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The cost of provocation
By Saeed Suhrawardy

Indian Muslims have been carrying cross for sins they have not committed. Economically deprived, politically underprivileged, they have managed to exist, if not live. They have survived without state support and crutches of ‘reservation.’ Their share in the composite heritage of Urdu language and literature has been marginalized.

The catalogue of their grievances may be long, but seldom have they been aggressively vocal about them. However, they are very sensitive about threats to their identity and allegations about their sincerity, integrity and patriotism. Their enemies have exploited this tendency for disturbing and destabilizing them. Recent burning of Holy Qur’an at a public place is one among them.But provocations, particularly in these spheres have been persistently frequent ever since independence. Immediately after independence, there were recurring demands of proof of their loyalty to the country. They were held responsible for partition of the country. The impression was systematically disseminated throughout the country. By and large, major sections of non-Muslims accepted the view. Naturally they carried a bias against Muslims. Even a section of Muslims suffered from a guilt complex. However, modern historians have skipped the question.

Who is the culprit for the partition of the country? This has to be considered seriously.In NWF province alone a referendum was held for knowing the option for India or Pakistan, after partition was a reality. Nowhere else, attempt was made to gauge Muslim public opinion. The movement for partition of the country was confined to the areas under Congress rule or misrule and Eastern India after the Government of India Act of 1935.

There was hardly any communalism in India before the last quarter of the 19th century. As is well known, Hindus and Muslims fought shoulder to shoulder in the Revolt of 1857.In Eastern India, the roots of partition may be found in the proposal for partition of Bengal. It was aggressively resisted by nascent nationalism. But that is a reality now in the shape of West Bengal in India and Bangladesh outside.The birth of All India Muslim League in 1907 at Dacca should be seen in that context. The birth of Punjab Hindu Mahasabha in 1909 was the culmination of countrywide anti cow-slaughter movement in early 1890s. The campaign was not directed against the British, but against Muslims. The British cantonments were left free to carry on cow slaughter. The anti cow-slaughter movement invariably took a communal turn and often led to communal riots. However, both Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha were feudal outfits, existing on margins of the mainstream of the struggle for freedom.

Nationalist Muslim leaders occupied the centre stage till August 1942. Among them were Ulama led by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani, Mufti Kifayatullah, Maulana Hifzur-Rahman, Asaf Ali, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, Abdul Qayyum Ansari, Prof. Abdul Bari and the doyen among them, towering figure of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as Frontier Gandhi. They firmly stood their ground against two-nation theory and partition of the country. Quit India movement may have been a milestone in the struggle for freedom of the country, but indirectly it was one among the several factors contributing to the partition of the country. During the movement, all eminent nationalist Muslim leaders were behind the bars. MA Jinnah exploited the vacant space provided by their absence for capitalizing on the grievances of Muslims as recorded in Pirpur Report.

Another opportunity for averting partition cropped up when both Congress and Muslim League agreed to the Cabinet Mission Plan. But Pandit Nehru in his speech to the AICC killed the accord on July 7, 1946. He asserted: ‘We are not bound by a single thing except we have decided to go into the Constituent Assembly." Jinnah seized the opportunity provided by Nehru’s speech to withdraw Muslim League’s acceptance of the Plan. The opportunity to keep the country united was lost due to a provocative sentence. Millions of Indians have paid a heavy price for the indiscretion.

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