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Decolonisation & The International Order

India had become an Independent Nation on August 15, 1947, only after the Partition of the Indian Subcontinent, and the birth of Pakistan. In other words, the way the Indian Subcontinent wanted to be free from the shackles of the Colonial Rulers, it did not get it that way. Neither the Hindus nor the Muslims imagined such an amount of bloodshed during the Partition by the Colonial British ruler. Maybe, the Indians had a desire for a different type of Independent Nation… however, the Second World War changed the equation.

It is difficult to analyse such an issue only by discussing the History of India, as the Indian History, written by Right, Left or Liberal historians, is richly endowed with Patriotism! There is nothing wrong with Patriotism, but the problem is History should not be viewed in a one-dimensional manner. One-dimensional view does not allow one to consider the fact that there were quite a few options for the Indians in 1947. Interestingly, the Indians had chosen a structure with which the British Political System had a great resemblance. The Indian historians have remained silent about the other options; what could have happened and why those did not happen. Majority of the Indians still believe that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s concept of India is the Best!

Celebrating Independence in Kolkata, August 15, 1947

These questions have been raised elsewhere in the world in recent times. In Africa, the experience of the State System has not been very pleasant since the mid-20th Century. Six-seven years ago, Historians Frederick Cooper and Gary Wilder claimed that several African statesmen did not want an Independent State, and one of them was Léopold Sédar Senghor (October 9, 1906 – December 20, 2001) of Senegal. He wanted a kind of Union with France, where both the French and the Africans would enjoy equal status. Indeed, Senghor’s proposal was a controversial one. Although the US is interested in International Citizenship these days, the Global Community is yet to accept such an idea. In fact, the former Colonial Masters (read Whites) have never recognised Blacks as equal citizens. For the Africans, it was far more important to reach an understanding among themselves. Just like the Indian Subcontinent, Africa has suffered a lot because of internal problems. Finally, Adom Getachew has shed some light on this particular issue in her latest publication ‘Worldmaking After Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination‘. Her book helps readers understand the 1940s.

Adom Getachew

Getachew is not a Historian, but an Ethiopian-American Political Scientist. The main aim of the Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago was to analyse the Theories of Independence and Self-determination in the context of the mid-20th Century. Today, Western scholars, including Getachew, are trying to realise the fact that the League of Nations, formed after the First World War, was based on purely White Power. However, Indian freedom fighters, like Sri Aurobindo (August 15, 1872 – December 5, 1950), were aware of this story long ago. While the European countries got Independence at that period of time, the Asians and the Africans were held captive by the British and French Colonial Powers. In the first few chapters of her publication, Getachew has narrated the story of the creation of this White Supremacy. Her main contribution lies in final chapters of the book, where the author has claimed that the Black statesmen and thinkers in Africa and the Caribbean had broken this White Supremacy in the 1940s and created a new world. It means building a State, created by the Master, only by expelling the Master. In Mahatma Gandhi‘s words: “English rule without the Englishman.” Gandhi argued that Home Rule is Self Rule, saying: “It is not enough for the British to leave only for Indians to adopt a British-styled society.” He added that some “want English rule without the Englishman… that is to say that they would make India English”. According to Getachew, the fall of the White Empire means the end of the Old World, and the beginning of a New World, where Racism will no longer be the basis of society.

There are coloured people on both sides of the Atlantic and the border line between them drawn by the Whites… many contemporary thinkers and politicians could not accept this separation. The so-called Pan-African team included Former President of Ghana Kwame Nkrumah (September 21, 1909 – April 27, 1972), George Padmore (June 28, 1903 – September 23, 1959) and Eric Eustace Williams (September 25, 1911 – March 29, 1981) of Trinidad and Tobago, American Sociologist William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (February 23, 1868 – August 27, 1963) and former Prime Minister of Jamaica Michael Norman Manley (December 10, 1924 – March 6, 1997). Top Political Scientists have never mentioned names of these Statesmen in their writings. Getachew deserves credit for giving them the respect they deserve. Each one of them had worked really hard to achieve their dream. It is because of them, most of the Caribbean islands became one country – the West Indies – in 1958-62. This Political Alliance ended prematurely due to the rivalry between Jamaica and Trinidad. However, the Caribbean players still represent the West Indies cricket team.

Experts often consider this sort of study as unrealistic. Such criticism is a bit reasonable, as various Statesmen dream of building a beautiful world, and usually the dream does not come true. Getachew’s research shows that different concepts of Society and Politics did exist, apart from the European-style Nation-State, in the mid-20th Century. Experiments with those concepts were successful in some places, like the West Indies. Egypt and Syria also joined hands during that period of time. A number of political personalities tried their best to prevent the Partition of the Indian Subcontinent. In the context of India, the idea of a Powerful State, based on Race and Religion, was a new one. For centuries, people of many Races, Religions, Castes and Classes have been living in India, together. Hence, the concept of Federalism might have been new for Africa… but, it is an age-old concept in the Indian Subcontinent.

What Getachew means by Federal is basically confined to Narrow and Black Nationalism, and Christianity. It was just a momentary thought of the 1940s. However, the range of the concept of Federalism was much wider in India or in Asia, as it was based on the coexistence of people of different cultures, religions and castes. Indian Freedom Fighter, Political Activist and Lawyer Chittaranjan Das (November 5, 1870 – June 16, 1925) – popularly called Deshbandhu (or Friend of the Nation) – was the pioneer of this thought. Das’ Bengal Hindu-Muslim Pact was in no way less groundbreaking than the Caribbean Statesmen, and his thought process still influences the Indian Politics. Unfortunately, the Partition of the Indian Subcontinent in 1947 suddenly changed the equation. Let’s not forget that Muhammad Ali Jinnah (December 25, 1876 – September 11, 1948) – a Barrister, Politician and the Founder of Pakistan – was in favour of a Federal Hindu-Muslim Union in India until the day before the Partition. Das and Jinnah’s concept of Federalism was very much realistic, and its Power Structure and Culture were similar to those of modern India and Pakistan. Their concept of Nation may be beyond our imagination, but such a Nation did exist a century ago. That particular concept may also come back a century later. Our responsibility is only to keep that dream and struggle alive!

One may recall Cyril Lionel Robert James (January 4, 1901 – May 31, 1989), the Trinidadian Historian, Journalist and Marxist. When the fall of the West Indies began in 1960 because of enmity between Trinidad and Jamaica, James started writing tirelessly to make Jamaican player Sir Frank Mortimer Maglinne Worrell (August 1, 1924 – March 13, 1967) captain of the West Indies cricket team. In the past, only White players had led the West Indian squad. After becoming the first Black Captain of the West Indies, Sir Frank and his teammates performed well in Australia. A couple of years later, James (of Trinidad) wrote that his country was on the global stage just because of Jamaica’s Worrell! Political turmoils have always confused people. However, the bridge of friendship, built on the foundation of mutual trust, does not break easily.

Cyril Lionel Robert James

One can hope that Thinkers and Political Scientists will come up with a new concept of Federalist State in the coming years in order to ensure Global Peace and Prosperity.

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