What if there was no partition?

If we are to justify the sacrifice of up to a million lives and the uprooting of another 15 million by the economic uplift of certain backward areas, who can argue against the separation of Balochistan, southern Punjab and upper Sindh from Pakistan?

What if there was no partition?

It is best to avoid getting into debates on hypothetical situations based on ‘what if’ postulations, particularly on such a sensitive issue as partition. Nevertheless, I am tempted to make a few observations on the subject, prompted by Mr Yasser Latif Hamdani’s recent article, ‘What if there had been no partition of India?’ (Daily Times, May 26, 2014).Whether one is for or against it, partition is now irreversible. No one anywhere in the three countries in question, namely India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (except a few ‘great India’ idealists and some radical ‘Bharat Mata’ devotees in India), envisage anything more than good neighbourly relations between them, including freedom of travel. India’s now ascendant Hindu-nationalist forces view the country’s Muslim population of about 15 percent as a liability, an obstacle to their vision of a Bharat (India) imbued with Hindutva. Better a smaller India fashioned as a Hindu state than a greater one forever ‘contaminated’ with a larger Muslim population! Indian Muslims lag behind in economic and social development not only vis-à-vis their Hindu fellow citizens but also in comparison with the Muslims in Pakistan and Bangladesh. This is the result of over five decades of state support of Muslim majorities in these two countries and the official neglect of the Muslim minority in India.

A comprehensive official survey, the Sachar Committee Report (2006), over 400 pages long, found that Muslims comprise only 2.5 percent of the state bureaucracy. Justice Rajinde Sachar’s attempt to obtain the number of Muslims in the Indian armed forces was stonewalled by the defence establishment but they are believed to comprise less than two percent of the total. In socio-economic terms, Muslims now rank even below the backward Hindu castes who are patronised by the state with affirmative action (quotas). Indian Muslims have been penalised for partition in multiple ways. They suffer in a way that Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh do not, namely by being stigmatised as supporters of the partition of 1947. Many Hindus think that Indian Muslims have forfeited the right to live honourably in a post-partition India. While millions of Indian Muslims either chose to or were compelled by circumstances to remain in India (they and their descendants now number about 160 million), the vast majority of the Muslim elite of India migrated to Pakistan at partition or subsequently. They left behind broken families, shattered homes and disjointed neighbourhoods clinging to little else but hope and just biding their time. Thus, India’s residual Muslims (about a third of the subcontinent’s total Muslim population) became trapped in a vicious cycle of governmental neglect and social discrimination, aggravated by suspicion, aspersion, unemployment, low education and a lack of leadership.

Mr Hamdani credits partition for the “accumulation of capital” in Karachi (and Dhaka) and the transformation of “the tract along the Grand Trunk Road from a poverty stricken rural agrarian society to the booming semi-urban middle class populated area that it is today.” If we are to justify the sacrifice of up to a million lives and the uprooting of another 15 million by the economic uplift of certain backward areas, who can argue against the separation of Balochistan, southern Punjab and upper Sindh from Pakistan, and of the five north-eastern Indian states, besides Bihar, Odisha and Kerala from India, for the sake of their economic development? If we are to follow the logic of economic backwardness and ethnic, religious or communal disharmony to justify the breaking up of states, one may ask where this will end for India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, China, Russia, Ukraine, Brazil, Congo, Sudan, South Sudan and, indeed, most countries of the world. In an undivided India, about one out of three Indians would have been a Muslim. Muslims would have constituted large majorities in Kashmir, Punjab and Bengal, besides Sindh, Balochistan and the NWFP. The educated, business and land-owning Muslim elites of UP, Bihar, central provinces, Gujarat and Mumbai would have retained their influential positions in their respective regions. With a population and geographical distribution such as this, it is hard to see Muslims getting short shrift from the Hindu majority.

Then there is the question of Urdu, which is dying a slow but sure death in India, despite being the mother tongue of a large majority of Indian Muslims, notwithstanding its rich cultural heritage and the large number of its admirers amongst Hindi-speaking and Punjabi Hindus and Sikhs. Sadly, it is a consequence of partition that the best Indian songs in the finest Urdu, immortalised in films seen and heard around the world, are now labelled and known as Hindi songs. However, in a united India, Urdu would have held its own, not just thanks to Muslims but also its numerous Hindu and Sikh adherents. Even those Pakistanis who now regard Urdu as an imposition on them, would have defended and promoted Urdu as a counterweight to Hindi in their own interest. Finally, let us not overlook the spillover of partition, its downstream effects, so to speak: three Indo-Pakistan wars, Bangladesh tragedy, Siachen, Kargil, the simmering Kashmir and water-sharing disputes between India and Pakistan, border and cross-border enclave issues between Bangladesh and India, trade barriers among all three countries and hundreds of thousands of divided families. Surely, these wars and disputes would not have occurred in a united India. Even assuming that Hindu-Muslim riots would have been a regular occurrence in an undivided India, as Mr Hamdani does, it would still take many centuries of such violence to approach the total numbers killed and maimed at partition. Add to that the casualties of the three wars over Kashmir, the Bangladesh war and the Hindu-Muslim riots in all three countries, including the infamous Gujarat riots of 2002, in which 2,000 Muslims are believed to have been killed. To put it into perspective, and using the conservative estimate of half a million rather than a million killed at the time of partition alone, it would take 2,500 Gujrat-style riots to equal that number. In other words, if a Gujarat were to occur somewhere in a united India once every month, it would still take over 200 years to equal the number killed in the violence that accompanied partition.


The writer is a former academic with a doctorate in modern history and can be contacted at www.raziazmi.com or raziazmi@hotmail.com