Donald Sensing on the Partition of Iraq
Iraq to be partitioned confederally? Donald Sensing says, "I told you so" in February, 2003. At that time Sensing argued. "My bottom line analysis: Something close enough to democracy as we understand it is a reality now in the Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq. I think that the various factions among Iraqi exile groups and populations will try to set up a federal-type Iraqi government under the aegis of the American occupiers, but the attempt will ultimately fail."
Donald Sensing's remarks recalled one history's greatest might-have-beens, when the Partition of India divided a country which had been ruled for generations under the British Raj. The story of the Partition is interesting because it highlights the distinction between what one ought to be and what perhaps, had to be.
The seeds of partition were sown long before independence, in the struggle between various factions of the Indian nationalist movement, and especially of the Indian National Congress, for control of the movement. Muslims felt threatened by Hindu majorities. The Hindus, in their turn, felt that the nationalist leaders were coddling the minority Muslims and slighting the majority Hindus. ...
For years, Gandhi and his adherents struggled to keep Muslims in the Congress Party (a major exit of many Muslim activists began in the 1930s), in the process enraging both Hindu and Muslim extremists. (Gandhi was assassinated soon after Partition by a Hindu extremist Nathuram Godse, who believed that Gandhi was appeasing Muslims at the cost of Hindus.) Politicians and community leaders on both sides whipped up mutual suspicion and fear, culminating in dreadful events such as the riots during the Muslim League's Direct Action Day of August 1946 in Calcutta, in which more than 5,000 people were killed and many more injured. As public order broke down all across northern India and Bengal, the pressure increased to seek a political partition of territories as a way to avoid a full-scale civil war.
Right until 1946, the definition of Pakistan as demanded by the League was so flexible that it could have been interpreted as a sovereign nation Pakistan, or as a member of a confederated India. A few historians believe that this was Jinnah's doing and that he intended to use Pakistan as a means of bargaining in order to gain more independence for the Muslim dominated provinces in the west from the Hindu dominated center. ...
The actual division between the two new dominions was done according to what has come to be known as the 3rd June Plan or Mountbatten Plan. ... Massive population exchanges occurred between the two newly-formed nations in the months immediately following Partition. Once the lines were established, about 14.5 million people crossed the borders to what they hoped was the relative safety of religious majority. Based on 1951 Census of displaced persons, 7.226 million Muslims went to Pakistan from India while 7.249 million Hindus and Sikhs moved to India from Pakistan immediately after partition. About 11.2 million or 78% of the population transfer took place in the west, with Punjab accounting for most of it; 5.3 million Muslims moved from India to West Punjab in Pakistan, 3.4 million Hindus and Sikhs moved from Pakistan to East Punjab in India; elsewhere in the west 1.2 million moved in each direction to and from Sind. The initial population transfer on the east involved 3.5 million Hindus moving from East Bengal to India and only 0.7 million Muslims moving the other way. Massive violence and slaughter occurred on both sides of the border as the newly formed governments were completely unequipped to deal with migrations of such staggering magnitude. Estimates of the number of deaths vary from two hundred thousand to a million.
Nor did the divisions end there. East Pakistan was to secede to form Bangladesh in 1971. Returning to the Partition, one of the clerics (Churchill called him a "fakir") who did more than anything to kick out the Raj was in the end himself helpless before the ethnic suspicions that were unleashed by the British departure. Mahatma Gandhi was one of the victims of Partition. He was assassinated, not by the British Raj but by a Hindu over his defense of Muslim Pakistan.
Gandhi advised the Congress to reject the proposals the British Cabinet Mission offered in 1946, as he was deeply suspicious of the grouping proposed for Muslim-majority states — Gandhi viewed this as a precursor to partition. However, this became one of the few times the Congress broke from Gandhi's advice ... The partition plan was approved by the Congress leadership as the only way to prevent a wide-scale Hindu-Muslim civil war. ... On the day of the transfer of power, Gandhi did not celebrate independence with the rest of India, but was alone in Calcutta, mourning the partition and working to end the violence. After India's independence, Gandhi focused on Hindu-Muslim peace and unity. He conducted extensive dialogue with Muslim and Hindu community leaders, working to cool passions in northern India, as well as in Bengal. ... Gandhi feared that instability and insecurity in Pakistan would increase their anger against India, and violence would spread across the borders. He further feared that Hindus and Muslims would renew their enmity and precipitate into an open civil war. After emotional debates with his life-long colleagues, Gandhi refused to budge, and the Government rescinded its policy and made the payment to Pakistan. ... Gandhi thus broke his fast by sipping orange juice ...
On January 30, 1948, on his way to a prayer meeting, Gandhi was shot dead in Birla House, New Delhi, by Nathuram Godse. Godse was a Hindu radical with links to the extremist Hindu Mahasabha, who held Gandhi responsible for weakening India by insisting upon a payment to Pakistan.