There is emotion in Akhand Bharat’s slogan, or in a card showing the vivisection of Mother India. Such a card can excite some super-patriots, scare other Indians and evoke nostalgia.
Analyze the nostalgia, however, and you will quickly find that what is sought to be reclaimed is the Akhand Bharat first created by the Mughals and later consolidated by the British. For it is only the Hindustan of the Mughals, or the precious “Ind” of the British, that Akhand Bharat comes close to.
India is ancient, Indian civilization is ancient. No honest mind can dispute that. Chinese, Egyptians, Iraqis, Mexicans and others may say similar things to each other, but that does not negate Indian satisfaction.
It seems, moreover, that centuries before Babur arrived in 1526 and dislodged the Lodhis, Indian spirits harbored a sense of a common land, an entity which the future would call India, Bharat, Hind, Hindustan, Or other.
Pilgrims traveled to sacred places at the ends of this earth, which all seemed to possess, in the eyes of these pilgrims, similar elements, whether physical, climatic or cultural.
Shortly before the start of the common era, the Greeks walked into this space. Later, during the first millennium of this era, a series of adventurous Chinese Buddhists overcame physical obstacles in order to see the land of the Buddha. Both types of visitors, Greek and Chinese, left behind information about our ancestors that we would otherwise have lost. Both felt like they were observing parts of a country, though neither gave it a consistent name.
A country or a land is different from a kingdom or a state. In India’s long history, the reality of widespread, shared or dominant cultural traits has only occasionally been matched by political unity. Of the major Indian rulers of the past 2,500 years, it would seem that only Ashoka, the Mughals and the British presided over anything resembling an Akhand Bharat.
These three periods, when all India had a common ruler, provide rare pages to the thick volume of Indian history. In most other periods, unity did not extend beyond a limited and usually small segment of India, which was often in conflict with neighboring segments.
During the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries CE, various Gupta dynasties indeed ruled over substantial territories in different parts of northern and eastern India. Literature, art, sculpture, astronomy and mathematics flourished magnificently at this time. Yet nothing like Akhand Bharat was achieved by these notable Gupta dynasties, who left the Indian scene a thousand years before the arrival of Babur.
The champions of Akhand Bharat will never tell us which undivided India they want to restore. It can’t be Ashoka’s. He is too non-violent, Buddhist and inclusive for them.
Let them not openly acknowledge this, but have the honesty to at least admit to themselves that what they wish to recreate, under a Hindu crown, is either the Indian empire under Akbar or Aurangzeb, or the more recent empire, remotely controlled from London, which Winston Churchill tried to keep. Unfortunately, nothing else since Ashoka was Akhand Bharat.
Here we can point out that Ashoka and the Master he honoured, the Buddha, were for a long time excluded from the Indian pantheon and regarded as aberrations by the mainstream, until worldwide recognition of their greatness precipitated the eagerness of the Indians to possess them. The widespread rejection of Buddhism and its sister faith, Jainism, and the frequent persecution of Jains and Buddhists are components of Indian history as real as the ties to India of Mahavir and the Buddha.
Considering India’s history, isn’t it remarkable that the most popular, as well as recognizable, emblems of the Indian state are the Lion Capital of Ashoka, the Red Fort of Delhi (erected by Shah Jahan), the British buildings of Raisina Hill in Delhi, namely Rashtrapati Bhavan, North Block, South Block and the Houses of Parliament, and Mumbai’s Gateway of India, also a British construction?
Attempts may well be made to promote alternative emblems – perhaps the statue of Patel (it is, after all, the tallest in the world), or the Ram Mandir under construction in Ayodhya, or another structure yet to come. However, a symbol rings true when a people ratifies it over time, not when it is launched in front of the cameras with fireworks.
If, after Ashoka, only the Mughals and the British created an Akhand Bharat, it does not follow that the subcontinent will never be reunited again. Who can rule out a political tsunami or an earthquake in the coming decades? However, even the most devout worshipers of Mother India do not expect that the India that existed on August 14, 1947 can be restored in the foreseeable future. Later I will point out that a reunited India is actually the last thing the Hindu nationalists want.
No one really wants reunification. And yet, seventy-five years ago, so many people cried when the partition took place. Sadness and shame joined the trauma. When, on June 14, 1947, the All India Congress Committee ratified the Congress Working Committee’s acceptance of Mountbatten’s Partition Plan, it did so, as one delegate will report, in silence complete.
Up to that point, every resolution passed by the AICC in its long and active history had drawn at least some applause, if not condolence. Something was dead when the score was accepted. After seventy-five years, the regret remains. And this is expressed frequently. For example, when on December 12, 2021, the government commemorated India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war and the liberation of Bangladesh, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said the 1947 division was an “aitihasik galti”, a “historical error”.
When, in June 1947, the AICC silently approved the partition, most of the murders of that year were still in the belly of the future. The sadness of that day was about a dream that had died. Most of those who quietly raised their hands in acceptance of the Mountbatten plan had tenderly cared for the map of India they had grown up with. Many had also fought the two-nation theory with passion. For them, the score was
a defeat as much as a loss.
India’s shrinking landmass was a blow, but perhaps most troubling was the realization that Hindus and Sikhs in the new nation of Pakistan, and Muslims in what remained of the ancient India, would be exposed to hostility.
Moreover, the comrades with whom they had gone to prison for freedom became “strangers” overnight. In a corner of his mind, Jawaharlal Nehru thought the partition would be temporary. He wasn’t the only one to think so. The links between, say, Bombay and Karachi, or Calcutta and Dhaka, or Lahore and Amritsar seemed given by nature and more permanent than life itself. Surely nature, habit and commerce would bring things back
Yet, knowing (as he well knew, from his awareness of the past) the fragility of unity in India’s long history, the Nehru of June 1947 should not have been shocked by the Partition to which he had reconciled two months earlier, in March 1947. He and others knew, for example, that the Great Revolt of 1857, which in 1947 was not exactly ancient history, had failed because the main princes Indians, including those in Baroda, Gwalior, Hyderabad, Mysore and Kashmir, refused to lend even indirect support to the leaders of the revolt.
They also knew that eighteen years before the Great Revolt, murders for the succession had been unleashed in Lahore when Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who had prevented the British from encroaching on his remarkable kingdom, died. In 1849, just ten years after Ranjit Singh’s death, the British annexed
Punjab, with the help of influential members of the Lahore court.
Not long before, the British contemporaries of Tipu Sultan of Mysore called him an imperial enemy hardly less threatening than Napoleon. However, in 1799, exactly four decades before Ranjit Singh’s death, the Marathas, the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Maharaja of Travancore – Mysore’s closest Indian neighbors – sided with the British and actively contributed to the downfall by Tipu.
Given this history, the unity that developed across virtually all of India in the 1900s, 1910s, 1920s and 1930s seems like a miracle.
It is true that the undoing of foreign rule was a unifying wish that almost all Indians shared. Moreover, despite its oppression, foreign rule and its accompaniments (trains, newspapers, universities, all-India utilities, army, etc.) had made it possible for Indians of different religions, regions, castes and languages to know each other. like never before.
These are two enormous advantages for India’s national freedom movement. Even so, the salvation of posterity must be offered to both the magnitude and the quality of what the freedom-fighting Indians achieved between 1900 and 1947.
These ancestors of 21st century Indians seemed to work not only for national freedom but also for individual freedom and communal unity; for azadi but also for insaf; for swaraj but also for social justice.
Not only foreign rule but also Indian wrongs were faced with them. Much has not been accomplished, much has not even been attempted, but what has been aimed for and achieved is a proud part of the life of our world.
common history. Why, then, did the partition take place in 1947? Why did carnage accompany him?
Excerpted with permission from India after 1947: Reflections & Memories, Rajmohan Gandhi, Aleph Book Company.