29.08.2022 Author: Vladimir Terehov

On the 75th Anniversary of the Dissolution of British India


On August 14 and 15, 2022, Pakistan and India celebrated 75 years of independence, which was the result of an Act of the British Parliament passed in the summer of 1947 and approved by King George VI a month before the above dates.

This was a practical embodiment of the long-standing (as early as the second half of the 19th century) postulate of the British political elite that it was becoming too costly and simply intolerable in the long run to administer a huge colony very far from the metropolis. The fact that the colony’s gigantic population was made up of various peoples, radically different in language, culture, and religion, served as a constant source of inspiration for London. They were often in a state of conflict (even armed conflict), both among themselves and with the colonialists.

The course of the process of gaining independence by the people of “British India”, initiated by the above-mentioned act of the British Parliament, was decisively influenced by the third of the above-mentioned factors of differences between the local populations. In the period from the end of the XIX – the first half of the XX century. in the process of formation of the local elite (which was initially more or less united and formed the Indian National Congress party), ready to take control of the future independent country, gradually began to emerge a faction of supporters of the territorial separation of Muslims from Hindus.

On March 24, 1940, the All India Muslim League, which declared itself a representative of the interests of all those who professed Islam in “British India,” passed the so-called “Lahore Resolution” rejecting the very notion of Muslims living together with Hindus in a single state. In particular, it pointed out the same differences in daily life. The said “Resolution” formed the basis for the fundamental provision of the mentioned Act of the British Parliament (initiated by the last Viceroy), which provided for the formation of two independent states on the territory of “British India”.

It would be appropriate here to speculate on the eternal theme that the source of a person’s problems is usually himself and not the neighbors or an “unlucky” residential area. With the mention of all sorts of wisdoms, for example, about “a beam in one’s own eye”. However, the author will limit himself to the statement that changing the place of residence only for a short time does not bring “relief” from a particular problem. Which, by the way, often turns out to be a stretch.

The drafters of the “Lahore Declaration” were undoubtedly guided by the best of intentions, that is, “they wanted the best.” But in reality, it turned out very badly, that is, “as usual.” The “cost” of the inter-religious split, which began on the eve of the announcement of the creation of two independent states, India and Pakistan, amounts to one million lives, according to official estimates. However, according to some recent studies based on archival material on the migration flows that began at that time, at least three to four million people actually “disappeared somewhere.”

Never before had the “showdowns” between denominations (which, by the way, were very rare) had such disastrous consequences on the territory of residence that had been common until then. But perhaps the most important thing is that the process of inter-religious demarcation initiated in 1947, even at the price of the above-mentioned “sacrifice”, did not take on a character, if painful, at least short-lived. It has triggered several wars (four if one includes the “Kargil conflict” of 1998) between India and Pakistan and continues to this day.

After, during the first war in 1947-1948, the parties divided the territory of the former principality of Kashmir in a ratio of about 60 to 40%, they continue to claim the “share” of the enemy. They are separated here by the 740-kilometer “Line of Control,” and this is by no means a border consistent with international law. Almost daily there are reports of armed incidents in the now Union Territory (and not the state as it was before August 5, 2019 of “Jammu and Kashmir”). And this is despite the fact that today the aforementioned “Line of Control” separates two de facto nuclear powers.

After 75 years, it is difficult even to speak of the realization of at least some kind of inter-confessional division. After all, India still has about the same number of Muslims (about 180 million people) as “religiously specialized” Pakistan (and apparently they are not going away).

The general postulate that a certain “process of disintegration” only needs to be set in motion and can then continue “by itself” (and one does not know where it will stop) worked in this case as well. In 1971, Pakistan’s eastern part separated from the country, and its territory the independent state of Bangladesh was established. This was strongly favored by India, with which Muslim Bangladesh has had officially quite positive relations ever since (despite some problems “on the ground”). The head of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, will soon travel to New Delhi for another friendly visit. Bangladesh does not even maintain diplomatic relations with Pakistan, which adheres to the same faith.

Incidentally, the situation is quite typical of inter-state relations. Earlier in the NEO, something similar was discussed in the Afghanistan-India-Pakistan triangle, when Muslim Kabul for years favored not the co-religionists from Islamabad but the “pagans” from the same New Delhi. As recent events show, even with the Taliban coming to power in Afghanistan (the organization is banned in the Russian Federation), this has not changed. This is despite the fact that the intelligence services of the same Pakistan were instrumental in the formation of Taliban’s current leadership.

From the point of view of a centuries-old historical process, again, this is nothing new. Once upon a time, Cardinal Richelieu, when choosing his allies, did not attach importance to the question in which language they sang the psalms.

In the course of the struggle for influence over events in the South Asian region, the world’s leading players did not miss the opportunity to take advantage of the new possibilities offered by the formation of two mutually hostile states. Said players, when the nature of the “Great World Game” changed, easily and simply changed their preferences regarding those states. During the Cold War, for example, Pakistan was an important partner for the United States in the region. And not India, at the time guided by the USSR, which was at the forefront of the military-political association opposing the United States.

With the end of the Cold War and the disappearance of the former main adversary from the political scene, a new one gradually appeared on the scene – in the shape of the PRC. In Washington’s eyes, therefore, the expansion of relations with India, still seen as China’s “natural adversary,” became increasingly important.

But the expansion of the confrontation between the leading regional players to the South Asia region does not bode well for its inhabitants. Both India and Pakistan are showing less and less desire to play the role of a tool in the alien maneuvering of the leading world players, with the latter trying to take advantage of certain problems in the relations of the former.

Finally, it seems important to point out once again that despite the ongoing process of territorial and confessional division, the real problem that triggered it has not disappeared. It still manifests itself in different ways in the two now sovereign territories. And not only in multi-confessional India, but also in (visibly) mono-religious Pakistan. For some reason, adherents of the various Islamic streams living in the second country take particular delight in blowing up each other’s mosques.

In connection with another outbreak of turbulence in Pakistan, it was pointed out earlier by NEO that both countries have long been aware of the severity of the above-mentioned “costs” of the 1947 events. Periodically, calls to improve bilateral relations resound from Islamabad and New Delhi. On August 20, Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif made another public statement that he would not allow another war to start and that his country was seeking “a long-term peace with India.” The same Kashmir issue was cited as the main obstacle.

In view of all this, it should not be surprising that the dates given for the beginning of the appearance of two new states in South Asia have no special significance for either. Even though they do appear in the lists of national holidays on which certain events take place.

However, the most important national celebrations in both states are linked to different events and other dates. In India, “Republic Day” is celebrated annually to mark the adoption of the Constitution on January 26, 1949, which came into force exactly one year later. In Pakistan, the main reason is the adoption of the above-mentioned “Lahore Resolution,” which, again, took place on March 24, 1940.

But, of course, these two dates are linked to the decision of the British Parliament in August 1947. The former became a consequence, the latter contributed to its adoption.

For nothing in the historical process passes without a trace.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.



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