Why are there riots in India?

There was a presentation of a new book on the Partition of Punjab last week in one of the committee rooms at the House of Lords. We still don't know how many millions died in Partition. Even so, stories are always told of incredible hospitality when an Indian or Pakistani crosses the border and visits the other country.

Partition and its memories are at the root of Hindu-Muslim communal riots in India. We have still not written the true history of why Partition happened. It is convenient for the Congress, which signed up for Partition, to blame it all on Muhammad Ali Jinnah. In Pakistan, they blame Lord Mountbatten. The Indian attitude after Partition has been of denial. Jinnah, we are told, espoused the two-nation theory, which the Congress never believed in. India is a single, syncretic nation which the Congress fought to protect.

This may be a desirable line to adopt as a device to maintain peace and harmony. It has not worked. But as a piece of history, it is tosh. Pakistan was demanded, not as a separate nation state, but as an autonomous sub-federation in independent India by Jinnah and, agreed to by all parties in July 1946. Jinnah, Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru were in London negotiating in December 1946. It was Liaquat Ali Khan's radical budget, taxing businessmen (most of whom were Hindu) who made wartime profits, which ended the truce between the Congress and the Muslim League in March 1947. The cabinet could not function any longer and Mountbatten dealt with the two sides separately. By April, Mountbatten had swung Nehru and Patel in favour of Partition. By June 1947, the Congress had agreed and Mountbatten announced it. It took all of one month for Partition to be negotiated and agreed upon. The division of Bengal and Punjab came from the votes in their respective assemblies later, with Congress members voting for the break-up of both states. Boundaries were not fixed till after August 15, 1947. Carnage followed.

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