminar (510, February 2002) has debated the trauma of Partition in the East with thought provoking and exhaustive articles. I agree that, ‘the partition of Bengal differs from the partition of Punjab’ (‘The problem’ by Jasodhara Bagchi and Subhoranjan Dasgupta), but the debate for fixing the responsibility of Partition continues, overlooking several factors and events. I wish to highlight the point that Muslims alone were not responsible for the Partition.
The general trend is to blame Muslims, the Muslim League and Mohammad Ali Jinnah for the Partition. In fact, much of this blame is the result of a disinformation campaign launched by certain interested groups, including Hindu revivalist leaders of the Congress. As an example, let me analyse the role of one top businessman.
Little attention has been given to the role of Ghanshyamdas Birla in the process that led to the partition of India. Birla’s role was the end result of Hindu philanthropy and Hindu nationalism. From the beginning of the 20th century, Birla’s community, the Marwaris, had been staunch supporters of Hindu resurgence movements. Long before Jinnah or the Muslim League formulated the Pakistan demand (through the Lahore Resolution of March 1940), Birla began to formulate ideas about redrawing India’s political map. The first exposition of this separatist idea can be found as early as October 1927, when he wrote, ‘Communal representation in Legislature should go and if possible redistribution of provinces should be made. I do not know whether splitting the Punjab and Bengal would be liked by the people but I would personally welcome it. The West Punjab and the Frontier and Sind might be composed into one province thus giving a decided majority to Mohammadans in East Bengal and the West Punjab.’ (Notes of Conversation with Malviyaji on 17 October 1927, Benaras. B.P. Series, Very Important Correspondence, File-10).
During the 1930s, he began to articulate his notion of Partition with greater clarity. He was extremely concerned that a lack of understanding between the Congress and the Muslim League could delay Independence. In a letter to Mahatma Gandhi in 1938, he wrote: ‘I wonder why it should not be possible to have two federations, one of Muslims and another of Hindus. The Muslim Federation may be composed of all the provinces or portion of provinces which contain more than two-thirds of Muslim population and the Indian state like Kashmir which is composed of Musalmans. Another federation may be of Hindus and such states as are composed of Hindus’ (Birla to Mahadev Desai, 11 January 1938, in G.D. Birla, Bapu: A Unique Association, Vol. III, pp. 142-144).
Such uncalled for campaigns against Muslims convinced Jinnah that conciliation was becoming difficult. During this period (late 1930s) Birla was so convinced about Partition that he began to discuss with Congress leaders like C. Rajagopalachari the possible lines of division between ‘Hindu India’ and ‘Muslim India’. He wrote, ‘If we want to have a peaceful India, we must encourage this division and after that we will have no reservation of seats, no minority problem and no communal problem’ (Birla to C. Rajagopalachari, 12 October 1938, B.P. Series II, File. H-10).
Birla’s links with the Hindu revivalist leaders are well-known. His social and political ideas had drawn inspiration from such people as Madan Mohan Malviya, Dr. B.S. Munje and V.D. Savarkar. In fact until 1940, Savarkar received a monthly grant of Rs 300 from him (V.D. Savarkar to Nirmal Chandra Chatterjee, 24 August 1940 in File 53, S.P. Mukherjee Papers, NMML). Birla was not alone among the big businessmen in advocating Partition. For instance, Ramkrishna Dalmiya openly claimed to be the first among business leaders to publicly support Partition. (R. Dalmiya, Some Notes and Reminiscences, p. 33).
I have raised the issue because the media blames only Muslims for the partition of India. In fact we are all responsible for this trauma in one way or the other. One key reason for Partition was the rising tide of Hindu militancy and revivalism. Unfortunately Indian nationalism presented itself in the garb of Hindu religion. It evolved flags and songs, symbols and slogans which were typically Hindu. Bande-Matram occurs in a book which, though written to inspire nationalistic sentiments, takes the background of Hindu-Muslim hostility as its plot.
In my opinion these developments were not productive. Instead of a changed agenda, the efforts to Hinduise India are still continuing. The need of the hour is to arrest the trend immediately, otherwise it may be too late.
N. Jamal Ansari