Lord Curzon ignited the spark of partition of India (1905)
60 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE Anand MOHEEPUTH www.lexpress.mu
India celebrates its 60th anniversary of independence this week and Pakistan the 60th anniversary of its creation. Pakistan was carved out of the Indian Territory to form a separate state for Indian Muslims with the unequivocal support of the British. Indeed, the idea of partitioning India did not emanate in the 1940s at the height of communal violence when India was pressing hard for independence. Nor could it be said that Mohammed Ali Jinnah described as “Quaid-i-Azam” or “Great Leader” was the first initiator of partition resulting in the creation of Pakistan. The man who sowed the seeds of communal division and mooted the idea of partition was Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India, way back in 1905. That was the time when Indian nationalism, spearheaded by the Indian National Congress, was fast gathering momentum but, fortunately for the British, the frenzy of nationalism touched mainly the intellectual class whose action was limited to mere rhetoric. The large Indian masses were still kept out of the mainstream of that fervour until Gandhi strode on the stage in the 1920s and roped them in. Lord Curzon took fright by the spirit of nationalism manifested by Hindus and Muslims alike. Realising that a display of patriotism could spell troubles ahead in India, he set in motion the divide-and-rule tactics, which the British so skilfully deployed in the imperial days. That was one way, he felt, of ‘assisting the Indian National Congress to its peaceful demise’. The Nawab of Dacca, Salimmullah, a rich landowner, was picked up like a puppet to vindicate claims and press for the share of the Muslims. By trying to woo the Muslims and agreeing to make concessions, while at the same time inflaming Hindu sentiments, Curzon dashed into pieces the unity of the Indian people. Even Gandhi, though hailed as having hastened the downfall of the British empire, later failed to mend the terrible fissures. The first move of Curzon was thus to resort to the partitioning of India with the creation of the state of Bengal as a homeland with a Muslim majority, detached from India and making Dacca its capital at the expense of Calcutta. The British therefore hoped to bring about “a unity of Mohammedans of Eastern Bengal, a unity, which they had not enjoyed since the days of the old Muslim Viceroys and Kings.” So, when the people of Bengal woke up one fine morning of October 16, 1905, they were shocked to learn of Curzon’s partition scheme.
No communal intention at face value
But Curzon’s plan taken at face value did not smack of any evil or communal intention. It looked quite innocent. Yet it was cunningly laid out under the cover of an overhauling exercise of the administration of Bengal, which with its population of 78 million was found “unquestionably too large a charge for any single man”. The proposed detachment of Bengal from India and investing it with Muslim rule came as described by Nayana Goradia, author of Lord Curzon: last of the British Moguls, “like a bombshell upon an astonished public”. The nationalist leaders, among whom Aurobindo Ghose was the most outspoken and virulent critic, feeling “insulted, humiliated and tricked,” began organizing mass protests boycotted and burnt British goods. Not a day passed without agitators staging violent demonstrations against the British, demanding in particular the resignation of the Lieutenant Governor of the Eastern province, Sir Bampfylde Fuller, and threatening to tie a garland of old shoes round Fuller’s neck if he did not resign. When Fuller’s resignation came from popular pressure, Salimmullah showed how true and loyal a servant he was by organizing a mass rally of 30,000 Muslims at Dacca where a resolution was passed deploring Fuller’s resignation. From then on, the wedge in the relationship between Hindus and Muslims driven by Curzon kept widening and developed in a vicious and unparalleled circle of hatred. Salimmullah finding a fertile communal ground to breed launched, with the support of Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan of the Aligarch group, a platform for Muslims to voice their strident calls for separatism.
Showering blessings and promising safeguards
Thus, in December 1906, the Muslim League saw the light of day. The new Viceroy, Lord Minto, showered his blessings, promising the Muslims safeguards and protection of rights. Minto went further in what was viewed as a treacherous act. He endorsed the principle of separate electorates, which the Muslim League was to use as a plank to arouse the tide of communal feelings. In a retaliatory move, the nationalists decided to strike at the root of the British power. As Dr Rafiq Zakaria has pointed out, among those who publicly denounced the British and the Muslim League for the ‘harm’ that would eventually entail to the Muslim population was none other than Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a protégé of the firebrand Congress leader, Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Although the scheme for the partition of Bengal was revoked in 1911, the simmering mistrust between Hindus and Muslims was kept at boiling point and the Muslim League, after a comatose existence in the 1920s, was given a fresh lease of life in the 1940s when Jinnah, the staunch Indian nationalist and a Congress leader early in his political career, having shed his erstwhile ideological baggage used it as a platform to milk thoroughly his “religion-based politics” and advocate a “Two Nation theory.” Jinmah’s problem in the Congress started with the advent of Gandhi and the latter’s quick ascendancy in the 1920s with the support of mass politics overshadowed all the senior Congress leaders. The two men saw things from a different angle. Furthermore, the frequent clashes between Jinnah and Nehru and Gandhian loyalists like Maulana Azad, on the other hand distanced Jinnah from the Congress fold and threw him in the lap of the vindictive Muslim League he had so bitterly condemned on account of its communal agenda. The partition of India in 1947 with the creation of Pakistan as a separate homeland for Indian Muslims, though celebrated with joy by Churchill (he hugged Mountbatten warmly for that) for having shattered Gandhi’s dream of ruling over the whole of India was not Jinnah’s brain child. It was Lord Curzon who had shaped in a way Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan. The credit should go to Curzon for having been the inspiring genius of the partitioning of India in 1905.