Books

Partition with nationalist goggles off

Original_mg240-spirals-contention
Book: Spirals of Contention: Why India was partitioned in 1947
By Satish Saberwal
Routledge (2008)
Pp. 203
Price Rs 650
 
Khaled Ahmed
The distraction for Deoband was British Raj; the distraction for the state of Pakistan in 2009 is America. It didn’t work before 1947 and it is not working in 2009, to the annoyance of most Pakistanis living under the pan-Islamic narrative of anti-Americanism which splices with Pakistan’s India-driven nationalism through the ‘divine untruth’ of an Indian-American- Israeli nexus.

Satish Agarwal is counted among Indian scholars who have transcended the framework of conflictual historiography in South Asia and may have become only temporarily irrelevant at this moment of time. This book will please a lot of ‘engaged’ Pakistanis because it reveals the negative side of the Hindu community much more than the Muslim community while examining the causes of the 1947 Partition. Whether he will be able to inspire Pakistanis to disengage similarly from the national narrative cannot be predicted because of Pakistan’s ‘nationalism of the weak state’. But he should inspire hope among those who have already disengaged and are seeking authority for their views.

Simply because of numerical dominance, the Hindu community gets more probing from him. Early Hindutva tightens up the Hindu identity and in the process causes anxiety among the Muslims. It can be compared to the tightening up of the Sunni identity under Saudi influence in the 1980s in Pakistan that caused anxiety among the Shia of Pakistan, forcing a responsive tightening of the identity among them. He saw Deobandis leading the reactive assault and doesn’t miss the fact that more quiescent Barelvis began to compete with them on the rhetoric of separation from the Hindus.

He finds novelist Bankim Chandra Chatterji, and historians like Jadunath Sarkar, RC Majumdar, and GS Sardesai harnessing tendentiously collected "facts" to divide the communities. Less professional historians like VD Savarkar and MG Ranade actually whipped the Hindu youths into action, forcing the Muslims to shrink in fear and vote on the basis of religion till the Muslim League won almost all the Muslim seats towards the end of the 1940s (p.155). In Iraq, votes on the basis of sect and ethnicity presage a coming partition. In Afghanistan, the Pakhtun vote forces many to think of a similar parcelling out of the state.

He takes particular note of the Arya Samaj movement of Dayananda and Shradhananda in Punjab and in the south of India to renew Hindu religion by taking it back to the Vedas, threatening convertee Muslims with reversion to Hinduism through shuddhi (purification) . Seeking reconversion was societal violence which became a prelude to physical violence soon enough. The effect was insecurity, a crucial additive to causes of violence when it came in 1947 and made Partition inevitable. Far from rejecting Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal, he borrows strength from her findings to point to the ‘bilateral bigotry’ of the two communities.

Once Deoband got the Muslims to focus on Sharia as defence against Hindu revivalism, the need for a modern state where a pre-modern order could be established became quite clear. He quotes Allama Iqbal on this even though Deoband was an ally of the Congress nationalists (p.175). Nehru was focused on ‘post-modern’ socialism which Iqbal in a letter to Jinnah thought would bring bloodshed among the Hindus. Tragically, it is Sharia that has brought bloodshed to Pakistan, and the motor behind it is Deoband, a place in Uttar Pradesh that had come up to prevent the backward Muslim Meo community from slipping back into Hinduism. In the state of Alwar, Deobandi Tablighi Jamaat confronted Arya Samaj and saw Gandhi and Congress as a guarantor of security. Saberwal says they focused only on Gandhi and his anti-Raj mission and thought it would halt the Arya Samajis in their tracks. Today 80 percent of the imams in Delhi’s mosques are Meos (p.72).

The distraction for Deoband was British Raj; the distraction for the state of Pakistan in 2009 is America. It didn’t work before 1947 and it is not working in 2009, to the annoyance of most Pakistanis living under the pan-Islamic narrative of anti-Americanism which splices with Pakistan’s India-driven nationalism through the ‘divine untruth’ of an Indian-American- Israeli nexus. People like Saberwal in India are clearly threatened by the recrudescence of Hindutva today with the Indian Constitution standing by them; similarly, entire Pakistan is threatened by the Sharia of Deoband with Pakistan Constitution standing by Deoband. The process of tightening and narrowing of identities and subsequent separative narratives before 1947 continues to threaten people it was not supposed to threaten.

The book talks about a lot of tensions in pre-Partition India apart from the Hindu-Muslim tension. There was the jati anxiety among the Hindu community especially after physical mobility uprooted individuals from the communal niches and took them among others (p.141). He looks at the dominance of the Brahmin and his intellectual paramountcy under non-Hindu rulers, the rise of the median business classes like Khatri and Marwari and their tendency to cleave to their own clan networks. Once money was made, endowment to ‘separate’ educational institutions among Hindus and Muslims laid the foundation of ultimate separation as nations. Even rationalist Aligarh could not prevent the Muslims’ preference for Deobandi teachers for its Islamic department (p.123).

Things have not improved either in India or Pakistan after 1947. Shibli Numani was the liberal inclined to modernise the imitative Sharia. (He may have tricked Allama Iqbal into adopting the same posture in his Sixth Lecture.) But his madrasa, the Nadwa in Lucknow, has not been able to honour his pledge to keep itself non-sectarian (p.74). Its late post-Shibli leader Manzur Numani has the discredit of starting the sectarian war in Pakistan through the publication of apostatising fatwas. Saberwal, while acknowledging the Raj policy of divide and rule, insists on focusing on his thesis of contestations; and that puts him out of kilter with the Congress narrative too.

The book notes a slower Muslim approach to modern learning compared to the Hindus; also the Muslim approach was more job-oriented while the Hindu also tended to absorb Mill, Burke, Milton, Paine, Godwin, Comte, Kant and Hegel while writing literature in Bengal (p.98). By 1937, Allama Iqbal was to stand up in the Punjab Legislative Council and complain about a ‘mutual lack of communication and trust between Hindu and Muslim’ (p.143). The emotional bond in the two communities was the shared fear of the other side. Out of this cauldron two states were created by the Partition of 1947. If this was a not a solution, people like Saberwal can help us look for it as we enter the 21st century. (dailytimes.com.pk)

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 January 2010 on page no. 28

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