Saturday 25 June 2022

We are all Indians together, treat us as that (The Sunday Guardian)


From 15 August 1947, Nehru and others in the Congress leadership adopted a policy of ignoring the wound in the Hindu psyche caused by Partition.

The Congress Party took over what was left of the Indian subcontinent (after Partition and the earlier breaking away of Burma) on 15 August 1947. The partition of India into India and Pakistan represented a defeat for the saintly Mahatma Gandhi, who had sworn to agree to Partition “only over my dead body”. After the Quit India movement was launched by the Congress Party in 1942, those in positions of responsibility in London who favoured the handover of a unified subcontinent began to lose ground to the faction led by Winston Churchill, which opposed freedom for the people of India but sought to ensure a truncated India were freedom to come about. While M.A. Jinnah and the Muslim League fully backed the victory of the Allies over the Axis during wartime, the Quit India movement, combined with the journey to Germany and Japan by Subhas Chandra Bose, created an impression in the portals of power in London that the future ruling party of India had tilted towards the Axis. 1942 was not 1944, by which time the war had turned decisively against Adolf Hitler and his Japanese ally Hideki Tojo. When the call for the British colonial authorities to Quit India was made, the German war machine was in control of vast tracts of land across Europe, as was Japan in the South-eastern and Far Eastern territories that had been previously under the control of European powers. There was a strong possibility during that time that the Japanese army may be able to (i) win over more Indian soldiers to its side via the Indian National Army and thereby (ii) take over much of the British empire in India. Mahatma Gandhi had calculated that the reverses suffered during 1940-42 by the British in their colonies in Asia and North Africa would put them in a frame of mind to assure freedom for India once the war ended. As long as Churchill was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, that was an impossible prospect. Deputy Prime Minister Clement Attlee of the Labour Party had little understanding or sympathy for the freedom fighters of India, and he usually went along with Churchill’s views, as did the rest of the War Cabinet. Had the British given a pledge that the “Jewel in the Crown” would be given freedom shortly after World War II ended, the Congress Party would most probably have supported the Allies the same way Jinnah had. There was, after all, little love lost for Subhas Bose in Jawaharlal Nehru and his colleagues, and none whatsoever for the racism and propensity to violence of the Nazi party. After the Quit India agitation by the Congress Party was swiftly extinguished by the jailing of the leaders of that party for the duration of the war, sympathy in London for Jinnah grew. This gave impetus to his call to the British to “Divide before Quitting” India. Historians of the time wrote about the Quit India movement in the most glowing of terms, as they do almost all the Congress Party’s actions from the 1930s onwards. It was rare to find an individual who publicly pointed to some of the unintended consequences of the Quit India call. Not to mention earlier decisions by the Congress Party leadership, such as the resignation (and consequent full transfer into British hands) of the many provincial ministries that at the time were in its control. This was a decision that played completely into the hands of Lord Wavell, the Viceroy. The decisions and events by the principal players within the subcontinent that followed the UK’s declaration of war in 1939 that turbocharged the Muslim League. The party became the favourite of the Raj not just in the eyes of colonial officials in India but their superiors in the UK.
Jawaharlal Nehru adopted the same model as Winston Churchill, who himself wrote the history of his life and of course the 1939-45 war. Not surprisingly, Churchill presented the sequence of events in a manner that ignored his numerous errors and puffed up his achievements. Similarly, the first Prime Minister of India was a prolific writer, and never shied away from writing about events in which he had played a part. In such accounts by him and later his admirers, the problems created by some of his decisions and even stray remarks were either ignored or blamed on others. Historians who did not follow the example of Nehru’s acolytes are unknown, as their works were ignored in favour of those who wrote in admiring tomes about the Congress Party and its participation in the freedom movement. Among the facts ignored was an adequate description of the disaffection in the Indian armed forces once the war got over in 1945 without any promise of freedom. Without the backing of the Indian component in the armed forces, the colonial authorities knew that they could not hold India. Soon afterwards followed a declaration of impending independence that ought to have been given in 1939 but which the then Prime Minister of the UK opposed, probably saying to his intimates that freedom would come to India “only over my dead body”. Just as the Mahatma lived to see a partitioned India, Churchill lived to see a free India.
During the 1930s and into 1947, both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru sought to wean away the Muslim community from Jinnah, but were less than successful as a consequence of the false narrative of Jinnah and his party that Islam was in danger in India. From 15 August 1947, Prime Minister Nehru and others in the Congress leadership adopted a policy of ignoring the wound in the Hindu psyche caused by Partition. Indeed, anything that they regarded as linked to the religion of the majority community remained almost totally out of school textbooks, including epics such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, both of which ought to be comprehensively taught in schools together with classics such as the Hitopadesha and the Panchatantra. These are epics that belong to the whole of India, and should not be placed in the narrow box of a single religion, thereby denying through absence of official interest many within the young the knowledge of India’s epics, and absorbing the wisdom contained in them. Where matters of faith are concerned, a uniform civil code is still not in sight, while only a Hindu code bill was passed in the 1950s, not an omnibus reform that ought to have been applicable to all citizens. Such universality is an integral component of secularism. What was needed but not attempted until recently was to assist in the knowledge of a common heritage and respect without exceptions for the Rule of Law. Recently, a decision by a court was reported that for those girls born in a particular faith, the legal age of marriage was two years less than that applicable for girls belonging to other faiths. A girl of 16 should have the same rights in marriage as in other matters as any other girl of 16 who is a citizen of India. We are, after all, Indians, and need to be treated as such by each of the Estates of the governance system.

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