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I'm Sahaj Sankaran, winner of Yale’s South Asian Studies Prize and Diane Kaplan Memorial Prize for my historical research, and this is Today in Indian History. Four days a week, I'll dig into the context and consequences of an event in India's history that happened on that date. I'll walk you through what happened, what the world around looked like at the time, and how it shaped the India we live in today.

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June 14, 2020

Congress Passes the Partition Resolution

On 14 June, 1947, members of the All-India Congress Committee of the Indian National Congress met in New Delhi to vote on a resolution. The resolution was about the acceptance of the Mountbatten Plan for the Partition of India into two sovereign entities; a Hindu-majority nation and a Muslim-majority nation. The Congress delegates present on June 14 overwhelmingly voted ‘yes’.

It’s not easy to encapsulate the long history of the Partition, but I think it’s important to understand that that history was long and complex. Following the First World War (1914-1918), the Caliph of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, also considered the leader of Sunni Muslims worldwide, was stripped of much of his authority by the war’s victors. Muslims in British India started a movement, the Khilafat Movement, in protest. Though Turkey itself turned secular and the Ottoman caliph was made irrelevant, the Khilafat Movement introduced many in Indian Muslims to the idea of a Muslim homeland; some of the Movement’s leaders went on to found the All-India Muslim League. In 1933, a group of Indian Muslim students at Cambridge University led by a charismatic young law student named Choudhry Rahmat Ali produced a document known to history as the ‘Pakstan Declaration’ (the ‘i’ would be added later) calling for a separate Muslim country to be carved out of British India. The name came from the parts of British India he hoped would constitute the new nation; Punjab, Afghan Province (North-West Frontier Province), Kashmir, Sindh, and Balochistan.

It’s important to note that, even as late as 1933, this document gained very little support among the Indian political class. It took years of gradual acceptance before Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League accepted the ideas in the Pakstan Declaration. Indeed, it took years for the Hindu-majority Congress to accept the idea of an independent Pakistan. In 1935, the Government of India Act finally devolved significant power to popularly-elected regional governments in India, allowing India to be run by Indians to some extent. The Congress swept many of the polls, though, as expected, the Muslim League triumphed in Muslim-majority areas. The following years would do much to convince both sides that an independent Pakistan was needed. Muslim League administrators and thinkers like A.K. Fazlul Haq were not impressed by the competence of the Congress’ administration, and were concerned that a strong central government of an independent India would neglect and misrule Muslim-majority areas. Conversely, Congress leaders like Vallabhai Patel and V.P. Menon worried that a one-state solution would have to grant significant self-government privileges to Muslim-majority areas, and were concerned that a weak central government would be unable to keep the fragmented country (which still contained hundreds of princely states) together. Leaders on both sides thus began seriously considering the two-nation theory of Indian Independence.

It’s also important to note how divided the Congress was, even by June 1947. Prominent Muslim leaders like Abul Kalam Azad and Abdul Ghaffar Khan were strongly opposed to the idea of a Partition, as were Hindu leaders like Purushottam Das Tandon. Arguments flew across the chamber on 14 June; the Mountbatten Plan for Partition had only been presented 11 days earlier, and was still intensely controversial. Jawaharlal Nehru had allowed himself to be convinced of the necessity of Partition, and he in turn convinced Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who reluctantly agreed to attend the meeting and deliver a speech. The speech was markedly ambiguous; Gandhi expressed immense regret at the thought of a Partition, but admitted that there was too much support for it on both sides. “What has happened”, he said, “Has happened.” With that, Gandhi lent his support - unwillingly as it was - to the idea of Partition, convincing many of the naysayers in the Congress. The final vote recorded an overwhelming majority for the resolution, but its supporters did not clap or cheer; the resolution passed in dead silence. The Committee knew that it had taken a decision that would define South Asia for decades to come.

As a final, sadly ironic note, one of the many people deeply unhappy with the final result of the Partition was Choudhry Rahmat Ali himself, the writer of the 1933 Pakistan declaration. Returning to Pakistan from England in 1948, he vocally criticised the government of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan until the Pakistani government silenced him by confiscating his property and expelling him back to England. He wasn’t alone; a number of people on both sides remained bitterly unhappy with the compromises of the Partition, a bitterness that is still alive today.

Sahaj Sankaran

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