Nevertheless, Sugata Bose's recent piece in the Indian Express is among the better ones to have appeared in the wake of the Jaswant Singh controversy. While Bose -- a grand-nephew of the nationalist heroes Subhash and Sarad Chandra Bose -- implicitly seems to regard the partition of Bengal as more illegitimate/tragic than the partition of India (he takes the Congress to task for adding Bengal to the March 8, 1947 resolution calling for Punjab to be partitioned; but ignores that the alternative was a Pakistan that would have included an undivided Bengal, or, less plausibly, an independent Bengal; I do not pass judgment on this notion, but merely note that Bose's piece presents the issue divorced from its proper context), and, like many contemporary historians, implicitly approaches the question of the Muslim League's Pakistan movement as purely tactical, i.e. at the expense of adequate consideration of the movement's ideology; his lucid piece is worth reading. It is more balanced and thoughtful than most commentary on the issue over the last few days; significantly, by speaking of "the Congress" rather than simply of "Nehru", Bose de-personalizes the issue, while also underscoring what the Sangh Parivar would do anything to avoid admitting, namely, that to the extent this is a question of personal responsibility, and to the extent Nehru stands in the dock, the Sangh's idol Patel stands there with him. Whatever reservations I have about the piece or the tendency among Indian historians to demonstrate their willingness to adopt a critical stance vis-a-vis the mainstream nationalist historiographical inheritance by (unwittingly) adopting a relatively uncritical stance vis-a-vis the hitherto demonized "other" of the Muslim League and the Pakistan movement, Bose's core thesis -- that "[w]hile there may still be different points of view on the relative balance of forces that led to partition, and Jinnah is by no means blameless in this regard, the role of Congress majoritarianism in shaping the final outcome of August 1947 has been well accepted in the best historical scholarship" -- seems unexceptionable to me. To the extent this is new and controversial to the public at large, whatever my reservations about Jaswant Singh's book, it will have served a valuable purpose in presenting this idea to a wide audience.
Less convincing is Bose's claim that "[t]he partition of the provinces of Punjab and Bengal at Nehru and Patel’s behest, much like the partition of the province of Ulster in Ireland, permanently skewed subcontinental politics and left a poisoned post-colonial legacy." The claim is unfair, almost suggesting that the whole thing was the brainchild of Nehru and Patel; but also ignoring that sub-continental politics would have been just as "skewed" by a partition of India that did not partition these two provinces. That partition would likely have been less bloody (although, as the grotesque violence in un-partitioned provinces demonstrates, far too bloody nonetheless), but would still have "skewed" the sub-continent's politics, albeit differently. In particular, it is highly debatable whether Pakistan could have comfortably accomodated such a large number of minorities (a larger proportion than would have existed in India) as an ideological matter. Bose presumably has an independent Bengal in mind as a solution to the 1947 deadlock, and not one that was part of Pakistan, but given the geo-political implications of such "regionalism" for both of the new nation-states, it is not surprising neither leadership was thrilled about the idea. [Indeed, the logic of Jinnah as the "sole spokesman" for India's Muslims, as Ayesha Jalal's book of the same name persuasively shows animated Jinnah's approach in the last decade of his life, should have militated against any such division].
The above notwithstanding, there can be no quarreling with Bose's conclusion:
I am not in agreement with those who say that the parties are obsessed with a non-issue, 62 years out of date. The issue which revisiting partition brings to the fore is full of contemporary relevance. It is the search for a substantive rather than procedural democracy that protects citizens from majoritarian arrogance and ensures justice in a subcontinent where people have multiple identities.
...multiple identities that the 1947 successor states have, in their own ways and to different degrees, not been able to adequately acknowledge. Sixty-two years after the tryst with destiny, that pledge is yet to be redeemed.
[Previous post HERE].