Partition and the Indian Muslim
Goolam E. Vahanvati
It had to be said. It remained to be said for a long time. It took Dr Rafiq Zakaria to say it. Dr Zakaria has the courage to say that Partition has been the worst thing to happen to the sub-continent, that Partition has been the worst thing to happen for Indian Muslims.
We all know that Pakistan is the cross that Indian Muslims have borne for fifty-four years. A painful cross the weight and crush of which has broken their spirit and has condemned them to poverty and backwardness. In doing so, Dr Zakaria has identified M.A. Jinnah as the person responsible for the catastrophe whose drive was fuelled by an overpowering ego. A great intellect who got carried away by an obsession.
No one can doubt Jinnah's abilities. His ability as a lawyer or as a thinker, his personal integrity or the sincerity of his own commitment to his cause. But one does not have to agree with what he set about to achieve. And unfortunately did.
Over the years, Pakistan's leaders and their anti-Indian politics have only served to perpetuate the divide between what were once one people with common cultures and traditions. It is overdue that Indian Muslims should see through all this and denounce these policies.
For myself, I belong to a small community, (the Dawoodi Bohras) whose religious heads always imbibed in us the strongest possible feeling for the country in which we have been born and which has done so much for us.
A small, peace loving community, we have been encouraged by our Syednas to merge and blend and at the same time preserve our quaint identity. We have been encouraged to educate ourselves in a liberal way and do business, big or small, in a modern and progressive way. Pakistan has meant nothing to us.
Unfortunately, several Pakistani leaders do not, cannot and will not leave this country alone. They seem to feel that sustained cross-border terrorism in the name of a freedom struggle and in the name of religion is necessary for their continuation in power.
If they do not realise that fingering Indian society ultimately harms Indian Muslims more than anyone else, then they are either stupid or benighted. Or both. If, however, they do realise the impact of their disruptive adventures, then their actions are culpably reprehensible.
Dr Rafiq Zakaria has long been an outstanding and respected spokesperson for the cause of Indian Muslims. In our country it is fashionable to describe persons as jurists and scholars. A scholar is one who reads, assimilates, understands and articulates what he has absorbed.
If these are the attributes, Dr Zakaria is a scholar par excellence. And I suppose if a scholar gets intellectual support and inspiration from his wife the depth of knowledge as well as the quality of the output gets enhanced immensely.
The country had lost direction and the ability to think clearly. Egos and emotions clouded thinking. Dr Zakaria effectively brings out the confused and contradictory nature of the reactions of various sections of society at the time of Partition and shortly thereafter.
Hindu communalists were upset over the dismemberment of their motherland but were glad to have got rid of the bulk of Muslims. Muslims, generally, who were so taken up by the concept of Pakistan that they shut their minds and ears to the cries of the one sane Muslim, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. In fact the book is dedicated to the memory of the Maulana who tried his best to "keep the Muslims of undivided India out of Jinnah's clutches but failed".
Interestingly the plight of Indian Muslims which Dr Zakaria expresses so effectively, was foreseen just about one year before Independence by one of the best legal minds this country has produced.
Sir Chimanlal Setalvad published his autobiography Recollections and Reflections — in 1946 — when he was 81 years old. Sir Chimanlal had high admiration for Jinnah personally and writes of his considerable independence and courage even in his junior days. He had even given evidence on behalf of Jinnah when Jinnah's election to the Imperial Legislative Council was challenged by Raffiuddin Ahmed.
When it came to Pakistan, Sir Chimanlal's words were as clear as they were prophetic. With cold logic and clear arguments, he destroyed the arguments of the Protagonists of Pakistan on the basis of the theory of "self determination".
He wrote, "Self-determination sounds very nice, but there are obvious and necessary limitations to it." The real question, he said, to be determined is whether "Pakistan", as wanted by the Muslim League, is harmful to other interests, to India as a whole or even to the Muslim community itself.
He dealt with the lot of the Muslims who would stay or be left behind. He said things are "not going to be at all comfortable for them in Hindustan provinces. There they are in a very small minority — six per cent, eight per cent and so on — and so they will never have any stand, except on sufferance, in the administration".
These words sadly have come true, aided and abetted by the hostility of Pakistani leaders and the painful lack of foresight of the so called leaders of the Indian Muslims. The writing on the wall is always illegible for those for whom it is meant and for those who should read it.
It is a tribute to secular India that despite the dismemberment of the country when the people of India gave to themselves a written Constitution they gave every possible guarantee to the minorities. It was for the Indian Muslims to have taken best advantage of these.
They lost the opportunity and generations are suffering for it. There was no reason for them to be apologetic for Pakistan as much as they had no reason to expect anything from Pakistan. Pakistan must mean nothing to them as much as they mean nothing to Pakistan.
Dr Zakaria's book is outstanding not only for the relevance of the subject but also for the liveliness of the contents. I have only one point to make. And that is Muslim community's preconditions for accepting a Muslim as a leader. They believe that one cannot be considered a Muslim unless one conforms to a rigid code of conduct.
This is precisely what brought the Taliban down. Islam ultimately and simply is belief in God, the acceptance of the Supreme Majesty of God and submission to His Will.
Does submission to the Will of God require blind adherence to a set of do's and don'ts for personal conduct, the interpretation of which differs from sect to sect, community to community? Is a Shia less of a Muslim than a Sunni or vice versa? Is formal recitation of prayers in a language you do not fully understand more important than constant awareness of Allah? Must we castigate those who are liberal as "nautch girls" and disbelievers?
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