By M D Nalapat
Nehru ought to have obliterated differential treatment between Hindus, Muslims.
An advancing society remembers its failures and seeks to learn lessons that protect it from repeating past mistakes. Those that are stagnant go into denial mode about past errors, or else present these as triumphs. Mahatma Gandhi pledged that Partition would take place only over his dead body, but when the time came to reject Jinnah’s blackmail, the Congress Party went along with a vivisection of India that severely weakened the overall strength and resilience of the subcontinent. Surely a united India was worth fighting for, rather than the Congress Party surrendering to the Muslim League. Why the leaders of the Congress accepted Partition remains a mystery, as the British were plainly too exhausted to stay on for much longer, and any violence caused by the frustrating of the plans of those intent on dividing the country would have been much less than was the case after Partition took effect. Even the Muslim League’s murderous “Direct Action” during the months preceding Partition could have swiftly been brought under control, had the Congress Party not unilaterally disarmed itself (yet again) by resigning in 1939 from the many provincial governments that it had control over. A blanket denial that many such decisions were harmful rather than helpful to the people of India came in the form of admiring history books that were united in the view that each decision of the Congress Party leadership was correct. After Partition, a decision seems to have been taken by Nehru and his associates to act as though such a division never took place, and that Pakistan was simply another country on the frontiers of India rather than part of a once unified land that became separated because of the Two Nation theory, a formulation which holds that Hindus and Muslims cannot live together in the same country, as they are presumed to be “different nations”. Successive Prime Ministers have sought to pander to Pakistan, a country founded on the affinity of a section of the subcontinental polity for the absurd idea that Muslims could not live safely and happily in a country where Hindus were in the majority. The British had differentiated Hindus from Muslims every which way they could, but surprisingly, such a policy (of treating Hindus and Muslims differently) was continued even after 15 August 1947. The reality of Partition was ignored by the political leadership, as was the repression unleashed on Hindus, Christians and Sikhs in the new theocracy of Pakistan. When millions were forced to flee to India and hundreds of thousands of the minority in Pakistan were killed or forcibly converted, Jawaharlal Nehru remained unmoved, as did his successors.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill is not the best solution to the horrible conditions being faced by ever diminishing minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Instead, what is needed are active measures carried out by the Government of India to ensure that minority rights get protected across South Asia rather than simply give asylum to the persecuted. This should not mean privileged rights to a section, but equal treatment to all, no matter what their faith. In contrast, a policy framework was put in place in post-1947 India that may have been defensible had the country remained united, but which made little sense in a country vivisected on the explicit basis of faith. Had it held its nerve and kept the country united, the Congress Party could have promised minority rights as part of the measures taken to prevent the Muslim League from succeeding in gaining traction for Partition. However, once this catastrophe took place, what was needed was to quickly put in place a governance structure that no longer differentiated Hindus from Muslims, but treated both communities equally. Instead, the population of the truncated country was once again divided into “majority” and “minority”, two terms based on the implicit assumption of each of the pair being homogenous internally and different from the other, thus needing to be treated separately by law and the governance mechanism.
Separating the population of a country already vivisected on the basis of religion into “Majority” and “Minority” (again on a religious basis) only perpetuated the Two Nation mindset that assisted the Muslim League to partition India with Congress consent. The League claimed that Hindus and Muslims are substantially different from each other rather than parts of a composite land, and unfortunately many Muslims—especially in UP and Bihar—agreed. Since then, successive governments have perpetuated the colonial-era division between Hindus and Muslims. During 2004-14, Sonia Gandhi returned to the classic Nehruvian model, a construct that wholly ignored the lessons of Partition. There are many reasons why the Citizenship Amendment Bill is hardly the stroke of genius that its backers believe it to be, but the grounds on which it is being attacked by the Congress Party demonstrate that a mindset that regards Hindus and Muslims as substantively different remains embedded within the leadership of that still consequential political party. There is a difference between those persecuted on the grounds of faith and those unhappy with their country of residence for other reasons, and anyone ignoring this reality (the way the reality and the consequences of Partition have been ignored since 1947) will retard rather than promote national integration. Once the subcontinent became free but divided, the Nehru government in (what was left of) India ought to have obliterated differential treatment between Hindus and Muslims. In such a process, the right of Hindus to their three holy sites (at Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura) ought to have been accepted. Not doing so has empowered those within the Hindu community who seek the same superior status as Punjabi Sunnis have in Pakistan. There are Holocaust Deniers, who pretend that the mass murder of Jews by Hitler never took place. India’s “Partition Deniers” (and their foreign fellow travellers) ignore the (a) reality (b) the causes and (c) the effects of the 1947 Partition. They act as though the Republic of India was not truncated in 1947, and favour colonial era policies that are harmful to the future of a country that has lost much of its territory on the grounds of religion. There are politicians in India who seek to hold on to the “Muslim vote bank” by implementing policies that treat Muslims differently from Hindus. Mamata Banerjee is an example. Because of such policies, a time will come when her party gets tossed aside by elements harking back to the Two Nation theory in favour of exclusivist formations led by politicians such as the Owaisi brothers, who frame their appeal on the implicit ground that Muslims and Hindus are “The Other” to each other. The persistence—and indeed growth—of such a mindset is a legacy of the fact the post-1947 policy matrix has ignored the reality and aftershocks of Partition, and the consequent need to avoid any differentiation between Hindus and Muslims where domestic policy is concerned. In contrast to domestic policy, the CAB—whatever its merits or otherwise—deals with foreign nationals, not present citizens. To legislate or to agitate on matters of language, diet, lifestyle or dress is folly. Yet the electoral resonance that such moves are generating within the majority community is a reflection of the unease of Hindus at the post-1947 differential treatment for different faiths, rather than a secular policy applicable to all. Giving equal rights and respect to Hindus will not weaken a country that was divided on religious lines in 1947, but make it stronger.
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