This evenhanded history of the appalling slaughter at the India-Pakistan Partition of 1947 puts the blame squarely on the incendiary rhetoric of the two opposing leaders.
Hindus and Muslims (and Sikhs and Christians) living tolerantly together for centuries on the subcontinent faced down their colonial oppressor, Britain, only then to turn against each other at the moment of liberation: How could this have happened? Singapore-based Asia editor for Bloomberg View Hajari sees a chasm in understanding between the two sides replete with “their own myopic and mutually contradictory version of events, which largely focus on blaming the other side or the British for provoking the slaughter.” The author begins his dark chronicle in the last year before the British transfer of power, when Viceroy Archibald Wavell passed his “breakdown plan” to the president of the Indian National Congress Party, Jawaharlal Nehru, the Anglophile leader of the dominant Hindus and ally of Gandhi who fiercely believed that a multiethnic India was fundamental to the new nation’s identity. Nehru’s intractable nemesis, the equally urbane English barrister Mohammad Ali Jinnah, head of the powerful Muslim League, was “prideful, biting, uncompromising,” and he scorned Nehru’s offer of a token position in the Hindu-dominated government. By 1940, Jinnah had envisioned “Pakistan” (acronym for the combined Muslim-dominated provinces of Punjab, tribal Afghanistan, Kashmir, Sind and Baluchistan) as allied with the British. Yet as the two sides dug in and the rhetoric escalated (Jinnah periodically calling for “Direct Action” while dismissing Gandhi’s nonviolent tactics), so did the sectarian bloodshed, rolling westward, from the Great Calcutta Killings of August 1946 to the Punjab, Delhi and Kashmir. Hajari skillfully picks through this perilous history of mayhem and assassination of biblical proportions, which has left a “deadly legacy” of paranoia, terrorism and hatred between India and Pakistan 70 years later.
A carefully restrained and delineated account makes for chilling reading.