If Muhammad Ali Jinnah had obeyed, the country would not have been divided
Swaminathan S Anklesaria Iyer
On 15th August, the thought emerges whether the partition of India in 1947 could have been avoided? Some people say that the British imposed partition on us, but any student of history will tell that this is a lie. There is an opinion about this, on which many people believe. It is said that on the one hand Muhammad Ali Jinnah was very obstinate, on the other hand the Congress did not show the strength to stand against partition, so the country was divided.
Congress Hindu Party
Local elections started in the country from 1909. Then the British Raj made a separate electorate for the Muslims. In a system with Muslim electorates, Muslims almost unilaterally voted for the Muslim League. On this, the Congress said that this game of separate electorates is very harmful to the national spirit. That game was actually related to the ground reality. Muslims constituted about a third of the population, but the system of declaring the candidate with the most votes as the winner would have left the Muslims far less than a third of the seats. The formation of a separate electorate for him reduced the clout of the Congress.
Lala Lajpat Rai said that sharing of power with Muslims through a separate electorate is impossible. Instead he made this proposal of partition. Hindus got most of the Indian subcontinent. Muslims should be given North West Frontier Province with majority of Pathans. Punjab should be divided on the basis of religion and the western half should also be given to them. Similarly, Bengal should be partitioned on the basis of religion and half of the East should be given to the Muslims. Also, Sindh should also be given to them. Lala Lajpat Rai had proposed this in 1924. That is, when the word Pakistan was not even coined. But when the country was divided in 1947, it was divided exactly like this.
Jinnah, who was a Congressman in his early days, called an All India meeting of Muslim organizations in 1927. In it the ‘Delhi proposal’ was introduced. There was no demand for a separate electorate. Instead it was said that one-third of the cabinet seats should be reserved for Muslims. Also, seats should be reserved in Punjab and Bengal according to their population. It was also demanded that new provinces should be created in Sindh, Balochistan and North West Frontier Provinces. Initially the Congress accepted this proposal, but Madan Mohan Malviya of Hindu Mahasabha objected strongly. Congress bowed before him and a golden opportunity was lost.
Then in 1928 a report was issued under the chairmanship of Motilal Nehru. It was said that separate electorates should not be formed, but seats should be reserved for Muslims in terms of population. It was also said that neither should there be any reserved seats for them in the central government, nor should seats be reserved on the basis of religion in Punjab and Bengal. If there was a reservation on communal lines, there would have been a Muslim majority in both the states.
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After this Jinnah proposed a decentralized federal India, in which all the provinces should get equal autonomy. Also, separate electorates should be created and one-third of the cabinet ministers in the provincial and central governments should be from the Muslim community.
It was clear that the views of Congress and Jinnah were not the same. Differences grew on both sides. Historian KK Aziz says that out of 33 proposals for partition that came between 1931 and 1940, only 15 proposals were made by Muslims. All the Hindus also wanted partition.
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Under the Government of India Act 1935, arrangements were made to hold elections and form governments in the provinces. In these elections held in 1937, the Congress dominated. Historian Perry Anderson says that after this Nehru felt that the real political battle was now between the Congress and the British, with the Muslim League and the princely states on the margins. Even then 97 percent of the members of the Congress party were Hindus. The Congress could not find Muslim candidates on 90 per cent of the seats reserved for Muslims. The Muslim League registered a unilateral victory in the reserved category seats.
When elections were held in 1945-46, the Muslim League won 446 of the 495 Muslim seats in the provinces. Every central seat fixed for Muslims also went to his account. The magic of Congress once again worked on the rest of the seats. But sadly, those results were showing a completely communal picture.
Struggled with the league on tax
However, an interim cabinet was formed. Nehru was made the Prime Minister and Liaquat Ali the Finance Minister. In the budget prepared by Liaquat, he imposed heavy taxes on industrialists. Most of the Congressmen termed it as anti-Hindu stand as most of the industrialists were Hindus. However, the tax hit Parsis and Christians as well. And of course, even on the mighty Tata family. Many Congressmen started saying that it is impossible to work with the Muslim League. The situation came to such an extent that the Congress which used to say till 1945 that the idea of dividing the country could not be thought of, the same Congress immediately accepted Mountbatten’s proposal in 1947. If the Congress had agreed to share power under the proposals made by Jinnah, that dreadful partition could have been avoided. But there is also a question that then secularism was taking root in the country and in such a situation would undivided India get caught in a civil war? Yes, it could have happened. So in my view, partition was the best solution. But it was not imposed on India. If Jinnah was adamant for that then Nehru was not far behind. He too had chosen that option.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are those of the author.
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