This book is the first study of political and legal thinking about the partitions of India and Palestine in 1947. It explains how these two formative moments collectively contributed to the disintegration of the European colonial empires and unleashed political forces whose legacies continue to shape the modern politics of the Middle East and South Asia. The chapters in the volume, authored by leading scholars of partition, draw attention to the pathways of peoples, geographic spaces, colonial policies, laws and institutions that connect them from the vantage point of those most engaged in the process: political actors, party activists, jurists, diplomats, writers and international representatives from the Middle East, South Asia and beyond. Additionally, the volume investigates some of the underlying causes of partition in both places, such as the hardening of religious fault lines, majoritarian politics and the failure to construct viable forms of government in deeply divided societies. Finally, this book analyses why, even seventy-five years after partition, the two regions have not been able to address some of the pertinent historical, political and social debates of the colonial years. It moves the debate about partition away from the imperial centre, by focusing on ground level arguments about the future of postcolonial India and Palestine and the still unfolding repercussions of those debates.
The chapter has several aims. First, it argues for an entangled history of partitioned political spaces, and suggests that we should trace back the idea of partition to the interwar years and locate it in a British imperial context. It is argued that the idea of partition emerged as a colonial management tool for maintaining and controlling religious and ethnonational differences within the Empire, but adapted to the post-1914 language of self-determination. Second, the chapter places the Palestine and India partitions of 1947–48 side by side and proposes that, from this vantage point, the 1947–49 war in Palestine would be better understood as a war of partition. Finally, the chapter concludes that neither in India/Pakistan nor in Israel/Palestine did partition prove to be a practical solution as its architects announced it to be.
How does a partition of land between ‘nations’ that inhabit a single colonial territory seem like a sensible solution in 1947/48 British India and mandate Palestine? This chapter suggests that the sociology of colonial knowledge provides some answers. The colonial construction of unitary, fundamentally defined, but politically governed communities occurred over different time spans but in similar ways in both regions. Within this broad formulation, this chapter examines the history of legal governance, and the representational practices that codify and actualise this colonial sociology. British adjudication and laws replaced local authorities and systems of governance in socioreligious groups. This replacement was a complex and negotiated process between the British authorities and the local elite. It occurred over a longer period in India than Palestine, but followed similar processes in Palestine emanating from the British experience of governing in India. In addition, British colonial authorities in both regions looked at the development of political ‘representation’ of important social groups in their administration, by organising various power-sharing arrangements. The chapter suggests that in the process of legal administration and political representation, multiple ‘fuzzy’ religious groups of the early colonial period were forged into highly nationalised, singular religious communities at the time of devolution and partition. Seeing these processes comparatively elucidates British colonial legalities and highlights the common nature of these processes and links across colonial territories.
This chapter looks at how the partition of Palestine in November 1947 was understood by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. In what ways did Islamist forces in the Arab world, foremost among them the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, attempt to respond to what was perceived as a major infringement of the religious rights of all Muslims in the world to a sacred land? What were the repercussions for Islamist movements in the decades following partition with regard to the calls of the Brotherhood to resist the division of Palestine? Using little-exploited diplomatic archives (American ones in particular), this chapter demonstrates the central role of Islamist movements in triggering a broad Arab reaction to the division of Palestine. It also highlights the centrality of Palestine in the Islamist imagination and how it influences the sociology, composition and evolution of the forces of political and radical Islam.
Nehru’s preference for a partitioned India but a federal Palestine
P. R. Kumaraswamy
While the acceptance of a communal partition in the Indian subcontinent was a collective majority decision of the Indian National Congress Party, Jawaharlal Nehru (prime minister of the interim government since September 1946 and of free India from 15 August 1947) was the architect of the federal plan for Palestine. His approach towards colonial situations and partition as a possible solution to communal problems in India and Palestine highlighted his dichotomy between pragmatism necessitated by the politico-territorial immediacy of the Indian condition, and moral posturing facilitated by geographical distance. Having achieved independence through communal partition, he was urging the Jews and Arabs of Palestine to coexist under one political authority through accommodation and cooperation. The federal plan was not only a sign of Indian naivety regarding international diplomacy, but also a reflection of its duality; political pragmatism was confined to the subcontinent while moral eloquence was visible and useful elsewhere. The duality towards the two partitions was compounded by the uncritical adulation of the federal plan by various Indian scholars and writers.
The introduction compares and contrasts the decisions taken by the British Government and the United Nations to partition India and Palestine in 1947 by drawing attention to their timing, which occurred within months of each other. The chapter then traces the etymology of partition to earlier imperial divisions in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, portraying partition as an imperial continuum. The similarities in British administrative policies in India and Palestine are then considered – identifying colonial subjects by their socially constructed religious identities – and attention is drawn to the provenance of both places as holy lands. The role of institutions, such as the League of Nations and the United Nations, in partition, are then considered, as well as the influence of external powers such as the USA and the Soviet Union. Finally, the introduction summarises the contributions in the chapters that follow.
Personality, prestige and strategic vision in the partition of India
Scholars have debated whether the contemporaneous partition policy in Palestine and India indicates that partition was a British policy agenda at the end of empire. This chapter argues for a more nuanced view. Mountbatten is blamed by some for imposing partition with its ensuing human tragedies. However, when he arrived in India on 22 March 1947 as the last Viceroy, he still hoped to resurrect the Cabinet Mission proposal of the previous year which envisaged a post-imperial order of a united India, albeit one with a weak centre. Documentary evidence overwhelmingly suggests an official reluctance to divide and quit India. Strategic connections between partition in India and Palestine were far less clear cut than scholars have asserted. Partition in both instances could, however, be seen as a means to extricate Britain from conflicts that threatened national prestige and aspirations to retain defence and economic interests after decolonisation. Expectations of ‘neocolonial’ power foundered both on the unanticipated aftermaths of partition in India/Pakistan and Palestine and on Britain’s diminished postwar economic and military power.
More than seventy years after its cataclysmic enactment, the partition of India continues to loom large on the subcontinent’s political horizon, scarring relations between, as well as within, the nation-states of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. More than just an event, partition is an ongoing process with neither end nor beginning that continues to structure the postcolonial South Asian experience. An institutionalised form of dividing and disconnecting, partition has been the founding myth of postcolonial nation-states and ferrets out people, communities and linguistic cultures that were once historically indivisible. If there are multiple slippages, elisions and contestations in narratives about the great divide that occurred seventy years ago, there are strange silences about its constant re-enactments in the postcolonial nation-states of South Asia. This chapter revisits the demand for Pakistan as envisaged by the All-India Muslim League and its leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and points to the multiple elisions and distortions in interpretations that have crept into the contending state narratives of India and Pakistan. More than three decades ago I had shown that Jinnah’s aims had been different from the final outcome of 1947. A more balanced understanding of the historical dynamics in the final decades of the British Raj not only points to alternative conceptions of sharing power, but also dramatically different ways of dealing with its effects on politics and everyday life in the South Asian subcontinent.
The 1947 United Nations Special Committee on Palestine
This chapter examines the history of the 1947 United Nations Commission on the future of post-mandate Palestine, which ended in a split between one constituency supporting partition and another promoting a federalist future for a unitary Palestine/Israel – a division not only on the fate of Palestine itself but on the role the UN would play in the postwar world. The proposal for a federated unitary state – supported, notably, by the Commission’s India representative and prepared by the subcommittee’s Pakistani chair – represented an alternative vision for the future of Palestine, but also a different and more limited vision of the state-making capacities of the newly formed UN. In the course of the Commission’s negotiations, then, Palestine emerged as a locus of arguments about internationalism, sovereignty and external governance; and the UN’s eventual decision for partition in 1947 represented a step towards a more interventionist state-building strategy for the ‘Third World’ whose ramifications would go well beyond Palestine itself.
Since its emergence in 1947, the state of Pakistan has grappled with the challenge of constructing a national identity that either supersedes or incorporates various markers of linguistic, regional and ethnic identity. Following the partition, Pakistan literally had to create a new Pakistani identity among individuals who, on the one hand, lacked a sense of ‘sameness’ with others inhabiting the territorial boundaries of the state, and, on the other hand, continued to share linguistic, regional, ethnic and religious identities with people across the border. This chapter examines how regional, caste and linguistic identities, which have a transnational dimension, relate to, are reshaped by, and resist, the Pakistani state’s attempts to shape a national identity and notion of a shared past. It focuses specifically on the province of Punjab, which was partitioned between India and Pakistan. The aim is to demonstrate how alternative imaginations of the self and community in films, songs and ballads respond to and challenge the state constructions of nationhood. Particular focus is paid to the popular portrayal of two rebellious figures – Maula Jatt and Dullah Bhatti. Regional, caste and linguistic identities in Punjab are not, however, approached in this chapter as primordial and unchanging. Indeed, the act of ‘partitioning’, and the subsequent displacement of people, gave rise to conceptions of loss, displacement and separation which, in turn, shaped notions of identity.