Why Ambedkar Supported Partition: Remarks on “Pakistan or the Partition of India”

Samidh Sadhu

All About Ambedkar: A Journal on Theory and Praxis, Volume 1, Number 2, September 2020

The book Pakistan or the Partition of India was written by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the chairman of a committee appointed at the behest of the Executive Council of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), at the entreaty of the said committee to prepare a report on Pakistan. The objective was to decide what attitude the ILP should adopt towards thez project of Pakistan envisioned in the Lahore Resolution of the Muslim League. Thacker & Company published the first edition of the book in December 1940. The second edition, in which was updated many supporting accounts, was published in February 1945, and the third edition came out in 1946. As the early editions, which were sold out quickly, indicate, the book drew the attention of many. To quote Ambedkar, the book had been “of service to the Indians who [were] faced with the knotty problem of Pakistan. The fact that Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Jinnah…cited the book as an authority on the subject which might be consulted with advantage bespeaks the worth of the book” (1-2). The present article is based on a close reading of Ambedkar’s text as included in Volume 8 of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, first published by the Government of Maharashtra in 1990 and re-printed by Dr. Ambedkar Foundation in 2014.

The book begins with a Prologue and an introduction. Then follow the general units of the book – the Muslim Case for Pakistan, the Hindu Case against Pakistan, What if not Pakistan (assessment of different alternatives to Pakistan and their feasibility), Pakistan and the Malaise (whether the social and communal problems are going to be solved by the creation of Pakistan), and Ambedkar’s own views on the problems raised by critics and his pragmatic strategies for Partition, closing with an Epilogue and richly informative Appendices.

Ambedkar begins by stating that the arguments for Pakistan need be brought into logical consideration and not dismissed summarily and ridiculously, since “it has behind it the sentiment, if not the passionate support, of 90 p.c. Muslims of India” (8). Hindus and Muslims must decide the question themselves. He proves that coercion to put down Pakistan is no solution, by quoting Edmund Burke on the futility of force and resistance. If the Indians were fighting for self-determination, they were to concede that none can be deprived of self-determination, the Muslims included. The supporters of Pakistan oppose the establishment of one Central government, and want one central government each for Hindustan and Pakistan. The contention of Pakistan must be solved before a new constitution for India is formulated, because if the Muslim provinces secede after the formation of the Republic, this will set in motion the other provinces’ urge for secession, with cultural antipathy between the different (Hindu) provinces and the disproportionate burden of Central revenues on them acting as catalysts.

The Muslim Case for Pakistan seeks:

(a) The creation of ethnically homogenous administrative areas.

(b) Of these areas, that which are predominantly Muslim, be carved into a separate sovereign state:

(i) because the Muslims by themselves constitute a separate nation and desire to have a national home, and

(ii) because the Hindus want to exploit their majority to treat Muslims as secondary citizens.

That the idea of linking the provinces in the north-west had been mulled by the Government many times in the past and that Bengal was once partitioned on communal lines in 1905 testify to the fact that the vision of the League is not as shocking or as unprecedented as the Hindu India claims it to be.

The Hindus accentuate on inhabitation of the same geographical territory, racial similarity, linguistic unity, and certain commonalities in social sphere between the Hindus and the Muslims to prove that the Muslims are not a separate nation and that a single nation – India exists, much owing to the fact that the Hindu was ashamed to admit, amid the numerous nations of Europe, that there existed no Indian nation and to the fact that the Hindu realised the existence of a nation would give its demand for independence more weight. But the commonalities are the result of mechanical causes – incomplete conversions and the effect of a common environment, and “the things that divide are far more vital than the things that unite” (36). Three points should be considered here. (i) The Muslims of India are an exclusive group, (ii) they have a longing to belong to their group only and not to any other group, and (iii) the history of India is one of animosity between the Hindus and the Muslims. All these validate the existence of a Muslim nation, and as such, their demand for Pakistan stands on some ground.

(In pic: Ambedkar with some of the members of Independent Labour Party founded in 1937. Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

Forming a nation requires no justification but a will to form a nation. Nonetheless, if Muslim grievances are asked for, there are plenty. They claim that “constitutional safeguards have failed to save them from the tyranny of the Hindu majority” (42). The Congress’ refusal to identify the League as the only representative of the Muslims (contrary to the norm of accepting him as the representative who wields the support of the majority) and to form coalition ministries with the League in the Congress provinces intensified the fear of the League that the Muslims would remain unrepresented or under-represented. Degradation of Muslims from the status of masters to the status of fellow-subjects had been effected during the British rule, and now they feared that they would be reduced to subjects of the Hindus.

The Hindus object to the scheme of Pakistan because they feel:

(a) It will break the unity of India,

(b) It will weaken the defence of India, and

(c) It fails to solve the communal problem.

The Hindus claim that the whole of the present-day India always existed as one. But, the fact is disputed, and though a somewhat vague idea of one land existed during the time of Huan Tsang, that is a historical fact and since the present situation is different, taking recourse to history is nothing prudent. Though following the Muslim invasion, the Muslims ruled over much of India, they were bent upon uprooting Hinduism and establishing Islam by any means – almost always violent. Ambedkar writes, “[t]his bitterness, between the two, is so deep-seated that a century of political life has neither succeeded in assuaging it; nor in making people forget it” (64). The north India (north-west, mainly) has been much “like a wagon in a train” or the “Alsace-Lorraine” of India, that has been repeatedly attached and detached to the rest of India (64-65). Moreover, “geographical unity…is no unity…[it] is unity intended by nature. . . a case where Nature proposes and Man disposes” (65). Administrative unity, too, is no unity, since it is unity for the time being. Thus, if no veritable unity exists, there is no question of it getting disturbed.

Regarding the apprehensions on the weakening of the defences due to the creation of Pakistan, there are three arguments. The first is that the creation of Pakistan leaves Hindustan without a scientific border. But, actually, (i) there is nothing called a scientific border, and (ii) India has none. Moreover, (iii) artificial fortifications as barriers are far more impregnable. The Hindus are worried over the question of distribution of resources, but the resources that Hindustan shall have are greater than what Pakistan will be having, considering in terms of area, population, or revenue.

The question of the Armed Forces is another concern. The Indian Army (in Ambedkar’s time) is largely Punjabi Muslim, raised by the tax mostly paid by Hindus. They are docile under the British but are most likely not to remain so under the Hindus whom they consider as inferior and are unlikely to repel any Muslim invasion on India from the West. The Hindus have a difficult choice to make: to have a safe army, or a safe border and the former being more important, thinking prudently, the Hindu should agree to the demand of Pakistan and upon being independent, raise its army from other parts of India which, by no means, wield inferior soldiers. That the British today recruits the Punjabis to the Army is no testament to the martial inferiority of other races of Hindustan, taking cognisance of the fact that the British used to recruit heavily from them at other times.

Now the question is whether Pakistan can solve the communal problem.

All demands of the Muslim League regarding separate electorates, proportional representation and a statutory majority of seats in the Muslim-dominated provinces were accepted in the face of opposition to the same by the Hindus. That the Hindus were handed a de facto statutory majority in predominantly Hindu provinces is no justification for granting Muslims statutory majority and thereby imposing permanent Muslim rule in predominantly Muslim provinces, since the Hindus were against this concept of statutory majority altogether. The Muslims knew that they had nothing to fear under a divided Hindu majority, while the Hindus had much to fear under a united Muslim majority. Thus, Muslim rule has already been imposed upon the Hindu minorities in provinces with a Muslim majority. Furthermore, according to Ambedkar, Muslim provinces were deliberately created when espoused by the League, as they perhaps felt it would give in the hands of the Muslims an option to tyrannise the Hindu minorities in its province, if Muslim minorities in Hindu provinces were tyrannised. Even if Pakistan is created, this problem would not solve, but amplify under the absence of a common central government.

This problem can only be solved if Pakistan be made a homogeneous state, devoid of any minority Hindu population. This can be done by (i) changing the borders and (ii) exchange of population. Though India cannot be made homogenous, the depreciation of Muslims would certainly put Hindus to a more advantageous state than they are now. The question is whether the two communities of Punjab and Bengal will agree to redraw boundaries. The Muslims should, if they want a more homogenous state. If they do not, it will mean that they want to tyrannise as many Hindus as possible. Many of the Hindus are unwilling to divide their provinces due to their selfishness – they are reluctant to relinquish their field of job. But, considering the larger menace of Muslim oppression, they should agree to the solution.

Then Ambedkar moves on to analyse the various alternatives to Pakistan and refuting them, beginning with the Hindu alternatives. The scheme of Lala Hardayal envisions – (i) Hindu Sangathan, (ii) Hindu Raj, (iii) Suddhi (conversion to Hinduism) of Muslims, and (iv) Conquest and Suddhi of Afghanistan and the Frontiers. It is largely problematic because Hinduism is not a proselytising religion, rendering conversion impossible. The immense financial resources the missionary scheme calls for cannot be realised from the Hindu businessmen. Also, the Frontier people and the Afghans are too staunchly Islamic to convert.

The Hindu Mahasabha, on the other hand, wants a Hindu Rashtra, grouping all religions that are Indian by origin as Hindu. Providing as much freedom and right to the Muslims as the Hindus, they want the Muslims to live in a state of subordinate co-operation with the Hindu nation, where the Hindus have more claim to the state. Here, the assertion that Hindus are a nation by themselves follows that Muslims, too, are a separate nation. But, as Ambedkar puts it, while Vinayak Damodar Savarkar allows the Hindus a national homeland, he deprives the Muslim nation of that. Again, questions can be raised as to how Savarkar hopes that, having sown the seeds of enmity between the two nations by unequal treatment, they shall thrive peacefully under one constitution.

Mr. Gandhi, however, strives to forge Hindu-Muslim unity at any cost. That has often made other issues so subservient that he has gone on to support many spurious issues and even condone Muslim aggression towards Hindus while wooing the Hindu sentiment for cow-protection with utter duplicity. The flare of communal riots in British India in the 1920s and 1930s prove the failure of the attempts. As the Simon Commission puts it, “the communal riots were a manifestation of the anxieties and ambitions aroused in both the communities by the prospects of India’s political future” when the British would depart (qtd. in Ambedkar 188).

Coming to the Muslim alternatives to Pakistan, if any, nothing is clear, although drawing on the Constitutional Reforms contemplated for the Dominions of the Nizam, the proposals formulated by Mir Akbar Ali Khan, leader of the Nationalist Party, and the Resolutions taken at the Azad Muslim Conference, a meeting of Muslims equally opposed to the League and the Nationalist Party, Ambedkar makes a few conjectures. These conjectures include (i) 50% reservation for Muslims in the Central and Provincial Legislatures, in the Civil Services, the Fighting Forces and all public bodies, (ii) mandatory consent of 2/3rd majority of Muslim members of the legislature on issues pertaining to Muslims and Islamic countries, and (iii) balancing one Hindu executive with another Muslim Executive. All these are not mere safeguards but instruments provided to Muslims to satisfy their ambitions of power and hand over the country to them.

Ambedkar, then, goes on to draw lessons from Turkey and Czechoslovakia, which “like India, harboured many nations and sought to harmonise them” (205). The various Christian peoples under the Turkish Empire, despite enjoying local autonomy, developed nationalist feelings and emerged independent. Arabs seceded from the Empire though they were bound to the Turks by Islam and were treated equally by them. The Slovak nationalism in Czechoslovakia was discontent even with autonomy, proportional representation, a separate constitution, a separate premier, and a slew of other safeguards – all generating a hyphen separating them from the Czech. But, since the same hyphen linked them to the Czechs, they detested it, the Slovaks wanted a bar and were content only after having it. Thus, the study shows no bond is able to withstand the forces of nationalism. There seems to be nothing to prevent Muslim nationalism from disrupting the Indian state. Tsar Nicholas I considered Turkey’s loss of territory as “the convulsions of a dying man”, but Arnold Toynbee views the same as “the removal of an anomalous excrescence and the gain of a new skin” (219-220). Therefore, Ambedkar is of the opinion, “The Muslim areas are an anomalous excrescence on Hindustan and Hindustan is an anomalous excrescence on them. Tied together they will make India the sick man of Asia…Severed into two, each becomes a more homogeneous unit…Separated, each can become a strong and well-knit state. India needs a strong Central Government. But it cannot have it so long as Pakistan remains a part of India” (220).

Then, Ambedkar moves on to discuss what he describes as ‘Pakistan and the Malaise,’ beginning with social stagnation. Social evils exist among both Hindus and Muslims – the subjugation of women, the caste system and untouchability etc. The Hindus and the Muslims have suspended the cause of removing these for their greater goal of battling with each other. “Pakistan liberates both the Hindus and Muslims from the fear of enslavement of and encroachment against each other” – the very basis of the perpetual struggle, and thus, Ambedkar argues, opens up the path of social reforms (248).

Social and political aggression marks the relation between the Hindus and the Muslims. The ever-growing catalogue of their political demands, most of which the British have conceded to, is a manifestation of political aggression of the Muslims. The Hindu Mahsabha’s inclement attitude to the Muslims is certain to block progress, while the Congress’ policy of tolerance to and appeasement of the Muslims and their demands, too, is problematic. Ambedkar writes, “the Congress has failed to realise…that there is a difference between appeasement and settlement, and that the difference is an essential one. Appeasement means buying off the aggressor by conniving at his acts of murder, rape, arson and loot against innocent persons who happen for the moment to be the victims of his displeasure. On the other hand, settlement means laying down the bounds which neither party to it can transgress” (270). For Ambedkar, the remedy for the malaise of communal aggression “…is a settlement. If Pakistan is a settlement, it is a proposition worth consideration” (270).

Regarding the goal of India’s political evolution, all major parties agree that it is Independence. But, on the “obligation to maintain her freedom…there does not seem to be the same unanimity” (272). A tenet of Islam justifies a Muslim’s following of the Islamic law and flouting of the law of the land when a conflict between the two arises. The Muslim Canon Law divides the world into Dar-ul-Islam (abode of Islam) and Dar-ul-Harb (abode of war). The Muslims who find themselves in a Dar-ul-Harb, land ruled by non-Muslims, can escape that by means of Hijarat (migration to Islamic areas) or Jihad (crusade). Islam recognises social and religious affinities (even, extra-territorial) to territorial affinities. Thus, tenets of Islam are incompatible with the coexistence of Muslims and non-Muslims in a democratic nation where they are on an equal footing, more so when Muslims view the non-Muslims as their inferiors. On the other hand, while the Hindus blame the British policy of Divide and Rule for the failure to achieve communal unity, the assertion overlooks the fact that the policy cannot succeed unless there are elements to make division possible. Causes behind Hindu-Muslim disunity are historical, religious, cultural and social antipathy, hence, irreconcilable. The Hindus, fearing Muslim Raj, actually wanted Dominion status, if it was not for other political compulsions. If India is divided into Hindustan and Pakistan, Hindus and Muslims will be able to choose what suits them best.

In Part V of the book, which was added in the second edition, Ambedkar addresses the questions put forth by his critics. The proposal for creating Pakistan could be/ had been refuted on the following grounds. First, it is difficult to accept Pakistan should be there because some Muslims want it to be and that a large number of Muslims are concentrated in some parts, while India has from time immemorial been one. Second, it is also difficult to accept Pakistan should be there because there are communal antagonisms, for such antagonisms are there in Canada, South Africa, and Switzerland and have not necessitated partition. Third, Muslims want Pakistan because they feel that they are a nation. But, only a few years ago they were a community only. If emphasis be laid on commonalities instead of differences, there might not be the need of a nation, and India may, in due time, become a nation. Even in Canada, South Africa and Switzerland, multiple nations live under the same constitution. Fourth, that Partition frees Muslims from Hindu Raj is totally flawed. Once Pakistan is realised, it cannot save Muslims living in Hindustan from Hindu Raj, if it takes place. In the territory that Pakistan shall lie, there was always a Muslim majority and no threat of a Hindu Raj. Moreover, only because one community is in the majority, and the other a minority, there need not be the tyranny of the majority. Canada, South Africa, and Switzerland prove it. Even they do it without any communal reservation of seats. This is possible because they have a ban on communal parties.

But the problem, according to Ambedkar, is that, very likely, the Muslims would not listen to the argument. Then, India must consider the risks it would face by not acceding to the demand of Pakistan. Given the Army is predominantly Muslim, it will be next to impossible to depend on them to put down an offensive for Pakistan. Again, if Independence is to be followed by a tumultuous time when each community will be plotting against the other in what will amount to some form of Civil War, then Independence becomes undesirable. To Ambedkar, “…it [would] be a folly to lose the part one can retain in the vain attempt of preserving the whole” (368).

However, for Partition to become a reality, the boundaries between India and Pakistan need to be delineated. The present boundaries of Sind, North-West Frontier and Baluchistan shall form Pakistan, with the Muslim majority areas of Punjab and Bengal. Thus, non-Muslims of Punjab and Bengal shall be excluded from Pakistan. But before the non-Muslims of other parts lie open two vistas – (i) safeguards in Pakistan, or (ii) migration from Pakistan. If Government liquidates the barriers to migration – taxation, problems with immovable property and currency exchange – then the transfer of population becomes easier. Ambedkar opines that migration be voluntary, but the scheme of State-aided migration be of a certain specified period, so that people are encouraged to migrate within that period, if they decide to migrate. This scheme of voluntary migration shall not burden the state exchequer much, since men hold dear their property and so, many will be unwilling to move.

The final chapter of Pakistan or the Partition of India contains a draft of the act that Ambedkar wishes to put forth to clearly settle the question of Pakistan, where referendum in districts of Bengal and Punjab has been espoused.

In conclusion, Pakistan or the Partition of India could be considered to be come kind of an appeal or pleading. Having analysed the demand for Pakistan, its oppositions, and arguments from all sides, it aims to present the possible solutions. To use the words of Ambedkar, he has “…adopted that prolix style so dear to the Victorian lawyers, under which the two sides plied one another with plea and replication, rejoinder and rebutter, surrejoinder and surrebutter and so on” (405). The material covered within the scope of the text is so vast that even Ambedkar concedes “it might well be called Indian Political What is What” (11). Indeed, Partition did happen, thus, in a way, proving Ambedkar right.

Nevertheless, in my view, Ambedkar’s observations could, theoretically, be questioned at least on three levels. First, as far his take on the antipathy between the Hindus and Muslims is concerned, much of the instances used by him come from the Middle Ages, or from incendiary speeches of some leaders, while equally compelling instances of harmony, such as those which emerged during the common struggle for Independence have not been granted enough room by Ambedkar. Secondly, that the Muslim League was predominantly a party of the Muslim landed gentry and that they were keen on maintaining the rights of the Muslim landlords has not been clearly stated, which if stated, could have had raised qualms in the reader before he/she accepted the League as the representative of the Muslims. Finally, Ambedkar states that even if the anxieties, grievances and demands of the Muslim League be proved hollow, they need to be accepted because the Muslims are too aggressive in pressing for it and will not give it up. Does it not mean that Pakistan needs to be granted on the principle of “might is right” which is opposed to the idea of democracy? Moreover, the use of the term “Muslim” for the proponents of Pakistan and the term “Hindus” for its opponents are a bit unsettling today, and so it was perhaps on those pre-partition days owing to the defect of pigeonholing it suffers from. Ambedkar was quite sure that the transfer of population would be “so small that there is no need to regard it as a problem at all.” But, it actually came out to be a grave tragedy with a burdening legacy. Ambedkar was very rational and calculative in his analysis and perhaps, standing at that point, it was impossible, not only for Ambedkar but also for anyone, to measure what Partition and the transfer of population would eventually amount to.

Works Cited

Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji. “Pakistan or the Partition of India.” Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, vol. 8, edited by Vasant Moon, Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, 2014, pp. 1-480.

Author Information

Samidh Sadhu studies English literature at Presidency University, Kolkata. Indian Writing in English and Partition Literature are his areas of special interest.

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