Home Book Review Why Ambedkar Supported Partition? (Part-I)

Why Ambedkar Supported Partition? (Part-I)

Why Ambedkar Supported Partition? (Part-I)
Ambedkar with some of the members of Independent Labour Party founded in 1937

Remarks on his book “Pakistan or the Partition of India” first published in December 1940. The present article is based on a close reading of Ambedkar’s text included in Volume 8 of ‘Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches’.

Samidh Sadhu

The book Pakistan or the Partition of India was written by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the chairman of a committee appointed at the behest of the Executive Council of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), at the entreaty of the said committee to prepare a report on Pakistan. The objective was to decide what attitude the ILP should adopt towards the project of Pakistan envisioned in the Lahore Resolution of the Muslim League. Thacker & Company published the first edition of the book in December 1940. The second edition, in which was updated many supporting accounts, was published in February 1945, and the third edition came out in 1946. As the early editions, which were sold out quickly, indicate, the book drew the attention of many. To quote Ambedkar, the book had been “of service to the Indians who [were] faced with the knotty problem of Pakistan. The fact that Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Jinnah…cited the book as an authority on the subject which might be consulted with advantage bespeaks the worth of the book”. The present article is based on a close reading of Ambedkar’s text as included in Volume 8 of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, first published by the Government of Maharashtra in 1990 and re-printed by Dr. Ambedkar Foundation in 2014.

The book begins with a Prologue and an introduction. Then follow the general units of the book – the Muslim Case for Pakistan, the Hindu Case against Pakistan, What if not Pakistan (assessment of different alternatives to Pakistan and their feasibility), Pakistan and the Malaise (whether the social and communal problems are going to be solved by the creation of Pakistan), and Ambedkar’s own views on the problems raised by critics and his pragmatic strategies for Partition, closing with an Epilogue and richly informative Appendices.

Ambedkar begins by stating that the arguments for Pakistan need be brought into logical consideration and not dismissed summarily and ridiculously, since “it has behind it the sentiment, if not the passionate support, of 90 p.c. Muslims of India”. Hindus and Muslims must decide the question themselves. He proves that coercion to put down Pakistan is no solution, by quoting Edmund Burke on the futility of force and resistance. If the Indians were fighting for self-determination, they were to concede that none can be deprived of self-determination, the Muslims included. The supporters of Pakistan oppose the establishment of one Central government, and want one central government each for Hindustan and Pakistan. The contention of Pakistan must be solved before a new constitution for India is formulated, because if the Muslim provinces secede after the formation of the Republic, this will set in motion the other provinces’ urge for secession, with cultural antipathy between the different (Hindu) provinces and the disproportionate burden of Central revenues on them acting as catalysts.

The Muslim Case for Pakistan seeks:

(a) The creation of ethnically homogenous administrative areas.

(b) Of these areas, that which are predominantly Muslim, be carved into a separate sovereign state:

(i) Because the Muslims by themselves constitute a separate nation and desire to have a national home, and

(ii) Because the Hindus want to exploit their majority to treat Muslims as secondary citizens.

That the idea of linking the provinces in the north-west had been mulled by the Government many times in the past and that Bengal was once partitioned on communal lines in 1905 testify to the fact that the vision of the League is not as shocking or as unprecedented as the Hindu India claims it to be.

The Hindus accentuate on inhabitation of the same geographical territory, racial similarity, linguistic unity, and certain commonalities in social sphere between the Hindus and the Muslims to prove that the Muslims are not a separate nation and that a single nation – India exists, much owing to the fact that the Hindu was ashamed to admit, amid the numerous nations of Europe, that there existed no Indian nation and to the fact that the Hindu realized the existence of a nation would give its demand for independence more weight. But the commonalities are the result of mechanical causes – incomplete conversions and the effect of a common environment, and “the things that divide are far more vital than the things that unite”. Three points should be considered here. (i) The Muslims of India are an exclusive group, (ii) they have a longing to belong to their group only and not to any other group, and (iii) the history of India is one of animosity between the Hindus and the Muslims. All these validate the existence of a Muslim nation, and as such, their demand for Pakistan stands on some ground.

Forming a nation requires no justification but a will to form a nation. Nonetheless, if Muslim grievances are asked for, there are plenty. They claim that “constitutional safeguards have failed to save them from the tyranny of the Hindu majority”. The Congress’ refusal to identify the League as the only representative of the Muslims (contrary to the norm of accepting him as the representative who wields the support of the majority) and to form coalition ministries with the League in the Congress provinces intensified the fear of the League that the Muslims would remain unrepresented or under-represented. Degradation of Muslims from the status of masters to the status of fellow-subjects had been effected during the British rule, and now they feared that they would be reduced to subjects of the Hindus.

The Hindus object to the scheme of Pakistan because they feel:

(a) It will break the unity of India,

(b) It will weaken the defence of India, and

(c) It fails to solve the communal problem.

The Hindus claim that the whole of the present-day India always existed as one. But, the fact is disputed, and though a somewhat vague idea of one land existed during the time of Huan Tsang, that is a historical fact and since the present situation is different, taking recourse to history is nothing prudent. Though following the Muslim invasion, the Muslims ruled over much of India, they were bent upon uprooting Hinduism and establishing Islam by any means – almost always violent. Ambedkar writes, “[t]his bitterness, between the two, is so deep-seated that a century of political life has neither succeeded in assuaging it; nor in making people forget it”. The north India (north-west, mainly) has been much “like a wagon in a train” or the “Alsace-Lorraine” of India, that has been repeatedly attached and detached to the rest of India. Moreover, “geographical unity…is no unity… it is unity intended by nature . . . a case where Nature proposes and Man disposes”. Administrative unity, too, is no unity, since it is unity for the time being. Thus, if no veritable unity exists, there is no question of it getting disturbed.

Regarding the apprehensions on the weakening of the defences due to the creation of Pakistan, there are three arguments. The first is that the creation of Pakistan leaves Hindustan without a scientific border. But, actually, (i) there is nothing called a scientific border, and (ii) India has none. Moreover, (iii) artificial fortifications as barriers are far more impregnable. The Hindus are worried over the question of distribution of resources, but the resources that Hindustan shall have are greater than what Pakistan will be having, considering in terms of area, population, or revenue.

The question of the Armed Forces is another concern. The Indian Army (in Ambedkar’s time) is largely Punjabi Muslim, raised by the tax mostly paid by Hindus. They are docile under the British but are most likely not to remain so under the Hindus whom they consider as inferior and are unlikely to repel any Muslim invasion on India from the West. The Hindus have a difficult choice to make: to have a safe army, or a safe border and the former being more important, thinking prudently, the Hindu should agree to the demand of Pakistan and upon being independent, raise its army from other parts of India which, by no means, wield inferior soldiers. That the British today recruits the Punjabis to the Army is no testament to the martial inferiority of other races of Hindustan, taking cognizance of the fact that the British used to recruit heavily from them at other times.

Now the question is whether Pakistan can solve the communal problem.

All demands of the Muslim League regarding separate electorates, proportional representation and a statutory majority of seats in the Muslim-dominated provinces were accepted in the face of opposition to the same by the Hindus. That the Hindus were handed a de facto statutory majority in predominantly Hindu provinces is no justification for granting Muslims statutory majority and thereby imposing permanent Muslim rule in predominantly Muslim provinces, since the Hindus were against this concept of statutory majority altogether. The Muslims knew that they had nothing to fear under a divided Hindu majority, while the Hindus had much to fear under a united Muslim majority. Thus, Muslim rule has already been imposed upon the Hindu minorities in provinces with a Muslim majority. Furthermore, according to Ambedkar, Muslim provinces were deliberately created when espoused by the League, as they perhaps felt it would give in the hands of the Muslims an option to tyrannize the Hindu minorities in its province, if Muslim minorities in Hindu provinces were tyrannized. Even if Pakistan is created, this problem would not solve, but amplify under the absence of a common central government.

This problem can only be solved if Pakistan be made a homogeneous state, devoid of any minority Hindu population. This can be done by (i) changing the borders and (ii) exchange of population. Though India cannot be made homogenous, the depreciation of Muslims would certainly put Hindus to a more advantageous state than they are now. The question is whether the two communities of Punjab and Bengal will agree to redraw boundaries. The Muslims should, if they want a more homogenous state. If they do not, it will mean that they want to tyrannize as many Hindus as possible. Many of the Hindus are unwilling to divide their provinces due to their selfishness – they are reluctant to relinquish their field of job. But, considering the larger menace of Muslim oppression, they should agree to the solution.

Then Ambedkar moves on to analyze the various alternatives to Pakistan and refuting them, beginning with the Hindu alternatives. The scheme of Lala Hardayal envisions – (i) Hindu Sangathan, (ii) Hindu Raj, (iii) Suddhi (conversion to Hinduism) of Muslims, and (iv) Conquest and Suddhi of Afghanistan and the Frontiers. It is largely problematic because Hinduism is not a proselytizing religion, rendering conversion impossible. The immense financial resources the missionary scheme calls for cannot be realized from the Hindu businessmen. Also, the Frontier people and the Afghans are too staunchly Islamic to convert.

The Hindu Mahasabha, on the other hand, wants a Hindu Rashtra, grouping all religions that are Indian by origin as Hindu. Providing as much freedom and right to the Muslims as the Hindus, they want the Muslims to live in a state of subordinate co-operation with the Hindu nation, where the Hindus have more claim to the state. Here, the assertion that Hindus are a nation by themselves follows that Muslims, too, are a separate nation. But, as Ambedkar puts it, while Vinayak Damodar Savarkar allows the Hindus a national homeland, he deprives the Muslim nation of that. Again, questions can be raised as to how Savarkar hopes that, having sown the seeds of enmity between the two nations by unequal treatment, they shall thrive peacefully under one constitution.

Mr. Gandhi, however, strives to forge Hindu-Muslim unity at any cost. That has often made other issues so subservient that he has gone on to support many spurious issues and even condone Muslim aggression towards Hindus while wooing the Hindu sentiment for cow-protection with utter duplicity. The flare of communal riots in British India in the 1920s and 1930s prove the failure of the attempts. As the Simon Commission puts it, “the communal riots were a manifestation of the anxieties and ambitions aroused in both the communities by the prospects of India’s political future” when the British would depart. (Continues)


Samidh Sadhu studies English literature at Presidency University, Kolkata. Indian Writing in English and Partition Literature are his areas of special interest.

Courtesy: All About Ambedkar – A Journal on Theory and Praxis