ESSAY

Partition Horrors Remembrance Day: A Prime Minister determined to flout the nation’s consensus

Print edition : October 08, 2021

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: Shahbaz Khan/PTI

Union Home Minister Amit Shah paying homage at Kalyan Singh’s funeral in Aligarh on August 23. Photo: PTI

The subtext of the declaration of August 14, Pakistan’s Independence Day, as “Partition Horrors Remembrance Day” is to blame Muslims and the Muslim League for Partition. Narendra Modi wants to go down in history as the architect of a Hindu state. In this, he will fail.

Professor Hans J. Morganthau, one of the greatest philosophers on politics among nations and a recognised pillar of the school of realpolitik, pointed out a fundamental truth about democratic governance. “Without consensus no civilised political society can survive, without the consent of the governed a democratic government cannot survive in power.” The dissent of the governed “arises from the common foundation of consensus”. Those who equate that consent with the national consensus equate dissent from the consent with attack on the national consensus.

India’s national consensus was forged by the Indian National Congress. The Muslim League forged a pact with it in 1916 at Lucknow. The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) consciously and wilfully departed from the consensus, leaving the Hindu Mahasabha behind. It is the RSS which set up the Jana Sangh (1951), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, 1980) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, 1964).

Devendra Fadnavis, former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, said on October 16, 2017, that the RSS had an “upper hand”. He amplified: “Even for Atalji and Advaniji the last word was that of the RSS. They knew what the Sangh ideology expected and bent to it. There was no instance wherein the top leadership was defied.” It is the RSS which preferred Modi over Advani (Asian Age, October 17, 2019).

Advani had cooked his goose in Karachi. His comments on M.A. Jinnah were not made to impress the Hindu majority as a moderate. His role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid ensured his stature among Hindus, but it also ensured the alienation of Muslims. He went to Pakistan and wrote those words at Jinnah’s mausoleum on the advice of a Muslim aide, a notorious smart Alec. The RSS removed him as president of the BJP and made Modi Prime Minister. All this explains the psyche of that remarkable and loveable man, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whom the RSS dared not publicly hate once he was in power. Kewal Verma’s long interview published in the Sunday of March 16, 1979, reveals the man.

Morarji Desai and Charan Singh hated Nehru. Kewal Verma asked: “In the corridors of the External Affairs Ministry, there is still a portrait of Nehru, a rare thing in government offices nowadays. Some of your Cabinet colleagues never miss an opportunity to run down Nehru.” Vajpayee answered: “And I never miss an opportunity to pay tribute to Jawaharlal Nehru.” Vajpayee was defiant in his praise of Nehru.

Politically, India thrived on a consensus long before it became independent. The leaders differed on strategy, not on the nation’s ideals. In 1939, V.D. Savarkar broke the consensus by propounding the two-nation theory at the Ahmedabad session of the Hindu Mahasabha. On March 23, 1940, the All India Muslim League passed the Pakistan Resolution in Lahore. But the two main parties, the All India Congress Committee and the Muslim League, had no major differences on economic or social policy.

The partition of India excluded the League. The Union of India developed a national consensus crafted by Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi. The Sangh Parivar hated both. But realising the enormous appeal of Gandhi, it turned tail later and began owning up Gandhi (For details of the somersault, see A.G. Noorani: The BJP & the RSS; Leftword, 1992. It stooped to virtual forgery; see Chapter IV, pages 48-56).

Demolition decried

If there was anything on which the country was united, it was the BJP-RSS-VHP’s demolition of the Babri Masjid. In private even members of the vile trio would concede its vileness. It was condemned by the President, Parliament, the Supreme Court, the Prime Minister and the opposition. A statement by President Shankar Dayal Sharma, who had stood up to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, said on December 6, 1992: “The President, Shankar Dayal Sharma, has strongly deplored vandalism that has caused damage to the Masjid in Ayodhya and has observed that such acts are absolutely against the doctrine and practices of Hinduism and all other great religions. Those who have harmed the structure of the Masjid have caused injury to the centuries-old ethos of India nurtured and strengthened by the martyrs and great leaders of India’s struggle for freedom and national reconstruction. They have violated the rule of law, the tradition of India of mutual respect of all religions, and the basic tenets and values of the Hindu way of life.

Also read: Politics of history

“The President has requested the Prime Minister to initiate appropriate expeditious steps to uphold the rule of law, the maintenance of public order and protection of all law-abiding citizens. The President has appealed to the people to maintain peace and unity and cooperate with one another in curbing all anti-national elements.”

In his address to the nation on television on the very day that the Masjid was demolished, Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao said: “What has happened today in Ayodhya … is a matter of great shame and concern for all Indians.”

On December 16, 1992, both Houses of Parliament passed this resolution: “This House strongly and unequivocally condemns the desecration and demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya by and at the instigation of forces represented among others by VHP, RSS and the Bajrang Dal, which has caused communal violence in the country. Such an act of vandalism was carried out not only in violation of the orders of the Supreme Court but amounted to an attack on the secular foundation of our country.

“This House expresses its anguish at the happening and wishes to reiterate its resolve that it will ceaselessly endeavour to uphold the secular and democratic traditions of our country and for the maintenance of the rule of law.

“This House conveys its sympathies and condolences to all victims of the tragic incidents which have been caused consequent upon the sacrilege at Ayodhya and demands from the government all necessary steps to rehabilitate the affected people. It appeals to the people of the country to maintain peace and communal harmony.” (For the texts, see A.G. Noorani, edited, The Babri Masjid Question 1528-2003: A Matter of National Honour; Tulika Books; 2003; volume 24, pages 7, 29 and 44.)

Consensus flouted

For the very first time in its history of 75 years of independence, India acquired in Narendra Modi in 2014 a Prime Minister determined to flout the national consensus in his statement on the death of Kalyan Singh, who became Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh in 1991 resolved to demolish the Babri Masjid: He died on August 21, 2021, at 89. He presided over the demolition of the Babri Masjid. The day after he was sworn in, he took his entire Cabinet to the Masjid swearing to demolish it.

Modi’s condolence message to the family, formal and brief, would have been understandable. But these extravagant words reveal a lot. He said: “‘generations to come will remain forever grateful’ to Kalyan Singh for his contribution towards India’s ‘cultural regeneration’” (Ravish Tiwari’s report in Indian Express, August 22, 2021). The correspondent traced Kalyan Singh’s subsequent career as an “aya ram, gaya ram” after he fell out with Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999. He returned to the BJP ahead of the 2004 Lok Sabha election and left it ahead of the 2009 election, which he contested as an independent—with Mulayam Singh’s support. He returned to the BJP ahead of the 2014 election.

The correspondent noted: “His last hurrah, in a way, was his advice on U.P.’s [Uttar Pradesh’s] caste politics to the BJP’s general secretary Amit Shah that got the BJP 71 seats and helped Modi’s historic election victory.”

How BJP leaders ‘betrayed’ Kalyan Singh

Badey to badey, chotey subhanallah (The elder is admirable. The younger reveals the glory of God). Amit Shah’s tribute to Kalyan Singh is as eloquent as Modi’s. “I bow down to such a great and ideal life dedicated to the nation, religion and people,” said Home Minister Shah. “The country and the entire BJP family is mourning his death… the country has lost a true patriot… Babuji was such a huge tree under whose shadow the organisation of BJP flourished and expanded.” Kalyan Singh’s “tribute” to the BJP is eloquent in exposing the BJP leaders. I quote Kalyan Singh’s denunciation of the BJP’s top leaders charging them with betrayal in extenso as an historic document (A.G. Noorani, edited, The Babri Masjid Question, volume 2, pages 65-66.): “These leaders of the Sangh Parivar, including the Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, and the Union Minister, Murli Manohar Joshi, had kept him in the dark about their plans to demolish the mosque, he said. They had assured him that ‘kar seva’ at Ayodhya would be quite peaceful and symbolic but ultimately it ended with the destruction of the Babri Masjid.

Also read: An attempt to understand Partition

“Talking to newspersons here, Mr Singh said he was given assurances in writing by Swami Chinmayananda and the late Rajmata Scindia that the ‘kar seva’ would be peaceful and it was on the basis of their letter that he had given his affidavit to the Supreme Court. Even the observer sent by the court to look at the goings-on near the disputed site, Tej Shankar, had sent a report at 11.30 a.m. on the fateful day saying that the situation was absolutely normal. An hour later, however, the mob went berserk and the mosque came crumbling down. That was enough to gauge the mystery behind the Sangh Parivar’s plans to demolish the mosque, he said. Mr Singh also came out in defence of the then Central government led by P.V. Narasimha Rao, saying that the Central forces sent to Ayodhya were unable to move forward as the ‘kar sevaks’ had erected blockades in their way. To say that the Central forces were not properly deployed was incorrect. Only the human wall created by the kar sevaks had prevented the forces from acting.

“Security arrangements had been properly placed at the State level too but the police forces had been asked not to fire. All arrangements went haywire when the mob started moving menacingly towards the disputed structure, he said.

“He had owned moral responsibility for the demolition and had served a one-day prison term as he had no other way out. As Chief Minister of the State he had been forced to own up for what had happened but had expressed his displeasure to the BJP and RSS leaders who had betrayed him. Mr. Singh said, I had protested vehemently against the betrayal of the BJP and VHP leaders.

“Mr Singh said it was ridiculous to say that the State government was not making available the relevant records to the Centre as the BJP was a part of the present coalition ruling U.P. The Central government’s claim only showed that it had to hide something, he added.”

Kalyan Singh was rewarded for his fidelity by the BJP regime with the governership of Rajasthan. Kalyan Singh demitted the office in 2019. Stripped of immunity, he faced trial in the Babri Masjid demolition case. All the accused, Advani included, were acquitted.

Modi and Amit Shah’s tributes to Kalyan Singh reveal their outlook as clearly as Kalyan Singh’s statements over the years reveal the man. Connect the dots. What is one to say of the outlook of one who praises Kalyan Singh, as Modi did, and declares August 14, Pakistan’s Independence Day, as “Partition Horrors Remembrance Day”?

Modi’s Partition quote

The Hindu reported (August 16) what he said: “Partition’s pains can never be forgotten. Millions of our sisters and brothers were displaced and many lost their lives due to mindless hate and violence. In memory of the struggles and sacrifices of our people, 14th August will be observed as Partition Horrors Remembrance Day.” He added that the day would remind Indians of the need to “remove the poison of social divisions”.

“May the Partition Horrors Remembrance Day keep reminding us of the need to remove the poison of social divisions, disharmony and further strengthen the spirit of oneness, social harmony and human empowerment,” he tweeted.

Also read: The “unfinished business” of Partition

The Union Home Ministry also notified August 14 as Partition Horrors Remembrance Day in the Gazette of India after the announcement: “Whereas people of India while celebrating the ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ salute those sons and daughters of our beloved Motherland who had to sacrifice their lives during the partition of India.” The RSS wants to create Akhand Bharat.

But Modi has another objective. Modi knows that his prestige has declined, internationally and domestically. India had some “brilliant” Foreign Ministers; but it survived. To wit, Sham Nandan Misra, N.D. Tiwari, Bali Ram Bhagat, P. Shiv Shankar, and some others. The Chanceries of the Great Powers still remember them with awe among the Great ones who walked the floors with great majesty. Modi should cap them with Ram Madhav, The RSS’ highly ambitious, clumsily voluble Kissinger.

The Romans staged circuses when their fortunes were down. Modi palms off the people with slogans and celebratory weeks. The poor are told, almost in the manner of Marie Antoinette, “eat khakra”. But why did Modi single out August 14? Communal riots began in 1946, Bombay was racked with riots. So was Noakhali. Bihar was far worse. An inquiry was aborted. Gurmukteshwar had fierce riots in 1946. Early in 1947, Master Tara Singh stood on the steps of the Punjab Assembly building holding a sword. “Partition’s pains can never be forgotten.” But why pick on August 14 as the Remembrance Day? It is because Pakistan celebrates it as its Independence Day. The implication is obvious: the Muslim League, rather, the Muslims, were responsible for Partition. The subtext is the RSS’ formula—undo Partition and establish Akhand Bharat.

In a brilliant article in The Times of India on June 15, 1947, Sir Chimanlal Setalvad squarely blamed the Congress for Partition. “The cherished goal of boon of a united India had fallen into their lap, but they, by their own want of political wisdom, threw it out and made it beyond their reach.”

On July 29, 1946, at the conclusion of the meeting of the Muslim League’s Council at the Kaiser Bagh in Mumbai, its president, M.A. Jinnah, said in sheer sadness: “The League sacrificed the full sovereign State of Pakistan at the altar of Congress for securing the independence of the whole of India. They voluntarily delegated three subjects to the Union, and by doing so did not commit a mistake. It was the highest order of statesmanship that the League displayed by making concession.”

Selective revulsion

Modi’s revulsion at the sight of human blood is very selective. Maloy Krishna Dhar served the Intelligence Bureau for nearly three decades. He makes no secret of his partiality for the Sangh Parivar in his memoirs Open Secret (Manas Publication, New Delhi). K.N. Govindacharya could freely invite himself and colleagues to dinner at Dhar’s house. But human to the core, Dhar wrote: “L.K. Advani and his colleagues crossed the ramparts of history and generated passion that demolished an insignificant mosque, which was converted to a symbol of civilisational conflict between Hinduism and Islam that had taken roots in India for over 1200 years. History cannot be corrected by demolition. A civilisation cannot be rewritten by hatred.

“The recent Gujarat pogrom also rattled my bones. I wish there were some mad people like me to gather audio and video evidences of the scheme of minority annihilation by Narendra Modi, the third ‘lauha purush’ (iron man) from Gujarat. Anyway, history has the bad habit of re-running like a stuck film spool.” The word “minority” here means, of course, Muslim, which explains Modi’s indifference to the killing of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere.

In the atmosphere Modi has sprawled, you hear all kinds of themes never heard before from some quarters. On the very day Modi spoke, a judge of the Supreme Court, Justice U.M. Lalit, said, according to a report in The Times of India, August 15, that “the constitutionally mandated insulation of educational institutions established by minority communities from government meddling cannot be used as a cloak for ‘subversive’ activities”.

Such a comment would not have been heard formerly, least of all from a Supreme Court Judge. It reveals a certain outlook advocated by the Sangh Parivar. Justice Lalit must recuse himself from hearing any case which touches this aspect. He cited the protests in the Jamia on the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019.

Also read: Parivar & Partition

Returning to Modi’s comments on the Partition riots, it is dishonest to suggest that Muslims were the culprits in 1947 or later. Very many Muslims of Delhi tried desperately to return to India. Vallabhbhai Patel and Rajendra Prasad vetoed the proposal. Indeed, Patel wanted the Muslims to leave. He told the Emergency Committee of the Cabinet: “There was bound to be trouble if as a result of those Muslims not moving out, it proved impossible to accommodate non-Muslims refugees coming from the West.” (The Long Partition and The Making of Modern South Asia: Refugees, Boundaries, Histories; Penguin Viking, 2008; Rs.599. The author, Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali Zamindar, has a whole chapter on Hindu refugees from Karachi. This is a massive work based on primary source material including Cabinet minutes.)

Another excellent work by Prof. Gyanendra Pandey based on primary sources and great research is his long essay “Partition and Independence in Delhi” 1947-48; (Economic & Political Weekly; September 8, 1997; pages 2261-2272). Both are works free from any trace of bias. See also another fine article by Joya Chatterjee: “Secularisation and partition emergencies” in Economic and Political Weekly, December 14, 2013, pages 42-58.

To read them is to understand the greatness of Jawaharlal Nehru. We know of those vicious characters, many of them in his own party and Cabinet, in cold print. He fought them in “the market of ideas” and won. They are now fighting back with Modi as their leader. Are you surprised that the Sangh Parivar hates Nehru so fiercely?

It will not succeed. The country is strong at heart. But the conclusion is irresistible—Modi wants to go down in history as the architect of a Hindu state. In this, he will fail. History has a less comfortable place for him.

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