‘Glad that India was partitioned’: Former foreign minister

Congress veteran and former foreign minister Natwar Singh (File photo: RAVEENDRAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Congress veteran and former foreign minister Natwar Singh (File photo: RAVEENDRAN/AFP via Getty Images)

IF India had not been partitioned, the Muslim League would not have allowed the country to function and there would have been more “Direct Action Days”, Congress veteran K Natwar Singh said in Delhi on Sunday.

“I am glad that India was partitioned,” said the former foreign minister at the launch of Rajya Sabha member MJ Akbar’s new book, Gandhi’s Hinduism: The Struggle Against Jinnah’s Islam.

“If India had not been partitioned we would have had Direct Action Days—the first we had during Jinnah’s (Muhammad Ali) lifetime was on August 16 (1946) when thousands of Hindus were killed in Kolkata (then Calcutta), and of course then the retaliation took place in Bihar where thousands of Muslims were killed.

“Also, it could have been impossible for the simple reason that the Muslim League wouldn’t have allowed the country to function,” he said.

The Muslim League, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had called on Muslims to engage in “direct action” in support of the creation of a separate nation.

On August 16, 1946, communal riots erupted between Muslims and Hindus in Calcutta in Bengal province of what was then the British India, and that came to be known as the Calcutta Killings or Direct Action Day. It led to sporadic riots, that eventually were known as the “week of long knives”.

To buttress his point on Muslim League, Singh gave the example of the Interim Government of India, formed on September 2, 1946, and how the Muslim League first declined to join the cabinet of the council’s vice-president Jawaharlal Nehru, and later became part of it only to “turn down” all its proposals.

“Therefore you can imagine this on a larger scale, if India was not partitioned, the Muslim league would have made things very very difficult for us to function. Also, the government situation (then) would have worsened by the week,” he explained.

Singh described Gandhi and Jinnah as two “great” and “difficult” persons.

“It would have been impossible to live with them. Because Gandhiji standards were very high and Jinnah’s temperament was so abrasive that I certainly wouldn’t have got on with him,” the 88-year-old said, adding that he must be the only one in the audience who saw Gandhi in flesh and blood.

He was of the view that it was Gandhi who pampered Jinnah on the persuasion of India’s last Governor General C. Rajagopalachari.

“In many ways, and it is my judgement, that Gandhiji pampered Jinnah. In 1944, Gandhi visited Jinnah’s house in Malabar Hill 17 times. But not once did Jinnah return his visits.

“Now why Gandhiji went there? I know because Shri C. Rajagopalachari ji pursued him to do so.

“Jinnah was a member of the Congress for many, many years, but when Gandhi came on the scene … Jinnah temperamentally didn’t fit in with his programme of non-cooperation and gradually parted ways. In 1928 the real parting took place. That is when Jinnah went to London to become a lawyer because he thought of a political future for himself,” he said.

Former Indian president Pranab Mukherjee, who launched Akbar’s book, it was a “well-written” and “deeply researched” work that could become an important reference to analyse the history of Partition.

“It (the book) very clearly demonstrates the essential spiritual secularism that Mahatama ji stood for and the divisive and the utilitarian colour that Jinnah gave to religion only to secure political ends.

“Also, it chronicles how Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress stood as a firm rock against the partition of the country till the very end,” he said.

Praising the book, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, who was also present at the event, said Gandhi’s statement that he would like to go to Pakistan on August 15 “was symbolic of the great pain that he had carried”.

It was not just about Partition, but Gandhi felt that beyond Partition “the relationship (between India and Pakistan) will be such that probably it will pain and bleed both the countries which proved to be so correct,” he said.

“Probably in history 70 years is not a very long time. Time will pass and we will learn by our own experiences. Probably we will do the right things after we have experimented with everything else. “We will realise that our co-existence is a possibility and a reality and is the only thing that is beneficial at the end of it,” Doval said.