Locating Partition in the context of plural societies does not explain the enormity of the event

Minnesota-born Walter Bennett Evans’ dissertation with the same title has been published as a book in an attempt to publish doctoral dissertations on Pakistan and the Pakistan Movement that have hitherto remained relatively unknown, according to the introduction by Robert D Long. As Long says, Evans gave no indication of how he came to be writing a thesis on Pakistan at the University of Southern California. But at the end of the book he does make an American connection. In his conclusion Evans compares the statements of the Muslim League with the long Constitutional quarrel that ended in the Civil War in the United States. Historians have argued whether slavery was the basic issue in the American quarrel.

In the same manner Evans says historians argue whether the conflict in India between the Hindus and the Muslims was chiefly religious or whether it involved vast cultural differences. He believes that the conflict in India was more than a question of religion and tries to locate it in the context of problems of plural societies of which he gives many examples. He finished his dissertation in June 1955 and as Long says correctly at the end of his introduction, “Evans never made the major contribution to Jinnah studies that Bolitho, Zaidi, Wolpert, Sharif al Mujahid and Hayat made, few do, but the outline he followed for his background study to the demand for and the creation of Pakistan has also been followed by countless others.”

Evans writes, “When on 15 August 1947, the British government created two new Dominions India and Pakistan, it was giving recognition to the existence of plural societies in the subcontinent of India.” He goes on to say that, “Among the several cultures in India, the British found two that were diverse in many respects. They were the Hindu and the Muslim. They also discovered that the resurgence of Hinduism brought about a renaissance among Indian Muslims. As Indian nationalism evolved, so did particularism (known as communalism in India) with the consequent establishment of two nations, instead of one, in India.”

The main purpose of this study is to trace the course of Hindu-Muslim relations in India, from the Lucknow Pact of 1916 to the demand for Pakistan made by the All India Muslim League in 1940. The author also focusses on the basic features of Hindu-Muslim relations including a description of the differences in culture between the two communities, the rise of nationalism as a result of the cultural renaissance in the 19th century and the struggle for constitutional reform that ended with Partition. Evans says at the end of his first chapter that the situation was such that the British government could make use of the policy of divide et impera, regardless of whether or not it did so deliberately. Accusations were made that it encouraged and deepened the communal rift, in order to continue its control over India. At any rate, in the end the only solution to the problem of plural societies in India was partition.

He quotes Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan’s address to the United States Senate in May 1950 on why Pakistan became a separate state. “Pakistan was founded by the indomitable will of a hundred million Muslims who felt they were a nation too numerous and too distinct to be relegated forever to the unalterable position of a political minority, especially when in the vast sub continent which was their homeland, there was enough room for two great nations…”

Quarrel over Kashmir

To buttress his theory of plural societies, Evans points to the situation after Partition, the quarrel over Kashmir and the minority problem in both India and Pakistan and says that in the main, however, strained relations between Pakistan and India were aftermath of centuries of divergence between Hindus and Muslims, a divergence that goes deeper than the matter of religion. In the eight chapters Evans takes us through the Background of Hindu Muslim Relations, to Hindu Muslim Rapprochement and finally the Genesis of Division, and he packs in whatever detail he had access to till the final demand for Partition was made in 1940. He says in the realm of Hindu-Muslim relations, however, tension increased during the period of provincial self-government, particularly in the Congress provinces, to the point where many Muslims became convinced that under a parliamentary government of the English type there would always be Hindu rule. Evans also comments on the failure of provincial governments to create communal harmony. The idea of Pakistan was not at first welcomed even in Muslim circles. People like Professor Abdullah Sardar of Lahore was against the two-nation theory and Jinnah and the Muslim League were not impressed by such arguments as they were already committing themselves to the idea of a separate nation which was adopted in Lahore in 1940.

The book is a useful read considering it was researched so early in the life of Pakistan and using the resources available at that time. It serves its stated purpose of being a contribution to the historiography and history of the Pakistan movement. But its views on the reasons for Partition are debatable and locating an event like that in the context of plural societies may not be adequate enough to explain the enormity and complexity of the decision and its impact.

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