Saturday, December 02, 2006

parition again

In this New Yorker piece, George Packer quotes the Democrat John Murtha saying:
Also last week, on National Public Radio, Representative John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who was an early supporter of withdrawal, casually offered that, if Iraq were to fall apart in the wake of an American departure, “I don’t think it’ll be any worse” than the partition of the Indian subcontinent.
Hello, Partition claimed more than a million lives. And that's "worse" than what's going to happen in Iraq? If so, anything "better" than it would still be bad indeed. Representative Murtha has strange standards.

But then Packer himself makes another mistake:
A million people are estimated to have died in 1947 during the movement of Muslims and Hindus across the newly drawn India-Pakistan border. Sixty years and several wars later, the two countries confront each other in a nuclear standoff, trade charges of subversion, and periodically exchange fire in the Kashmiri Himalayas.
The deaths apart, this somehow seems to imply that had there not been a partition, we wouldn't be facing these problems. But then what exactly would we be facing? As history makes clear, Partition could only have been avoided by making Simla Agreement-style concessions. An earlier plan proposed by the Cripps Cabinet Mission was that India would remain united but the provinces would have something almost like complete autonomy. The central government would be weak and would only deal with issues of defence and foreign policy. More than that, it suggested that provinces in India be grouped closely on religious lines, particularly the Muslim-majority ones. The poisonous notion of separate electorates was also to stay. Narhar Kurundkar compares this arrangement to the Edict of Nantes : a pact that was so structurally crippled that it could never hold.

This was not a model of India that anyone in the Congress could ever entertain. A weak central government, autonomous religion-based provinces, separate electorates: these would all lead to a state within a state and a sure recipe for a bloody civil war in India. A civil war, that perhaps, would make the humanitarian disaster of Partition seem like nothing. It might make our current conflicts with Pakistan seem like nothing. In 1947 a united India could only mean a country that was seriously crippled by an unworkable political arrangement with a very good possibility of succumbing to chaos. Darfur or Rwanda, anyone?

Partition was ultimately a pragmatic choice. The violence that erupted and the millions that died can't be forgotten but the kind of India that arose, with a strong central government, no separate electorates with no Muslim-majority provinces was something that allowed us to focus on the task at hand: India's development and a decent standard of life for its citizens.

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