The partition of India and the Indian bourgeoisie

Submitted by AWL on 23 August, 2017 - 11:42 Author: Colin De Silva

In August 1947, when  Britain left India, the country was partitioned, creating independent Dominions of India and Pakistan (now Pakistan and Bangladesh). In the process the provinces of Bengal and Punjab were also split. This article from 1947, by Ceylonese (Sri Lankan) Trotskyist Colin De Silva, discusses the stance on partition by the main bourgeois political groups in India — the Congress Party and the Muslim League. A terrible rupture and violence followed partition when 10-12 million people were displaced along religious lines.


The present political situation in India is governed by two powerful factors. These are the partition of India and the working out of the new relationship between the Indian bourgeoisie and the British imperialists Linked with them are the questions of the states and the relationship of the new regime to the worker and peasant masses.

The partition of India, so readily attributable to the Muslim League alone, was fundamentally due not to League politics but to Congress politics. The politics of Congress in relation to British imperialism was not the politics of struggle but the politics of settlement. And the politics of settlement inevitably fed the politics of partition in as much as it also left the initiative with British imperialism. The partition of India was the outcome of the surrender-settlement of the Indian bourgeoisie with British imperialism over the heads of and against the insurgent masses.

Pakistan is the product of the bourgeois abortion of the mass movement. The tragedy of the partition flows particularly from the declared objects of its architects. This gruesome cutting up of the living body of India on the one hand and of two living “nationalities” (the Punjabi and the Bengali nationalities) on the other was put forward as a solution of the communal problem on the one side and as a means of opening the road to freedom on the other. Both pleas have proved false. Partition has proved a means of reforging chains for the imperialist enslavement of the masses. In the other respect it has proved but a means of beguiling two states to thoughts of mutual war as the only means of canalising internal communal feeling away from civil convulsion.

The war, by the way, may yet come, (if indeed, it has not already come in Kashmir and Junagadh). But the civil convulsions have come meanwhile in catastrophic fashion. The partition of India has only rendered more acute a communalism which was entirely dissolvable without that operation. The attempt to erect communalism into separate states has only accentuated communalism in each state.

The unicommunal state is the natural end-in-view of communalist partition’s insane logic. It was not an accident that the Hindu Mahasabha [nationalist political group] began to gain ground after the partition. They were not self-deluded like Nehru or delusionists like Patel. They were entirely themselves — and Hindus against the Muslims and others. Congress simply could not compete against them with its own more covert brand of communalism except by steadily giving way to their pressure. Partition killed Ghandi [his assassin was linked to the Mahasabha] as certainly as it killed Lakhs.

The Nehru-Patel Government must bear the responsibility for his death in the far more profound sense of a false policy than of insufficient precautions. Until they recognise and acknowledge this, their tears will continue to be as pointless as their policies continue to be fatal and dangerous. You cannot kill communalism by fine words or even hasty deeds. The suppression of the Mahasabha and other frankly communal organisations will not kill communalism. But it will surely open the way to a reactionary attack on the left.

Governments which take special powers- to act against the right always end up by using them more vigorously against the left. The consequences to India of partition need hardly to be pointed out to [our comrades in] Bengal. Your own province, like the Punjab at the other end of India, is one of those whose living body has been carved up in order to facilitate the Raj-Congress-League settlement over the heads of and against the masses. [But] East Bengal is only an isolated outpost of Pakistan despite the fact of being Pakistan’s most populous province. The mutuality of killing in the West of India is therefore being matched for the moment with a mutuality of forebearance in the East. The question is: how long will it last?

The answer to this question depends on wider forces and developments than are contained in Bengal alone. The state of relations between the Indian Union and Pakistan will obviously govern the relations between West Bengal and East Bengal far more than the state of relations between West Bengalis and East Bengalis. But the urge for Bengali unity is deep, historically old, and cannot in the long run be denied fruition. For it cannot be that a people who fought one partition at the beginning of this century will allow another to become permanent towards the middle of it out of mere communal passion. In the long run, therefore, the urge to “national unity”' is bound to prevail over the present communal division.

The real task is to prevent the “national” movement for defeating the partition from feeding the chauvinist movement for re-absorbing Pakistan by conquest within the Indian Union (and vice versa). Those who on both sides of the dividing line are working for a genuine, i.e., voluntary, reunification have therefore to find a way of carrying forward that work without embroiling the Indian Union and Pakistan. How is this to be done?

Clearly not by aligning themselves with the reactionary expansionists on either side of the boundary. The task is the voluntary re-union of the Bengali “nationality” on the basis of its right to self-determination. It is only by grasping this point and working along this perspective that the lever of nationalism can be prevented from becoming an instrument of reaction and become an instrument of social progress. In this regard it is necessary to grasp also a further fact.

The reunion of the Bengali nationality on the basis of its right to self-determination is not possible except through the social revolution both in the Indian Union and Pakistan. In no other circumstsnces can the Bengali “nation” be free to exercise that right. But the social revolution in both the Indian Union and Pakistan can only mean a re-united India on a socialist basis.

The perspective therefore is: A soviet Bengal in a soviet India! Thus does the proletarian revolutionary programme alone lead to the fulfilment on a progressive basis of the aspiration both for an united Bengal (and Punjab) and for an united India.