P.K.BALACHANDRAN | 15 AUGUST, 2021
Far reaching implications
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Saturday, a day before India’s 75th. Independence Day on August 15, that every year August 14 will be observed as “Partition Horrors Remembrance Day.”
“Partition’s pains can never be forgotten. Millions of our sisters and brothers were displaced and many lost their lives due to mindless hate and violence. In memory of the struggles and sacrifices of our people, 14th August will be observed as Partition Horrors Remembrance Day,” PM Modi tweeted.
“May the #PartitionHorrorsRemembranceDay keep reminding us of the need to remove the poison of social divisions, disharmony and further strengthen the spirit of oneness, social harmony and human empowerment,” he added.
These noble intentions however hide a communal agenda to keep the division between the Hindus and Muslims going by annually harking back to a horrible and eminently forgettable past.
Hindus and Muslims slaughtered each other in lakhs in both Punjab and Bengal on the eve of the carving out a Hindu-majority India and a Muslim-majority Pakistan in 1947. An estimated three million were forced to flee from one country to the other.
To be sure, partition is discussed and debated in great detail in academic circles in both India and Pakistan, and several well-researched books have been written on it. But the intention has been to get to the bottom of the cataclysmic event. These works have the noble aim of understanding a phenomenon so that it is not repeated in the future.
But when extremist politicians initiate discussions on the subject, and announce an annual event on it, the motivation is clear. It arises from competitive politics.
When the issue is politicized, it is bound to have wide domestic and international consequences. Internally, the revival of memories of the holocaust will cast a shadow on Hindu-Muslim relations, already much frayed since the citizenship issue came to the fore.
It will also further exacerbate the already embittered India-Pakistan relations. And it will be one more issue on which the Congress and the BJP will fight to the detriment of the nation.
It is clear that the immediate objective of this announcement is to reopen the wounds of partition and whip up communal passions and derive political mileage from it in the Uttar Pradesh State Assembly elections due in February-March 2022, and the nation-wide parliamentary elections in early 2024.
The Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, whose report card since it came to power in 2014 has been dismal, is poised to use a sharpened Hindu-Muslim divide in the coming elections. The idea will be to make the Hindu-Muslim issue the dominant one in place of the more pressing economic issues which will be raised by the opposition parties.
Though India and Pakistan fought four wars since the partition of British India in 1947 these wars were not fought on the communal issue but for territorial and geo-political reasons.
The two countries were actually quick to forget the horrors of partition. Almost immediately after partition India and Pakistan played five-day test cricket with the participation of enthusiastic spectators in five different cities in India.
But the Hindu Right, which had been discredited after one of its adherents, Nathuram Vinayak Godse, killed Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, began to raise the partition issue after it came to the political foreground in the 1980s. Condemning Gandhi and Nehru, both iconic figures of the freedom movement, became kosher in right wing circles. The subject of partition would be brought up to portray the Congress as the villain.
When the Citizenship Amendment Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of parliament), the Union Home Minister Amit Shah revived the debate on who was responsible for the partition of India. The Congress led by Gandhi and Nehru had divided the country on the basis of religion, Shah said.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP have for long been wanting Akhand Bharat" (an undivided India) that includes Pakistan and Bangladesh. Former BJP stalwart Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had written a poem on the eve of the partition of India exhorting people to work for "reuniting Bharat that lays partitioned".
In the fight between the BJP and the Right wing organizations on the one hand, and the Congress on the other, partition has been a constant and contentious issue.
The BJP had often gone to the extent of blaming Nehru and Gandhi for partition and excusing Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. L.K.Advani had hailed Jinnah as a “secular” leader. Jaswant Singh had written that Jinnah was “demonized”, while the real culprit was Nehru.
Although the BJP forced Advani to step down from party Presidentship and sacked Jaswant Singh from the party for speaking in favor of Jinnah, blaming Nehru and Gandhi for partition continued and will continue.
The Partition Horrors Commemoration Day event every August 14, will enable the blame game to continue as a hardy annual. The wounds of partition will be prevented from healing to keep the BJP in power.