India's Partition: The Story of Imperialism in Retreat

India's Partition: The Story of Imperialism in Retreat

India's Partition: The Story of Imperialism in Retreat

India's Partition: The Story of Imperialism in Retreat


The partition of India was neither inevitable, nor the result of a British gameplan. Instead, the author argues, it was a convergence of complex socio-economic reality and political compulsions, thrown in the wake of an intense colonial encounter, that provided the setting for the climactic event of partition and independence.


If in 1920 an Indian, even a member of the Indian National Congress, had been stopped and asked whether his country would not only be freed of British rule, but partitioned along communal lines within thirty years, one wonders what the reply would have been?

Counter-factual history should, of course, always carry plenty of health warnings. However, it can also be used to guard against that other besetting temptation of the discipline, that of hindsight. That certain eventualities take place in the end does not prove their inevitability. and in explaining them the historian must also explain why various plausible alternatives do not win out.

Certainly, in 1920 the partition of India is unlikely to have been regarded as an inevitability. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the man who was to become the principal advocate of the Pakistan idea, was still a member of the Indian National Congress. His protestations of the distinct identity of Muslims, requiring satisfaction in the creation of a separate state, lay in the future. and even when he began to make them, they did not necessarily fall on fertile ground.

Partition, in other words, was not foredoomed. There is always a risk, however, that in starting off with the question, 'why did partition occur?', and even more with the question, 'how did it occur?', the historian can make it appear so. One of the many strengths of this book is that Professor Panigrahi seeks to explore how limited were the grounds for partition in inter-war India. As he shows, Jinnah by the 1930s may have come to conceive of a separate identity for Muslims, but this view was not then shared by most of his co-religionists.

Partition, after all, is a political device introduced to resolve problems which, at least in part, flow from identity politics. in 1920, identity politics were not such that as to prompt this resolution. There is always a risk, nevertheless, that the introduction of new forms of political communication and articulation will, however, bring with them new ways of expressing and exacerbating identity politics. These new forms emerged with the regional governments elected in the wake of the 1935 Government of India Act.

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