It has become a fashion these days to blame the Congress for Partition. Certain sections of the right, who in fact became the prime beneficiaries of Partition, are the leading proponents of this thesis. Had Partition not taken place, the demographic exigencies of undivided India, with a Muslim population of 25%-30%; and five, and possibly six, Muslim majority provinces, among them Bengal and Punjab would have rendered the parties espousing Hindutva permanently irrelevant. But this is a topic for another time. If the Congress leadership, especially Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, had not accepted the division of the country, it could well have led to the dismemberment of India as we know it today. The reasons are as follows.
What was on offer as an alternative to Partition was the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946. This plan not only envisaged a loose federal structure with a very weak centre, it could be called a ‘crypto-Pakistan plus’. It not only grouped provinces on the basis of religious majorities, it left the issue of the princely states’ future as a matter of discussion between the princes and the weak centre that it envisioned. The central authority would have then had a very weak hand to play against the wily princely rulers, both Hindu and Muslim, who would have joined hands with each other and with the Muslim League in defence of their common interest to further weaken the centre.
Cabinet Mission Plan
Moreover, documentary evidence, especially the resolution of the Muslim League Council in June 1946 that accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan, proves that the Muslim League’s acceptance was premised on the belief that the Plan was a stepping stone towards the ultimate formation of Pakistan, which to quote the resolution was its “unalterable objective”. The League inferred this from the Cabinet Mission Plan’s provision that said that “any Province by majority vote of its Legislative Assembly could call for a reconsideration of the terms of the Constitution after an initial period of ten years and at ten-yearly intervals thereafter.” Hence the Plan did not rule out the dissolution of the Union if provinces made a demand.
Furthermore, the working of the interim government formed in September 1946 made it clear that the Muslim League was bent on thwarting its smooth functioning. It was the feeling that the interim government was like a chariot being pulled in two different directions that convinced Patel that Partition was the only way to save India from becoming a totally dysfunctional state. In his own famous words, “In order to keep India united it must be divided.” It was Patel who convinced Nehru that Partition was better than an eternally fragmented India.
Nehru, whose opposition to Partition was based on his unstinted commitment to secularism, which refused to encounter the idea of India bring divided on communal lines, finally realised that his vision of a modern and strong Indian state could not be achieved with the Muslim League, in power in Bengal and Punjab, thwarting it at every step. With Patel and Nehru convinced of the necessity for Partition, the rest of the Congress Working Committee, except Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who voted against it, and Maulana Azad, who abstained, accepted the plan.
Historical evidence based on impartial scholarship demonstrates that had the Congress Party not accepted the Partition plan, India today would have been a weak state and a divided polity barely able to keep itself together and constantly teetering on the brink of collapse. The Congress did a favour to the country by accepting its division in order to save it from collapse or dismemberment. This is a historically verifiable fact that cannot be refuted by partisan propaganda.
Mohammed Ayoob is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University