Solution: Daily Problem Practice for 2023 History Optional [Modern India: Day 25]

Q. Analyse various causes of the partition of India. [20 Marks]


The British conquered India and gave it a political unity. Yet, when the British left India in 1947, the country was divided along religious lines into India and Pakistan. The partition of India was the product of complex processes and was the outcome of several factors and the role of the British, the Muslim League and the Indian National Congress for the division of the subcontinent.

Partition was neither inevitable nor the product of sheer chance. It was not the fulfillment of destiny or the logical outcome of the two nation theory; nor was it simply an accident that was produced by a single wrong decision or failure of judgement.

It was the period 1937-1947 that saw the quickening of the pace of political developments, but there were underlying differences in the levels of economic and social development of the Hindu and Muslim communities of the subcontinent that played a role. Conflicts based on class and culture got intertwined with new forms of politics and concepts of democracy and nation-states during the closing years of colonial rule.

The causes of the partition of India:

  • British policy of divide and rule for deliberately favouring one community and then the other, is to prevent the coming together of Indians against the British.
    • some examples of this policy were, introduction of separate electorate based on religious line, communal awards-1932, recording Census data based on castes and communities etc.
    • As Gandhi had observed in Hind Swaraj, the Hindus and Muslims had learned to live with each other before the British established their rule in India. It was British rule that produced greater differences between the two communities.
      • The historians focused only on the periods of conflict ignoring the much longer periods of harmony between communities.
    • They deliberately encouraged Jinnah’s Muslim League after 1940 to weaken the national movement and thwart Congress participation in government during the war. They were willing to consider not only the partition of India but also the balkanisation of India.
  • Muslim league and Jinnah:
    • In the nationalist accounts of the partition of India, Mohammad Ali Jinnah played a prominent role in the partition process.
    • Other nationalist historians have argued that he was alienated by the transformation of the Congress after mass mobilisation began under Gandhi after 1920. This made Jinnah the moderate nationalist and constitutionalist less relevant in national politics although he remained opposed to the hardline communal politics.
    • Once known as the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity turned hostile and became an implacable foe of the Congress.
    • However, his Fourteen points programme didn’t have the demand for Pakistan. As a liberal Muslim, he was not initially averse to negotiations with the Congress.
    • It was the poor performance of the Muslim League in the elections to the Provincial assemblies in 1937 that compelled him to rethink his strategy. The party decided to reject the notion that the Muslims could live as a minority under ‘Hindu’ Congress domination.
    • In 1940 (The “Pakistan” Resolution) the League declared the right of self determination of Muslim majorities in the North West and East of India.
      • This ambiguous resolution never mentioned partition or Pakistan. Sikandar Hayat Khan, who had drafted the resolution, declared in 1941 that he was opposed to a Pakistan that would mean “Muslim Raj here and Hindu Raj elsewhere.
      • The demand for separate states within a common framework even if it meant statehood without a demand for a separate nation, as argued by historian Ayesha Jalal fanned communal fears and animosities in the years after.
      • Jinnah chose an unwise policy. The communal polarisation that resulted from enthusiastic responses to the Pakistan idea undermined the cross communal alliances. The virulent campaign for Pakistan got intertwined with various communal, linguistic and cultural anxieties and acquired a momentum of its own.
    • Muslim League was able to mobilize the Muslim masses for a separate nation during the early 1940s while the congress leaders were busy with the Quit India Movement.
      • They made the masses believe that Muslims will be treated as second class citizens in a Hindu dominated Independent India. The polarization of Muslims in India was evident in the 1946 elections where the Muslim League came to power in Muslim majority areas.
    • Mass politics phase with the cry ”Islam in Danger” by the Muslim League began along with implicit British support in the Wavell Plan, Cripps Mission and Cabinet Mission to give the League a veto in constitutional matters left no other choice but to partition.
  • Success-Failure dichotomy for Congress:
    • Bipan Chandra views that Congress had two fold task during freedom movements:
      • Integrating diverse classes, communities, groups and regions into a nation.
      • Securing independence from British rulers for this emerging nation.
    • While congress succeeded in building up a nationalist consciousness sufficient to exert pressure on British to quit India, it failed in completing the task of welding the nation, especially in the integrating Muslim community into the nation. This was Success-Failure dichotomy for Congress.
    • Some historians view that the Congress did not have a sufficiently inclusive approach towards Muslim communities in India. And even Congress’s inclusive nationalism entailed the denial of Muslim identity and that any signs of Muslimness were regarded as separatist or communal.
  • Acceptance of partition was a final act in the process of step by step concessions to League’s championing of a separate Muslim state.
    • Congress had tacitly agreed for communal interests when they have agreed for reservation of seats in Communal award in 1909 and agreed for Lucknow Pact (1916) with Muslim League.
    • During Cripps mission, autonomy of Muslim majority provinces was accepted.
    • C. Rajagopalachari’s formula in 1944 proposed to have a plebiscite on the issue of partition.
    • During Gandhi-Jinnah talks, Gandhi accepted right of self-determination of Muslim majority provinces.
    • The cabinet mission, inspite of rejecting partition, had elements of partition, as it allowed groupings.
  • Gandhi’s mistake, use of religious issues in politics:
    • The critics of Gandhi think that the use of a religious issue like Khilafat was dangerous since it encouraged extra-territorial loyalties and Pan-Islamic tendencies among Indian Muslims (B.R. Nanda).
    • Secular and Marxist historians ( Bipan Chandra, Sumit Sarkar) consider the use of religion in politics a ‘double-edged weapon’ and therefore have regarded this strategy as fraught with dangerous consequences.
    • The concept of Ramrajya was not a Hindu ideal as far as Gandhi was concerned though it might have sprung from within the Hindu tradition. Many orthodox Muslims regarded this as an unacceptable ideal and preferred to express themselves in an Islamic idiom.
  • The 1946 elections and popular opinion:
    • With around 90% of Muslims voting for Muslim league, the election results of 1946 gave the Muslim League the authoritative position to represent Indian Muslims that Jinnah had long wanted.
    • It was the growth in the electoral strength of the League and the popularity of the notion of Pakistan that compelled the Congress to take the demands of the League seriously. The demand for Pakistan was no longer seen as a bargaining counter but a serious demand, while the supporters of the two-nation theory regarded the verdict of 1946 as a vindication of their stand.
    • Gandhiji single-handedly tried to bring in communal harmony till the last moment and fearlessly visited riot hit areas like Noakhali trying to restore harmony. But he was not in favour of a mass movement against the decision to partition the country because the conditions were not conducive for such a movement and because he was not sure whether he could secure the support of the people in such an endeavour.
  • Social and economic background:
    • There were forces in history leading to communal polarisation.
    • During 19th century, some revivalist socio-religious had strengthened the communitarian identity among different religious groups.
    • The incipient demand for Pakistan stirred poets and propagandists who influenced the popular mood and fuelled communal tensions and anxieties.
    • Some historians have noted the tendency of some peasant radicals to participate in communal movements. Others have observed that supporters of the INA, and some soldiers as well, were involved in communal violence during August 1946 in Calcutta.
    • Members of the Muslim middle class and the capitalists had realised that a separate state was bound to give them a distinct advantage and they were unlikely to forego it. In Bengal not only did Muslim merchants like Ispahani favour Pakistan but the Marwaris of Calcutta also wanted to be free of Muslim domination.
  • Mountbatten Plan:
    • The All-India Congress Committee finally accepted the Mountbatten Plan of independence with partition when Mountbatten promised minimum Pakistan. Also Mountbatten had virtually ruled out the independence of princely states which would have been greater threat to Indian unity. This led to compromise by the Congress.
  • Communal violence:
    • When the Congress had still not accepted the partition demand, the Muslim League launched the Direct Action Day on 16 August 1946, a day of rioting and violence in which thousands of people were killed. The whole country was engulfed with large-scale communal riots over the partition of India. The Congress was convinced that the only solution to the communal problem lay in the partition of India into India and Pakistan.
    • The British government did not do enough to check communal violence. The Congress leaders felt that freedom even with partition would at least give them power to check the violence.
  • The Congress also understood that the only alternative to partition was a Federation with a weak centre. A smaller India with a strong central authority was better than a bigger State with a weak Centre.
    • The leaders felt that partition would evolve India as a secular and democratic polity as it would get rid of the Constitution of separate electorates.
    • This was why they rejected the Confederation that was recommended by the Cabinet Mission that came to India in 1946.
    • A. Jalal has argued that the partition of the subcontinent was imposed by the central leaders of the Congress who favoured a tighter grip over the provinces and a unitary conception of nationalism.
    • In the perception of many Congressmen a weak centre in India had been responsible for repeated invasions and British conquest and therefore the post independence state had to be strong enough to protect its citizens and provide for their well-being.
  • Chances of immediate independence:
    • The Congress got ready for partition as it would lead to immediate independence from the British because any further continuation of British rule would mean a greater calamity for India as the British were instigating the rulers of the Indian States to remain independent and they were unable to check communal violence.
  • Hope for reunification:
    • Sections of the Congress including Gandhiji felt that once the British left, Indians could become united once bitterness between Hindu and Muslim are gone. Even if it does not happen, they hoped that once Pakistan is formed, there will be no more issues to fight for and peace would prevail.

The essentialist understanding is that Pakistan was the product of a longstanding difference between Hindus and Muslims in the subcontinent. The historicists have rightly focused on the changes during the last decade of colonial rule. Historians disagree on the precise reasons for the partition of the subcontinent but agree that it came about towards the end of colonial rule because of the failure of the Congress and the League to come to a settlement. The British policy of encouraging Muslim separatism and eagerness to withdraw from India after the Second World War made the partition more likely. Thus the partition of India was the outcome of several factors.


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