Partitioning India: Its Consequences for Punjab

Partitioning India: Its Consequences for Punjab
May 29, 2015

Information Technology University (ITU) was proud to host a lecture by Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed titled Partitioning India: Its Consequences for Punjab. Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed is a distinguished political scientist, author and scholar. He is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Stockholm University and a Visiting Professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He is also an Honorary Senior Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies in the National University of Singapore. He has written extensively on the politics of South Asia and published several books including The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed: Unravelling the 1947 Tragedy through Secret British Reports and First-Person Accounts. During his talk, Dr. Ahmed gave a balanced view of the partition and the events leading up to it.

Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed discussed in detail the fight between Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs over the Punjab of British India, which held religious and cultural significance for all of them. He gave examples from his book and recounted interviews from survivors and eyewitnesses of 1947. He mentioned an eyewitness account, which stated that at the Muharram iglas (rally), usually Muslim and Hindu communities used to walk together. However, at the turn of the 20th century, the nationalist wave started sweeping through India. It also affected Punjab and religious revivals began there. Muslims and Hindus who previously used to live together and share culture and space were forced to set up categories.

Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed mentioned that Punjab is a by-product of the partition of British India and perhaps, without violence there would have been no partition at all. The widespread violence occurred because “demonization and dehumanization of the other” started taking place. Dr. Ahmed also declared, “Don’t run down Gandhi. He had a lot of flaws but at the end of the day, he was one of the biggest benefactors of Muslims.”

Dr. Ahmed discussed the partition in terms of human rights, ethnic cleansing and nationalism. He talked about the boundary issues of Pakistan during partition and addressed the famous controversy that Lord Mountbatten had favored the National Congress over boundary demarcations. He said that the Radcliffe award was not unfair and it had supported the Pakistani position. He commented that the Radcliffe Award was remarkably similar to the 7th May Wavell demarcation document with one minor change. Mountbatten had noticed that on the original Wavell document, Amritsar was on its own and indefensible as it jutted out on Muslim majority areas so he gave India the area of Gurdaspur as well. Dr. Ishtiaq commented, “Whether he did this for the Indian National Congress or not – we will never know. History can only speculate.” Dr. Ishtiaq has addressed this controversy more fully in his book.

Dr. Ishtiaq encouraged questions from the audience and he answered several interesting questions including what would have been a more peaceful means of partition. Answering this question, he said that the British had to leave India. After the Second World War, they were bankrupt and they could not afford to pay their troops any longer but the partition could have been done more peacefully. Dr. Ahmed had found records that show that the Governor of Punjab had requested 20,000 British troops at that time to manage the partition peacefully but he had been given none. He just had the Punjab boundary troops and they were both under-armed and under-manned. Overall, it was a bad position to be in.

The lecture was widely attended by faculty and students. At the end of the event, Dr. Nizamuddin, Chairman of the Punjab Higher Education Commission, and Dr. Yaqoob Khan Bangesh, Director of the Centre for Governance and Policy, presented him with a shield of appreciation for his talk and Amjad Saleemi, Treasurer of ITU, gave him a gift on behalf of the university. Dr. Ishtiaq also invited students to the launch of the Urdu translation of his new book Punjab ka Batwara: Aik Almiya Hazaar Dastaaney at the Lahore Press Club.