This book written by B.R. Ambedkar analyses one of the most complex problems faced by India before independence. The question of partitioning India is such a divisive problem that it will always leave one side dissatisfied with the outcome. It has no simple solution and the questions it throws up are fundamental and uncomfortable. Some of the rhetoric used in politics today finds its roots in the questions laid out in this book.
I get the sense that in the late 1930s and early 1940s Hindus in India were sentimentally attached to the idea of an undivided India while the Muslims were attached to the idea of a separate nation for themselves. This sentiment among the Muslims was especially strong in Muslim dominant parts of undivided India which are today’s Pakistan and Bangladesh. In such a circumstance would it be wiser to divide India into a Muslim India and a Hindu India or would it be more realistic to find a political solution so that India would not have to be divided.
A political solution that avoids the Indian partition raises some very disturbing questions which have been explored in this book. Firstly the various types of solutions available are discussed and dissected. The two most important questions is what kind of concessions can be given to the Muslim minority and when do those concessions go too far. The solutions range from no concessions and a pure democracy where each individual is given a single vote to fifty percent reservation for Muslims in all public offices and armed forces. The first solution is problematic since it does not attempt to assuage the feeling of separateness that the Muslims possess. It does not solve the problem that the policies in Muslim provinces will be determined by a Hindu government since the central government will be predominantly Hindu. The second solution is akin to providing the Muslim minority a free reign to tyrannize the Hindu majority since the powers given to one community is so overwhelming that its result can be extremely frightening.
Most importantly however, is that no political solution can solve the problem as long as the Muslim sentiment is in favour of a separate nation. If there is no desire for union, no political solution can tether Muslim India and Hindu India together. Dr Ambedkar emphasises that any solution eventually hits this roadblock. He even makes it clear that his view is that if the Muslim sentiment is in favour of a separate state then it must be granted to them because such a sentiment cannot be devalued. In fact if India after independence is undivided it raises one extremely disturbing question. In case there is a foreign Islamic invasion of India will the Muslims and especially the Muslims in the army, side with their motherland or with their religion. It is extremely demeaning to level such an insinuation but since this book discusses the division of India along religious lines it is a necessary question.
Dr Ambedkar goes on to emphasize that the greatest challenge facing India is not gaining independence but maintaining it in the face of foreign invasions or internal strife.
The book also points out that the regional identity of the Indian people is often stronger than the national identity. Indians do not wish to have a common language or a common dress and each community even celebrates its festivals separately. This results in a lack of nationalistic sentiment for a large section of the population. In such a circumstance, the unifying effect of the government is limited.
In fact Muslim India and Hindu India have often travelled on parallel paths and have rarely joined hands for common cause. It was only during the Khilafat movement that both movements were combined but following that agitation the alienation among both communities has only increased. In fact Dr Ambedkar lays out the fraught relationship the two communities shared in the 1920s and details the riots that took place during the time that resulted in deaths of thousands of people. The Muslim league and Congress have avoided holding their conferences in the same city due to the tension it might create and have only met when issues regarding communal harmony needed to be discussed.
The book critiques the various parties involved. These criticisms are sharp and cut close to the bone. Dr Ambedkar points out that many times the Muslims have a greater affinity towards their religion that to their country. This is the reason The Khilafat movement was such a core issue to Indian Muslims even though it’s purpose was the revival of the Ottoman empire and had very little to do with Indian independence. The Quran dictates the rules followed by Muslims even when they are regressive and often these rules supersede the rules of the state in a Muslim person’s life. In fact this book details a comprehensive and cutting critique of Muslims in India in particular. It points out the lack of social transformation in the Islamic culture and the fact that there is no social movement to get rid of social evils practiced by Muslims. It talks about how the Islamic religion is a religion that discriminates between the followers of its own religion and other religions and sometimes calls for violence against members of other religions which in India is usually the Hindus.
The biggest drawback of the Hindu community is that it is too fragmented due to caste and that each small community is extremely self serving. Any political change is viewed through a prism of how it would serve those communities self interest. The example given in the book is the issue of partitioning the Bombay Presidency into two states. Firstly Dr Ambedkar only considers the opinion of high caste Hindus since they hold all the power in Hindu society. The high caste Hindu’s reason for any decision is determined by how it would benefit them. Would it result in them get more jobs or more power? It did not consider how it would affect the country in general or its citizens and the Hindu high castes rationale was purely self serving.
The rivalry between the two community’s results in social stagnation since improving the standing of one’s own community takes precedence over social reform. This is another result of the fraught relationship between the Hindus and Muslims. This could mean that in an undivided India the constant tussle between Hindus and Muslims may overshadow other issues such as improving women’s rights or the removal of the caste system.
Similarly the book describes how Congress often mismanaged issues with regards to the Muslims. Muslims were an extremely important constituent in the early freedom movement when Mahatma Gandhi came back to India. Their participation enabled the Freedom Struggle to become a mass movement. This seemed to blind the Congress to Muslim atrocities against Hindus during communal riots. Congress seemed to follow a strategy of appeasement towards the Muslims and rarely called out Muslim roles in communal violence. They would place disproportionate blame on the Hindu community. One example discussed in the book is the Moplah riots where Muslims in Kerala briefly declared a Khilafat Kingdom and proceeded to commit brutal crimes against the Hindus in those villages.
At the same time, Congress often brushed aside the Muslim sentiment for a separate state or shared ministries. It never took the communal problem seriously and kept sidelining the concerns. The solutions given by them were not genuine and it always seemed like there was an underhanded scheme to obstruct any two state solution instead of settling the specific concerns head on. After the ‘Quit India’ movement Gandhiji told Jinnah that if the Muslim League fully supported the independence struggle then a plebiscite would be carried out in Muslim majority areas to settle the question of Pakistan when India gained Independence. The problem with such a solution was that only after the Muslim League helped India gain Independence could the Congress carry out their side of the bargain. Instead of such a generic solution if they had ironed out the specifics, those talks or the previous talks could have resulted in some settlement.
One of the major reasons the Muslim League opposed an undivided India was that it would create a Hindu Raj. Dr Ambedkar points out that this was because politics in India had been communalised. The reason that religious identity became such an important part of Indian Politics was that religious parties came into existence. The Muslim League was created in order to protect Muslim interests and as a counteraction the Hindu Mahasabha and other Hindu outfits came into being. Instead of creating a religious outfit, if a mixed political party was created, the threat of Hindu Raj would be much smaller. Countries with religious minorities oppose communal parties and it is the religious minorities that oppose the creation of a communal party. This is because the religious minorities realise that if communal politics is encouraged the majority community will win such an election and establish a communal Raj.
Jinnah rejoined the Muslim League and revived the league. He could have created a coalition of lower caste Hindus and Muslims which seemed to be the case in 1937 and 1938. Instead from 1939 onwards he started pursuing a purely communal agenda for the Muslims and shifted his position towards a two state solution. A two state solution would only benefit Muslim majority provinces whose provincial government would anyway be majorly Muslim. There would probably still be a Hindu Raj for Muslim minorities spread across the rest of India. So in a sense, the Muslim minorities who would be most affected by a Hindu Raj were not addressed and areas with a majority Muslim population would gain full autonomy by becoming a separate state.
The British introduced separate representation for Muslims in 1892 which caused the two communities to constantly jostle for political power thereafter. In 1892 there was no Muslim demand for separate electorates or special treatment and it was stealthily introduced by the British and was the origin for the conflict thereafter. This was done so that Muslims could be weaned away from the Congress. Thereafter Muslims demanded more safeguards whenever there were further legislative reforms. Similarly, very often the British provided extra safeguards to the Muslim minorities even when their own commissions concluded that these were not desirable. The Muslims came forward with a detailed list of demands before the Simon commission in 1927. These demands were opposed by the Hindus. Even the Simon commission rejected these demands since it seemed to allocate a disproportionate amount power into the Muslims hands. Nevertheless the British government granted all these demands in full. It seems that the British’s intention was to divide people along the lines of community to diminish the power of adversarial political outfits. The divisions among communities did exist but the British exacerbated these divisions for their own power play which was detrimental to long term stability of the country and relationships between the two communities.
The Hindu Mahasabha and Veer Savarkar laid out a detailed philosophy of the Hindu identity and Hindustan. Savarkar explains that all religions that originated in India (i.e Hinduism, Buddhism. Jainism, Sikhism etc) constitute the Hindu civilisational identity. Islam is a foreign religion and although some of their practices may have been Indianised their origin is still foreign. Hence he also acknowledges that India is constituted of two nations; one Hindu nation and one Muslim nation. Despite this assertion, he does not advocate for the treatment of Muslims as second class citizens. They will be entitled to one vote for every person and their schools would be given funds from the state exchequer. With these safeguards the Hindu majority will be allowed to rule since that is the right of the majority. Any treatment provided to the minorities will be extended to the majority.
Savarkar clearly draws the line on how much he is willing to settle for. He acknowledges the existence of two nations but is adamant that India must stay united irrespective of whether the Muslims like this plan or not. Dr Ambedkar details his criticisms of this scheme in the book with sound reasoning and case studies of foreign countries with similar approaches towards minorities. The biggest flaw I see in this scheme is that it given no reason for Muslims to be loyal to the undivided India. Savarkar does not explain why Muslims would be loyal to such a country and how the state will be able to maintain control over the Muslim majority states in undivided India. In a sense Savarkar gives the Muslims a take it or leave it ultimatum. Such a scheme only seems to be a recipe for internal strife and communal tensions.
As can be seen from my overview of the book, Dr Ambedkar provides a detailed critique of every party involved in the communal question in pre-independence India. In the book he provides detailed data as well as unaltered statements wherever necessary. In fact it is an extremely well researched book that provides history, data and detailed viewpoints of the parties involved after which Dr Ambedkar goes on to critique these views. In addition to this he provides many more examples than what is given here and explores other concurrent topics. These topics include the question of how the Indian territories should be divided between India and Pakistan, how migration can take place between Hindu India and Muslim India. He even lays out a scheme for an organized partition of the country and a reintegration of the two countries if desired after a stipulated period of 10 years. I strongly recommend reading this book if you are interested in pre-independence politics of India as it grapples with some of the most fundamental issues of what makes a nation and the history and culture of India.