India’s Muslims and the Price of Partition

Source: The New York Times


Riots that took place in the streets of Calcutta in 1946 between Muslims and Hindus claimed thousands of lives. CreditKeystone-France/Gamma-Keystone, via Getty Images

NEW DELHI — Seventy years after independence, India’s Muslim population has begun to fear that the dark fantasies of the Muslims led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League in the 1930s and 1940s — who fought for the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan as a homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims — could well be coming true.

The Muslim League, a party established by Muslim landlords and the educated middle class, claimed that it alone had the right to represent Muslims and their interests. This brought it into conflict with the Indian National Congress of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, who argued that they represented all Indians.

In 1936-7, the British decided to conduct elections to 11 provincial legislatures. A large measure of administrative powers was to be transferred to the governments thus elected. The Congress, the League and a slew of provincial parties participated in the polls. Despite its claim of representing Muslims’ aspirations, the Muslim League polled less than 5 percent of their votes, which inspired fantasies and fears.

The League began to argue that the Hindu majority of undivided India would swamp Muslims and suppress their religion and culture. As evidence, the League pointed to Hindu-Muslim riots in the northern states of Bihar and the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh), both ruled by the Congress, as an ominous portent. They argued that the movement to ban the slaughter of cows, led by an assortment of religious leaders, Hindu nationalist groups and some members of the Congress, was aimed at subverting Muslim culture. Unlike Muslims, Christians, Jews and animists, a segment of Hindus worship the cow and don’t eat its meat.

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