Daya Varma and Vinod Mubayi


Some familiarity with the recent history of India should be one of the requirements for becoming the Prime Minister of India. While two aspirants, Modi and Yadav, have commented on what they perceive concerns the Indian people their knowledge of history leaves much to be desired.


Unable to distinguish between a molehill and mountain, Modi argued that if Patel rather than Nehru had become the first prime minister of India, the country would have no problems. According to him Patel united the country while Nehru’s leadership led to the partition of India.


Even someone with a basic familiarity with India’s history, unlike Modi, should have known that it is not Patel but the British who united India; prior to the British conquest India was divided into multiple kingdoms. Under British rule, the colonial government allowed 530 odd self-ruling states to exist with no powers outside their allotted territories and a British “political agent” stationed inside to ensure that the assorted maharajas and nawabs did nothing to unsettle the colonial rulers. Abolition of these self ruling states was one of the demands of the Congress which spearheaded the independence movement. Patel being the first Home Minister was mandated by the cabinet to implement this policy. All but three ruling states – Hyderabad under the Nizam, Junagarh and Jammu and Kashmir – did not readily comply. Hyderabad was partly liberated by the Telangana movement led by the Indian Communist Party; Patel’s army went to crush the communist movement and the insurrection of the Razakars. Annexation of Kashmir into India is a complex story. Only the small state of Junagarh with majority Hindu population under a Muslim ruler was brought into Indian territory by armed intervention; a feat repeated in 1960s with the liberation of Goa from Portuguese control.


So Modi’s iron man Patel did what any Home Minister would have and should have done. Likewise the  banning of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) for about three years in the wake of the assassination of Gandhi was the least a Home Minister would have done; this act in no way proves that Patel was not a communalist.


Mulayam Singh Yadav commented that if Congress had agreed to Jinnah’s request that one more Muslims be included in the Ministry after 1937 (pre-independence) elections, India would not have been partitioned.


Many historians and sociologists have commented on the factors that led to the partition of the country as a corollary of independence. None have been so simplistic or as emphatic in their analysis as Mulayam Singh. But ignorance is often allied to arrogance.


In one way the partition would be a non-event if Pakistan and India were friendly neighbors like the US and Canada. There would be free borders and almost free trade. There would be no Kashmir question.


However, the partition of India was one of the most traumatic events in the history of the two countries. What led to the partition is not one act or another of one leader or another.


The partition was an inbuilt though unrecognized component of the independence movement.


What could have prevented partition is secularism within the Congress, one that should have recognized that secularism must not be sacrificed even for struggle for independence. But Congress reduced secularism to slogans of Hindu-Muslim unity, while allowing free play to culture of Hinduism. Even Gandhi, who no less than any one else stood for Hindu-Muslim unity and opposed the partition till his last days, through his prayer meetings allowed promotion of Hindu culture. All kinds of Hindu chauvinists were allowed into Congress leadership; not only Bande Matarum was accepted as the national anthem, not only Balgangadhar Tilak,  Madanmohan Malviya, Purushottam Das Tandon and many of this ilk were placed in leadership positions in the Congress, and a non-secular culture was allowed to dominate. Of course, Muslim League had its own share of communal leaders aided by the zamindar nawabs who thought they could preserve their privileges in a Muslim state.


Perhaps the only truly secular Congress leader born as a Hindu was Nehru; and it was one of the reasons he was hated by a majority of Congress leadership. His modern outlook and respect for science recruited more Nehru-haters.   In contrast most of the Muslim leaders within Congress were in words and deeds genuinely secular.


Had the political and social culture initiated and propagated by the Communist Party of India of the 1930s and 1940s prevailed, the need for partition would have not arisen.

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