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Monday, September 7, 2009 20:09 IST
The controversy over Jaswant Singh’s book has seen the revival of the debate on Partition. What is curious, however, is the support which the saffron camp has extended to something which it earlier condemned as the vivisection of the motherland.
This transition from the earlier yearnings for Akhand Bharat to the acceptance of the reality of a divided India is a new feature of Hindutva politics.It can perhaps be traced to the observations of Girilal Jain, a former editor of The Times of India in his book, The Hindu Phenomenon, where he said that Jinnah “was the greatest benefactor of Hindus in modern times if he was not a Hindu in disguise. That has been my way of saying that Partition was the best thing that could have happened for Hindus … because without it they could not have produced even a workable Constitution, not to speak of a viable economic and democratic political order”.
In a recent interview, Arun Shourie said that “I have come to realise that Girilal Jain was the one who was right” for he argued that if there was no Partition “we would have been bullied and thrashed and swamped by Islamic fundamentalists”. Similar views were expressed by a former Union home secretary, Madhav Godbole, in The Holocaust of Indian Partition, where he said that undivided India would have presented “a frightening picture of a country torn asunder by internal dissension, political instability and social and communal tension”.
There are at least three factors behind such doomsday predictions. One is a dislike of Muslims, which is undeniably there among sections of Hindus. It was (and apparently still is) a relief to them, therefore, to get rid of the mlechhas. The second factor, which reinforces this sense of animosity, is the dread of the unknown alien with whom there is very little social interaction. And the third is a strange inferiority complex which is evident in the apprehension of being “swamped” by Islamists.
This fear of the Muslims may have increased because of the upsurge of militant fundamentalists in the Af-Pak region. An occasional contributor to a newspaper had wondered, therefore, how a united India could have dealt with the turmoil near the Durand line. He was happy that the Radcliffe line had been drawn.
What is strange about these attitudes is the cursory dismissal of the fact that Hindus and Muslims had lived together in the subcontinent for 12 centuries before 1947 and in divided India for another 60 years after that. Although the saffron brotherhood likes to project the earlier centuries as a period of endless conflict between the two communities, such a view fails to explain the development of the composite culture which wouldn’t have been possible in the absence of close and harmonious intermingling.
As historian Akhilesh Mithal pointed out, dhrupad, khayal, thumri and ghazal in the world of music could not have evolved without decades of friendly interaction. Nor would India have witnessed the architectural achievements of the Taj Mahal or its cuisine being enriched by the culinary innovations of what has come to be known as Mughlai food.
The cultural and literary efflorescence of Tulsidas, Surdas, Meera, Mir Taqi Mir, Ghalib and others is also a product of this amicable cohabitation. None of these point to being bullied or swamped.
Instead, Islam itself acquired a gentle face. As the Pakistani historian, Akbar S Ahmed, said, the subcontinental model of sulahkul or peace with all became a feature of Islam, whose most shining example was the dargah of Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer.
“Can you imagine”, he said,” a saint living in Rajasthan in the middle ages surrounded by Hindus and propagating peace and harmony through Islam?”The political face of this model could be seen in the Unionist Party of Punjab, which the Pakistani historian, Ayesha Jalal, described as “a cross-communal alliance of Muslim, Hindu and Sikh agricultural interests” led by the two towering regional figures, Fazl-i-Hussain and Chaudhury Chhotu Ram.
Hussain was invited by Jinnah to preside over the Muslim League in 1936 with the words that “no one can give a better lead to the Mussalmans of India than yourself”.
Fazlul Huq of Bengal’s Krishak Praja Party was another such figure. Neither of them favoured Pakistan because the Muslims were in a majority in their provinces any way. Hussain’s successor, Khizar Hayat Khan Tiwana, told Jinnah, therefore, to “keep his finger out of the Punjab pie” while describing the idea of Pakistan as “nonsense”.
Yet these men are forgotten today along with their secular compatriot Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan while Jinnah’s Direct Action is remembered to justify the break-up in 1947.
Had there been no Partition, it is the likes of Husain and Frontier Gandhi, not to mention Nehru and Gandhi, who would have ensured the continuance of communal togetherness of the last 1,200 years without any side swamping the other.
The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator