Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"Divide or Fall?" by Radha Kumar--Chapter One

Well, the "few days" between posts is now over a week. I will make every effort to pick up the pace.



In many ways, this chapter is an extended consideration of the same themes and examples from the paper (by the same author) I considered a few posts ago; Kumar considers the colonial and post-colonial development of the "divide and rule" and then "divide and quit" British policy in Cyprus, Palestine, Ireland, and the Indian subcontinent, and then compares and contrasts those situations to contemporary Bosnia. In order to avoid redundancy, it would be easiest to redirect readers to this post where I summarized Kumar's arguments.

However, regular reader Owen was correct to question some of the views I incorrectly ascribed to Kumar (who I also, to my great embarrassment, identified as a "he" for reasons I don't understand--my sincere apologies for the confusion). My review was rushed and sloppy, and therefore did not accurately convey some of the nuances of her analysis.

To be more specific, I either implied or directly stated that it is Kumar's thesis that partition causes war, specifically in the case of India/Pakistan. Owen was correct to question this reading, and he was right--and I need to set the record straight right now. Kumar clearly knows the chronology far better than I do; her thesis is that ethnic partition fails to prevent war, and in fact makes the outbreak of violence all the more likely. Conversely, she does not argue that communal conflict necessarily leads to partition--Owen noted that partition in India had been discussed as far back as at least 1940, and had been largely agreed to by the leading Muslim and Hindu parties, respectively. This is also true, and Kumar goes into more detail on this history in the first chapter.

The colonialist heritage of ethnic partition is crucial to understanding Kumar's argument, and I hope I at least managed to convey that much. I must admit I have done her views, and the first chapter of her book as well as the previously considered paper, a disservice so far. I will try to redeem myself in the next post, which I will try to write before another nine-day gap has passed.


Anthony said...

With respect to Cyprus, the British did not attempt a division strategy. Rather, they tried to keep Cyprus whole and independent, with minority protections. It failed.

In Ireland, it is true that the British divided the country. But one could argue that there were economic reasons to do so. Religion was important, as the Catholics for a long times were disenfranchised, but religion also can be overstated. Many Irish Home Rule leaders were Protestant (Parnell the most famous example).

The failure of the Home Rule movement was not really a religious issue but economic. What is today Northern Ireland was then a heavily industrial place whose prosperity relied on ties with Great Britain and with the Empire. What today is the Republic of Ireland was then a heavily rural and pastoral place. Much opposition to Home Rule was a concern that the Home Rule government would be dominated by rural interests.

In any event, the war that broke out in Ireland after independence was unrelated to partition but rather a war between supporters of the Free State settlement and those who wanted a Republic free of any tie to Great Britain -- it would have happened even if there was no partition but the other provisions of the settlement remained.

With India, the issue is more complex. As pointed out, partition had been discussed for some time. One could argue that partition was a bad thing, as it broke apart economic and cultural connections that had existed for hundreds of years (if not longer). It created pockets of tyranny (i.e. Kashmir) in India, an otherwise democratic state. It helped create undemocratic conditions in Pakistan. If the country was not portioned, it might have created a second Moslem democracy (after Turkey) in those regions that were heavily Moslem.

On the other hand, one could argue that partition did not go far enough. India was in many ways a hodgepodge of states that were not really connected, except though outside empires (the Moguls then the British). At the very least, Pakistan and Bangladesh should have been split.

In any event, one cannot clearly state when partition is good and bad. Even when it is a proper solution, you can never draw the border perfectly.

I look forward to the rest of the analysis (you read books so I don't have to!)

Owen said...

I think "agreed by both" gives a misleading impression of the degree and timing of agreement on partition. Partition was a project that was impelled by Jinnah and the Muslim League. The Congress Party was opposed to partition until very late in the day.

Congress believed that Muslims as well as Hindus could be accommodated within the party and within its proposals for an independent India. Gandhi had also argued that Muslims and Hindus should work together for and after independence, hence his post-independence assassination by a Hindu nationalist.

I'm not an expert but the key moment seems to have been the Direct Action Day in August 1946. Jinnah persuaded the UK government Cabinet Mission, which was supposed to come up with a mutually acceptable formula for independence, to come up with a plan for partition which the Congress Party rejected.

As I understand, it was the violence on the Direct Action Day a couple of months later that persuaded Congress that the inter-communal situation was irretrievable, hence their agreement to the partition proposals.

So although partition was agreed, the intransigence of one side had made it the only practicable option. Whether or not violence could have been avoided without partition is another matter. I guess a lot depends on the date you take as the starting point for the analysis.