Nisid Hajari’s Narrative of India’s Partition Leaves Much to be Desired
India’s partition, or the last bloody gift of the not so benevolent British rule, is one of those events that echo through history and haunt the present. You cannot understand the geopolitics of the region without understanding the precipitating event that lead to the birth of the two countries.
I started reading Nisid Hajari’s Midnight’s Furies on the partition of India, because of the glowing reviews it had received. I have made it up to a hundred pages so far. To say that it is flawed doesn’t even begin to cover my annoyance with Hajari’s narration. My critique is based on the first 100 pages of Furies and his essay on India’s partition. Here are the reasons why:
1. The moral equivalence between the case for a pluralistic India vs. an exclusionary Pakistan based solely on religion.
2. Gossipy narration worthy of supermarket tabloids, to wit, Nehru liked buxom women, well him and a majority of the male populace. This hardly counts as an insight or even an interesting factoid.
4. Getting the basics wrong, like the meaning of Satyagraha.
Satyagraha is literally soul force.
It is literally not. “satya” = truth “agraha” = insistence. In other words, Satyagraha is the insistence on truth no matter the consequences. I can almost imagine Yoda-Gandhi saying to Skywalker-Nehru,
May the soul force be with you.
BTW. what is RSSS? Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is usually abbreviated as RSS not RSSS
5. Flowery language, top heavy with adjectives.
Several of the Muslim conquerors who had dominated India before the British had brutalized their defeated Hindu foes, massacring thousands and demolishing their flower-strewn temples.
What does this even mean? I have been to several temples, they are seldom flower strewn, the only flowers one usually finds are on the deity behind the altar.
6. Criticizing leaders of the past based on their followers in the present.
Equally troubling was the moral cover the Mahatma granted his longtime followers Nehru and “Sardar” Vallabhbhai Patel — a Gujarati strongman much admired by Modi, who also hails from Gujarat and who served as the state’s chief minister for over a decade. Echoing Gandhi’s injunction against pushing anyone into Pakistan against their wishes, Nehru and Patel insisted that the huge provinces of Punjab and Bengal be split into Muslim and non-Muslim halves, with the latter areas remaining with India.
Considering what happened to East Pakistan in 1971 and the travails of Pakistan’s other minorities, Patel and Nehru’s actions seem particularly prescient. I also have no idea what Narendra Modi has to do with any of this.
7. Too much focus on personalities, too little on the events and imperatives, not to speak of the history, that lead to the partition. Some background into the formation of the Muslim League would have been helpful. Shorter Hajari, If the main personalities in the conflict got along better, everything would have been fine. This approach strikes me as ahistorical and wrong. You cannot expect to understand the events of 1946-47 if you have no idea what went on before. Jinnah’s personal history including the difficult relationship with the Congress leaders, is not enough to understand the demand for Pakistan.
8. I have saved the best or should I say worst of all, leaps of logic that leave you scratching your head, like blaming the leaders of the Indian Independence Movement for the mess that Pakistan is currently in.
But however exaggerated Pakistan’s fears may be now, Indian leaders bear great responsibility for creating them in the first place.
So are the ghosts of Gandhi, Nehru and Patel compelling Pakistan to perform self destructive deeds from beyond their grave?
However, I do have to give Hajari’s book credit for making me want to dig deeper about the history of the partition and case for Pakistan. While doing that I came across a better narrator, B. R. Ambedkar, the father of the Indian Constitution. Ambedkar like Jinnah had locked horns with Gandhi on several occasions and they did not see eye to eye on many an issue. So, Ambedkar is as close to a neutral party as one can get in this saga, who was also an eye witness and a participant to the major political struggles that ultimately led to the division of India.
B. R. Ambedkar’s remarkable commentary on the case for Pakistan written was written in 1940, it is hosted on Columbia University’s website. Ambedkar, an alumnus of Columbia besides being a prolific writer was an economist and a lawyer by profession. My thoughts on Ambedkar and his commentary has to wait for another post.