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On Partition and The Communalism of Common People (with special reference to Kashmir)

by Sualeh Keen, 29 July 2016

print version of this article print version - 29 July 2016

On the topic of Hindu-Muslim communal rivalry and the formation of the theocratic Pakistan state in 1947, the history of late colonial India has usually fixated on high-level politics of the late 1940’s and the political intrigue of leaders, officials, and British statesmen. This ’top-down’ perspective has meant that little attention has been paid to the popularity of the two-nation theory among the masses, thereby giving a misleading picture that Pakistan was created by fluke. Instead, an inorganic and reductionistic theory (viz. "the competition for the PM post between Jinnah and Nehru") is being propounded as an explanation of Partition.

This is a misleading picture, because it does not account for the support base of the two-nation theory at grass-roots. This ’top-down’ historiographical approach also deludes many people into thinking that Pakistan was conceived as a ’secular state, albeit with Muslim majority’, because, purportedly, Jinnah with his liberal lifestyle was a far cry from a Muslim fundamentalist, thereby making us blissfully ignorant and oblivious of the fundamentalists who stood behind Jinnah. Although it is nobody’s case that all Muslims wanted Pakistan, we cannot discount the role of popular support of fundamentalists on the ground that goaded a seemingly-secular Jinnah. Pakistan was not Jinnah’s accidental creation, but the culmination of grass-root communal mobilisation.

The historian Venkat Dhulipala, basing his solid research in newspapers, popular printed materials and interviews, shows that there were strong utopian opinions amongst North-Indian Muslims about the future Pakistan state, which was to be a ‘New Medina’, a stronghold of Muslim resurgence. Dhulipala makes a convincing argument that Pakistan was never conceived as a secular state.

While the contribution of Savarkar’s communal ideas towards Partition is well-known, Dhulipala also takes into account the less-talked-about contributions made by purportedly secular historical personages such as Ambedkar and the CPI leadership to the idea of Pakistan, which increased the mass appeal for Partition.

Dhulipala’s ’bottom-up’ historiographical approach towards Partition carries serious implications for the still-extant discourses about communalism in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The Kashmir imbroglio is an offshoot of the same unspoken / ignored communalism of the masses, and is often described by Pakistan as the “unfinished business of Partition”. SAS Geelani of Kashmir, with no secular pretensions whatsoever, is already hailed as the Quaid-e-Inqilab (taking inspiration from Jinnah’s Quaid-e-Azam title). And Geelani is not a lone theo-fascist in Kashmir; he represents the tip of an iceberg which is only partly visible; his support base in the valley cannot be denied or brushed aside as inconsequential. The ability of Geelani supporters to frequently bring the Kashmir valley to a standstill speaks for itself.

Looking back at the Partition era, the tragic irony is that all denunciation of the Muslim League’s communal politics took place just a few months after the Partition. The very people and parties that denounced the actions of Pakistan had earlier themselves advocated the formation of Pakistan as a ’just democratic demand’! One of the first statements of the CP Pakistan, published in Bombay in 1948, is critical of Muslim League’s communal politics, and the 1950 J&K pamphlet of the CPI, titled "Imperialist aggression in Kashmir" is extremely critical of the Pakistani invasion of Kashmir (described as “imperialist aggression”).

Like they say, hindsight is always 20-20. So let us give the pre-partition Leftist apologists for communal politics the benefit of doubt. But there is no excuse why self-proclaimed secularists should repeat the same historical mistake vis-a-vis the ’just democratic demand’ of many Kashmiri Muslims to form a mini-Pakistan. That the envisaged Free Kashmir may not become part of Pakistan makes no difference; the very demand for Azadi, a demand restricted to Muslims only, is communal to the core and should not be supported by far-sighted and rational secularists and Leftists.

— Sualeh Keen, September 3, 2013