Partition & Muslim of India — Why Ramchandra Guha speaks too soon

In a recent newspaper article, historian Ramchandra Guha makes a case for not being "nostalgic about undivided India". He argues that, "Had there been an undivided India, the percentage of Muslims would have been closer to 33%, or one in three. The demographic balance would have been more delicate, and prone to being exploited by sectarians on either side."

Assuming that religious wars have been avoided by the percentage of Indian Muslims being reduced to "13% of the population, or one in seven", he concludes that, "the cold logic of history suggests that things would have been far worse for us if Partition had not occurred."

Since his is a counterfactual case, refuting his case is as futile as it is easy.

Nevertheless, it can be argued conversely that had the percentage of the largest religious minority - the Subcontinent's Muslims - remained at about one-third, there would have been an element of deterrence in the demographic balance. Guha's apprehension of a communal bloodbath would then not arise.

In any case, the precedent-setting Partition would not have occurred and eddies from it would not have persisted through time. The resulting peace could have been used, just as it has been in India as brought out by Guha, for democracy and development for all of South Asia.

Guha exaggerates the problem of integrating the 500 princely states posed. Sardar Patel dispatched them into history within a couple of years of independence. That would have been so even in case of undivided India, with the Nizam - possibly the only one to hold out - similarly packed off. Since contiguity would have decided the case for the rest, Kashmir would not have emerged as a bone of contention since.

As a historian Guha should really have been wary of venturing into international relations. To him, India has been spared the frontline status that Pakistan has acquired. This owes to Pakistan lending its strategic location for the purposes of a superpower through the Cold War and in the war on terror. In case Pakistan was part of India, this would not have been so. An undivided India, not warring internally and with greater military, political and moral might, could have kept its periphery peaceful.

It is not as readily apparent that South Asia is better off divided. Worse, we may yet mourn the passing of an undivided India.

Guha is right in caveating his point that "India is not - or at least not yet - a Hindu Pakistan." "Not yet" alright, but unfortunately India appears well on its way to becoming one. Guha's writings suggest that this possibility has not escaped him. His summary dismissal of Akhand Bharat is on this score a tad too early.

In an understatement, Guha writes, "Religious and ethnic violence have not entirely abated". There has been no bout of religious violence this decade of the order of those that punctuated previous decades: Bhagalpur in the eighties, Babri Masjid demolition aftermath in the nineties and the Gujarat pogrom in the 2000s.

But structural violence based on religious majoritarianism has served as an equally effective substitute. Muslims are remarkable for their absence form office spaces, shared apartment blocks and the military, from the middle classes and from assemblies and Parliament. 

With the demographic balance disrupted by Partition, Hindutvavadis have had a field day on India's vulnerable minority over the past quarter century. And in doing so have succeeded in manufacturing an electoral constituency, a Hindu vote bank. So much so that Mr Modi in refusing to wear a cap that serves as a Muslim identity marker reveals that he does not feel the need to even turn towards Muslims.

With minorities better represented it would be difficult for ideological penetration of institutions and of India's security agencies. India's Muslims now do not have the comfort of physical security and psychological security in greater numbers of an undivided India.

From the point of view of liberal Hindus, their higher percentage could have served to preserve India from a possible, and certainly problematic, future as "Hindu India".With the prime minister even overshadowing one worthy predecessor, Indira Gandhi, to the extent of provoking a grim warning from Hindutva lionheart Advani of a turn to authoritarianism, to some liberals, India is potentially on the road to soft fascism. 

Here democracy is increasingly liable to be mistaken for majoritarianism. Modi'sChanakya, the National Security Adviser, Mr. Doval, speaking on "Security, Statecraft and Conflict of Values", provides a clue.

On the surface what he gives out is unexceptionable: that the majority democratically arrived decides how to exercise power and does so in a constitutionally-bound manner in accord with its perception of the national interest.

The problems are, one, in the gauging of the national interest and, two, in the adherence to constitutional parameters. The perennial problem remains: who will guard the guardians?

On thinking on national interest, Tarun Vijay, a leading Hindu right propagandist, has it that independence was not gained merely from British colonialists but also from preceding Muslim rulers and a second independence will come after overthrowing current-day opponents of the ruling regime.

Internal authoritarianism can only prompt external expansionism. Only, India has a nuclear power with Islamism at its door step. Mr. Doval lets on that there can be "no compromise" in the use of force where "national interest" is at stake. He has a millennial notion of this, encompassing both past generations and future.

Perhaps Akhand Bharat - democratically and peacefully attained is the direction in which South Asia must now move. It can checkmate both extremisms that in mirroring each other are indeed only one.

This is not a novel idea. For millennia, India's enlightened rulers have exerted to unify the Subcontinent, a geographic unit, into a single strategic and civilisational space.

Regional groupings are the trend across the world; witness EU that brought together rivals UK, France and Germany. South Asia has the SAARC for starters. A negotiated beginning is the next step.

Such visualisation is akin to, but reverses, the divisive vision in Cambridge at which the two nation theory got its impetus. Doing so would make India whole again.

The writer, author of Think South Asia (CinnamonTeal 2014), blogs at

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