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MIDNIGHT FURIES: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition

“51P9W12HygL._SX315_BO1204203200_”” alt=””51P9W12HygL. SX315 BO1204203200 “” />The book “”MIDNIGHT’S FURIES — The Deadly Legacy Of India’s Partition”” dwells on the thinking and goings on in the minds of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistan’s founder and Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Author Nisid Hajari is the Asia Editor of Bloomberg View whose painstaking research has facilitated putting into perspective the huge egos of Nehru and Jinnah which contributed in no small measure to the massacre of Hindus and Muslims.  Considering the trauma of partition, the attacks on Hindu settlements in Lahore and Muslim concentrated areas in Amritsar and Gurdaspur in Punjab were not only gruesome but blood curdling. The Quaid’s conspicuous absence at Pakistan’s first independence day celebrations had fuelled suspicion about his imminent demise. Meanwhile, a terribly unwell Quaid had been moved from Baluchistan to Quetta, the region’s capital. Liaqat Ali the Hyderabadi arrived to meet Jinnah and saw the anxiety on everyone’s face and compelled to return home empty handed.””It is a question of weeks”” Nehru wrote to Mountbatten on 23 August. Though no official announcement had been made about his deteriorating health, Doctors attending on Jinnah lamented that his smoke charred lungs had betrayed him at last. Before the inevitable, the Quaid had spent several weeks resting in the cool dry hills of Baluchistan as Karachi’s seaside heat was humid and wilting. When they returned to the government house, Jinnah abruptly dismissed his naval aide-de-camp. Looking back as the Quaid walked away, the aide-de-camp saw the frail form of Jinnah “”staggering towards his door.”” A few days later he and his entourage returned to Baluchistan to the old British Residency at Ziarat. Once again government business had to be conducted long distance. A succession of black dispatch boxes with the gold letters “”M.A.J,”” slowly made their way to him from Karachi. “”There is nothing wrong with me”” he protested to anyone who would care to listen including the London trained physician sent to examine him. Jinnah was 70 pounds in weight and his ashen complexion and shrunken frame told the Doctor otherwise. X-rays confirmed the diagnosis of tuberculosis. Two thirds of one lung seemed to be gone already, and a quarter of the other.  Jinnah forbade his doctors to reveal anything about his condition. “”I will tell the nation about the nature and gravity of my illness when I think it proper,”” the Quaid told everyone around him. Even when his Prime Minister Liaqat came to see him a few weeks later, the Quaid refused to admit he was dying. The members of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan involved in shuttle diplomacy in the region never once saw or spoke with Jinnah. In Kashmir the undeclared war between the two armies, no longer hidden behind Pakistan’s tribal proxies, continued on autopilot. Since May 1949 the two sides had pummelled each other with echoing artillery barrages. Indian and Pakistani troops battled fiercely for hilltops and ridges, and the front bulged and contracted. But neither side could land a decisive blow. By the end of July monsoon rains again made fighting difficult. Without Jinnah’s sanction, however, the Pakistanis seemed unable to commit themselves. Time had run out for Hyderabad amid threats that they would turn the area into a smoking wasteland if India attacked. The Razakar gangs had started marauding Hindu villages, dragging out Congress sympathisers and executing them. In one border crossing the Razakars sparked an hours long gun battle with Indian troops. The provocations gave the Indian leaders the excuse they needed. Nehru’s Home Minister Sardar Patel threatened to resign if the former did not order the Indian tanks to roll. As things were hotting up in Hyderabad, Nehru warned if Hyderabad tried to drag things out by involving the United Nations, “”We march.””  Around the same time amid great secrecy the Quaid in a new suit, tie and shoes was moved by stretcher in a Viking aircraft to Karachi. After spending an hour in the sweltering heat of the ambulance as his truck had broken down, he reached Government House. Whatever strength he had had ebbed away. Doctors tried to prop him up and tried to give him an injection but his veins collapsed. “”God willing you are going to live”” a Doctor told Jinnah at 9.50 PM. “”No I am not,”” Jinnah murmured. Half an hour later the Quaid was dead. No preparations had been made for his funeral. Jinnah was to be buried on the site of a planned mosque.  The author maintains there is little question that Jinnah was the most polarising figure in the partition drama. He is easy to blame. His forbidding personality made compromise difficult if not impossible. He was criminally negligent about thinking through the consequences of the demand for Pakistan. A vindictive streak ensured he was surrounded mostly by sycophants rather than independent minded subordinates who might have moderated his views.  Yet from the moment in 1937 that the Congress party rejected partnership with the Muslim League, Nehru — suave, sensitive, handsome — contributed nearly as much as Jinnah for the poisoning of the political atmosphere in the subcontinent. His attitude towards the Quaid — and by implication towards Jinnah’s millions of Muslim followers — was all too often arrogant and dismissive. Nehru misread he battle over Pakistan much as he later did the fight for Kashmir — as an ideological contest in which he and India were morally unimpeachable. For three decades before partition Nehru had seen himself as one of Gandhi’s non-violent warriors leading the assault on the British Empire. He did not seem to understand he was no longer battling a foreign power and that he needed to accommodate his countryman Jinnah as a statesman would: with pragmatism, generosity and an appreciation for the grey areas of diplomacy. Even now with Jinnah dead, Nehru would deliver one final blow in their decades long rivalry. As Pakistan’s founder was being laid to rest, Nehru gave his commanders the green light to advance into Hyderabad. India’s leaders were unsentimental about the passing away of their old adversary. Before dawn the next morning, Indian forces pierced Hyderabad’s borders at five different points. The Nizam’s forces held on for a little more than a hundred hours. India’s victory was too fast for the United Nations to even debate the matter, and it was total. Hyderabad’s quick collapse deeply rattled Pakistan. However emotionally devastating it had been to Nehru and Patel personally, the Mahatma’s assassination had not disrupted India’s political leadership. By contrast Jinnah’s death had left Pakistan confused and rudderless.Nehru’s long battle with Jinnah had ended. “”The rivalry they had bequeathed their nations, and the world, had barely begun.”” That is the hard reality which cannot be wished away. 

Book:MIDNIGHT FURIES: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition
Author:Nisid Hajari
Publisher:Penguin group
Pages:328
Price:599-INR

TR

(T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator.)

By TIS Staffer
the authorBy TIS Staffer

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