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Responding to Ishtiaq Ahmed’s latest myths about partition

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

My Original Article in Daily Times

Ishtiaq Ahmed’s Part I in response to my original article published today.

First of all, I cannot be bothered to dedicate my weekly space in Daily Times to engage in an endless back and forth with Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed who – as he knows very well- I have a particular opinion of not just because he wages pseudo-history as revenge (in a country where everything from democracy to judiciary is waged as revenge) but because when confronted with a counter-point of view he resorts to the usual: “I am the foremost political science professor trained in democracy and the authors you quote– like Ayesha Jalal and H M Seervai – have no training in democratic thinking or constitutional theory”.  Indeed I would not wasted this space had Ishtiaq Ahmed not  resorted to ad hominem.  So this is essentially a response to his personal attack in an “article” published in today’s Daily Times.

Whether Congress demanded partition of Punjab and Sikhs seconded it or whether Sikhs demanded partition of Punjab and Congress seconded it is a point entirely irrelevant to the point I made in my article i.e. partition of Punjab and Bengal was imposed on the Muslim League – a point that Ishtiaq Ahmed has been unable to controvert. For Ishtiaq Ahmed’s information: V P Menon, later Nehru’s closest confidant, had prepared a scheme as early as 23 January 1946 which sought to partition Punjab and Bengal and the partition that finally happened was to the dot based on that scheme.  This much is clear from Menon’s letter to George Abell of the above dated. It is serialized at No. R. 205/46 and contains an enclosure titled “Demarcation of Pakistan areas” with “Most Secret”. For a careful researcher like Ishtiaq Ahmed isn’t it a bit odd to have left out this very important piece of evidence that connects Congress to the partition plan long before Ishtiaq Ahmed deems it so? This predates the Cabinet Mission Plan.

In respect of what Congress and League could have done to keep India united, his entire point when stripped off his personal insults against me was that a consociational government was not possible because of trust deficit.  Again his research is problematic.  The Cabinet Mission Plan did for implementation did not require Congress and the Muslim League to give up their differences and trust each other but for a brief period till the constitution was in place.  Maulana Azad, Sarat Chanderbose and several Congressmen were on board with the idea.  It was Gandhi and Nehru who took the wind out of the idea.  They also insisted on partition of Punjab and Bengal even when Bengal was ready to go its own independent secular way. The “coalition” government formed in September 1946 comes after the burial of the Cabinet Mission Plan and was not a coalition government; it was an “interim government”. In fact it was called an interim government.  Surely Ishtiaq Ahmed – as the great political scientist and expert on constitutional theory- knows the difference between a coalition government and an interim government. An interim government encompasses varying interests – often working at cross purposes- to preside over the formation of permanent political system either through constitution making or elections. This is why interim governments are not called coalition governments. They are not meant to function as coalitions.

The dangers that Ishtiaq Ahmed claims the Cabinet Mission Plan was fraught with are not really there. The 10 year out clause does not figure in the Cabinet Mission Plan. That was a demand that was not finally placed in those terms. There was absolutely no mention of 10 year secession in the Cabinet Mission Plan! This view is confirmed by Ayesha Jalal (who according to Ishtiaq Ahmed is not a well trained scholar) on page 196 of the Sole Spokesman Sange Meel Reprint 1992:  “But there was no mention of the right of secession from the union. All in all the 16th May statement contained evidence of greater deference to Congress standpoint, hinting to Jinnah that perhaps he had missed the bus”.

The second point: Consider how Pakistan and India dealt with Princely India. Princely India was to be part of the federation and would be giving three subjects including foreign affairs and defence to the Union. Therefore no question of what Ishtiaq Ahmed says arises in the least. To think that the fourth group could carry out a policy in contradiction to the rest of India is stretching. However the most important thing – it is must be emphasized – is that Congress did not raise any of the points raised by Ishtiaq Ahmed, so his post hoc excuses for why the Congress could not agree to Cabinet Mission Plan were not stated by the Congress itself.  Unless Ishtiaq Ahmed thinks he can guess what Gandhi and Nehru were thinking, historical record suggests that Congress accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan but tried to undo its clauses by making a fuss about what the grouping clause actually meant. Even after Cabinet Mission clarified what it meant, they continued to insist on it.  Wavell’s famous meeting with Gandhi and Nehru in this regard is an eye opener. At the end you had the two great infallible saints of Ishtiaq Ahmed’s Pantheon of Gods pleading “but we are lawyers”.  Such was the sophistry of the Congress position.

Unable to counter my points logically – he lashed out against me calling me a hagiographer and a defender and Knight Templar of the two nation theory.  I will quote a paragraph from my article and let the reader decide if this is the defence of the two nation theory:

“Ironically, Jinnah, the ultimate villain in Doctor Ahmed’s reckoning, had pleaded for exactly that. He told Mountbatten that a Hindu or a Muslim was a Punjabi or a Bengali before he was Hindu or a Muslim. This indicates a complex understanding of nationalisms and sub-nationalisms on the part of the Quaid-e-Azam.”

This is no defence of the two nation theory.

In comparison Ishtiaq Ahmed’s insistence that Congress seconded and not initiated the demand for partition of Punjab after Sikh is itself evidence enough of his soft corner for Gandhi and Nehru.  Pakistan’s tragedy is that we are caught between hagiographers and ideologues. On the one hand you have Safdar Mahmood who speaks of an Islamic Quaid-e-Azam who might even have been a Deobandi partitioning India in the name of Islam and on the other hand you have people like Ishtiaq Ahmed – willing to give Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru a clean chit while denigrating Jinnah.

Neither of these narratives are historically accurate and must be countered for the progress of Pakistan and indeed a stable relationship between India and Pakistan.  I hope Ishtiaq Ahmed- for the sake of his reputation – comes up with something more concrete than deliberate obfuscation in the second part of his response to my solitary article.

The views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not represent the position of all editors, authors at PTH.

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