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Civil disobedience meeting, Bombay 1930: Historians have overstated the role of Congress direct action in securing Indian indepdence (credit: popperphoto/getty images) 

"Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially." Imagine those famous words spoken "at the stroke of the midnight hour", not by Jawaharlal Nehru as leader of a partitioned Indian republic, but by Muhammad Ali Jinnah as prime minister of a confederation of the whole subcontinent, with Dominion status and the British monarch remaining as King Emperor. The new federation has a weak centre and strong, autonomous provinces like undivided Punjab and Bengal. Its constitution is based on the Cabinet Mission Plan, proposed by the British government in 1946 and accepted by both the predominantly Hindu Congress Party and the separatist Muslim League.

To persuade Jinnah, already dying of tuberculosis, to abandon his largely tactical demand for Pakistan, an independent state carved out of India's Muslim-majority provinces, Mahatma Gandhi, the presiding deity of Congress, has given him the premiership of a coalition national government. Nehru, whose arrogance and insistence on the top job had alienated Jinnah, has been slapped down in a realignment of the Congress leadership. Gandhi has joined forces with anti-Nehru conservatives such as Sardar Patel and the south Indian leader Rajaji. Nehru had been collaborating closely with Lord "Dickie" Mountbatten, sent out as viceroy by the new Labour government to "cut and run" as quickly as possible. But the Nehru-Mountbatten axis is seriously discredited by a scandal about Nehru's love affair with Lady Mountbatten, including insinuations that bisexual "Dickie" was a willing participant in a ménage à trois.

Mountbatten is packed off home in disgrace, while his perspicacious predecessor, Lord Wavell, returns as viceroy, resuming negotiations for a more gradual transfer of power to a united subcontinent. The result is the new national unity coalition between Jinnah and Congress conservatives. With Jinnah as his Muslim prime minister, Rajaji, a Hindu brahmin, succeeds Wavell as the first Indian governor-general of the new Dominion. 

Hindu-Muslim tension, ratcheted up by the Pakistan demand and Congress opposition, now subsides. Jinnah's main power-base, the influential Muslim minority of India's central Hindi belt, is delighted with the power-sharing deal. For them, Pakistan was always a tactical rather than a practical demand, because it would uproot them from their homes in a partitioned India. The two largest Muslim-majority provinces of Bengal and Punjab are equally pleased, because they remain undivided with powerful, devolved governments of their own. A year later, Jinnah dies, and his successors as leaders of the Muslim League, lacking either his charisma or ambition, accept the role of second fiddle to Congress. Gandhi's gamble has paid off, and he lives happily on for another decade, instead of falling victim to a fanatical Hindu assassin.

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July 17th, 2015
1:07 PM
Rgd. SRC: "We all remember how he went from state to princely state getting them to sign the Instrument of Accession"... This is a gross overlooking of what in many cases was a bloody and Nehru-imperialistic unification process. I'll point to Hyderabad as just one case of a state that required military intervention to secure those signatures.

Antwerp Man
September 29th, 2014
4:09 PM
Agreed with Mishmael to an extent. The article does smack of triumphant Indian chauvinism and pro-neolib delusion. And he is absolutely right to point out the inherent feudalistic weaknesses of the subcontinent's politics. That said, I don't think a united India would have been a great evil. Adoption of the Cabinet Mission Plan would have, I think, provided a platform for people like the Baluch, Kashmiris, Tamils and Northeasterners to assert autonomy over their own domestic affairs while leaving economic management, foreign policy and defense to the center in Delhi. I think Nehru was right to have championed a non-aligned policy as a pro-West policy would have only benefitted the ruling classes of the country and widened the rich-poor gap. The most glaringly idiotic assumption in this piece is the idea that a united India with the largest Muslim population would have been a moderating influence on an extreme-driven Middle East. Notwithstanding its gross generalizations about "peaceful, Hindu-inflected Indian Islam", the argument anachronistically reads the present state of the Middle East onto the region at that time. It ignores the long history of secularism on the part of many movements that were then popular among the Arab intelligentsia, particularly communism, Egyptian nationalism, greater Levantism and, most importantly, Pan-Arab nationalism. All these movements incorporated Muslim AND Christian Arabs (some of the pioneers of Arab communism were Arab Jews) and were not the toxic fundamentalist plague that Wahhabism is today. Iran was under the super-westernized Shah and the big movements against him were largley secular. Western support of the Shah saw the elimination of these movements, leaving only the clergy to effectively oppose him. Plus the big overriding concern in that region was less about fundamentalist vs moderate Islam but rather the overriding question of how to win self-determination of the Arabs from the suffocating influence of Western colonial and economic interests (both European and American). Western meddling with the region and its suppression of popular will is what has led to the mess in the region today be it its support of unpopular dictatorships or control of its resources. Not to mention its continued unconditional and automatic support for the Zionist project that ethnically cleansed and entire population of Muslim and Christian Arabs from their traditional homelands for the needs of an immigrant settler population of foreign Jews, many of whom had never believed in Zionism till at the last minute.

James K
November 4th, 2013
8:11 PM
It's a wonderful, utopian idea, but it requires the three principal players - Mountbatten, Nehru and Jinnah to be replaced, sidelined, or dead respectively; and substituted in perpetuity with people who will cooperate towards a common goal. There is a fine line between idealism, and Gore Vidal's suggestion that "There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise."

October 7th, 2013
9:10 AM
Wonderful scenario, I wish this was the actual case - an undivided India. Well written, bit fantastic though :-)

September 16th, 2013
2:09 AM
If India was not partitioned, obviously, Pakistan and Bangladesh would not exist. The sub-continent would most likely be immersed in a long and ugly civil war. It could have been much worse than what it is now.

September 15th, 2013
5:09 AM
Im, sorry, but the author's rosy conclusion sounds more like Indian chauvinism than meaningful argument. India's (and Pakistan's) biggest problems were never about international enemies, or Hindu-Muslim dichotomies, or democracy/authoritarianism. Rather, it was the fundamental weakness of the state compared with the deeply entrench feudal organizing principle of South Asian society. Both India and Pakistan are poorly governed today because of the inability of either state to fully implement policy. Kinship ties generate more loyalty than do institutions and laws. As a result, the politics of India and Pakistan, far from being capable of producing enlightened, outward-looking policies which could out-compete other states, are perpetually trying to assert their relevance and power. This directly leads to the more crude and unappealing aspects of Indian and Pakistani rule: including crass chauvinism, politics of the lowest common denominator, impunity for the rich and the powerful (and those who are well-connected or born into the right family), incompetent provision of government services, and shocking amounts of violence committed by the security forces against their own people. There is no reason to think a "united India" would ever really be different. Furthermore, "united India" would face much the same centripetal pressure as India and Pakistan do today. Kashmir, Sindh, Balochistan, Tamil Nadu, Bengal, and a host of other regions have all at one time demonstrated a desire to not be dominated by the rule of the center. Over time, these tensions could easily have led to independence movements, as opposed to some sort of "Indian mosaic." South Asia is not America. I strongly disagree with this author and the rosy, feel-good conclusions being aired here. Not only would "united India" not be all that united or peaceful, considering the internal contradictions such a project would inevitably have to confront, the deeply ingrained political and social structures of the subcontinent would have virtually guaranteed that such a state would be functionally undemocratic, poorly governed, chauvinistic, and in fact a deeply destabilizing force. Greater India's irredentist desire to incorporate Burma would have dwarfed China's claims to Tibet, and its policies towards Nepal and Sri Lanka would not be difficult to imagine. The partition was not a happy historical event, but maintaining an essentially imperial structure over the subcontinent would be an even greater mistake.

September 14th, 2013
5:09 PM
The Congress party under the incompetent leadership of MK Gandhi and later Nehru, destroyed the future of the Hindus in India. India should have been declared a Constitutional Hindu Republic, just as Pakistan was an Islamic republic for the Muslims, where there is no constitutional protection for the non-Muslims. This would discourage the large Muslims influx into India, happening today, resulting in Muslim vote-bank politics of the Congress part and Maulana Mulayam....

Sarat Kumar
September 14th, 2013
5:09 PM
Another cause identified for today's Islamic fundamentalism!(Other than than anything in Islam itself). We hope to see articles identfying (other than Gandhi) Akbar, Asoka, Alexander, etc as people somehow responsible for today's Islamic fundamentalism.

Deepak Kumar
August 31st, 2013
10:08 PM
One of the finest peace of history that can be re written minus the British and the Military of Pak- to solve all the problems of the Sub continent -

August 31st, 2013
1:08 PM
The best thing that the Congress did for the Republic of India was to reject the Cabinet Mission plan - a dagger pointed at the heart of India. Can you imagine the nightmare scenario of a loose confederation with states, provinces and princely states having the right to secede whenever they felt like? If I remember right, the United States fought a civil war to reject that principle. Far more than the Brits, the Republic of India was created by Nehru and above all by Patel. We all remember how he went from state to princely state getting them to sign the Instrument of Accession. As for the rest, the bulk of this piece is just another rehash of the old British-Muslim League position: bash the Congress party for doing its job - getting India free! This anti-Congressism has a long and haloed history all the way back to Curzon. You can talk about Jinnah, Jalal, Jaswant, the British, all you want. The one thing they have in common is anti-Congressism. Held together by a negative approach, and annoyed that the side of republican nationalism prevailed rather than weak pro-imperialism.

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