‘British India’ - 66 years after independence: partition institutionalised

8 Septembre 2013

66 years after Pakistan and India declared their independence from the British on 14 and 15 August 1947 respectively, the partition of former British India seems to be institutionalised –is it? Analysis.

Independence Day in Pakistan | Crédits -- imitaz333/Flickr
Independence Day in Pakistan | Crédits -- imitaz333/Flickr
The Indian Independence Act of 1947 laid down the final conditions of the partition of British India. It foresaw the establishment of two separate states on 15 August 1947: India and Pakistan. Pakistan is an acronym for Muslim-majority provinces in British India - Punjab, the Afghan Border States, Kashmir, Sind and Baluchistan. Yet, Pakistan did not live up to its name in that the border established by the act divided the Punjab as well as Bengal. In addition, Pakistan does not control the whole of Kashmir as according to Clause 2,4, the Princely States were to accede to whichever ‘dominion’ they wanted to and the Hindu maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir decided to accede to India.

Kashmir – site of ongoing conflict

Pakistan today controls about one third of Kashmir – a smaller semi-autonomous region called Azad (Free) Jammu and Kashmir by the Pakistanis (Indians call it ‘Pakistani-occupied Kashmir’) and a larger, directly administered area, which includes the former kingdoms of Hunza and Nagar. Meanwhile India, which controls the other two-thirds, and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) both claim Aksai Chin (阿克赛钦) in the West of Kashmir. While the PRC holds that Aksai Chin is part of its Xinjiang Province, India retains that it is part of Jammu and Kashmir. For those reasons until 2010 Kashmir was recognised by the United Nations as a ‘disputed territory’, yet with the success of the Indian motion to remove Kashmir from that list, India has effectively achieved a ‘privatisation’ of the ongoing conflict.

The British drew the borders India and Pakistan in the cause of the decolonisation process mainly focussing on religious adherence as dividing criteria, yet instead of laying the grounds for a peaceful postcolonial partnership, the partition has been the cause of much grievance and conflict. Both India and Pakistan still have to come to terms with the legacies of the partition as they continue to fight over territory in the borders – most notably Kashmir. To this day, the status of Kashmir continues to be contested.

On 06 August the Indian army accused Pakistan of being responsible for the ambush of five Indian soldiers in the Pooch area in Jammu. According to the Hindustan Times, this incident will cast a shadow over a new set of peace talks between Pakistan and India to start later this month. Yet, the Indian government reaffirmed its commitment to the talks as according to the BBC the Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said in a press statement India did not wish to ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’. This is already second time that there are skirmishes in the borders between Pakistan and India. Just in January, two Pakistani and two Indian soldiers died in cross-border fighting incidents.

The ongoing fighting is especially worrisome given that both Pakistan and India are nuclear powers and among the five countries not participating in the 1970 Treaty on the Non –Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (the other countries being South Sudan, Israel and North Korea (which withdrew in 2003).

Conflict in the past

India justified taking over Jammu and Kashmir citing Cause 2,4 of the Indian independence declaration and the Hindu maharaja’s decision to accede to India. However, Clause 2,4 caused much controversy given that 77% of the population were Muslim, while Kashmir was also economically closer integrated into Pakistan. It is against this background of conflicting opinions about whom Kashmir should belong to and the traumatic mass migration movement, which accompanied independence and which led to the death of between 500,000 and 1 million people, that two months into independence war broke out in Kashmir.

As a result of the war, the United Nations got involved – its Security Council Resolution 47 formed the basis for future claims of Kashmir by Pakistan as it recommends the Indian government to hold a plebiscite on the question of accession under an UN Secretary General –appointed Plebiscite Administrator, which has not been held to this very day. India ‘s response to the criticism is usually that Pakistan has not fulfilled its part of the resolution either – the complete withdrawal of its troops from the occupied territory.

The peace agreement unfortunately was not that effective in that there were two more wars in 1965 and 1999. Quite another question is whether people in Kashmir actually would choose to accede to either one of those given that the movement for independence of Kashmir has grown in popularity in recent years.

The historical construction of statehood

Kashmir lies at the centre of the struggle for the historical construction of today’s India and Pakistan. Following the logic of Pakistani regime legitimacy, according to which Pakistan was a ‘Muslim state’, Kashmir should have belonged to Pakistan. The fact that it fell instead to India then dealt a heavy blow to Pakistan’s regime ideology since it could not claim to be representing the interests of all the Muslim-majority provinces of former British India. Pakistan inherited therefore a flawed regime legitimacy, which in combination with the inheritance of most of the Colonial army structures laid the basis for the frequent coup d’états and political instability in subsequent years.

India in contrast was founded as ‘secular’ state banning discrimination based on caste in its constitution – yet, social and religious aspects remain significant and can at times act divisive of Indian society. India continues to be rid by the contradictions between modernity and tradition. These contradictions were already present in the Second Round Table Conference, which was to draft a new constitution for Indian self-rule under British chairmanship.

Ghandi who represented the INC advocated a unified polytheist India, in which different religions were connected through ‘love and tolerance’, yet his imagination of the future India was based on traditional concepts like caste. In contrast, Dalit leaders like Ambedkar promoted the abolishment of caste fearing that if the INC was to rule India, there was no guarantee that discrimination on the grounds of caste or religion would not continue.
Ambedkar proposed to establish separate electorates for dalits and special safeguards for Muslims, to which Ghandi responded with going on an infinite hunger strike, as he believed that this would lead to the disintegration of ‘Indian society’. In the end, the two parties found a compromise in the Poona Pact.

Today what Ghandi feared seems to become reality as there has been a rise in communalism in recent years with the birth of movements for independence not just in Kashmir but also in Tamil Nandu and the Punjab. Did the 1947 partition of British India with its contested borders and its attempt to justify according to religion of the majority, therefore, - lay the cornerstone for today’s tensions in the region?