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The false dichotomy between Partition remembrance and Indian ethos

Vijay Chauthaiwale writes: Pratap Bhanu Mehta's argument that a remembrance of the horrors of Partition is somehow against building a modern, just India, is not only baseless but also a skilful 'whitewash project'.

Written by Vijay Chauthaiwale |
Updated: August 26, 2021 7:19:51 am
The core of his argument is that India has chosen a path of freedom, democracy and progress, forgetting Partition.

Imagine a situation: In a joint family, a baby is born and on the same day, the eldest and most respected person in the family is brutally murdered. While everyone will still celebrate the arrival of the newborn, will do everything to nurture him/her in the best possible way, will anyone argue that in this celebration, everyone should simply forget the murder — not even mourn, forget about wiping the tears, of close ones in the family?

This is precisely what Pratap Bhanu Mehta is trying to argue in his column, ‘At 75, will India embrace the logic of freedom or Partition?’ (IE, August 15). He doesn’t want us to shed a tear for the deceased. The primary fallacy of his argument is the choice between freedom and Partition, which essentially means denying history. The operative word in the subtitle “or” means, somehow, we Indians were given a choice between freedom and one side opted for Partition while the other opted for freedom. On the contrary, history states that freedom and Partition were offered to India as a “package deal”. There would not have been freedom without accepting Partition. Partition was the pre-condition for India’s freedom, the condition which India’s top leadership in that critical period accepted for one reason or another. Therefore, Mehta starts his argument on the wrong foot from the very first sentence and continues to do so till the end.

He continues “mission whitewash” with his skilled vocabulary and selective, convenient historical references. He also has selective amnesia when he doesn’t mention “Direct Action” by M A Jinnah on August 16, 1946, which resulted in the genocide of Hindus, culminating in the greatest migration of population in modern history, that can be compared only with the ISIS-induced migration a few years back. Unfortunately, there was no live TV coverage in 1946, but images and first-hand accounts of those affected by the violence and migration are vivid enough to understand the gravity of the situation. However, Mehta conveniently ignored this.

The core of his argument is that India has chosen a path of freedom, democracy and progress, forgetting Partition. He would like India to forget the deaths of millions of innocent Hindus and Sikhs, the uprooting of more than 15 million people, caravans of walking migrants that stretched hundreds of miles, trains arriving in Delhi filled with dead bodies, not to mention the rape and molestation of thousands of women.

But Mehta doesn’t stop here. He concludes that remembering the tragedy of Partition is somehow antagonistic to the development of a modern, progressive, all-encompassing India. Going back to the hypothetical point at the beginning of this article, he would like to say that if we mourn the tragic murder in the family, we would forget nurturing a newly-born infant. This is convoluted logic.

Post-Independence history shows that liberals like Mehta repeatedly tried to use this trick. On the one hand, they ignored the massive human tragedy during Partition, opposed any reasonable inquiry into the reasons for it and errors committed during that period. On the other hand, the same cartel played vote-bank politics by creating a fear psychosis in the minds of minorities, especially Muslims. By opposing the elimination of repressive customs like triple talaq, they further hindered social transformation among Muslims.

Therefore, Mehta’s argument that a remembrance of the horrors of Partition is somehow against building a modern, just India, is not only baseless but also a skilful “whitewash project”. He doesn’t want to face an inconvenient truth and would like to shrug it off under the guise of progress and development. As if, once we forget Partition, India would instantly overcome all her socio-economic issues. But history gives us precisely opposite lessons. Repeated attempts to wipe out these memories by liberals have resulted in vote-bank politics, corruption, dynastic loyalties, a denial of inconvenient chapters of our history, and converting India into a soft state, devoid of self-confidence and a nation with a confused identity.

In the last few years, India has been making concerted efforts to overcome this defeatist mindset. Today’s India is not shy of accepting past errors and that too without playing a blame game. Horrific scenarios created by the same defeatists at other instances such as the elimination of Article 370 or building the Ram temple in Ayodhya were proven wrong, reflecting the new and positive mood in today’s India. While doing so, India has also embarked on a long journey of progress — Atmanirbhar Bharat, social justice, lending a helping hand to those who need it most, systemic reforms in every sector — resulting in it becoming a resilient and self-confident nation.

Indian values teach us to be grateful to every animate and inanimate object that has contributed to our personal and social lives. Once a year, we offer few drops of water to all our ancestors, worship rivers and trees, salute the martyrs of our country on Republic Day. The declaration of August 14 as “Partition Horrors Remembrance Day” follows the same tradition.

Today’s India is confident enough to recognise past errors, not whitewash them. It is willing to remember the victims, pay tribute to them and move on to build a modern, progressive and resurgent India. These two are not contradictory as Mehta would like us to believe.

This column first appeared in the print edition on August 25, 2021 under the title ‘What India must remember’. The writer is in charge, Foreign Affairs Department, BJP. Views are personal

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