The eerie twins

May 24, 2015

A credible and authentic account of the partitioning of British India into independent Pakistan and India in August 1947

The eerie twins

Pakistan and India are twin countries born out of the June 3 [1947] Plan that got legitimacy from the mother of all parliaments (UK assembly) in July 1947. The deadline for the completion of the birth period was set as June 1948; however the twins were born much before it. What was the pressure behind that premature birth? No one has inquired that as yet.

However, it is a reality that after signing the Atlantic Charter on August 14, 1941 Britain had continuously reported to Washington regarding the decolonisation process. After two unsuccessful attempts, finally all stakeholders had to sign the June 3 Plan.

Dilip Hiro’s latest book The Longest August… is another proof of the maturity among the historians of the emerging independent countries, and he joins the list that includes people like Romila Thapar and Ayesha Jalal.

Born at Larkano, Sindh in mid-1930s, Hiro is the author of many books on South Asian, Central Asian and Middle Eastern affairs. The Longest August… reminds me of the couplet of the great Punjabi poet Ustad Daman, written in the context of partition:

Lali akhaan di payee dasdi hai

Roye tusi vi ho, roye assi vi haan

[The redness in our eyes testifies that both you and I have cried]

The writer tries to unfold the hidden politics of the unflinching rivalry between the twins and comprehensively covers both the pre- and post-partition developments. Although the first 150 pages are a good addition to the partition literature, he has missed the Gadar Movement fallouts, splits in Congress and Muslim League (Swaraj Party and Shafi League), C.R. Das formula, Iqbal’s Allahabad address, the Bhagat Singh case and Neta Ji’s [Subhash Chandra Bose] revolt.

Hiro has recorded many unusual events such as the conversion of Harilal Gandhi (Son of Mahatma Gandhi) to Abdullah Gandhi and the anxiety of Mahatma, Azad’s clever political decision to support Khizar Hayat Tiwana in the Punjab after the 1946 election, the three war medals from the Empire to Mahatma till 1915, and the confession of British Prime minister Clement Attlee regarding the deciding punch of Subhash Chandra Bose (he weakened the very foundation of British Empire in India).

Hiro has recorded many unusual events such as the conversion of Harilal Gandhi to Abdullah Gandhi and the anxiety of Mahatma, Azad’s political decision to support Khizar Hayat Tiwana, the three war medals from the Empire to Mahatma till 1915, and the confession of British Prime minister Clement Attlee.

He has pinpointed the three pitfalls of Congress in the pre-partition politics namely: the Nehru Report, the solo flight of Congress after the 1937 election and the rejection of Cabinet Mission Plan. In this regard, his analysis is close to Kanji Dwarkadas, H.M. Seervai and Jaswant Singh (all Indians), but he has given many new references too.

Since 9/11, religious extremism has become a central theme for discussion. The chapter ‘Gandhi’s Original Sin; Injecting Religion Into Politics’ is a good example to understand the roots of religious extremism in South Asia. Although he has not mentioned the Rowlett Committee’s famous sedition report of 1918, which threw light on the birth of religious nationalism in the late 19th century by the nexus of European returned Lal Bal Pal (Lala Lajput Rai, Bal Gangadhar Talik and Bipan Chandra Pal) under the banner of the One Nation Theory, he has boldly challenged the politics of Mahatma. He has rightly pointed out that the Mahatma believed in religious nationalism and gives the reference of Gail Minault of Columbia University who recorded Mahatma’s 1915 address in which he said: "Politics cannot be divorced from religion."

At that time the Ali brothers were in jail from where they had endorsed Gandhi. So, both were natural allies in future. Ali brothers remained in jail for four years but, unlike Gadari revolutionaries and the prisoners of Silk Conspiracy, they were allowed to maintain censored correspondence with friends and allies. Maulana Johar started using the symbol of Muslim monarchy in the same prison.

In 1909, Mahatma wrote a book Hind Swaraj in which he argued that India was one nation long before the Raj. To support his argument, he penned all three Hindu references; Shevetbindu Rameshwar, Juggernaut and Hardwar. There was no place for Buddhists and Muslim shrines in it.

During the Khilafat Movement, he smartly engaged Maulana Abdul Bari, Ali Brothers, Deobandi Ulema and injected religious nationalism into the freedom struggle. Mahatma used a lethal combination of religion and nationalism in a cocktail of unconstitutional and anti-imperialist struggle and called it Satyagraha. Allama Iqbal, Mian Shafi, Annie Besant, Mian Fazl-e-Hussein and Muhammad Ali Jinnah were able to sniff it in time and remained aloof from the ‘super revolutionaries’.

In the book, the writer has reproduced the statement of Jinnah: "This weapon (non-cooperation) will not destroy the British Empire." He predicted, "it is neither logical nor is it politically sound or wise, nor practically capable of being put into execution".

The show finally ended in frustration when in February 1922, a mob set a police station ablaze and 21 police officers were "hacked to pieces, their bodies were fed to the raging flames". It was the notorious Chaura Chauri incident after which the Mahatma had to call off his dharna politics. As Mahatma announced it unilaterally, without consulting his fellows, so Maulana Abdul Bari, Motilal Nehru, and C. R. Das criticised him, subsequently leaving the Congress. Swaraj Party was created and until the end of 1930 they did not listen to Mahatma and Central Khilafat Committee and participated in successive provincial elections in India.

In 1924, when Mustafa Kamal abolished the institution of Khilafat, people like Iqbal, Annie Besant and Jinnah were proved to be right. Interestingly, 95 years on, we still have not analysed that pitfall and in the Indo-Pak textbooks Khilafat and noncooperation movements are taught as heroic movements.

In his post partition analysis, the writer talks about the use of tribal lashkars in Kashmir by Liaqat Ali Khan and some army officers without informing Jinnah in late 1947. However, in 1950 when Liaqat Ali had to appoint the new Army Chief, he was reluctant to trust the same people who were his partners in arms during the Kashmir War. Thus, he appointed Gen Ayub, who was posted in East Pakistan during the Kashmir War of 1947. Playing with the Kashmir issue remains vital not only at the regional level; it has also affected internal politics in India and Pakistan since 1947. Hiro accepts that Kashmir is still the core issue between the two states and there is no sign of progress toward its resolution.

According to Hiro, there was a tangible increase in the role of intelligence networks in the post 1965 scenario. In September 1967, Indira Gandhi established RAW initially as a wing at Intelligence Bureau (IB) but reporting directly to the prime minister. It immediately acquired the status of Special Frontier Force, a secret army of India trained by CIA five years back. By 1968, it had become an independent agency with the help of CIA. At the same time, the prime minister instructed RAW’s chief to cultivate links with Mossad. The reference of this information comes from the book by famous RAW officer B. Raman. According to the writer, at that time, India had no diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv. So it was a total departure from the pro-Palestine policy of her father Nehru.

Sindh appears to run in the writer’s veins and he rightly mentions the smart move of Z.A. Bhutto during Simla Accord 1972 to normalise ties between the two countries. He claims that with the help of China, Pakistan tested an atomic bomb assembled in Pakistan in early 1984. While analysing nuclear competition, he also mentions how Narasimha Rao’s plan to test "three nuclear devices in late 1995 was thwarted by Bill Clinton".

The writer knows it in his heart that without resolving Kashmir, Pakistan and India cannot move forward and in this regard he appreciates the efforts of prime minister Nawaz Sharif so far. In the preface, he mentions the South Asia Free Trade Treaty which specifies the reduction of customs duty on all trade goods to zero by 2016 for all eight countries. It may be an opportunity for all SAARC countries but for now the ball is in India’s court.

The Longest August -- The Unflinching Rivalry Between India and Pakistan
Author: Dilip Hiro
Publisher: Nation Books, New York, 2015
Pages: 521
Price: Rs 1395
Available: Readings, Lahore

The eerie twins