India@75: some ‘if’ and ‘but’ thoughts - GulfToday

India@75: some ‘if’ and ‘but’ thoughts

BRP Bhaskar

@brpbhaskar

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian flags

Illustrative image.

India completes 75 years as a free nation next Monday. It was at midnight of August 14-15, 1947 that war-weary Britain pulled out of the Indian subcontinent after negotiating an agreement with the Indian National Congress and the All-India Muslim League.

Founded by A.O. Hume, a British bureaucrat, in 1885 with the proclaimed objective of bringing English-educated Indians close to the colonial rulers, the Congress soon became a forum where those seeking freedom from foreign rule came together.

MK Gandhi, who had fought for the rights of Indians in South Africa, on his return home in 1915, made the Congress his political platform. In less than 10 years, he transformed it into a mass organisation and launched civil disobedience campaigns under its auspices.

The All-India Muslim League was founded in 1906 by some influential Muslims to safeguard the political interests of the minority community. At its session, held in Lahore in 1940, it adopted a resolution calling for the creation of Pakistan as a Muslim homeland.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who led the League in the negotiations with the British, stuck resolutely to the Pakistan demand.

The Congress, committed to secularism, was, in principle, opposed to partition of the subcontinent.

“Over my dead body,” Gandhi said at one point. With communal tension building up and no formula acceptable to both the parties coming up, the Congress and Gandhi agreed to Partition.

The population of India in 1947 was around 400 million. The general rule the British followed was to allot each Muslim majority province to Pakistan. The large Punjab province and Bengal presidency were divided. The western part of Punjab and eastern part of Bengal, both Muslim majority areas, were allotted to Pakistan.

The Partition scheme made Pakistan a country with two parts separated by 2,000 kilometres of Indian territory.

The Census of 1951 put Pakistan’s population at more than 75 million, of which more than 33 million were in the West wing and about 42 million in the East wing.

In that year India had a population of 361 million, of which 35.4 million were Muslins.

The Partition riots led to heavy loss of lives. Neither country has an official count of the dead. Unofficial figures vary from 200,000 to 2 million. In 1971, the 25th year of freedom, an election divided Pakistan. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s National Awami League, making an almost clean sweep of the East wing’s seats secured an absolute majority in the National Assembly.

The Prime Ministership of Pakistan was now rightfully his. But neither the Army, which was wielding power, nor Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, leader of Pakistan People’s Party, the West wing’s largest party was ready to concede power to Mujib. In talks with the military ruler, Gen. Yahya Khan, he refused to give up what he had won through the ballot.

Mujib’s arrest and the army crackdown precipitated a civil war in the East wing. East Pakistan ultimately became Bangladesh.

Where there was one big colony earlier, now three were three free nations, all fairly large by world standards.

India is celebrating its 75th anniversary under a government led by a party, which did not exist during the colonial period and cannot, therefore, claim to have made any contribution to the freedom struggle.

The Congress underwent many changes after India gained Independence. It wielded power for 54 of the 75 yeas. Members of the Nehru-Gandhi family led the government for 37 years. Now in a bad shape, the party is trying to stay afloat under the fourth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

Pakistan spent several decades under military rulers after six coups.

It is interesting to speculate how different things would have been if the Congress and the League were able to agree on a formula which permitted them to work together.

Going by their current population of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, undivided India would have had a population of 1929 million.

Interestingly, in 1971 Bangladesh was more populous than Pakistan. Today Pakistan is more populous than Bangladesh.

Ultimately, what matters most is quality of life of the people. Every nation can help improve people’s lives by following a policy of “live and let live.”

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