Jaag Punjab: The Story Of The Province's Separation At Partition

Jaag Punjab: The Story Of The Province's Separation At Partition
The time of awakening has finally come; long-lost brothers have finally found the culprits who divided them. They lived peacefully for centuries, but then Urdu speakers and the British establishment ended up dividing Punjab along religious lines in the 1940s.

Everything used to be so pleasant before the division and the fracture. This narrative sounds so good because it gives you heroes and villains to cherish and despise.

Unfortunately, it's nothing more than an example of scapegoating and being ignorant of issues that plagued the subcontinent, something which hyper-nationalists love to do.

In 1867, a upper-caste Hindu movement named National Promotion Society declared Hindus and Muslims as people from separate nations. In 1872, its co-founder Nabagopal Mitra stated, "Hindus are a nation... The basis of national unity in India is the Hindu religion." This led to the creation of the Hindu Mahasabha, co-founded by the leaders of Indian National Congress in 1915.

Two years before the creation of the Muslim League, Gandhi's close friend and Congress leader from Punjab, Bhai Parmanand, demanded separate sovereign states for Hindus and Muslims. He also repeated this demand in 1909 by stating, "the territory beyond Sindh could be united with North-West Frontier Province into a great Mussalman Kingdom. The Hindus of the region should come away, while at the same time, the Mussalmans in the rest of the country should go and settle in this territory."

On 14 December 1924, a prominent Congress leader from Punjab, Lala Lajpat Rai not only demanded separation of two regions but also partition of his own province. In his Tribune article, he suggested, "Punjab should be partitioned into two provinces, the Western Punjab with a large Muslim majority, to be a Muslim governed province; and the Eastern Punjab, with a large Hindu-Sikhs majority, to be a non-Muslim governed province."

Rai was a member of Congress and its militant wing, Hindu Mahasabha, at the same time. He also co-founded the latter. In 1923, B.S. Moonje had also called for the forced conversion of Muslims. He was a Congress leader who later joined the Hindu Mahasabha. He claimed, "just as England belongs to the English… India belongs to the Hindus. If Hindus get organised, they can humble... the Muslims. The Hindus henceforth can create their own world which will prosper through forced conversions."

In 1930, Allama Iqbal suggested the grouping of North-Western Muslim provinces to create one large autonomous unit, in order to have a well-organised Muslim region for combating Hindu nationalism and future invasions. In 1940, after two years of brutal Congress rule and having observed the practical manifestations of the ‘One Nation Theory’, Jinnah stated that India didn't belong to the Hindus exclusively and there was another nation in it, the Muslims, who too deserved to be treated fairly.

On 19 January 1940, he called for the constitution of free India by arguing that "a constitution must be evolved that recognises that there are in India two nations who both must share the governance of their common motherland."

Later this was distorted to sound like, "Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations who can't live together."

In 1942, Gandhi's relative, Rajagopalacharia (or Rajaji), took inspiration from Rai's formula and suggested separate states for Hindus and Muslims. These states were to divide Punjab between them. In 1944, Gandhi took this scheme and went to Jinnah House where Jinnah rejected this offer. Jinnah rejected this scheme again in 1946 and presented the idea of Confederate India as his maximum demand in front of British Government's Cabinet Mission Plan.

Two sovereign states, Pakistan and Hindustan, were to share a center which was to take care of military and foreign affairs. This center was going to have equal seats for the representatives of both regions. The rest of the powers were to remain with its member states and Muslim-majority Punjab was to become part of Pakistan region. According to this scheme, the British-created center was to dissolve itself and the power was to be transferred to two regions without changes in provincial boundaries. Meanwhile, Congress either wanted a strong center or Rajaji's scheme implemented if the former wasn't agreeable. This forced the British to find a middle ground.

Instead of Confederation, there was going to be a Federation of India where Hindu majority would dominate the center instead of parity between Muslim-majority and Hindu-majority areas. The center would also have the power to handle revenue, apart from defense, foreign affairs, communications and legislation. Jinnah convinced Leaguers to accept the scheme but Congress rejected it and called a session of the Constituent Assembly to frame a new constitution. This session only contained Congress members which led to a serious deadlock between two regions and communities. A separate Pakistan became inevitable, but now it was the question of provinces and their unity.

On 8 March 1947, Congress passed and accepted the resolution calling for separate states based on partition. The resolution stated that settlement “would necessitate a division of the Punjab into two provinces, so that the predominantly Muslim part may be separated from the predominantly non-Muslim part.” The Muslim League’s co-founder, Sir Aga Khan, condemned the resolution and called for the creation of a confederation between two regions without dividing the province, while Jinnah called sub-division of Punjab immoral.

"The Sikhs in the Punjab will be the greatest sufferers," said Jinnah on 21st May while talking about the partition of Punjab. "The idea of partition is not only thoughtless and reckless but... will prove dangerous immediately and far more so in the future. Immediately it will lead to bitterness and unfriendly attitude between... Western Punjab and Eastern Punjab."

Jinnah wanted unity of the province, while Congress wanted its partition. Viceroy Mountbatten gave the elected representatives a choice in deciding its future. In joint voting, the entirety of Punjab voted to become part of Pakistan. In separate voting, Western Punjab also voted for Pakistan. Now to keep the province united, Eastern Punjab, dominated by non-Muslims, had to choose Pakistan. Muslim League offered East Punjabis maximum autonomy to win them over, but they had voted for Hindustan; hence, willingly dividing their province in half as Punjabi Congress leaders had always wanted.