India becomes another Pakistan


Prof. Michael Mann

Michael Mann, born in 1959, is Professor of South Asian History and Society at the Institute for Asian and African Studies at the Humboldt University in Berlin.

Bloody road to independence

The end of British colonial rule in August 1947 sealed the division of the Indian subcontinent into the independent states of India and Pakistan. For more than ten million people on both sides of the new border, this meant resettlement, flight and displacement. The gigantic population exchange was accompanied by excesses of violence, to which more than a million people fell victim. To this day, the wounds of the division can be felt in many areas, and to this day they shape politics in South Asia.

The Vice-President of the Indian Interim Government, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the Advisor to the Viceroy, Lord Ismay, the Viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatton and the President of the Muslim Movement, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, decided to partition India at the conference held in New Delhi in June 1947. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa, dpa - picture archive)

Since the end of World War I, Indian nationalists believed that it was only a matter of time before British India was granted independence. However, the British never thought of independence for their crown colony. At best - so the assumption - the future status of British India would be changed and resemble that of a Dominion, like Australia or Canada.

With the course of the Second World War, the positions came to a head. On August 8, 1942, the members of the Indian National Congress (INC) reacted to the debacle of the insufficiently competent "Cripps Mission", which was supposed to discuss questions of independence after the war Quit India Resolution (Resolution "Out of India"). Under the motto Thu or Die Unrest broke out (now or never) across the country and across all strata of the population, which the British could only put down with massive military action.

For the British, the situation continued to spiral out of control. When an interim government was formed after the end of the war, which was to serve until independence was finally settled, the leader of the Muslim League, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, refused to belong to it. Since it now consisted only of members of the INC, Jinnah called for an unspecified "day of direct action" on August 16, 1946. In Calcutta (now Kolkata), serious unrest broke out between Hindus and Muslims, in which, according to official information, 4000 people - mostly Hindus - were killed.

Political 'Hinduism' and Two Nations Theory

The fact that such an escalation between two religious groups could occur at all was due to the British perception of South Asian societies. The colonial bureaucracy had reduced them to religious groups in the previous decades. The British subsumed under Hindus all who were not Christians, Jews, Buddhists or Muslims. Gradually a more or less homogeneous 'Hinduism' emerged, not least in the deliberate delimitation from the Protestant missionary societies that were active in British India from 1813.

In the course of the formation of the Indian nation at the end of the 19th century, individual Indian politicians instrumentalized symbols and figures of what was soon to be considered 'Hinduism', also politically. One of the most prominent agitators was certainly Bal Gangadhar Tilak. At the same time, writers such as Bankim Chattopadhyay and (re) formers of 'Hinduism' such as Dayanand Saraswati spoke to a Hindu nation that did not mention or openly marginalize Muslims.

This marginalization of Muslims finally gave Jinnah and his Muslim League the opportunity to speak of a two-nation theory in 1940. Jinnah argued that Muslims and Hindus belonged to two completely different nations historically and culturally. In his opinion, one way out of the dilemma was to divide the Indian subcontinent into two separate territories.

In 1946 the British government sent Lord Louis Mountbatten to India as the last viceroy to achieve independence. In order to put the Indian negotiating partners under pressure, he moved the planned date of the British withdrawal by one year - to August 15, 1947. An agreement between the Muslim League, which had meanwhile become the sole mouthpiece of the Muslims in British India , and the INC failed to bring Mountbatten to fruition. After the leading members of the INC had finally resignedly agreed to the division, Mountbatten set the proceedings.

A population exchange that has never been seen anywhere in the world

Gandhi and Mohammed Ali Jinnah in Bombay, September 1944.
In the populous provinces of Punjab and Bengal, British India was to be divided along religious majorities and at the level of administrative districts. According to this, the future Muslim state would consist of two halves of the country: West and East Pakistan. The more than 500 monarchs, maharajas, rajas, sultans and the many "duodez princes" (rulers of a dwarf state) were free to choose which state they wanted to join or whether they wanted to remain independent.

Without knowing the details of the division, there had been riots in the aforementioned areas in the months before. The Sikhs in Punjab in particular became more and more aware that they would be hardest hit if their province was divided.

The borderline of the new states was finally announced only one day after the official independence. The British had shirked their legal responsibility, but not morally, because the consequences were devastating.

Village communities and families were torn apart when Hindus and Sikhs made their way to the Indian Union in the new West Pakistan and Muslims emigrated to West Pakistan. The metropolis of Amritsar, where the Golden Temple of the Sikhs stands, not only lost its fertile agricultural hinterland, but also Lahore, another important urban center. In Bengal, Calcutta lost its agricultural hinterland and East Pakistan lost its former cultural and commercial metropolis.

It is estimated that more than 10 million people migrated across the new borders between 1947 and 1950 - an unprecedented exchange of population worldwide.

More than a million dead

The hatred that was fueled politically on both sides was discharged in the course of the division along religious dividing lines. In the first few months after independence, more than a million people fell victim to the violence. The consequences of this rift through the South Asian subcontinent can still be felt today in many areas of society, but above all in the politics between the Indian Union and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Refugees after the division of the subcontinent in India and Pakistan in 1947.
Literature has also repeatedly addressed the trauma of division. For example, in his novel "Train to Pakistan", Kushwant Singh succeeded in reproducing the political, cultural and social catastrophe in a unique and impressive way. He captured what was going on in the unbelievable, the atrocities in village communities that previously lived together peacefully, and among people on their way to a country that no one wanted to go to.

The consequences of the division in Punjab were particularly tragic. Above all, the fears of the Sikhs, which had not been taken into account in the partition plan, came true here. On leaving the colonial stage, the British reduced Indian society one last time to just two religious groups. Almost all Sikhs then left the Pakistani part of Punjab because they did not want to live in a Muslim-defined state. The division of the Punjab lost its cultural identity forever.

In the Indian part of Punjab, which was on the eastern border of the province, Delhi suffered from the exodus of 330,000 Muslim residents - only a few thousand Muslims remained in the city. At the same time, over 500,000 Sikhs and Hindus poured into the metropolis from Pakistan's Punjab. There were refugee camps in the center of the Indian capital well into the 1950s. In view of the dramatic immigration figures in the greater Delhi area, the government coped with the problems quite well by building uncomplicated housing developments. These still shape the urban geography of Delhi today and are reminiscent of the division.

In Pakistan, the 7.5 million Muslim refugees who have fled or emigrated from the northern Indian cities since the partition are perceived as a separate group and as a Muhajirs (Migrained). They mostly settled in the cities of Sindh province on the lower reaches of the Indus, especially in Karachi, where they soon became the largest group of the population, developed their own identity and demanded political representation.

In contrast to India, where mainly refugees from rural areas migrated to the urban centers of northern India, urban emigrants in Pakistan found refuge in a structurally more familiar environment. To a limited extent, there were options that arose from the circumstance of individual or collective previous histories - of course, such opportunities did not open up to many refugees.

Missing territorial unity of the new state of Pakistan

The lack of territorial unity did not bode well for the new state of Pakistan; its parts of the country in the west and east were too heterogeneous. In any case, Bengal regarded itself as a culturally and economically independent region. The political leadership, which was recruited from the elite of West Pakistan, saw it quite differently. When it came to the question of cultural and linguistic identity - the majority language was Bengali in the entire state, the official language was only Urdu in West Pakistan, spoken by a small minority - the conflict was to ignite for the first time in 1951.

Two decades later, the conflict escalated and resulted in the partition of Pakistan in 1971. The year before, the Pakistani military had put in a coup and canceled the previous elections, in which a Bengali regional party had won an absolute majority of the parliamentary seats. When unrest broke out in East Pakistan, West Pakistan sent troops to break the resistance. Between one and three million people died within a year. It was only when India intervened militarily that the way was clear for the establishment of the state of Bangladesh.

Kashmir as a bone of contention among the South Asian nuclear powers

In Kashmir, too, the political consequences of the division of British India can still be felt today. The Kingdom of Kashmir, whose population is predominantly Muslim but whose maharaja adhered to the Hindu faith, only declared its accession to the Indian Union after long hesitation. For a long time the Maharaja had toyed with the idea of ​​an independent Himalayan state with borders with Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China. Due to the demographic constellation, however, Pakistan also laid claim to the territory of Kashmir. The pressure on the Maharaja increased from both sides to decide to join one or the other state.

When the Indian government sent troops to Kashmir in 1948 to forestall a suspected preemptive strike by Pakistan, the first war broke out between the two successor states of British India. A ceasefire was reached through the mediation of the United Nations. A second war for Kashmir followed in 1965. Since 1972, an armistice line known as the "Line of Control" has separated the Himalayan region without reducing the potential for conflict.

The Indian government rejects the referendum established by the United Nations on the whereabouts of Kashmir. Given the current demographic conditions, it is not wrong to fear that it will be defeated by a huge margin. Instead, it regards the conflict as an internal matter for the two states concerned and forbids any interference by third parties.

The national self-image of the two large South Asian states is defined by Kashmir, which should not be underestimated. A unilateral renunciation of the region would be tantamount to political suicide - or the actual murder of the respective political decision-maker.

The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001 also gave the conflict in Kashmir an international dimension. Before and after that, there were always spectacular attacks in India with a presumed Pakistani-Islamist background - for example the attack on the Indian parliament building in December 2001 and the terror series in Mumbai (Bombay), in which more than 170 people were killed in November 2008 .

Due to the muddled political situation, calls for an independent state of Kashmir are emerging again. In 2010 there was a series of riots in the (Indian) Kashmir Valley by the "Quit Jammu Kashmir Movement" (Out of Kashmir and Jammu Movement). The Indian government succeeded in suppressing the unrest only through armed violence, which killed over 100 people.

The nuclear arsenal that both states have had at their disposal since 1998 also harbors the risk that, depending on the world situation, the Kriensenherd could develop into a supraregional conflict. This was particularly evident in the Kargil conflict in Kashmir in 1999, which could only be ended with massive US intervention. However, these have withdrawn as mediators under the administration of Barack Obama. The willingness to talk between Pakistan and India is not very strong at the moment, which shows how smoldering the wounds left by the division of British India in 1947.