India

An Atlantic report

The Pathan of the North-West Frontier Province and the Bengali Moslem are both, according to Jinnah, potential members of Pakistan. What have they in common? They have the same religion, but racially they are totally different; they cannot understand each other's language; they dress differently, eat differently, and by reason of great differences in climate and geography are engaged in different occupations and forms of agriculture.

The rice-eating Moslem mopla of Malabar has far more in common with his Hindu neighbors than he has with the wheat-eating Punjabi Moslem. Only the most confused thinking could produce a two-nation theory in India, where there are dozens of distinct races and languages.

Jinnah, who is far from being confused in his thinking, knows all this. It is plain, therefore, that the Hindu-Moslem conflict should be seen, not as a religious one, but as a straightforward political and economic struggle for power, with the spoils of office as prizes.

Moslem rule

Moslem intransigence has perfectly comprehensible historical roots. For centuries before the British came, Moslems were the conquerors and rulers of India. Mahmud of Ghazni, Tamerlane, Baber, each in turn swept through the passes of the North-West, to sack and pillage the fertile plains of India, leaving behind them great pyramids of Indian skulls to bear witness to their military prowess. The lost splendors of the Mogul courts are not forgotten by Moslems. Although the Emperor Akbar, one of the ablest India ever had, was an eclectic ,in religion, it was in the main a Moslem administration that ruled the greater part of India for nearly 800 years.

Up to a century ago, Persian was the official language, and Moslems filled most of the minor official posts. Then, in 1835, Lord Macaulay's proposal to make English the official language was adopted. Moslems resented this choice, and withdrew from competition for public positions and the professions. Not until 1875, when Sir Syed Ahmed Khan founded the Aligarh College for Moslems, was their attitude of boycott reversed; but by that time they had lost ground irretrievably to the Hindus.

Moslems to this day are the weaker community financially and educationally. Of male Hindus, 14.7 per cent are literate, compared with 10.7 per cent of the Moslems; for women the percentages are 2.1 and 1.5 (1931 census). Separate electorates have merely accentuated communal differences.

Deadlock in Congress

Congress, and many of. the influential moderate leaders outside it (such as Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru and C. R. Rajagopalachariar) have for long endeavored to secure Congress-League agreement. Congress leaders realize that to obtain the unity of India which they desire, they will have to make considerable concessions to the Moslems. They point out that the federal form of government envisaged would afford opportunities for local autonomy in predominantly Moslem areas; but they refuse to hand over the Hindu minorities in those areas to the unfettered control of Jinnah and his followers.

Jinnah's growing power and prestige have only made him more obdurate. Would he have dared to go so far if he had not felt assured of outside backing - that is, from Britain? At all events, his attitude has caused Jawarhalal Nehru, the most modern and internationally-minded Congress leader, to declare that Congress will negotiate no further with the League under its present leadership.

Deadlock is complete; and if history repeats itself, the appropriate gesture for the British government would be to say that without agreement among the Indian communities, power cannot be handed over. But Britain cannot afford to repeat that time-worn bit of history now. Not only is the prestige of the Labor Government committed to the solution of the Indian dilemma, but the Indians themselves are in no mood to brook further delay.

The troubles in Indonesia (where the use of Indian troops to restore Dutch rule has greatly incensed Indian opinion) have lit a spark which Pandit Nehru has forecast will inflame the revolt of millions of colonial peoples against imperial domination.

The mutinies in the Royal Indian Navy and Royal Indian Air Force are no mere protests against pay or conditions but are political mutinies directed against foreign rule. It is significant that they started in the two junior services drawn from politically conscious sections. Unlike the Army, which is recruited largely from illiterate peasants of the so-called martial races, volunteers for the Navy and the Air Force have to be literate in English, a rare accomplishment limited to a mere one per cent of the population. The youths are mainly townsmen and acutely conscious nationalists. Whatever the attitude of her political leaders, the people of India are united as never before in vehement opposition to foreign rule.

What will Britain do?

If Britain backs Jinnah in his intransigence, she will be accused once more of utilizing the communal divisions to delay a settlement and final handing over of power. The conservative Pioneer of Lucknow says that if freedom for India is withheld for long, a revolution is inevitable. But what if Britain calls Jinnah's bluff? What if he is bluntly told that the question of Pakistan is not for Britain or Moslems alone to decide, but must be settled by the whole Indian people through their elected assemblies?

 

Britain's Labor Party, which championed India's freedom, has, since it came to power, gone little further than the Tories. Current pronouncements, while undoubtedly sincere, have been confined to the old formulas, with emphasis on the necessity for prior agreement among Indians, and warnings against attempts to secure results by violence. They have not dealt with the fundamental question of what the British government will do to break the stalemate.

Failure to grasp this nettle firmly has already led to suspicions that the leopard has not changed its spots, and that despite the change of government, Britain is still more interested in word-spinning than in action. Even the moderate and liberal sections of the Indian press speak of an "Anglo-Moslem conspiracy to keep India in perpetual subjection."

This unhealthy atmosphere could be dispelled at one stroke by an announcement that on a specified date all power would be handed over to those representatives of all parties who were willing to accept it. The prospect of a fait accompli of this nature would compel Jinnah to choose between ineffectual isolation and finding a compromise of some sort. It might not be lasting, but at least the subsequent squabbles could not be laid at Britain's door.

It is true that, in the long run, agreement between Indians themselves is the only guarantee of peaceful government and development. Under the new Constitution, India will be as free as Canada, and it will be for Indians to settle differences between themselves. But so long as there is doubt about Britain's intentions, communal differences will be accentuated, simply because each community wants to secure the best possible terms far itself before Britain "quits India."

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