1947 to Delhi 2020

March 8, 2020

The hashtag #ThankYouJinnah is reductive because the users would not let you question it or draw attention to an alternative discourse

Jinnah & Nehru: Did the partition alter the politics and societies in India and Pakistan?

We are living in an age of hashtags. Hashtags like slogans are reductive, often provocative. At their creative best, they sum up the entire debate. When they do not, they lack nuance, and generate more heat than light.

The hashtag that captured the minds of many Pakistanis in response to the pogrom in Delhi, who thought it fit to thank Jinnah for giving them a separate country was insensitive to the tragedy of people who, ironically, thought and prayed like them. It was also reflective of a collective amnesia regarding the events of partition and how it had failed to address the Muslim question in the United India.

The hashtag #ThankYouJinnah is reductive in a strange kind of way. That the users would not let you question this hashtag or draw attention to an alternative discourse is perhaps where the problem lies. All the more reason the problem is unpacked; there are questions that need to be asked even if not answered. Especially after all that has happened in Delhi.

The state narrative peddled since Pakistan’s creation has celebrated independence as a moment of glory, nothing less. Not surprisingly, it has not allowed any discussion that looks back at partition as something ‘tragic’ or ‘avoidable’. Blasphemous as it may sound, a tragedy it indeed was and a colossal one at that. Merely counting the killings and migration of millions of people, abductions and rapes would not do justice to what this singular event meant for people in the two countries that it helped create.

But that’s a history which was ignored in Pakistan; the first time it was mentioned in this country it was called The Murder of History. See, we were already using the language we knew so well — of violence.

History works in a continuity; it connects the present with the past. Some people also use this knowledge as a lesson to predict and shape the future. You can’t pick a time, place and leader, divorce them from their context and read it as history. The partition of Indian subcontinent was not an isolated event either; it was as connected with the British colonial period as it was with centuries of Muslim rule over a majority that belonged to a different religion, and this rule was linked to the political setups it replaced; and so on.

It would only be fair to say that this entire history has helped form the thought pattern of societies existing in the two countries after the partition.

We have often been told that history shapes leaders and their decisions as much as leaders make history. In the context of what has happened in Delhi, and the hashtags it has produced in its wake, in the light also of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s smug tweets about the situation in Modi’s India, it is instructive to look back at our own history from a slightly different perspective than that taught to us in our Pakistan studies class.

The benefit of hindsight makes it possible to ask some difficult questions. The first question: could it be that communal politics and violence of partition altered the politics and societies in both countries?

The state narrative peddled since Pakistan’s creation has celebrated independence as a moment of glory, nothing less. Not surprisingly, it has not allowed any discussion that looks back at partition as something ‘tragic’ or ‘avoidable’.

Let’s hear and read what a Muslim leader other than Jinnah said and wrote about the idea of Pakistan and the Muslim question. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, a significant leader of Indian National Congress, was concerned about how partition would reduce the strength of Muslims in India. These [Muslims] were people who called India home because that’s what it had been for them for a thousand years and where they had “built up well known centres of Muslim culture and civilization”.

Azad wrote in 1946, “Muslims would awaken overnight and discover that they have become aliens and foreigners. Backward industrially, educationally and economically; they will be left to the mercies of what would become an unadulterated Hindu Raj.” Partition has been relived many times since 1947. Read these lines by Azad in the context of Delhi 2020, and you can’t call him anything but prescient.

Read more: Calling a pogrom a pogrom

This brings us back to the role of Jinnah, which has been variously interpreted by historians. There is this view held by Ayesha Jalal and others that Jinnah did not want partition, and he was merely using it as a bargaining chip to get a better deal for Indian Muslims. Then there is Dhulipala contesting this in his book Creating a New Medina (2015) and saying that Jinnah had said many times in 1941 that he was willing to sacrifice the thirty million Muslims in the minority provinces in order to ‘liberate’ the sixty million in the majority provinces.

While the historians disagree about how politicians’ minds and ambitions worked and whether Jinnah really wanted partition or not, the 2020 hashtag acknowledges Jinnah’s stance of 1941. However, as partition drew near, Jinnah himself and Congress leadership too was said to have relied on the “hostage theory” whereby treatment of minorities in either country would work to the advantage of minorities in the other.

Clearly that has not happened.

The idea of Pakistan germinating in the Two Nation Theory — that projects Mohammad Bin Qasim, an Arab, as the first Pakistani in the Pakistani textbooks — was first questioned by the vast majority of Muslims who remained in India, and then by the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. The dominant Muslim identity was carried over in the newly established state of Pakistan where sectarian, ethnic and religious minorities have struggled for equality, in the face of discriminatory law, religious orthodoxy and violence.

Today, as Indian Muslims face persecution at the hands of a fascist regime, and not for the first time, it is time to ask difficult questions. For instance, would RSS have remained on the fringe if there was no partition, or become the mainstream political force that it is now?

#ThankYouJinnah: 1947 to Delhi 2020