Partition of India — Few thoughts for corporate world!!

The 1947 India-Pakistan partition shall always remain a scarred memory for millions of people spread across India, Pakistan & Bangladesh. I am not going to discuss the pros-cons or impact of it. My interest lies in the political environment and its players surrounding it (1944–47) and whether there is some parallel to today’s corporate world:

  1. Power — The two main parties i.e. Congress and Muslim League, had at their core, leaders with very strong likings/dislikings and a will to force it. The leaders were firm on their views, and rarely if any willing to give leeway to alternative viewpoints. When you have such strong and persistent leaders on opposite sides of political environment, it can only lead to deadlock on issues and pertaining matters, and ultimately an impasse of inaction, misunderstanding & frustation. For e.g. Jinnah wanted a separate Muslim electorate while Nehru was a stout nationalist, who were never able to reconcile their divisions and find a middle path inspite of British & Gandhi intervention. There differences were so vast that when an interim government had to be established under British raj wherein Muslim league were promised seats for representing indian muslims, Congress under Nehru did its best to malign them & ensure that never happened. But looking at the other side, this same strong headed Nehru did put in excellent reforms and put India on a track whose fruits are being borne now, vis-à-vis our neighbours. Same is the case in corporate world, do companies want a strong leader who has concentrated power, or a democratic setup wherein everybody has a say in the matter and things go with agreement. On a parallel note I can think of Mauryan emperor Ashoka who ran a dictatorship, and its contemporary the Kalinga empire which had one of the first democratic parliament running its reins. Both were successful kingdoms, but Kalinga was destroyed due to Ashoka’s greed and ego leaving a battlefield of 100,000 bodies.
  2. Belief & Expectations — Jinnah had an infallible belief in separate Muslim electorate within a Hindu majority India, and but till 1946 he was never a partition supporter and certainly never believed religion should be paramount to everything. However utter disregard of Muslim League, by Nehru’s congress during those years, ultimately made Jinnah believe that separate states are the only solution for what he saw Hindu hegemony under Congress. Then happened the 1946 Direct Action Day (Great Calcutta Killings), which created a great schism between Hindu & Muslims, further convincing Jinnah of his beliefs. Now whose beliefs were right, in today’s India, Muslims have been given quotas at almost all government run services, they are as much a part of Indian nationality as anyone else, even their Haj travel is funded by Govt of India. Or thinking from Jinnah perspective, only 22 Muslim MPs are in 2014 Lok Sabha (543 MPs) with 180 million adherents in India, quite a skewed figure. Similarly people have expectations and their own belief, how do companies moderate, accept or reject them after balancing the long/short term consequences is a challenge.
  3. Drivers — Both the league and congress had plethora of supporters, and led great revolutions with people having untenable faith in their leaders. Jinnah and Nehru held great respect and almost god like status for their respective supporters. However look at the driving forces for these key players, one side was the League for which the religion was the driving force. On other side, Congress which through Nehru was an ardent supporter of socialism and nationalism. Post partition, the 2 nation theory of Jinnah has been proven wrong specially with 1971, birth of Bangladesh. As I mentioned before Jinnah was never a partition supporter pre-1946 (and rather claimed Gandhi plays a politics of religion), but he always held a contempt for the junior congress leader. On the other hand the suave Nehru was no fan of Jinnah’s views, going as far as saying in 1936 that so far as fight for freedom goes it shall be fought by Congress and Congress alone (i.e. Muslim League had no role in it). Misplaced faith, and tendency to prove oneself correct even when wrong at any cost, has marred a number of initiatives. It may win a battle but never the war. There are times in our corporate life, wherein certain incidents may not gel with our proprietary sense but are in agreement with the firm decision or belief. Now do we hang on to faith in company and its drivers in corporate world working tirelessly towards it, or keep questioning them at suggested intervals and who knows confuse oneself even more.
  4. Time — In their 200 years of rule, British used the divide-rule strategy thoroughly to rule India. But it is also the truth that after 1945 they wanted to leave an united India to its citizens. When the decision to leave was made and especially with coming of Lord Mountbatten to India, they tried their best to reconcile different parties, and had a frustrating time till independence. Judging the conditions, Britishers decided to get out of the sub-continent before things got even worse. By 1946–47, the entire Punjab and Bengal belt was on fire, and the June 1948 date of self-government was brought close to August 1947 by Lord Mountbatten. Swaths of religious killing hordes were roaming in various cities from SWAT valley to Calcutta, Gandhi’s hunger strike was having limited effect, and Churchill theory of complete anarchy in India post-independence was close to being a reality. But partition happened on a tight timeline, based on mix of Radcliffe line, party or annex of princely states leading to 14 million people displaced & close to 1 million killed. Maybe such mayhem could have been avoided, if original date of June 1948 was kept intact, if the country boundaries had been declared before independence to the people and things would have been allowed to settle down. Connecting to the corporate world, time is a luxury most can’t afford in this fast moving world, whether taking decision in inadequate timelines may lead to some drastic consequences is always a question.

In my belief, there are many more lessons to learn with so many incidents and characters involved in the saga of independence and partition such as Bihar riots and its allegations, making of Radcliffe line, Jinnah death and his lost ideas, Junagarh annexation, Kashmir issue etc., that it would take a book to pen them down.