The Partition Of India: Was It Avoidable?

Published May 26, 2013 by vishalvkale

It is my continuing quest to understand this very topic: why were we partitioned, and was it avoidable? I am currently on my – oh, 18th book –  Bengal Divided: The Unmaking Of A Nation: 1905 – 1971; so I can honestly state that this is a work in progress. I have thought quite a bit about this, and am yet to come to any definitive conclusion. I do not intend to attempt what I cannot do: answer this question. My intention here is to stoke enough questions in the readers’ minds, and stoke their own readings on this…

Q1) What were the events that led to the inevitability of the partition?

In 1905, all of Bengal – and India – rose against the parititon of Bengal; contrast this to 1947, when a communally divided nation split. What changed in 42 short years? For this, we have to peel away the layers of misinformation and preconceived notions that still pervade our minds. It was not such a simple matter; and this is too long a topic to be fully justified in a sub-heading. To encapsulate:

The key event – in fact, the only event of fatal importance (fatal to unity) was the 2nd world war. The refusal of the congress to assist and resign the ministries has been identified as a himalayan blunder. It wasnt; this just goes to prove how shoddy our education of history has been. The british had promised in 1914 to free India after the first world war; this was later reneged on. Further, there was actually no point fighting to free european nations when India was herself a slave. Thus, the congress stand comes across as bold and accurate: the joker in the pack was Jinnah, who colluded with the british from September 1939. This is documented history, and is not open to discussion. 

As early as 1933, the British was visualised a partition; the original plan was to hive off Baluchistan from India. Thus, it was always the brits who were playing both sides of the coin. These 2 events led to the inevitability of partition – despite the desperate efforts of the INC

Q2) How could these events have been averted

The fallacious impression of unity till 1920 or thereabouts glibly overlooks the existing internal tensions and pull-pressures in Indian Society post-1857 – and the sequence of events let loose by the fall of Muslim rule over Asia; the rise of Syed Ahmed Khan with his strident anti-INC stance and the counterbalancing rise of Jamal-Al-Din Al-Afghani among others. The only thing is that these were in a tiny minority – the Muslim classes were, by and large – against disunity till even the early 1940s. But the presence of causes of rifts was a fact, Under normal circumstances, these would have subsided with time. But the times were not normal

It was not possible to maintain equanimity; the British were hell-bent on partition. The historical record of conversations and minutes of meetings pretty much prove that point. There is nothing that anyone could have done to avert partition. If Jinnah had not approached, the Brits would have. There is suspicion that this was done once during the round table conference. 

It is of paramount importance that India should not secede from the Empire. If, however, the colony could not be held, the alternative was to keep a strategic peice of it under british control – possbily Baluchistan” – Winston Churchill, May 5th, 1945

Everyone would do well to remember that Hindus and Muslims lived peacefully from around 700 AD to 1910 AD – a matter of 1210 years. Something happened in these last 40 – 50 years to vitiate the atmosphere… and it is that something that I am hunting for… trying to understand in my ongoing quest…

This process of alienation did not start in the 1900s; it did not start by itself – and paradoxically, it was not initiated by the Brits. The existing circumstances after 1857 were utilised by the Brits; wounds were rubbed raw, and used to maintain control over the masses. Simultaneous developments – innocuous developments by and large – in both communities created further opportunities for alienation – which were tapped by the Brits.  All three were players in this drama -and at this point I am not prepared to state more, as for me this is a work in progress. 

While it is clear that position on both sides were increasingly intractable. we should not forget that around 1900 they were not so bad. The british policy of divide and rule has never been fully explained to us… “If amity among the various communities were somehow achieved, its immediate result would be that the united communities would join us in showing the door… Winston Churchill

Jawaharlal Nehru: Essentially these were : the creation and protection of vested interests bound up with british rule; a policy of counterpoise and balancing of different elements, and the encouragement of fissiparous tendencies and division among them – The Discovery of India

I am not a historian; but I am deeply interested in understanding our colonial history. So far as I am aware  and my readings of several books on this topic goes, the partition was not a simple affair. There is a lot that remains to be understood. Perhaps the one book that comes close to giving me an understanding is the book by Jaswant Singh; especially if I read Mukherjee’s book also. I would advise all to studiously avoid non-indian works on this topic – I have read both – and Indian works are far, far more unbiased IMO

It seems to be that Partition was inevitable. Indian movement could not have gone forward without the mass struggle advocated by Gandhiji; this was against Jinnah’s ego – who was increasingly sidelined. He went to London, and returned a changed man. His meeting with Linlithgow on 3rd Sept 1939 clearly indicates his unwillingness to accept anything less than partition; it also clearly documents the British attitude and strategy of Partition. Thereafter, it was relatively easy to whip up communal tensions in minority regions; majority regions were pro-India till 1947! The 8th book superbly chronicles the way the divide and rule policy worked in favour of partition and further whipping up communal tensions… 

This cannot be explained in an blog post – or even in a book – as the list below will reveal. Furthermore, there are some details that cannot be put in an internet forum…  This is a journey of discovery to be undertaken by everyone… if interested, please read the following material given below (preferably in the order stated). Even now, I am not entirely sure I understand why is it that a people living together peacefully till 1900 could suddenly, in 40 short years, become enemies… which is the second greatest tragedy of partition – with the greatest tragedy being the loss of life…


1) From the ruins of empire- Pankaj Mishra

2) Partition – The Untold Story – Narendra Sarila

3) Jinnah, Partition, Independence – Jaswant Singh

4) The Case For India – Will Durant

5) India’s Struggle For Independence – Bipin Chandra Pal

6) Churchill’s Secret War – Madhushree Mukherjee

7) The Discovery Of India – Jawaharlal Nehru

8) Bengal Divided: The Unmaking Of A Nation: 1905 – 1971 – Nitish Sengupta

Among Others…

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