‘Nehru’s Principles Made Partition Unavoidable’

Nisid Hajari’s book Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Par-tition explores 1947 in new light. Speaking with Srijana Mitra Das, Hajari discussed Nehru, Jinnah, Mahatma Gandhi – and the moment when mod-ern jihad began:

What led you to research Partition?

It grew out of my Newsweek work. I’d been overseeing international cov-erage from 2001-2010, encompassing Afghanistan’s war. I kept getting asked in the US, why does Pakistan accept aid from America and still sup-port the Taliban?

If you’re from this region, you understand how Pakistan views the world, where India is a central threat and anything to combat that threat makes sense. It seemed important the story of how Pakistan developed this worldview – which begins at Partition – be retold now.

Your research shows a new Nehru – adamant on power, undeterred by possible Partition?

Nehru was a man of principle. But he probably stuck to principle a little too closely. Before Partition, there were moments for political compromise – he found it very hard to make these. He stuck to a principled, hard line – which made it impossible to avoid Partition.

That was preferable to him than sharing power with Jinnah. I don’t think Nehru wanted power for himself but he wanted strong central government. If you gave autonomy to so-called Pakistan areas, then what would happen to Hyderabad? Or Kashmir?

Did Jinnah surprise you?

Yes. First, Jinnah was modern, secular, a strong nationalist. The turn he takes in 1937, when he becomes a Muslim nationalist, is disturbing. To build his base, he starts accepting things he wouldn’t have tolerated before.

I don’t think Jinnah ever wanted riots – but he couldn’t impose his vision.

Isn’t Mahatma Gandhi’s reported statement, about letting India have a bloodbath but no delays on freedom, startling?

It’s a famous quote though. Gandhi was an amazing figure but as a politi-cian towards the end, i’m not sure he was the most helpful. He perhaps didn’t quite appreciate his words’ impact. For instance, after Noakhali’s riots, Gandhi said people shouldn’t retaliate, they should shame oppressors – this inflamed less principled Hindu figures, who used this for riots.

Critical of RSS and Sikh groups then, are you apprehensive of reac-tions now?

I’m aware this could be controversial. I strove to be accurate and fair – but hiding’s no good. If you don’t acknowledge facts, don’t understand how the other side might view things, you can never move forward.

While you describe Nehru’s good friendship with Padmaja Naidu, you refer fleetingly to Edwina Mountbatten – why?

Any romance doesn’t seem to move until Edwina’s left India. I didn’t want to imply an affair somehow influenced how the British dealt with India.

But British officials did advise Jinnah on Kashmir?

A British general prevented Jinnah from sending troops there when India had sent theirs.

Doesn’t that moment show today’s jihad politics – using non-state ac-tors – beginning?

Yes, it began right then. This strategy was created and they’ve persisted with it.

There was talk of a summit, a political solution, between India and Pakistan but Nehru cancelled – Jinnah then decided to support insurgency covertly.

Then, it becomes clearly state-sponsored. —-Courtesy The Times Of India

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