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Ambedkar and Partition

Ambedkar and Partition

Author: Prafull Goradia
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: November 25, 2001.

According to Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi was a Hindu and an Indian, the greatest in many generations, and he was proud of being a Hindu and an Indian. (He broadcast this on 14 February, 1948). What the Mahatma wrote, said and did is widely known. The track record of Dr BR Ambedkar as a Hindu is not so well known. His popular image is that of a Dalit leader and a constitutional guru. How much he felt, thought and pleaded for the interests of the Hindus therefore deserves recounting.

Babasaheb was one of the few Hindus, if not the only one, who foresaw the consequences of not letting the Muslims have their Dar-ul Islam. He therefore openly and in cold print favoured a partition and in almost exact details by 1940. He did this almost on the morrow of the resolution demanding Pakistan which was passed by the Muslim League at its Lahore session on 26 March, 1940. He was clear in his view that Partition without an exchange of population was worse than Partition. His reasoning was interesting. To him dividing the subcontinent was to solve its communal conflict. The Communal Award was given in 1930 when Ramsay MacDonald was the prime minister of Great Britain. The award gave the Muslims what they had demanded at the Round Table Conference. Their weightage as well as their separate electorates were retained and in addition they were given the statutory majority of seats in the provinces. In those provinces they were in majority in the population. The Hindus were also awarded similar privileges. At the time there were five Muslim majority provinces and nine Hindu majority provinces. Since the Hindus had nothing comparable to the Muslim League to lead them, the Congress represented every one including the Hindus. They did not believe in separate electorates. In fact, they had continually insisted on joint electorates for all communities and had strongly objected to any community being given the majority of seats guaranteed by the Constitution. The privileges which the Muslims celebrated had no meaning for the Congress and its followers. In Dr Ambedkar's perception, in the provinces of Punjab, NWF, Sind, Bengal and Baluchistan, the Muslim governments could treat Hindu minorities as they wished knowing fully well that there was no fear of retaliation in the other provinces because they would have the secular governments as distinct from Hindu ministries, as quoted by Dr Ambedkar in his book, Thoughts on Pakistan. The Hindu minorities in the Muslim provinces also insisted on joint electorates although the Communal Award ignored their feelings. It is interesting to recall what Maulana Abul Kalam Azad had to say as president of the Muslim Session held in Calcutta during 1927. In that speech the Maulana declared:

"That by the Lucknow Pact they had sold away their interests. The Delhi proposals of March last opened the door for the first time to the recognition of the real rights of Mussalmans in India. The separate electorates granted by the Pact of 1916 only ensured Muslim representation, but what was vital for the existence of the community was the recognition of its numerical strength. Delhi opened the way to the creation of such a state of affairs as would guarantee to them in the future of lndia a proper share. Their existing small majority in Bengal and the Punjab was only a census figure, but the Delhi proposals gave them for the first time five provinces of which no less than three (Sind, the Frontier Province and Baluchistan) contained a real overwhelming Muslim majority. If the Muslims did not recognise this great step they were not fit to live. There would now be nine Hindu provinces against five Muslim provinces, and whatever treatment Hindus accorded in the nine provinces Muslims would accord the same treatment to Hindus in the five provinces. Was not this a great gain? Was not a new weapon gained for the assertion of Muslim rights?" (Quoted from Thoughts on Pakistan by BR Ambedkar, Thacker & Company Ltd., Bombay, 1940)

Babasaheb felt that the Communal Award meant that the Hindu Minorities would be hostages at the mercy of the five Muslim majority provincial governments. This he felt was a strong enough argument in favour of Partition. Incidentally, the Muslim League at its Lahore Session on 16th March, 1940 passed a resolution which amounted to the demand of a separate state called Pakistan. The scheme had been conceived by one Mr Rehmat Ali in 1933 having advocated a partition. Dr Ambedkar immediately noted that merely the formation of Pakistan would not ensure safety for the Hindus in the Muslim majority areas. In fact their condition may worsen because at the time the hostages could at least appeal to the Central Government about their grievances whereas in Pakistan, there would be no impartial Central Government to turn to. He recalled that the Hindus in Pakistan could then be given into the position of the Armenians under the Turks or of the Jews in Nazi Germany.

Babasaheb was perceptive enough to realise that the evil was not Partition but the boundaries of the current provinces which did not reflect or were not consistent with the profile of the Hindu-Muslim population. The boundaries had to be altered; the Punjab and Bengal had to be bifurcated. Even then some Hindus would get left behind in Pakistan and many of the Muslims would be scattered across Hindustan. All these would then have to be moved in a planned manner so that the Hindus and Sikhs came away to Hindustan and the Muslims moved to Pakistan. This was the gist of Dr Ambedkar's formula. Nevertheless it is useful to quote him "that the transfer of minorities is the only lasting remedy for communal peace is beyond doubt. If that is so, there is no reason why Hindus and Muslims should keep on trading in safeguards which have proved so unsafe. That, if small countries with limited resources like Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria were capable of such an undertaking, there is no reason to suppose that what they did cannot be accomplished by Indians. After all, the population involved is inconsiderable and it would be a height of folly to give up a sure way to communal peace because some obstacles in it require to be removed."

Babasaheb was convinced that the secret of a happy and successful state lay in homogeneity. That was the lesson taught also by the histories of Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria. Many a constituent of post-war era have given safeguard for the welfare of the minorities. Their experience, however, showed that these did not save the minorities. Even after safeguards the same old policy exterminating the minorities continued. Hence an exchange of minorities was found to be about the only solution. There was another factor which caused Dr Ambedkar a great deal of anxiety. Basing his conclusions on the facts provided in the Simon Commission Report, he found that more than half the soldiers of the then Indian Army were from the North-West Frontier and West Punjab, most of them being Muslim.

Although the British Indian Government justified the profile of recruitment with their theory of marshal and non-marshal classes, the fact was that during the rebellion of 1857, the people of these areas remained loyal to the British whereas soldiers recruited by the East India Company from the Indo-Gangetic plane were the ones that actually revolted. This was the view of a Special Army Survey in 1879 which observed that the distinction between marshal and non-marshal classes were indistinct.

The khilafat committee, in its anxiety to safeguard pan-Islamism, had enunciated the principle that the Indian Army should not be used against a Muslim power. The Muslim League had endorsed this principle. In the words of Dr Ambedkar: "Even Theodore Morrison, writing in 1899, was of the opinion that 'the views held by the Mahomedans (certainly the most aggressive and truculent of the peoples of India) are alone sufficient to prevent the establishment of an independent Indian Government. Were the Afghan to descend from the north upon an autonomous India, the Mahomedans, instead of uniting with the Sikhs and Hindus to repel him, would be drawn by all the ties of kinship and religion to join his flag'." The Hindus, he continued, could find themselves between the devil and the deep sea so far as the defence of India was concerned. If India remains as one whole, what would happen? The issue might sound remote today but remember in 1919 the protagonists of the Khilafat movement had actually gone to the extent of inviting the Amir of Afghanistan to invade India.

Even the cost benefit factor did not escape Babasaheb although he was not a financial expert: "The Pakistan area, which is the main recruiting ground of the present Indian Army, contributes very little to the central exchequer. The main contribution comes from the provinces of Hindustan. In fact, it is the money contributed by the provinces of Hindustan which enables the Government of India to carry out its activities in the Pakistan provinces. The Pakistan provinces are a drain on the provinces of Hindustan. Not only do they contribute very little to the Central Government but they receive a great deal from the Central Government. The revenue of the Central Government amounts to Rs 121 crore. Of this about Rs 52 crore are yearly spent on the army. In what area is this amount spent? Who pays the bulk of this amount of Rs 52 crore? The bulk of this amount of Rs 52 crore which is spent on the army is spent over the Muslim army drawn from the Pakistan area. Now the bulk of this amount of Rs 52 crore is contributed by the Hindu provinces and is spent on an army from which the Hindus, who pay for it, are excluded!! How many Hindus are aware of this tragedy?"

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