Book Summary by Abhay Vaidya, Director, PIC
The partition of India in 1947 resulting in the horrific communal violence that engulfed the subcontinent is undoubtedly one of the greatest tragedies of human history. An estimated one million people were butchered and millions of lives destroyed in the Hindu-Muslim communal violence across the country in 1946-47 as Pakistan was hastily carved out of India by the British colonial power.
While innumerable books have been written on the partition of India, the senior RSS leader Ram Madhav focuses his book on the political events that sharpened the Hindu-Muslim divide in the lasts four decades before independence.
A member of the national executive of the RSS, and a former national general secretary of the BJP, Madhav is a founding member of the governing council of India Foundation. His previous books include, Uneasy Neighbours: India and China after 50 Years of the War and The Hindutva Paradigm.
In ‘Partitioned Freedom’, Madhav points out that the early decades of the freedom struggle saw people of all communities, notably Hindus and Muslims, fight shoulder-to-shoulder for freedom. In 1905, the Viceroy Lord Curzon partitioned the Bengal Presidency into the Muslim-dominated Eastern Bengal and Assam and the Hindu-dominated Bengal (Calcutta, Bihar, Chota Nagpur, Orissa). This led to nation-wide protests within and outside Bengal and the partition of Bengal was annulled in 2011. The author cites this victory of the people and then seeks to explore what exactly happened in the four decades (1905 – 1947) with the same people agreeing to the partition of their country.
Each chapter in this book of about 250 pages provides historical references as it looks at the key political personalities of that period, the Divide and Rule politics of the British Raj and the intentional and unintentional missteps that finally made the partition inevitable.
Although the partition of Bengal was annulled, one of the critical fallouts was the formation of the All India Muslim League– a political party to safeguard the interests of Muslims. “The British were excited at this development,” says the author, and used every opportunity from thereon to drive a wedge between Hindus and Muslims.
Like Gandhi, Jinnah too was a London-educated barrister who looked up to Gopal Krishna Gokhale and was committed to the unity of Hindus and Muslims. He was called Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity by Sarojini Naidu. In 1913 Jinnah joined the Muslim League and tried to involve it in the independence movement by bringing it closer to the Congress. However, in 1920, he left the Congress as he was unhappy with the promotion of other Muslim leaders by Gandhi, says the author. Another major point of difference between the two was Gandhi’s support to the Khilafat movement which Jinnah had opposed.
At various places in the book, the author is critical of Gandhi for appeasing Muslims for the sake of preserving Hindu-Muslim unity at all costs.
By the late 1940s the cancerous politics of communal hatred had run so deep that it acquired its own momentum and spiralled out of control. The Muslim League’s Lahore Resolution (March 24, 1940), known later as the ‘Pakistan Resolution’ demanded that Muslim-majority regions should be given autonomy and sovereignty. Gandhi was firmly against Partition and reacting to this resolution had said, “Vivisect me before vivisecting India.”
However, there was a continuous downslide in Hindu-Muslims relations. Jinnah’s continuing obstinacy, the failure of the Cabinet Mission plan and his call to Muslims for ‘Direct Action’ which led to the Great Calcutta Killings and the violence at Noahkhali finally made partition irreversible.
These were the most depressing years for Mahatma Gandhi who saw the partition of India as the biggest failure of his life, says Madhav.
Throughout the book, Madhav credits Gandhi for trying to carry all the leaders in the nationalist spirit– even those with whom he had differences such as Savarkar, Ambedkar, Subhash Chandra Bose and of course Jinnah. The author says that Gandhi was eventually sidelined by his own mentees and not consulted by the decision makers in the Congress who agreed to the partition proposal. Gandhi did not want to be a part of the freedom celebrations in Delhi and instead went off to eastern India to stop the communal violence.
‘Partitioned Freedom’ is an important read for all Indians because it brings into focus the debilitating consequences of the politics of divide and rule and the astronomical price that a nation has to pay for failing to maintain communal peace and harmony.
As the author says in his foreword: Partition of India has lessons for posterity… “about whether another partition can knock at India’s doors and how such a calamity can be prevented.”