Indian independence (Part 2) – The crime of partition

Today marks the 60th anniversary of Indian independence from British rule. In reality, the partition of India in 1947 cut through the living body of whole communities, leading to untold death and misery. This was all part of the tried and tested method of divide and rule and behind it lay the interests of privileged ruling elites, not those of the poor masses.

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“Leave India to God. If that is too much, then leave her to anarchy.” – Gandhi, May 1942

After World War II the British imperialists were in a hurry to leave India. The Partition of British India in 1947, which created the two independent states of India and Pakistan, was followed by one of the cruellest and bloodiest migrations and “ethnic cleansings” in history. The religious fury and violence that it unleashed caused the deaths of some two million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. An estimated 12 to 15 million people were forcibly transferred between the two countries. At least 75,000 women were raped.

Pakistan was made up of two regions: West Pakistan on the Indus River plain, and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), more than 1,100 miles apart. Important parts of what was once considered India were now part of other nations. The Indus River, after which the subcontinent is named, became part of Pakistan after the partition.

To solve the minority question, the British imperialists, implementing their policy of divide and rule, separated the continent into a Hindu and a Muslim state. This was done with the aid of the political competition between the two main political parties-The Indian Congress and The Muslim League.

The Indian National Congress, the premier organization and still the leading organization of the Indian national movement, was founded in 1885. Actually the National Congress, established through the activity of the Indian middle class, was brought into existence as an organization through the initiative and under the guidance of an Englishman. More than that – and what is less universally known – the National Congress was in fact brought into being through the initiative and under the guidance of direct British imperialist policy, on a plan secretly pre-arranged with the Viceroy, as an intended weapon for safeguarding British rule against the rising forces of popular unrest and anti-British feeling in India.

Divide and rule

The British had followed a divide and rule policy in India. In order to win the Muslims over to their side, the British helped establish the M.A.O. College at Aligarh and supported the All-India Muslim Conference, both of which were institutions from which leaders of the Muslim League and the ideology of Pakistan emerged. As soon as the League was formed, Muslims were placed on a separate electoral list. Thus the idea of the separateness of Muslims in India was built into the electoral process of India.

The Muslim League gained power also due to the Congress. The Congress banned any support for the British during the Second World War. However the Muslim League pledged its full support, which found favour with the British, who also needed the help of the largely Muslim army. The Civil Disobedience Movement and the consequent withdrawal of the Congress Party from politics also helped the League gain power. This gave the Muslim League the opportunity to form strong ministries in provinces that had large Muslim populations.

The partition of India, Bengal and the Punjab in 1947 instead of solving the religious minority problem, which was its ostensible objective, in fact consolidated much more firmly the rule of religious majorities in what previously constituted British India.

There was nothing surprising in this, because the 1940 Lahore Resolution of the Muslim League proposed to create separate states in the Muslim majority areas of east and west India. Thus, in real terms, there was no question of solving the religious minority problems in India either for the Muslims or for the Hindus and other people in the declared objectives of either the Congress or the Muslim League.

What became quite clear during the Indian independence movement in the 1940s, was that both Congress and the League were trying to consolidate the interests of the Indian feudal-bourgeois classes belonging to the Hindu and Muslim majority communities respectively, the former under the garb of a united India in the name of Indian nationalism, and the latter in the form of a separate state for the Muslim minorities of India, who actually constituted majorities in the eastern and western parts of northern India.

What was apparently quite amazing during the struggle for independence in the 1940s was that the Muslims of the clearly Hindu majority areas in India like Bihar, Assam and southern provinces joined the ranks of the Muslim League in large numbers in demanding Pakistan – which, according to the Lahore Resolution itself, did not include their areas. It was a tragic historical example of how emotionally-charged powerful political propaganda can sweep away minimal common sense, judgment and even consideration of thoughtful interest, and create political blindness not only among the illiterate masses, but also among the literate and even highly educated sections of the people.

The pretension of the Congress to Indian nationalism, which was supposed to safeguard the interests of all sections of the people, irrespective of their religion, caste and language, broke down when the question of preserving the unity of the Punjab, and especially Bengal, cropped up as a matter of high importance at the time of independence. The Congress made a radical and formal departure from its long-standing position of secular nationalism when it demanded the partition of Bengal in the same language and for the same ostensible considerations as formed the core principle of Pakistan demanded by the Muslim League.

After receiving a copy of the agreement on United Bengal signed by Sarat Bose and Abul Hashim (two Congress leaders), Ghandi wrote to Sarat Bose, “There is nothing in the draft stipulating that nothing will be done by mere majority. Every act of government must carry with it the cooperation of at least two-thirds of Hindu members in the Executive and Legislative” (i) This was a comparatively mild communal approach compared to what followed.

Angry telegrams

Gandhi and Sarat Bose both subsequently exchanged angry telegrams when Gandhi, writing about the above-mentioned agreement, said in a letter to Sarat Bose dated June 8, 1947, “I have gone through your draft. I have discussed the scheme roughly with Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel. Both of them are dead against the proposal and they are of the opinion that it is merely a trick for dividing Hindus and scheduled caste leaders. With them it is not a suspicion but a conviction. They feel also that money is being lavishly expended in order to secure scheduled caste votes. If such is the case you should give up the struggle at least at present. For, the unity purchased by corrupt practices would be worse than frank partition, it being recognition of the established division of hearts and the unfortunate experience of the Hindus” (ii).

The scheduled caste are often called ‘untouchables’ in the British press. Gandhi is expressing the fear that the Muslim League were forming a bloc with them against the higher caste Hindus. The point is that all the leaders of the nationalist movement were dabbling in reactionary attempts to stir up religious and caste divisions within the movement.

Sarat Bose vehemently protested against Gandhi’s accusation of corrupt practices etc. and finally wrote a short letter to him summing up the attitude of Gandhi and the Indian National Congress as a whole at the time of partition. In the letter Sarat Bose wrote to Gandhi, “It grieves me to find that the Congress which was a great National Organisation is fast becoming on organization of Hindus only.” (iii). No stronger words could be used for the essential communal character of the Indian National Congress led by Gandhi, Nehru and Patel and their likes in 1947.

The question of the partition of Muslim Majority Bengal and the very clear stand of the Congress leaders on the question demonstrated that in spite of raising the bogey of Indian nationalism, the Congress throughout was actually trying to consolidate the interests of big Hindu capitalists and landlords in the whole of India as a religious majority. The Muslim League in the interest of Muslim feudal lords was trying to make the best out of it by separating the Muslim majority areas in the east and west of India, leaving the interest of the minority Muslims to the ‘good will’ of the majority Hindus.

The people of British India, particularly the various minorities, were thus used both by the Congress and The Muslim League in the interests of the capitalist and landlord classes of their own religious communities with tragic consequences not only for the religious and other minorities, but for the entire people of what is called South Asia.

End Notes:

i Umar, Badruddin (2000), “Language Movement in East Bengal” JG publisher, Dhaka, p.12

ii ibid p12.

iii Ibid p12


Dutt, R. Palme (1940) “India Today”, Victor Gollancz Ltd, London pp91-102, 277

Khan, Lal (2003) “Crises in the Indian Subcontinent-Partition Can it Be Undone”, Wellred Publications, London

Umar, Badruddin (2000), “”Language Movement in East Bengal” JG publisher, Dhaka, p.11-18

Ahmad, Aijaz (Ed) (2001), “Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, On the National and Colonial Questions, Selected Writings”, Left Word Books, Delhi pp61-103

Chatterji, Joya (1995) “Bengal Divided-Hindu Communalism and Partition 1932-1947”, CUP, India.