Judging 1947 - The Express Tribune In May 2014, when Narendra Modi achieved a sweeping victory in India’s general elections, certain people in Pakistan took the view that such a controversial and divisive figure’s victory vindicated Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s quest for Pakistan. Earlier this year, we saw India’s Aam Aadmi Party soundly stump the BJP in the Delhi Assembly elections. If, somehow, it achieves a similar victory in some future general election, will this immediately undermine last year’s supposed vindication of the idea of Pakistan? It is sad to think that Pakistan’s vindication, to some minds, should rest on news of ill-treatment or injustice meted out to religious minorities in India. Does it mean that Muslims in Pakistan must necessarily be pleased in some subtle way, or at least reassured, to see the threats, discomforts and developmental obstacles their co-religionists across the border may be forced to deal with from time to time? Certainly, the relish with which certain of our television anchors highlight such instances may lead us to think so. Conversely, must Indian Muslims necessarily feel a certain measure of gladness and satisfaction to see Pakistan ravaged by violence and insecurity because it helps them better appreciate some of the developmental advantages available to them in partitioned India? Is this the appropriate way that Indian and Pakistani Muslims should form a judgment about the momentous event that occurred 68 years ago — by seeing which country is doing worse on some particular front (economic, security, human rights) at a particular moment in the present? Having often made common cause in the long struggle for independence, are we now really at a stage that Muslims on both sides of the border need the other country to do badly in order to vindicate themselves and their (or their ancestors’) choices? Or can we have a more stable and less negative way of forming a judgment about the reality, process and justifications for the historical event of Partition? It is not in our respective experiences of the present, but in the political atmosphere of the last few years of colonial rule that any student of history must seek to find justifications for and against the decision to partition India between Muslim-majority and Hindu-majority states. Despite the popular rhetoric around the Two-Nation Theory, the actual debate between the Muslim League and the Indian National Congress was not about the possibility or impossibility of Hindus and Muslims managing to live close together within a single state, but about the constitutional structure of the post-colonial Indian federation. The basic question to ponder is whether or not Muslims of India were justified in pursuing certain political safeguards for themselves in order to mitigate the power of the federal centre. This desire for constitutional political safeguards should be measured against a political context where there were already regular outbreaks of communal riots at the local level, as well as limited purges of minority populations from majority strongholds (both Hindu and Muslim), and where it was unclear whether Mr Gandhi’s personal charisma and evolving ideology would prove sufficient to restrain the most chauvinistic elements within the Congress leadership and local bureaucracy. Keeping in mind the political atmosphere of the times, if we judge that the Muslim League’s demand for constitutional safeguards within the Indian federation for their Muslim constituency (and their subsequent decision, once negotiations failed, to secure complete independence from India for a substantial part of that constituency) sprang out of a misplaced and baseless paranoia and not out of reasonable fears for their post-colonial future, we could not justify Partition even had every single Muslim in India been later driven into the sea or hacked to death in a state-sponsored genocide. If, however, we judge that there was some genuine cause in the years leading up to 1947 for Indian Muslims to be concerned about their future in an India with no constitutional safeguards in place to decisively restrain the power, and influence the policies of a federal centre that may not always reveal itself to be sympathetic to Muslim cultural and political interests, then we may find varying degrees of justification for Partition, even if Muslims in partitioned India had later gone on to (or go on now to) constitute the most politically and economically privileged and physically secure religious community in that country. It may be something easier said than done, but whatever opinion we end up forming on the subject of Partition, whether or not Mr Jinnah and his colleagues were right in pursuing the course of greater federal autonomy within an independent, unified, decolonised India (or otherwise a division of India into two states) is a matter that should by rights be assessed in the light of the political contingencies and choices seen to be available to the leaders at the time, and not by later events, such as the rise of the Taliban or the fall of the Babri Masjid. The same applies to the countless numbers of people who migrated across both sides of the border in hopes of a more secure life — the validity of their decision should logically be judged and understood according to the political mood and emotional atmosphere of that time and their own individual political position and economic circumstances in the years immediately following Partition, rather than by what India and Pakistan’s relative GDP now is several decades after that migration. The circumstances of any society hardly remain static forever. If today the average Muslim in Pakistan faces economic uncertainty and security fears, chances are that tomorrow things might change — for the better or for the worse. The same applies to the situation of the average Muslim in India. If we don’t want to be accused of changing our mind about the issue of Partition every decade or so, it might make better sense, and also be in better taste, for both of us to search for any validation (or lack thereof) for Partition in the historical circumstances that produced that event, rather than in our respective present-day misfortunes.