Is it better that India was divided in 1947 or would we have been better off undivided?

Ramchandra Guha makes a case for not being ‘nostalgic about undivided India’. He argues that, ‘Had there been an undivided India, the percentage of Muslims would have been closer to 33%, or one in three. The demographic balance would have been more delicate; and prone to being exploited by sectarians on either side.’

Assuming that religious wars have been avoided by the percentage of Indian Muslims being reduced to ‘13% of the population, or one in seven’, he concludes that, ‘the cold logic of history suggests that things would have been far worse for us if Partition had not occurred.’ Since his is a counter factual case, refuting his case is as futile as it is easy.

Ramchandra Guha Why Ramchandra Guha Speaks too Soon


Nevertheless, it can be argued conversely that had the percentage of the largest religious minority – the subcontinent’s Muslims – remained at about one third, there would have been an element of deterrence in the demographic balance. Guha’s apprehension of a communal bloodbath would then not arise. In any case, precedent setting Partition would not have occurred and eddies from it would not have persisted through time. The resulting peace could have been used, just as it has been in India as brought out by Guha, for democracy and development for all of South Asia.

Guha exaggerates the problem integrating the 500 princely states posed. If Sardar Patel could do dispatch them into history within a couple of years of independence, that would have been so even in case of undivided India.
As a historian he really should have been wary of venturing into international relations. To him, India has been spared the frontline status that Pakistan has acquired. This would have been so even in case of undivided India since there would have been no Pakistan lending its strategic location for the purposes of a superpower through the Cold War and in the war on terror.

It is not as readily apparent as Guha pitches it that South Asia is better off divided. Worse, we may yet mourn the passing of an undivided India. Guha is right in caveating his point that ‘India is not — or at least not yet — a Hindu Pakistan.’ ‘Not yet’ alright, but unfortunately India appears well on its way to becoming one. Guha’s other writings suggests that this possibility has not escaped him. His summary dismissal of Akhand Bharat is on this score a tad too early.

Sardar Patel Why Ramchandra Guha Speaks too Soon


In an understatement, Guha’s writes, ‘Religious and ethnic violence have not entirely abated’. There has been no bout of religious violence this decade of the order of those that punctuated previous decades: Bhagalpur in the eighties, Babri Masjid demolition aftermath in the nineties and the Gujarat pogrom in the 2000s.

But structural violence based on religious majoritarianism has served as an equally effective substitute. Muslims are remarkable from their absence in office spaces, shared apartment blocks, the military, the middle class and from assemblies and parliament. With the demographic balance disrupted by Partition, Hindutvavadis have had a field day on India’s vulnerable minority over the past quarter century. And in doing so have succeeded in manufacturing an electoral constituency, a ‘Hindu vote bank’.

So much so that Mr. Modi in refusing to wear a cap that serves as a Muslim identity marker reveal that he does not feel the need to even genuflect towards Muslims. From the perspective of India’s Muslims, the higher percentages of undivided India would lend a degree of physical security and psychological security to India’s currently widespread and isolated minority pockets and ghettos.

Divided India 1947 Why Ramchandra Guha Speaks too Soon

From the point of view of liberal Hindus, this could preserve India from a possible, and certainly problematic, future as ‘Hindu India’. With minorities better represented it would be difficult for ideological penetration of institutions and of India’s security agencies. With the prime minister even overshadowing one worthy predecessor, Indira Gandhi, to the extent of provoking a grim warning from Hindutva lion heart Advani of a turn to authoritarianism, India is some way down the road to fascism.

Democracy is liable to be mistaken for majoritarianism. Mr. Modi’s Chanakya, the National Security Adviser, Mr. Doval, speaking on ‘Security, Statecraft and Conflict of Values’, gave out the thinking in the establishment.
On the surface what he gives out is unexceptionable: that the majority democratically arrived decides how to exercise power and does so in a constitutionally bound manner in accord with its perception of the national interest.
The problem is in the gauging of the national interest.

Divided India Why Ramchandra Guha Speaks too Soon


The Hindutva perspective runs rough shod over Muslim sensibilities. For Tarun Vijay, a key propagandist, the Independence Day was not merely from British colonialists but also from preceding, namely Muslim, rulers.
Whereas in the second year of this government his is only triumphalism, as its difficulties in running a government increase, they would need scapegoats and escape valves. Muslims are readily at hand, as are liberals and who Tarun Vijay terms as ‘frivolous, de-Indianised elements’.

Internal authoritarianism can only prompt external expansionism. Only, India has a nuclear power with Islamism at its door step. Mr. Dowal lets on that there can be no compromise in the use of force where national interest is at stake. He has a millennial notion of this, encompassing both past generations and future.
Doubtless, the Pakistani NSA he is to talk to this Sunday shares his views. Since it is unlikely they will sort out any of the problems between the two states, the proverbial ‘perfect storm’ shall continue to threaten.

Should Ramchandra Guha revisit his thesis on subsequent Independence Days, he would likely reckon that undivided India – Akhand Bharat – might have been a better alternative after all.
In order to control its extremists and its destiny, perhaps that is the direction South Asia must now move. This is not novel. For millennia, India’s enlightened rulers have exerted to unify the subcontinent. Notwithstanding Grexit, region states are the trend in today’s world, witness the EU. It would make India whole again.

By Firdaus Ahmed

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Think South Asia: A Stand for Peace

Subcontinental Musings: Making a Difference
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