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Partition Revisited as a Colonial Exit Strategy

Rita Manchanda

By Lal Khan
Aakar Books, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 226, Rs. 450.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 10 October 2007

Contemporary writings have enormously widened and enriched the field of ‘Partition Studies’, shifting the focus away from the politics of the ‘high table’ to subaltern perspectives, from meta-narratives to the regions partitioned and from attention to the causes of partition to concern about its human consequences. Drawing upon multidisciplinary approaches of history, anthropology, feminist perspectives and literature, partition discourses weave a dense and complex tapestry around a historical event that not only defined our past but continues to shape and threaten present day socio-political relations in South Asia. Or as Sunil Khilnani more cynically puts it—partition ‘in the subcontinent’s public imagination, (is) a surreptitious and always available motif around which the inevitable disappointments of modern politics can gather’.   Lal Khan’s Crisis in the Subcontinent; Partition—Can It Be Undone?— shares the disappointments over the ‘deteriorating’ economic situation, the ‘widening gap between the classes’, a ‘decaying’ society, ‘foreign conflict’ and ruling classes that have failed to resolve the problems that faced the subcontinent at the time of partition. However, Khan’s revisit- ing of ‘Partition’ is driven by an altogether different impulse—the Marx- ist ideology and the conviction that the national liberation movement should have culminated in a socialist revolution had it not been betrayed by the British and the local rulers who conspired to confine the struggle within the bounds of bourgeois rule, terrified lest it lead to a revolutionary outcome. It is an unimpressive re-working of the thesis of partition as a colonial exit strategy, i.e. ‘the necessity of Partition to preserve the continuity of capitalist rule and imperialist exploitation’.   In a time of partition discourses inspired by postcolonial theorizing, postmodernist approaches and conflict resolution paradigms posited on the ethnicization of politics, Lal Khan’s book is a nostalgic throwback to a Marxist analysis of the period from the end of the World War and the focus on the two ‘betrayed’ revolutionary moments in the subcontinent 1926-46 and 1968-71. It is a timely and necessary reminder of the possibility of other historical options than the contemporary unfolding of ethno-religious or ethno-nationalist politics in the subcontinent. It problematizes assumptions about the inevitability of ‘identity politics’ as the dominant paradigm of the continuing conflicts in the subcontinent.   The problem, however, lies with Comrade Khan’s articulation of this analysis—stretched across the huge frame of subcontinental contemporary history and distilled into a slim reader-friendly volume. It ...

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